Benjamin Franklin is often credited as saying: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” For a motorcyclist there is an additional certainty. Whenever you take the time to thoroughly clean your face shield, a big old bug is going to splatter itself across your pristine plastic within minutes of being underway.
This usually happens just as you and your friends have entered a choice section of canyon and snapped the throttle open to welcome the twisting turns. If you stop to clean your shield, you’ll lose touch with your riding buddies and miss out on the shared riding experience. The face shield splat also tends to happen right after you’ve refueled and rehydrated. You don’t want to stop again so soon and try to tolerate the splatter, peering around the mess. Good luck.
Some years back, I stumbled across an interesting fact claiming the world’s insect population weighed 12 times that of humanity. This certainly would help explain where all the bugs come from. What’s interesting is that these kamikaze pilots rarely splat themselves off-center. No, they tend to smash directly in the middle of your field of vision. Right between the eyes.
Believing there must be some scientific logic or motive, I undertook a uniformly unscientific study. I determined a freshly cleaned shield will soon collect a bug. Every time I cleaned and polished the plastic, an errant bug would shortly torpedo directly into it. However, if I rode with the remnants of a bug squished across my face shield, I rarely caught another. It’s as if the insects are marking territory and the others acknowledge the claim. Dirty shields simply don’t seem to have as much target value.
Call me sentimental, but every time a bug hits my face shield, I get a little sad. Since most bugs have very limited time on this planet, it seems a shame to cut an already short life even shorter. Of course, the other possibility is that these bugs are intentionally ending it all, which is disturbing in and of itself. It would suggest there are an awful lot of unhappy bugs out there. It has to be either science or mere coincidence.
However, the bug splat scenario introduces another quandary. Do you continue to ride? Do you stop for a clean? Or do you try and wipe the mess off? As any rider knows, the latter is a real gamble. You might get lucky and wind up with a surprisingly clean shield, or perhaps just a faint smear. Unfortunately, passing your glove over the hit will almost invariably leave an oozing swath of insect viscera behind. The resulting wide band of slime now obscures half your field of vision, making the initial splat seem insignificant.
The consequences of collecting insects on the face shield of a full-coverage helmet is a much better scenario than when I was a teenager wearing three-quarter open-face helmets. Back in the day, it was common to get a bee sucked into the gap between the helmet and your cheek. This always came with a very specific, very subtle thud, followed by the unnerving feel of something frantically buzzing around behind your ear. The speed you were carrying dictated how far around the circumference of your head the bee ended up. The impact pissed the bee off, causing the confused insect to search for something to sting. For riders this was a test in remaining calm, slowing down, and getting off the road as quickly and safely as possible.
After decades of full-face helmets, I had the opportunity to go retro for an Egli-Vincent ride in England. I chose to wear a half-shell lid for the vintage machine. Barreling down a country lane, I felt absolutely naked. I had forgotten how painful bugs are when they nail you in the cheek at speed—and there were a plethora of small winged things in the English countryside. I was also reminded of how you had to keep your mouth shut or swallow all sorts of things. We live with Murphy’s Law with regard to clean face shields and insects—12 times the weight of the human population.