It always amazes me to see people riding around without even the bare minimum of riding gear. To be honest, when I was young, I only wore what was necessary to keep me warm in the winter and as little as possible to look cool in the summer. I suppose it’s probably not that much different with riders these days. Of course when I started to ride on the street, it was the early ‘60s and there wasn’t much gear available. Most of what was “designed” for riding only differed from other gear in that it was made of leather or waxed cotton, and was nominally waterproof. Outside of the helmet, there wasn’t much that offered anything in the way of protection.
Over the years and after a few spills, I came to recognize the value of a set of good leathers, and later both fabric and leather gear with compressed foam inserts, and other cushioning and abrasion-resistant features and materials. Part of what motivates me to buy better gear is the knowledge that my body isn’t as resilient as it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago, and an impact that might have only caused some minor abrasions and momentary disorientation could now in my 60s cause permanent damage or death.
The strides made in motorcycle gear over the past 20 years have been phenomenal. Not only do today’s garments keep you warm or cool, they offer an incredible amount of protection to your limbs and back as well. The value of proper gear was recently demonstrated to me by a friend of mine who, while returning from a trip in the mountains, lost his big toe when the rear end of a truck crossed over the double yellow and clipped his left foot even though he was wearing heavy boots. While most of us wouldn’t consider this a major loss, he will have to walk with the aid of a cane for the rest of his life. Had he been wearing the typical running shoe, in all likelihood he would have said goodbye to his entire foot.
I have to admit that I seldom wear all the gear, all the time. I always wear a jacket, helmet, gloves and boots, and when the weather’s cool, outer pants. But unless I’m going on a “spirited ride,” I just wear my jeans. (I need to follow my own advice and buy a pair of pants that I can live with in the summer.)
Today virtually every OEM has a full line of branded gear ranging from boots to gloves. There also are a sizeable number of aftermarket vendors that produce and market a wide variety of gear. I would venture to say that when all is said and done, there are probably more than 300 choices from which a consumer can choose, and therein lies the problem. With so many choices, how does a consumer — or a dealer for that matter — determine what’s right for him or her?
Presumably as a dealer, your sales rep will tell you all about the benefits of the latest gear from Icon or Firstgear or whatever brand it is that they’re trying to sell you. I guess in some respects that’s good enough.
Consumers, on the other hand, don’t get much of a rundown on how this compares to that. I know that before I drop my money on a significant purchase, I want to know or at least feel that I’m getting the most value/benefit for my dollar. As far as I know, about the only place to get a relatively unbiased opinion on gear is through one of the periodic comparison tests conducted by mainline motorcycle consumer magazines.
I subscribe to four mainline magazines, Motorcycle Consumer News (MCN), Rider, Motorcyclist and Cycle World. During the course of a year, one or more of them will do a review or a comparison of boots, gloves, jackets, pants, helmets and other accessories. Typically the reviews are not all-inclusive, but generally they cover the main brands. There are also websites that post reviews: motorcycle-usa.com, motorcyclecruiser.com, motorcycle.com to name a few.
According to the MIC 2009 Statistical Annual, in 2008 there were 9.4 million motorcycle owners, and 25 million people who rode a motorcycle that year. That’s a lot of potential customers. The problem is most of these folks will never see an ad for a motorcycle, much less motorcycle gear, and fewer still will see a feature-by-feature analysis of any gear.
To provide customers with more information about the motorcycles they sell, many dealers copy or clip road tests, comparisons and other product reviews and zip-tie them to the handlebars of their showroom bikes. This approach could work equally well for gear. The trick is in running down the relevant reviews.
I’ll stick to print here, because I’m most familiar with it and know many of the editors who write the reviews. To me they have credibility and experience that some unknown person in the ether doesn’t have. Of all the major magazines, MCN and Rider probably do the most frequent and comprehensive reviews. So all you need to do is go over their back issues, see if they’ve reviewed any of the products you carry, and if they’re favorable, clip them, put them in a plastic sleeve and attach them where the respective product is displayed. The same can be done with website printouts.
Just remind your customers that gear serves a multitude of functions. It keeps you warm when it’s cold, it keeps you cool when it’s hot, it offers protection against loss of skin, it reduces the possibility or severity of broken bones, it keeps you dry when it’s raining, and given the right colors, keeps you visible in traffic and at night.
Those are lots of good reasons to always wear all the gear, all the time.
This story originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Dealernews.