Touring Tip: The Importance of Effective Wind Protection

Jan 09, 2015 View Comments by

IMG_4233-croppedThe first visual clue that a motorcycle may be used for touring is the presence of a windscreen and/or other wind management devices. On the other hand, around town riders often eschew the look of a windscreen protruding above their handlebars. After a few months of riding my Suzuki cruiser back in the day I only reluctantly added a smallish windscreen to the bike. True, the bike didn’t look as cool, but it was much more comfortable during daylong rides on country roads.

Without adequate wind protection motorcyclists traveling at highway speeds during long days in the saddle inevitably experience substantial physical fatigue—especially on bikes with an upright seating position. Arms and back pulling against a 60 mph wind force will usually start aching before too many hours pass. Here are some additional concerns and considerations for touring riders who do want effective wind protection on their multi-day adventures.

  • Riding in Cold Weather: When riding without a suitable windscreen, I have found it extremely difficult to compensate with layers of clothing and/or heated gear, for the wind chill of cold weather at highway speeds. For example, a 40-degree ambient air temperature with 60 mph of wind converts to a wind chill of 25 degrees. Of course ambient air temperature drops dramatically at higher altitudes. The rule of thumb is that for every 1,000 feet of additional altitude the temperature will drop by approximately 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Riding in Hot Weather: Riding without wind protection in very hot weather also has its drawbacks, although they may not be as potentially serious as riding when it’s cold. The human body relies on evaporative cooling through perspiration to maintain a safe internal temperature in hot weather. While it is important to have some air circulation to the rider’s body when it’s hot, a full-on direct windblast can rapidly deplete bodily fluids.
  • Managing Air Flow: My large sport-touring bike has both an OEM windshield and a larger aftermarket one, which I install during colder months. While the narrower OEM windshield provides good air circulation during warm weather riding and keeps the windblast off my chest in cold weather, the aftermarket one keeps my arms and the rest of my upper body much more comfortable in the cold. It also helps to have an adjustable windshield, preferably an electronic one that can be adjusted while riding, to fine tune airflow. Airflow can be managed on a fixed height windshield by attaching or removing a windscreen spoiler. Some spoilers even allow for adjustment of their angle of inclination so that more or less airflow can be directed toward or away from the rider. There are also some spoilers available for adjusting airflow to the legs and lower torso.
  • Choosing the Best Height: Because I do not enjoy looking through a windshield, even in cold weather, I would never select one that is too tall. These windshields can restrict airflow so much that they can be more uncomfortable in hot weather than a lower one. I’ve also ridden bikes with windscreens I could look over, but were still tall enough to cause wind buffeting at the top of my helmet. This effect is both unpleasant and fatiguing at highway speeds, especially on a long ride. I’ve found that the best all around height for me is one that allows at least some level of airflow from the neck up. It will be noisier than riding with the proverbial storm door windscreen, but regulating the riding noise level is the job of a good helmet and earplugs.

During my cruiser days, sans windscreen, I quickly learned that comfortable riding occurred only during a relatively narrow range of ambient temperatures. And when temperatures turn really cold, bikes on the road without wind protection become as rare as sunbathing in Alaska. So, if you’re a serious touring motorcyclist, obtaining effective wind protection for your ride is well worth the time and effort required.


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