Changing the Perception of Cool

Story by Emily Roberts// Photos by Dean Foster
April 14 2021

It has dawned on me that every core value I have about wearing gear while riding motorcycles was formed during my younger years, whether that was from teaching students, dirt biking or hearing news of another motorcycle crash. I learned that aside from being a well-rounded, receptive rider, you must wear all the protective gear for those instances that you can’t control. I was lucky to grow up with strong role models who promoted that being safe is cool and who ensured I always had the gear I needed.

Although I believe that you should always wear the proper gear, sometimes I don’t. That generally happens when I forget to wear my elbow pads or a chest protector while dirt biking. During or after a ride, I always momentarily consider my absent-mindedness and the additional risk that I created for myself.

Sometimes I think it’s my ego and pride that tells me: “You’d look cooler without riding pants or big, bulky protection.” I wonder how this perception came to my mind? Of course, since I was a child, I remember seeing movies and ads showcasing the “cool factor” in motorcycling, which historically has been rugged men without helmets or jackets, or women on the back of bikes showing too much skin. This vision of the cool motorcyclist has been driven into our minds over the years.

Nowadays, we see more targeted advertising with fully geared riders, but has this changed our perceptions all that much? Manufacturer advertising has, for the most part, become more “gear-conscious,” but through the bountiful portal that is social media we’ve seen a whole new form of unfiltered and subliminal advertising. With the ever-growing involvement of social media in our lives, escaping the perceptions of so many others is very difficult. More than I’d like to, I see influencers posting photos of themselves riding without proper gear and being praised for it over and over again. Imagery goes a long way, and whether we realize it or not, it affects our view on the type of motorcyclist we’d like to be viewed as being.

This thought bothered me this summer after I posted a short video and photo on my social media of me on a BMW R18 with a helmet on but without a jacket, gloves or eye protection. We had just received the R18 to test when we took that first video and photos. The photo shoot was done in the driveway and I didn’t think much about gearing up, as I wasn’t on the road. However, the thought did cross my mind that by not wearing all my gear, I inevitably looked cooler than I would have with it on.

I was happy to see that when we posted the video of me without a jacket or gloves, people called me out on it. Many, including myself, thought I looked cool, but the negative responses made me realize that I unknowingly contributed to the “no gear” culture within motorcycling. The last thing I’d want is to have someone second-guess the necessity of wearing their jacket or any of their gear just to present an image.

In 2020, there were more motorcycle sales across Canada than we had seen in each of the past 10 years. A majority of the sales were small-displacement dirtbikes. With more children and new riders getting into the sport, we need to be mindful of setting a good example with our attitude and etiquette. To praise people for not wearing gear or not riding safely does nothing good for our riding community. Many longtime motorcyclists may not be fazed by this notion, but new riders are impressionable, and they could be greatly affected by our influence.

Our brain is merely a collection of experiences that are compounded together to form our thoughts, values and inspirations. New riders’ perceptions of each experience within the sport of motorcycling create the foundation upon which their values toward motorcycling will be created. Whether you realize it or not, these people look up to you to set an example of what they can expect from motorcycling.

It is cooler to be fully protected rather than bear scars that could have been prevented by wearing protective gear. So, this summer as you ride, remember to wear all of your gear – not just for yourself, but also for everyone that looks up to you. There will be more riders on the roads and the trails this summer. Help all riders to understand the importance of all aspects of safety while riding.

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