Windshield Vs. No Windshield Motorcycle Riding

by Jerry Romick
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Windshields were introduced to motorcycles sometime around 1928, after Rohm and Haas began producing polymethyl methacrylate in Germany. This plastic was referred to as Perspex in Great Britain and has also been marketed as Plexiglas, Acrylite and Lucite. Those first windshields were small. In the 1930s and 1940s, motorcycle windshields gained popularity, especially with the introduction of large touring motorcycles. Today, many riders have strong opinions on riding with or without a windshield.

Aerodynamics and Fuel Efficiency

Motorcycles are not especially aerodynamic or fuel efficient, especially the styles that have riders sitting straight up, such as cruisers. Despite many large-displacement bikes getting 40 mpg or more, an upright rider causes significant drag, which negatively affects fuel efficiency. Attaching a windshield to a motorcycle diverts air over and around the rider's body, reducing drag and increasing fuel efficiency.

Safety and Weather Protection

Two of the primary reasons to ride a motorcycle with a windshield are to keep the weather, such as precipitation and cold air, and road debris and insects from striking the rider's body, face and head. Riding without a windshield in cold weather allows the air to directly contact the rider's body, robbing it of heat. A windshield provides a cushion of air that is relatively still, mitigating the effects of the cold air. A windshield will also provide some protection from precipitation, though even with a windshield a rider will get wet if he rides in the rain. At highway speeds insects and pebbles striking a rider can be painful, and distracting.

If not properly positioned a windshield can have a negative affect on a rider's vision. Most motorcycle windshields are designed so that a rider looks over the top. Some taller windshields require a rider to look through them. Accumulated dirt and dead bugs on the windshield can impair vision. And in fog or rain, vision can also become more obscured with a windshield than without one.

The Look and the Ride

Riders who prefer riding without a windshield often cite how a windshield affects the look of a motorcycle, interrupting the flow of the design. Another criticism of windshields is that they limit or eliminate one of the best parts of riding, the feel of the wind in the rider's face. An improperly positioned windshield can also cause severe wind buffeting to the rider's head.

Riding at highway speeds for an extended period of time without a windshield can cause fatigue as the wind is in direct contact with the rider's upper body. The pressure generated by wind buffeting at those speeds, even with a full-face helmet, can cause hearing loss.

Motorcycle Function

Some styles of motorcycle usually come equipped from the factory with windshields. Sportsbikes with fairings generally have windshields that are integral to the fairing. Touring bikes are also shipped with windshields attached. The decision of riding with or without a windshield often comes down to the type of riding. Long-range touring riders often find the advantages of a windshield outweigh the disadvantages. Riders who live in areas with cold winters often turn to a windshield to extend their riding season.

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