Windshield vs No Windshield On A Motorcycle: Your Ultimate Guide

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See? Only the sexiest of subjects are covered over here at Motorcycle Tourer! So grab your whistle and glow sticks and join me at the rave.

Joking aside, you’d be surprised how often this subject comes up – because it’s not quite as uncommon as people think.

And the more you contemplate it, the more it makes sense. And the more it makes sense, the more you start to question whether you’ve made the right decision to ride with (or without) one!

If you’ve come here to see if riding with a windshield really makes a difference, then the answer is yes. You may now move on to the next post – find one in the menu above!

But the problem is that whilst windshields do make a difference, they make both positive and negative differences. And this is where the problem lies – in that grimey little recess between good, bad, positive, and negative.

The little bastards.

windshield on a motorcycle - kawasaki screen

How This Post Works

I’ve spoken to quite a few people about this subject, as well as researched it on the internet. And whilst I agree with what people have to say, I also think that a lot of it is utter tosh.

So with that in mind, we’ll look at 10 key points to riding with (or without) a windshield. From here, you can assess if they are important for you, your bike, and how/where you ride.

We’ll also ruffle some feathers by addressing disputes. Always fun!

The Wind In Windshields

Okay, I want you to make sure you’re sitting down. Because if you’re not, I think you might shit yourself with surprise when I tell you that windshields protect you from… the wind.

I know, I know… you would never have guessed.

But believe it or not, they actually do.

I learned to ride on a bike that had no screen. So when I passed my test and went looking for my own bike, I really didn’t consider the wind protection from a screen.

Of course, I hardly ever went quick enough to reap the benefits of a screen when I was learning. But years later, and with many more quick miles under my belt, I can categorically confirm that riding with a screen protects you from the wind – more than you think.

If you spend most of your time commuting in the city or covering short distances, having a screen (or not) likely won’t make much difference.

But if you enjoy longer rides or touring, a windshield is certainly a positive feature.

bmw gs
Image: Ionut Gaspar

Temperature Regulation From The Windshield On A Motorcycle

When riding in the winter months, windshields are great at protecting you from the icy winds and elements. (Especially if you’re riding into it.)

If you have a bike where you can lay on the tank (or hide behind the screen), the protection is staggering. Even more so on the motorway.

I’m not entirely convinced windshields are the best idea in hot climates, however.

If you’re riding in the Middle East where sand/dust combines with hot 55°C winds, then yes, a windshield would be a good decision.

But in less harsh climates (like Europe), I would argue that protection from the heat comes from wearing the appropriate gear (preferably vented) rather than the windshield.

I have an adjustable screen on my bike. And I find the best way to stay cool is to wear a vented jacket, my flip-up helmet, and drop the windshield to allow cooling air to hit my body.

However, this isn’t without its drawbacks – as you’ll see below!

windshield on a motorcycle - triumph
Image: Hans Ripa

Protection From Debris

Over the years, I’ve had vehicles in front of me flick a whole manner of debris in my direction:

  • Cars flicking up loose pebbles on the road
  • Riding buddies flicking up dirt and gravel whilst off-roading
  • Sand blowing in my face whilst riding on the Spanish coastline
  • Gritters (salters and sanders) when the temperature drops
  • Almost every bug on the planet

Windshields don’t prevent damage from stones to the paintwork on the front of your bike. But they certainly prevent damage from being done to your eyes. And this is especially true if you ride with a flip-front helmet as I do.

One of the most painful moments of my touring career was blasting through the wonderful twisty roads of Luxembourg at 70 mph.

At the 35°C (95°F) temperature, I had the visor open on my helmet. But with the tiny screen on my Honda CBR 600 providing little protection, I bee flew into my eye. The surprise of it nearly threw me off the back of the bike.

And it was painful for days afterwards. Not only this, but my eye constantly watered in the subsequent days – making riding difficult and frustrating.

rider on yellow and black yamaha r6
Image: Vlad Dyshlivenko

The Windshield On A Motorcycle Prevents Fatigue

Another benefit to riding with a windshield is that it prevents fatigue. If you have a long day on the motorway, the constant blast from the wind tires you out surprisingly quickly.

And it’s not just the physical aspect of fighting the wind, either. Wind hitting your helmet for hours on end is a surefire way to tire you out mentally, too.

If you’re transiting in particularly windy conditions, you’ll be in for a bad day if your bike lacks a windshield.

All in all, if you’re a touring rider, a windshield is a must to prevent fatigue and all the issues that go with it.

windshield on a motorcycle - triumph adventure bike
Image: Hans Ripa

Visibility

I’ve ridden a few touring bikes with tall windshields, and one thing that always annoys me is the disruption to visibility.

Of course, windshields are clear, so it’s not as though you can’t see through them. But I seem to be constantly trying to peer either over (or under) the top of the screen.

On my dad’s Honda Deauville, I found this to be the most annoying feature of the bike. But whilst riding a Yamaha FJR 1300, I also found the same to be true.

With an electrically adjustable windshield, I had it up on the motorway for protection (there was nothing to see anyway) and then dropped it down on the twisties.

This gave me a better view of the road surface and a better view of the scenery in front of me.

rider and pillion on yamaha fjr1300
Image: Yamaha

Noise Reduction From The Windshield On A Motorcycle

Another positive to riding with a windshield is protection from wind noise – especially on the motorway.

As mentioned above, I used to ride a Yamaha FJR 1300 with the windshield up on the motorway. Not only did this protect me from the physical effects of the wind, but the fatiguing effects of the noise.

If you ever do a long day on a tour, you’ll notice a massive difference in your energy levels touring with a windshield.

Motorcycle Windshield Aerodynamics

In the first of four disputes, let’s look at aerodynamics.

I know many people who say that riding with a windshield improves bike aerodynamics. But this isn’t as true as they would have you believe.

We’d see tall windshields in moto GP racing if riding with them made motorcycles more aerodynamic. But we don’t. Because windshields don’t improve aerodynamics.

Even if they did, it’s important to remember that (contrary to popular belief) motorcycles are fundamentally rubbish at cutting through the air. 

And the reason for this? Motorcycles have a person sitting on top of them – complete with flailing arms, legs, and a tonne of luggage.

Unlike a car (which has everything inside it), motorcycles have anything and everything either on them or strapped to them. And this causes all sorts of turbulence around the bike.

Whichever way you look at it, motorcycles are not aerodynamic. And a windscreen won’t change that!

If you’re interested in the science of aerodynamics, the lovely people at Canada Moto Guide do a far better job of explaining it than I!

windshield on a motorcycle - ducati
Image: Carnaby Gilany

The Windshield On A Motorcycle Improves Safety

Again, I’m not convinced by this statement. The argument goes that windshields can ‘catch’ you in an accident. They prevent you from going over the top of your bike and into the road.

And whilst I can see this logic, it also seems logical that if you stay near your bike when it falls, you’ll find yourself underneath it when it lands.

Would you rather take your chances sliding on the tarmac with your protective gear? Or would you rather get crushed under your own quarter-tonne bike with nothing to protect you?

I’ll let you come to your own conclusions!

ducati multistrada
Image: Adam Rhodes

Windshields Protect You From The Rain

Okay, if you’re riding into the wind and rain, I can accept that a portion of it would hit the windshield – rather than you.

But how many times have you seen the rain fall perpendicular to the ground? Never, because rain doesn’t fall sideways!

If you’re riding in bad weather and the rain is bouncing off the tarmac, you’re going to get soaked whether you have a windscreen or not.

A Windshield On A Motorcycle Improves Economy

Again, this isn’t entirely true. People who come to this conclusion are basing their opinion on aerodynamics.

Because if a windshield improves aerodynamics, then it stands to reason that fuel economy would be better, too, right?

Yes. Except motorcycles aren’t aerodynamic. So even if your windshield has aerodynamic properties, the effects on fuel economy would be negligible because the rest of the bike is so aerodynamically poor!

windshield on a motorcycle - protection on yamaha scooter
Image: Mehmet Talha Onuk

Viewing Windshields As Accessories

It’s important to view windshields as accessories that compliment your other riding accessories.

For example, a windshield protects you in the cold. But only when you combine it with your winter riding gear, heated jacket, and your big gloves.

They protect you from hot weather. But only when you have vented gear, a vented (or flip front) helmet, and summer gloves.

Windshields protect you from debris, bugs, and stones. So long as you have your helmet on and your face protected by the visor or sun visor.

And windshields also protect you from fatigue and wind noise. Providing you have a helmet that has been developed with aero-acoustics in mind, and you are wearing earplugs.

The Pros & Cons Of A Windshield On A Motorcycle: Conclusion

Ultimately, whether you need a windshield or not comes down to preference and where you will be riding your bike.

If you’re a commuting rider who only rides for half an hour a day, then no, it probably isn’t necessary.

But if you’re a touring rider who spends 8 hours in the saddle each day crossing countries and continents, then a windshield would likely be favourable!

Still unsure? Take yours off your bike for a day and go for a ride out – see how it pans out.

I guarantee you’ll love it in the twisties when the sun is out and your face is being blasted by cool, refreshing air.

But we’ll see how you like it on the motorway ride home with a mouth full of flies!

Top image: BMW

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