How to Install a Motorcycle Windshield

Are you reluctant to put on a windshield?

When I began riding I considered windshields beneath me, something no self-respecting sporting rider would use. Sure, they were fine for the touring set or some old fart on a BMW (an old fart being someone of maybe 30), but for us young bucks, a power-robbing windshield? No way. Then one December day I was standing at the parts counter of my friendly neighborhood motorcycle shop, something I did a lot of in those days. It must have been the icicles stuck to my eyebrows that aroused the parts manager's pity, or maybe his Christmas spirit. Dragging me over to the far end of the counter, he pulled a dusty box from a shelf. It was a Bates windshield, retail price $19.95. "Go slap this on your bike. If it fits you can have it for a 10 spot." Out in the alley I bolted the Plexiglas slab onto my 1966 X-6 Suzuki Hustler. It fit like a glove and the sawbuck changed hands, and though it didn't earn many points for style, it sure made riding through the rest of the winter a lot more comfortable.

Installing a motorcycle windshield
Per the instructions, the first step is installing the Burr Barrier to the upper triple clamp to prevent marring the chrome. (It’s the barely visible half-moon–shaped piece of clear plastic).Photography by Mark Zimmerman

In terms of both weather protection and overall usefulness, a simple windshield has a lot going for it. It doesn’t hide the mechanical components of the bike the way a full fairing does, nor is it anywhere near as bulky. Yet it still provides decent and in some cases outstanding upper body and facial protection. Furthermore, while some cruisers can wear a fairing without looking too unwieldy, nearly all can handle a windshield and still look right. Finally, windshields have the added advantage of being easy to mount and just as easy to remove should the urge to go naked strike.

Like any other bolt-on accessory, windshields come in a wide variety of shapes and forms. Because windshields normally mount to the handlebar or fork, the first step is to choose one that fits correctly. You’ll need to consider three things in that regard. First, the shield must be large enough to provide the protection you want without being so large that it won’t clear the fuel tank or frame when the handlebars are turned. Second, make sure the shield will fit the bike properly; the headlight aperture needs to be large enough to clear the headlight without obstructing any part of the beam. Normally this isn’t a problem, but it is worth mentioning. Last but not least, the windshield mounting system must fit the available space on the bike. If possible, look for a shield that comes with a dedicated mounting kit for your motorcycle.

Installing a motorcycle windshield
Center the spider brackets on the fork covers and install the lower clamp first, then the upper. Make certain the hooks are fully seated in the slots. Since we’re also installing the optional lower chrome deflectors, we’ll be using the brackets supplied with the deflectors. These have a longer upper stud to accommodate the deflectors’ added thickness.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Keep in mind that the mounting brackets will bear the full force of the wind pressure when you’re burning down the highway. If there’s any weakness in them, you’re liable to end up with the shield in your lap. If the supplied brackets don’t seem up to the task, keep looking. Which segues nicely into another point that needs making. One of the criticisms often leveled at handlebar- or fork-mounted windshields is that they turn into a sail at high speeds. Since sails are hardly stability-inducing devices, at least when fitted to the front of a motorcycle, you should be aware that fitting a windshield will certainly affect the bike’s handling and in all likelihood reduce overall performance.

On that same note, we should discuss wind buffeting. In some instances wind spills over and around the edges of the windshield, creating a buffeting effect, most noticeably around the helmet, that many riders find uncomfortable. In most cases simply adjusting the shield’s angle or height will alleviate or at least minimize the problem. Because it redirects the way air flows over the windshield, an add-on lip from Laminar (www.laminarlip.com) may also help.

Installing a windshield is about as straightforward a project as you can find. In fact, if you’ve ever assembled a backyard swing set or spent some quality time stitching together anything that came out of a box labeled “some assembly required,” you’re probably overqualified for the job. This is certainly the perfect Saturday afternoon do-it-yourselfer project.

Installing a motorcycle windshield
Place the clamp straps around the fork. Because the covers are tapered, the larger clamp goes below the smaller one. In this instance the straps are numbered on the inside. The parts list verifies which one goes on the top and which goes on the bottom. You’ll want the top one as high on the fork as possible, snug up against the top clamp.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Typically, mounting any sort of windshield would involve bolting or clamping it to the forks or handlebars, or maybe both. The accepted procedure is to loosely install all the mounting hardware, center the screen on the bike and then tighten everything up. A few trips around the block should help you fine-tune the windshield’s position to your liking. After that it’s a matter of keeping your eye on the mounting hardware for the first few miles to make sure nothing comes loose (most manufacturers also recommend retorquing the fasteners after some interval) and periodically rechecking everything during your routine inspections. Other than that and the occasional cleaning, you and your new windshield should be good to go.

Now we'd normally show you the obligatory how-to shots of someone hanging a generic windshield on a bike. But this being Motorcycle Cruiser, we're going to go one better. National Cycle also released its QuickSet4 windshield mounting system and SwitchBlade screen series. The concept is intriguing. Once the unobtrusive mounting hardware is in place, you can install one of the three available shields without using tools in a claimed 10 seconds. There's a large 2-Up touring screen, a shorter version appropriately named the Shorty and a minimal-protection version, the Deflector.

Under most circumstances we’d write the SwitchBlade as a product review, but since part of the review would include installing it, we figured we’d review the whole process from the instruction booklet right through to the test ride. Never let it be said we don’t go the extra yard for our readers.

Installing a motorcycle windshield
The mounting cups are installed with the longer sides at the top.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

It goes where?
As with any installation, the first step should be making sure the kit is appropriate for your bike's make and model. Your next step should be identifying all the supplied parts, making certain nothing is missing and you understand how and where they fit on the bike. The instruction sheet should also list any required tools, though in most cases you'll find simple hand tools and perhaps a torque wrench are all that's needed.

In this case the sheet lists a torque wrench capable of measuring 50 inch-pounds, something not everyone may have. These can be obtained from large chain stores—Sears comes most readily to mind—or any decent hardware or auto supply shop. You’ll also need a 4mm Allen socket sized to fit the torque wrench. National Cycle’s instructions lose one point here for failing to specify you’ll need an Allen that fits the torque wrench. A small issue, but without that you’ll be unable to torque down the mounts properly.

Because the Switchblade does away with traditional mounting clamps, the installation is a little different than most.

Installing a motorcycle windshield
Place a brass washer onto the upper mounting stud. Thread the nut/spool assembly onto the stud and torque to 50 inch-pounds (4.17 foot-pounds). Place the small nut through the small spool. The brass washers aren’t used on the lower stud, so thread the spool directly onto the lower stud and torque it to 50 inch-pounds.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

It doesn’t get much easier than that. Start to finish, the job took under an hour, and that included taking the photos. I was impressed with the supplied hardware’s quality; all the bits were nicely turned and the chrome pieces well finished, plus everything fit the way it was supposed to. I also like the strap retaining system—it’s easy to install and shouldn’t scar the fork covers’ finish. As a bonus, it is just about invisible when the shield’s been removed, making the whole setup very practical for part-time use. The shields themselves are easy to swap, and while I don’t know if I can switch one in 10 seconds, I’m pretty sure I could do it in under 30.

For me, the 2-Up shield was the most comfortable. I’m a big, as in wide, guy. When I sit behind a windshield I want one that provides plenty of protection, which the 2-Up certainly did. Optically, it was very good, and buffeting wasn’t an issue. If it were my dough, this one would be my first choice. I wasn’t as thrilled with the Shorty. It was a bit small for my taste, hence the name, I suppose. Around town I could live with the windblast, but unless you’re vertically challenged or more concerned with form than function, my recommendation would be to try the 2-Up first. It’s certainly easy enough to change if you don’t like it.

At the end of the day, the SwitchBlade gets high marks for several reasons. First, its overall high quality; everything is well made and nicely finished. Second, its clean and simple installation. Third and most importantly, its versatility. I like having options, and the SwitchBlade provides them.

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