Have you ever been riding down the freeway on your motorcycle and you feel your head shaking around involuntarily? Like an invisible force is slapping your head from side to side, up and down, forward and back in a weird random pattern. You find it hard to focus and you tense your neck and shoulders to keep it under control and 15 minutes later you have a stiff neck and a splitting headache. You have been the victim of wind buffeting.
What is Helmet Wind Buffeting? According to the Oxford Dictionary, buffeting is “The action of striking someone or something repeatedly and violently.” or, “Irregular oscillation of part of an aircraft, caused by turbulence.” On a motorcycle, it is the turbulent wind flowing around the windshield, front fairings, and helmet that cause the buffeting.
Wind buffeting is not the same as resistance. Wind resistance is the constant pressure of the wind blowing against the rider. The official definition is: “the forces that are in opposition to the relative motion of an object as it passes through the air”. Anyone who rides a naked motorcycle, a bike with no windshield, is familiar with wind resistance, and it is usually a constant force that the rider can adapt to. Buffeting is different.
What Causes Helmet Wind Buffeting?
Wind buffeting most often occurs on motorcycles with windshields or front fairings, and at freeway speeds. While the windshield pushes the oncoming wind away from the rider’s chest and shoulders, that wind begins to swirl around the edges and the inside of the windshield creating a vacuum, or airflow in the opposite direction. Wind can also flow up under the fairing and blow directly onto the rider’s chest or helmet. The air streams created in this vacuum are not consistent, so they and they can catch the edged of your helmet causing movement or vibration. Some riders who wear open face helmets and sunglasses have noticed that buffeting can go as far as shake their sunglasses while riding.
Wind buffeting can also be cause by a side wind even if your helmet and windshield are perfectly adjusted to prevent it. A strong air flow from the side will break up when it hits you and your motorcycle. This can cause the air to swirl around your helmet causing vibration or unwanted, random movement. In face, on any noticeably windy day, you can expect to experience some buffeting.
Sometimes riding with a passenger can break up the usual wind flow that you’re used to and cause the air to flow in a different pattern around your helmet. You or your passenger may experience the annoying affects of wind buffeting. So, it’s a problem that can’t be solved 100% of the time, but there are things you can do to reduce it.
How to Reduce Wind Buffeting
The first thing to look at is your windscreen. No matter what size you have on your motorcycle, if it’s not adjusted properly for your riding height, it can cause buffeting. If the wind coming off the windscreen and hitting the rider just under the helmet, the wind will catch the helmet and cause it to move around. So the key is to make sure the wind is passing over the top of the helmet, or, some on sport bikes, or motorcycles with small windscreens where the wind doesn’t go over the rider, the wind should hit below the helmet and across the rider’s shoulders.
So, the trick is to adjust the height of your windshield, or purchase an aftermarket windshield that will move the wind up and over your helmet. If you don’t want to invest in a new windshield, you might want to consider a windscreen spoiler blade add on that bolts to your existing windshield.
If your windshield height is adjusted properly and you still notice a problem, one solution is to provide some airflow just under the windshield. Having a small gap between the windscreen and the fairing will allow a slight amount of wind to flow up the inside of the windscreen reducing the vacuum that forms in that area. The amount of wind flowing through this gap is just enough to reduce the problem and not so strong that it blows agains the rider. Some touring motorcycles have the ability to adjust this gap on the fly or electronically to accommodate freeway riding. Another solution to adjusting this gap if you still notice buffeting, is to add spacers to the bolts that secure the windshield, providing a little more space under the windshield.
Another common area where riders notice a problem is the wind flowing up from under the front fairing or under a larger windshield. This wind can flow up the riders chest and cause movement of the helmet. A common solution for this problem is to install lowers on each side of the motorcycle, just below the fairing. This will cause the wind to flow around the riders legs instead of upward. There are a wide variety of lowers made by the manufacturers, especially Harley Davidson. But, there are also a lot of aftermarket choices that are sure to work with your motorcycle and your riding set-up. Look up your motorcycle here on Twisted Throttle to see if they have a solution for your bike.
The solution to wind buffeting doesn’t necessarily have to be installing a large windscreen. Often your helmet can be the culprit. As an example, my CB500x has a small windscreen that is not tall enough to move the wind up and over my head. It’s only tall enough to reduce the wind resistance against my chest and slightly on my shoulders. I used to have the windscreen in its upper most adjustment and ride with a dual sport helmet and had no wind buffeting. However, when I purchased a standard, full face helmet, I noticed more buffeting. The new helmet shape changed the way the wind flowed and caused an annoying amount of movement. My solution was to lower the windscreen slightly. This caused the wind to flow just below my helmet resulting in no more buffeting. If you have a similar situation, the key here is to purchase a good aerodynamic helmet that helps reduce wind noise and wind resistance making for a comfortable ride. Also, fun fact, adding a windshield to your motorcycle will help with wind buffeting too!.
So, to sum it up, reduce wind buffeting by looking at your
- Windshield height and how the air flows over the windshield
- Add windscreen spoiler to help deflect the wind over your head
- Add space for air flow under your windshield
- Add lowers to each side under the windshield
- Wear an aerodynamic helmet
How can I tell where the wind is coming from? To figure out where the wind is coming from can be a little tricky if you don’t have a wind tunnel, laboratory and a staff of specialists handy. But you can still get a good idea of where wind flow is coming from. Go out for a ride on a calm day and get your motorcycle up to freeway speed where the wind is most noticeable. With your hands, start feeling around for that point where the wind hits. Place your hand, fingers together, palm down, at the side of your tank and move it around slowly until you feel where the wind resistance is happening. Do the same at the top and the sides of your windscreen. This test will give you a good idea of where the problem is coming from.
What’s the body position for riding in the wind? A cross wind, or wind coming from the side, is the type that causes the most problems for a rider, but in any case the best way to deal with excess wind is to create a lower rider profile. Lean over your tank and duck down as much as possible. Sometimes it’s nice to have a tank bag that you can lean on. In the case of a strong side wind, you will find yourself having to lean into the wind to keep your motorcycle upright and on a straight path. One way to reduce this is to create some drag on the same side as the wind by sticking out your knee. You’ll see professional Moto GP riders do this to slow themselves down just before a turn. Sticking out your knee helps reduce that sideways push that a side wind causes. Depending on how windy it is, it may not completely solve the problem, but it will help.
How do I measure more windshield height? Sizing a windshield is a two person job and if a very simple, 5 minute procedure. With the rider sitting on the motorcycle, off the kickstand, the second person will measure the distance from the top of the headlight, or handlebars, to the riders nose. You want the rider to be able to look over the top of the windshield and not through it. It will still be tall enough to deflect the wind over the rider, but not so tall to interfere with the rider’s vision.