Gear ethics 101

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This story originally appeared in the Dealernews October 2010 issue.

As part of our ongoing coverage of the importance of selling gear — for you and your customers — we asked you to submit comments on how you deal with selling riding apparel and safety equipment. We wanted to know if you bring up the possibility of crashing when discussing gear. We asked if selling customers on good riding apparel was the ethical thing to do or just good business. True, you can’t demand customers protect themselves, but it just seems to be good common sense that they do.

We didn’t get an avalanche of responses, but those that did come in were well-thought-out. Two stood out, one from Art Elting, the owner of Country Rode Motowerks, a BMW/Euro store in Rochester, N.Y. The other came from Bob Henig of Bob’s BMW in Jessup, Md. Hmm, both Beemer stores. A coincidence you think?

Elting’s response is good because of its smart-alecky (smart-alecky always wins for me) nature and offers up why certain riders wear what they wear. Scooter riders (he’s also a Vespa/Piaggio dealer) seem to think they can’t get hurt because they don’t go fast. “Very bad mistake,” he says. Sportbike riders in full-face helmets with shorts and T-shirts? Unbelievable. And cruiser riders in soup bowl helmets, fingerless gloves and leather vests. Have to look the part, right? Wrong. BMW riders? Most wear gear. Most. The way he sees it, you can lead a horse to water, but. … You know the rest.

“We know many people who have had serious road rash, and [it’s] guaranteed, if they do ride again, they’ll wear proper gear. A year of skin grafts is not a walk in the park,” he says.
Henig’s response was more his overall take on wearing gear and the atmosphere he fosters in his dealership. “I firmly believe several things — that as dealers we are responsible for setting the right example for our customers, our employees and the general motorcycle population as well as those who don’t ride but see us out riding.” As such, he requires his entire staff to suit up head-to-toe if they’re on a dealership-owned bike. Techs must wear a jacket, boots, a helmet, gloves and a high-visibility vest on test rides. Service advisers must wear helmet and gloves when riding a customer’s bike around the building. Customers who demo bikes are required to be in head-to-toe gear at all times. Henig maintains a full size range of demo gear (boots are coming soon) in men’s and women’s sizes, and he allows customers to test ride gear off the rack. To press the point, he shares stories from other customers about how the gear he sold them helped save their skin, their bones and sometimes their lives.

“My staff is required to strongly suggest that while wearing all this stuff is not legally required, it is the smart thing to do,” he says. “We don’t need to be pushy, but we do need to be sure we educate them [about gear] and [tell them] that maybe their friends are not watching out for their best interests if they still wear jeans and T-shirts while riding today’s motorcycles.”

Did I choose these two examples because they meshed with my beliefs? Absolutely. I’ll never understand why some people dress the way they do when they ride. Should they have the freedom to do so? Yes. But they’ve also got the freedom to hit themselves in the head with a hammer or eat glass. Should they be forced to suit up by law? Probably not.

I suppose my question is why wouldn’t they? I’ve seen the aftermath of bad accidents as have most people who have been around powersports long enough, and it’s pretty ugly. Riding is inherently dangerous and gear won’t save everyone, but it’s all about minimizing the risk. So to the T-shirts-and-shorts-clad duo I saw riding two-up on the 405, I just have to ask why? If they don’t think of themselves, don’t they have families and loved ones to think of? I know this is a question that I will never get answered, but it’s one I’ll always be asking.

How do you sell gear? Let us know.

Dennis Johnson
Editor in Chief
dennis.johnson@dealernews.com

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2 Responses to “Gear ethics 101”

  1. Todd Says:

    I survived a motorcycle crash that was caused by an idiot running a stop sign in 1994.

    I was wearing a really good quality Shoei helmet (full face) and a really good leather jacket. Oh, and Levi’s and black Chuck Taylor all-star high-tops.

    The helmet was ground down into the foam, the jacket was badly scuffed (and cut into pieces by the EMT and caked with blood when I got it back in a red plastic bag).

    Guess what happened to the areas that had no protection?

    I tore open my inner left thigh and sliced open my femoral vein. I heard from a nurse later that I lost as much blood as is possible without not really needing what was left. If a woman working in the 7-11 in front of where the crash happened that had served in Vietnam in rescue/ER would not have been there to slow the bleeding, I’d be dead.

    Those Chuck’s did about as good a job as the Levi’s in protecting me. Broke pretty much every bone in both feet to one level or another.

    Ten years go by with me swearing off motorcycles. Except in the spring when I’d get that jones again.

    Then we moved up here with no jobs (intentionally… to bail out of the Bay Area), I landed a job at the local BMW shop. Got back into the motorcycle thing again. But also had to go through a lot of thinking about how to do it “safely”.

    Took delivery of my “new” bike exactly 10 years to the day of my accident. Didn’t hit me about the anniversary until like a week later.

    But I swore that I’d never ride without the gear. I’m one of those people that will wear a leather jacket and pants when it’s 90+.

    And you know what? All that gear makes it all less fun.

    Sure, now there are some amazing mesh jackets, pants, gloves that help, and helmets are way more comfortable than they were years ago.

    So it’s not so much the gear itself that makes it less fun, it’s the fact that you need the gear.

    The fact that you have to go through the thought process: “I need to wear all of this shit because what I’m about to do is very dangerous and could kill me. All this gear is only a thin veneer of protection against what could happen if someone crosses a double yellow line, or a poorly tied down load comes off a truck up ahead of me, or …”

    So I think that a lot of people ride without the gear, or delude themselves that they don’t need the gear, or convince themselves that the gear wouldn’t do any good anyway because if they thought about it all too much, a lot less people would ride.

    I think a lot of dealers know this, and therefore don’t push enough people into gear. They don’t want to make people “think” about it because they may just think themselves off a bike and into a trip to France instead.

  2. Dennis Johnson Says:

    Todd, excellent comment. Makes me wonder how close you are to the truth.

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