Our journey into motorcycling must begin with a consideration of gear. The fractured world of riders has made it such that what should be a clear condition of riding has instead become a question that many do not bother to answer. This is foolish and I hope that you will soon agree.
There are many cultures within riding. They are distinct and there is shockingly little communication between them. You have only to hear the jokes that sport bikers make about Harley Davidson motorcycles to observe this. How does a Harley go fast around a corner? On the back of a trailer. This kind of antagonism reveals the depth of a given rider community. It is an ingroup; unlikely to reach out for assistance from someone else. Wannabe racers will often not ride with stunters. Cruisers will not ride with Supermotos. We do not see each other on forums or at meetups, because we have different places to go for both. Only those of us who have had the privilege of owning more than one type of bike can peek into both worlds.
What this means is quite simple. Most riders come into the sport in accordance with the culture that surrounds the bike itself. This is the best case scenario. Some riders do not fall into a community and start off alone, with no one to show them the way.
When the riding culture is healthy, the new rider learns everything that she needs to know to ride well and safely. She has a community to help her out when she has trouble. And she does not have to ride alone if she doesn’t want to. But the culture can also be unhealthy. It can be a source of bad advice about bikes and riding strategies. Just have a look at some examples from Youtube.
These are mishaps that would not have happened if the new rider fell in with another community or simply spoke to different people within the community. The point here is that it is possible for the riders that surround you to be bad sources of knowledge concerning riding. Now, have a look out on the streets. Find a big group of riders. Notice how the caravan always wears the same amounts of gear and has roughly the same riding style with regard to formation and speed.
Now, every rider who dons a helmet or a leather jacket does not know in their heart the full benefit of doing so. Being new to the game, they are simply following suit with other riders. Even if one can recite claims like “dress for the crash,” the true meaning of gear doesn’t sink in until after that gear has been field tested. Until then, they are just fitting in with their squad, or adhering to a theoretical reflection on safety, or noticing how cool they look in leather. Or a t-shirt.
It is the same with the common perspectives floating around concerning helmet laws. Some riders reject helmets because of vague—and I mean vague—appeals to individual freedom in the face of what they see as overly paternalistic state laws. This is a fat wad of nonsense.
There may be good reasons to resist state paternalism. But this does not have anything to do with the question of whether one should choose to wear a helmet. That would be confusing the requirements of the law with the imperative of our own reasoned reflection.
In this regard, eschewing a piece of safety gear in defiance of an authority that requires it is a stupid way to lodge a protest. Consider the biker who died from head injuries at a rally in which riders protested the helmet law. This is a cruel and needless irony. It may be the case that everyone should “have the choice.” But it does not follow that the particular option should ever be chosen. The only study I managed to find (from a search of hundreds) that calls mandatory helmet laws into question states exactly this. Sure, maybe it shouldn’t be a law, but given the availability and cost of helmets and safety gear, it would be several levels of unwise for a rider to leave them on the shelf.
On a side note: Do you think that the riders who were right behind the guy who died from head injuries at the anti-helmet ride are still campaigning for a repeal of helmet laws? I can imagine a perspective from which they could still be doing it. But this is a perspective in which ideological commitments to bad principles override basic facts about skulls and low speed wrecks.
There are other advantages to gear that are important. When you feel the back protector pressing against your spine and the knee pads and leather against your legs, that brooding background feeling of your all too human frailty is dimmed and you can ride more confidently. Confidence is a measurable good in motorcycling. An ill placed finger smudge on a visor can debilitate your ability to ride with precision and commitment. Well fitting gear and a good helmet are the natural accompaniments to a finely tuned bike.
So: If your squad is encouraging you to ride, but not encouraging you to get and wear gear, they are being irresponsible with your development as a rider. This is a danger on your life; you have good reason to be suspicious of the advice that they give you.