Motorcycle Touring: 10 Reasons Why You Need a Windshield


Over the years, and over several different motorcycles, I’ve experienced riding with and without a windshield. My old SV650 had an aftermarket 3/4 front fairing and small windshield that helped keep the wind off my chest and shoulders. When I removed it, to get back that naked bike look, I noticed a huge difference and it took me several weeks of riding to really get used to it.

My CB500X has a small, adjustable windshield that offer about the same amount of protection as the old bike, and it’s fine for commuting, or weekend trips, but, would it be enough for long distance riding, day after day, mile after mile? So, in trying to determine if I need an aftermarket windshield for touring, I started looking into the benefits of riding with one. Here are 10 reason why you need, or might want, a windshield on your motorcycle.

1. Wind Protection

Reason number one seems to be a no brainer. I mean, that’s what they are designed for, to shield you from the wind. They are designed to disperse the oncoming wind around your motorcycle and around the rider. Shields with a slight upward lip at the top, push the wind up and over the rider’s head, depending on the height of the windshield and the rider.

A wider windshield will help push the wind around the sides of the rider, reducing the force against the chest and shoulders. Often, the simple act of diverting the wind can cause other wind related issues like bufetting of the helmet, or wind blowing up from below. Windshields for touring often come with a small opening at the bottom, allowing some wind to flow through just enough to equalize the pressure behind the windshield and reduce buffeting.

Touring windshields often come with adjustable extensions which can be raised when riding at faster, highway speeds. The difference in speed will affect the way air flows over the windshield, and the extra lip adjusts for it.

On some cruisers with large, aftermarket windshields, riders sometimes find it necessary to install extensions on either side of the forks. This prevents air from flowing under the windshield and up into your legs and chest area.

2. Protection from Heat and Cold

When it’s cold outside and you’re cruising down the highway, a windshield will reduce the effects of windchill significantly. Windchill is the perceived drop in temperature and is calculated with some, fancy, complicated formula. (like math). But, to give you an idea, let’s say it’s 40°F outside and you’re riding at about 55 miles per hour. It’s going to feel like it’s 25°F.

Obviously you’ll be wearing a jacket among other layers, but, a windshield is going to divert much of that head-on cold air, reducing the effects of windchill.

Similarly, a windshield will protect you in hot, dry weather. When you sweat, the wind provides an amazing cooling effect and feels great after sitting at a hot stop light for even a few minutes. But, over long periods of time, the wind evaporates your sweat at such a rate that you’re body may not be able to keep up, increasing your risk of dehydration. So, having a windshield to take away some of the brutal heat blasting on your chest, will help you last longer on the bike.

3. Rain Protection

I’ve been caught in the rain on a naked motorcycle, and even though I had a waterproof jacket, I was miserable having all that rain blasting me. It sucked. A larger windshield will provide much more protection against the rain. It’s not going to keep you 100% dry, of course, but, it will divert much of the oncoming water up and over your head, and around your chest and shoulders.

If you run with a windshield so large that you have to look through it, consider applying a water repellent. This will help the water bead up and slide off rather than creating a sheet of water that’s difficult to see through.

A windshield will also help protect your instrument panel and your mounted electronics, depending on their position. It will not, however, keep them 100% dry and you should not rely on a windshield to fully protect your electronics from water.

4. Debris Protection

Another benefit of the windshield is protection from debris that can come your way. If a small pebble thrown up from a tire is enough to crack a car windshield, just think of how much that would hurt if it hit you. A windshield will help catch debris that is flung from other vehicles.

Bugs are another argument in support of a windshield. If you’ve ever had a dragonfly smack you in the helmet, then you understand. Yes, it will get dirty over time, with all the bug guts, and if you let it go, they will build up and become an visual obstruction. But, the simple solution to that is to clean it when you stop.

5. Reduce Fatigue

The reduction of wind blasting into you helps reduce rider fatigue over long distances. When the wind is pushing against you, you’re working harder to keep your posture upright, and you’re gripping the bars tighter. You’re arms are pulling yourself forward to counteract the force.

It seems very subtle when you’re used to riding without a windshield, but over time, after hours on the road, it begins to fatigue the back and shoulder muscles as well as the forearms and hands. Before you know it, you’re tired and you’re not really sure why.

But, with protection from the wind, you are able to relax your grip on the handlebars, relax your shoulders more, relax your core. This will help prevent over-all fatigue and, at the end of the day, you won’t be so burnt out.

6. Reduce Back, Neck and Shoulder Pain

This benefit follows directly on #5. Holding yourself up from the forces of oncoming wind can, over time, cause shoulder pain or pain in the upper back. Continuous, unchecked pain can become an issue if you’re on an extended motorcycle tour.

Another vulnerable muscle group are those in your neck. Constantly fighting your head from blowing around, with that big helmet on it, will begin to take its toll on your neck muscles, which can lead to headaches, and more fatigue. A properly sized windshield can reduce the risks of these aches and pains so you can have a comfortable motorcycle vacation.

7. Noise Reduction

Let’s face it. Riding a motorcycle is a noisy affair. For riders who don’t ride with a full face helmet, the wind noise can be even more bothersome. But, a properly fitted windshield can help reduce that noise. I say ‘properly fitted’ because, a windshield that’s too low will do little to reduce the noise. So, if noise reduction is important to you, make sure you find one that forces the wind over your head instead of directly into it.

Many riders have noticed that, with the reduction of wind noise, they can hear their engine and other bike noises much better. This is a plus for many riders. If there’s something strange going on with your chain, your wheels, your brakes, etc., you’re more likely to notice it.

8. Improved Fuel Efficiency

Windshields are designed to be aerodynamic, and in most cases they will make you and your bike move more efficiently through the wind. How much more efficient would depend on the area of the windshield, but, a smooth, consistent surface will cut the wind better than all the exposed parts on the bike that can break up the wind randomly.

As far as improved fuel efficiency, it makes sense that a windshield would help. But, probably not a great deal. Still, consider this; an average motorcycle gets 40 or 45 miles to the gallon and even a slight savings in fuel could save you from walking a few miles to the next station. Every little bit helps.

9. Protects Your Electronics, GPS, Cell Phone

If you ride with a lot of electronic gadgets mounted on your dash or to your handlebars, they are fully exposed to rocks and bugs while your riding. However, a windshield can offer some protection to your expensive navigation system and your cell phone.

A windshield can also provide you with good mounting options. Placing your GPS unit front and center can put it more at eye level making it easier and safer to read navigation instructions.

10. Reduces Helmet Buffeting

When selecting a windshield for your motorcycle it’s important to consider the height of the windshield along with your own height. The windshield can be an excellent solution for helmet wind buffeting, but it can also be a contributing factor.

To reduce wind buffeting, it has to push the wind up and over the rider’s head, or, push it at least towards the top of the helmet, then over. Buffeting is caused when the wind hits just underneath the helmet and causes the helmet, as well as your head, to shake or wobble around. This can cause blurry vision, neck pain, and headaches from trying to keep your head steady.

If you experience helmet buffeting when riding a motorcycle that has no windshield, then it might be a good solution for that problem.

The Cons of having a windshield

Not all riders like the idea of a windshield and prefer to ride without them. Here are a few common reasons why some riders decide to go without.

  1. They are un-cool and look dorky.
  2. Cross winds can cause the bike to move around more.
  3. Can cause wind buffeting in some new, odd places that you’ve never noticed before, such as, up under the feet and legs.
  4. Too much work cleaning off the bug guts.

Quite honestly, the pros outnumber the cons. And, while cleaning off bug guts can be a pain, being able to rider longer without getting beat up by the constant wind is a huge plus for getting a windshield installed on your motorcycle.

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