Motorcycle Windshield Buyer's Guide

Who ya going to call? Gust Busters! Seven touring windshields for motorcycles from Kawasaki, Memphis Shades, National Cycle, Rifle Fairings, Slip Streamer, and Yamaha. From the October 2001 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser. By Andrew Cherney

Chances are that you have been eyeing one of these seven windshields for your cruiser. After all, the most popular add-on for cruisers at the majority of U.S. dealerships are windshields; they are even more popular (and much more socially responsible) than exhaust pipes.

And for good reason. Not only do these plastic add-ons intercept discarded cigarette butts and errant bugs, but also they redirect airflow away from a rider's head and torso, sparing him the woe of wind fatigue on long hauls. But plowing through the assortment of shields available and ferreting out a clear choice for your bike, riding style and physical size is no easy feat. To help steer you through the maze of plastic, we studied the market and sampled seven screens.

Choosing the right windshield is, of course, a subjective dilemma, but we did manage to compile a few universal guidelines.

Searching for Protection

Windshields come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and even shades. Most cruiser motorcycles are sold naked, but many have shield options available for an additional cost from the manufacturer. The aftermarket also teems with first-time windshields or replacements for stock units. And, although there can be countless variations on the theme, just a handful of specialized companies manufacture the bulk of shields sold in the United States.

- To determine the availability of a shield for your model motorcycle, ask your dealer for an accessory list or visit the manufacturer's web site. Shields sold by bike manufacturers are solidly built and have clean mounting methods; you can bet the manufacturers will offer well-designed products to fit their own bikes seamlessly.

- There are all kinds of options in the aftermarket from established names like National Cycle and Rifle Fairings, which have been in the plastic protection business for decades. Most have web sites with application charts so you can see what's available for your bike, and all manufacturers have hard-copy catalogs you can thumb through.

- You can always fall back on what's known as a universal shield. These are usually lightweight, handlebar-mounted affairs that provide a basic buffer between you and bad air. Most have universal mounting arms that offer nearly infinite adjustment and mount to almost any bike.

- If you're not sure what you need, a great place to inspect the full gamut of windshields is at a motorcycle rally. Chat up the owners, take notes about their plastic and observe first-hand how the unit is fitted and if it suits your anatomy or style. Afterward, you can run to your local dealer and ask about prices and mounting procedures.

The Character of Plastic

Now that you know where to procure your plastic, take time to mull over your riding style and your bike's idiosyncrasies. Cruiser riding positions tend to be more erect -- which dictates a fairly upright shield to generate the bubble of calm air. A severely raked unit just looks half-baked on a cruiser! But don't base your shield shopping on looks alone.

- Since you'll be looking through the plastic, at least occasionally, good optical properties are key -- significant distortion around the edges or near the curvature of a shield is unforgivable.

- If you ride in cold weather, a higher shield might be beneficial for a short period of time, but bigger doesn't mean better. There is little more dangerous than riding in rain with a shield that is too high to see over. Droplets on both sides of the shield catch every light and can create a curtain of light obscuring the road ahead. Road detritus such as dust, bugs and tar can also turn your shield into a deadly blindfold. Heavier and taller windshields may also adversely affect handling and leave you susceptible to heavy winds. The more surface area you carry into the wind, the greater your potential for problems (see "The Height of Necessity" below).

- If the windshield has a low top, air swirling off the upper lip may catch your helmet in turbulence. You can swap in a higher unit to force air over your helmet, or substitute a lower one to keep currents off the head (we recommend the latter). A rider's distance away from the shield also affects how he interacts with the airflow, so experiment with different shield positions if your unit allows it.

- If you're cruising in warmer climes, you probably want some air circulation through your helmet, and a lower shield might work better. Or, you can bite the bullet, and keep a taller unit for the off-season, and a shorter one for prime-time.

- A narrow windshield gives your hands your arms, hands and fingers more exposure to conditions. You'll also encounter more buffeting around your arms and if you're ferrying a passenger, he will feel it too; a shorter shield produces a shorter wake (air flows like water). A wider windshield offers better protection and a bigger pocket of still air, which translates into a comfortable ride for you and your fare. Be warned, however, that this could turn into a sauna during the summer.

- Any kind of windshield can change your bike's handling characteristics, so ride more carefully the first few times out -- motorcycles will react differently with a big sail on the front redirecting air and affecting aerodynamics.

The Height of Necessity

A common conundrum for the greenhorn shield buyer is determining the right height of the screen. There's no absolute answer, but our experienced editorial staff concurs that the top edge of a shield should sit just below your line of vision while seated comfortably. Settling on the size and shape is a completely personal and subjective matter; even the manufacturers we spoke to told us they used good ol' trial-and-error to come up with their shield configurations. So should you.

- Ideally, you should be able to see over the shield without straining, yet be able to drop your head to look through the plastic if conditions warrant. You should be able to view the road clearly in your immediate path of travel (approximately two to four seconds or 100 feet ahead).

- A good way to judge windshield height is to cut several mock patterns of varying sizes out of cardboard and have a pal hold them in place while you're astride the bike in a normal riding position. See which choice affords you the clearest view and match it up with the product measurements found in the catalogs. Qualities such as seat height, riding position and your torso height and posture will affect your final shield selection.

- If you already have a towering windshield and modification is on your mind, you may have to go it alone. (See "Plastic Surgery," April 1999).

Mount 'Em Up

A new windshield should come with mounting instructions, or if you're buying used, insist the seller give you tips on installation and adjustment. Ask before you buy -- required bracketry can differ wildly from shield to shield and bike to bike, and sometimes, it is sold separately. Many companies offer quick-release brackets on the fork or frame, allowing you to interchange shields or easily dispense with your shield and "ride naked." Some of these combinations can be expensive, but usually are worth their weight in convenience.

- During the mounting process, make sure you don't bind cables or block lighting or brake lines; controls and mirrors should have plenty of clearance too, and you should be able to adjust your mirrors to see above and below and right and left of your usual position. Check to see that nothing touches the windshield when the fork goes to full compression (you'll have to re-route cables differently or remount turn signals if the shield's edges intrude).

- Before remounting parts and torqueing down fasteners, test fit the windshield so you don't have to make complicated changes later. Move the bars side-to-side to full lock to ensure the shield doesn't interfere with steering. Take a short test ride, but take it slow.

Seven That Saved Face

To experience all the aforementioned points, we sampled seven different units from several manufacturers. We asked each company to send in a shield made for full-sized bikes.

The shields we received were constructed either of polycarbonate (Lexan) or acrylic (Lucite). Both mediums have their supporters: polycarbonate proponents say their shields are more resilient, and the acrylic camp contends that polycarbonate scratches easily and breaks down faster from UV rays. Each one of our samples bolted onto mounting brackets affixed to the bike's fork and/or triple clamp, and all were easily removable.

Differing rider heights yield varying opinions, so we assembled a trio of testers ranging in size from dwarfs to giants, each with varying torso lengths. Our cross section of shield samplers included a rangy six-footer with a long torso and a normal reach to the bar, a midsized 5-foot-8-inch everyman with a medium torso and a longer wingspan, and a 5-foot-7-inch gnome.

For shield dimensions, we measured from the highest point of the headlight cutout to the top of the shield for height, and across the shield at its widest point for the width.

To carry our plastic barriers into battle we selected a 2001 Yamaha Road Star and a 2001 Kawasaki 1500 Classic FI -- two full-sized cruisers with large consumer bases and deep aftermarket support, and both obvious candidates for windshields. We recorded the approximate time needed for each screen's installation, then examined the shields and mounting hardware for general appearance. For our road test, we ran a 50-mile route at highway speeds using each shield once. The testers then rated the screens for wind protection, ease of installation, optics, appearance and turbulence.

KAWASAKI MOTORS
Vulcan Shield, $300

Kawasaki Motors accessories division provided us with the Vulcan shield. This item is designed specifically for the 1500 Classic FI and fit our test bike seamlessly in both looks and installation. The clear 3mm polycarbonate shield rises to a comfortable 16-inch height (with two-inch height adjustability) and an accommodating 23-inch width. The polycarbonate material is hardcoated to resist scratching and deterioration. A clean design, featuring handsome triple chrome-plated brackets, a sturdy steel frame and an etched Vulcan logo, adds style to the motorcycle. The unit also offers great optics with minimal turbulence at lower speeds, for superior functionality. We felt the wind protection wasn't up to snuff on the highway because of the shield's narrowness, but most testers still liked the overall proportions of height and width. Installation of this screen was easy, and it mounted to the triple tree clamps in less than 30 minutes. Removal of the unit requires only unscrewing the mounting bolts; the shield then lifts out of the brackets painlessly. A double pane design in the lower portion of the unit allows for a close fit to the headlight.

The well received Kawasaki Vulcan shield is available from the manufacturer for $300 with all mounting hardware and bracketry included.

MEMPHIS SHADES
Memphis Fats 17-inch Shield, $259

Memphis Shades has been in step with the Harley crowd for years, but recently opened its eyes to metric possibilities. The Memphis Fats 17-inch tinted model was everyone's pick for handsomest shield of the bunch, with an abbreviated rise and tinted lower portion which fit our Road Star's styling cues perfectly. That same tint, however, obscured some of the roadway, which didn't garner many thumbs up among our testers. The acrylic (Lucite) shield rises 17 inches off the headlight, and sweeps out to a width of 22 inches.

The Memphis Fats received the lowest marks for installation. Its mounting hardware required complete removal of the Yamaha's headlight assembly. Once the sleek bracketry was installed though, the shield adjusted easily and slipped off smoothly. We recommend you allow a good hour to complete all work, and replace wiring assemblies only as instructed.

The optical clarity on this shield was superior, but most riders encountered some buffeting at the tops of their helmets, especially on the highway. Swirling air also came in from the sides at speed. Consequently, all testers agreed the Memphis Fats would be best utilized for boulevard cruising and only occasional long weekend runs. The 17-inch shield goes for $143 as shown, and the beefy mounting hardware runs you another $116, making the total cost of the shield $259. Memphis Shades has screens available in eight shades and four different heights, at varying prices.

NATIONAL CYCLE
Touring Heavy Duty Shield, $310 and $275

The world's largest motorcycle windshield manufacturer is National Cycle. The company sent us two shields to sameple.

The full-coverage Touring Heavy Duty shield is made of 3mm-thick hardcoated polycarbonate (Lexan) with a light tint. This windshield rises 20.5 inches high from the top of the headlight cutout and spreads an ample 21.5 inches wide. The steel frame has outside trim consisting of high-quality polished chrome with inside strips coated black to reduce glare.

The mounting brackets are sturdy, chrome-plated clamps. Installing them to the upper and lower triple clamps takes approximately 35 minutes using a basic assortment of wrenches and screwdrivers. A dual-pane design allows you to adjust the lower part of the shield.

This unit has a classic shape that looks good on most bikes, but the majority of testers felt it was just too tall. Turbulence was minimal for smaller riders since air was pushed over their helmets, but if the shield were to get dirty, diminished visibility could be a problem. The general consensus was that the screen is best suited for serious touring with riders 6-feet or taller. The Touring Heavy Duty shield adjusts two inches in height, and offers superb optics and excellent wind protection.

The screen requires a separate $120 mounting kit for the Kawasaki Classic and $85 for the Yamaha Road Star, bringing the total cost of the shield to $310 and $275, respectively. National Cycle produces similar shields for cruisers in a variety of other sizes.

Heavy Duty Low Boy Shield, $285 and $260

National Cycle's other entry was the shorter Heavy Duty Low Boy shield, which was similar to the Touring Shield in construction. All riders agreed that this shield was more aesthetically pleasing than the taller unit.

Most testers were suspicious of its narrowness at first blush -- the 18.75-inch screen width looked almost too small on the Kawasaki. On the road, however, our shorter riders preferred the Low Boy over the Touring model because they could easily see over it, and the lower shield offered decent protection at slower speeds. On the highway, though, wind blasts came in around the sides, and our tallest rider felt exposed and buffeted.

As with its Touring shield, National Cycle sent top-quality mounting kits for both bikes. The shield installed in approximately 25 minutes, using two brackets mounted to the fork. The Low Boy slipped right in, and we measured 14 inches of height from the cutout to the top, with two inches of vertical adjustability. Optics on this shield didn't seem as clear as the full-sized shield, with slight distortion encountered around the edges.

The Low Boy screen retails for $175, and the required Classic FI mounting kit is $110. Eighty-five bucks will net you the Road Star mounting kit. Total cost of the unit comes to $285 for the Kawasaki, and $260 for the Yamaha.

RIFLE FAIRINGS
Classic L Shield, $319

Another well-known player in the cruiser shield racket is Rifle Fairings, which was started by former employees of the Vetter Fairing Company 20 years ago. Rifle sent in the new, traditionally styled Classic L shield, made of clear Lucite acrylic in a stout 3/16-inch thickness. The Classic L was more than 16 inches tall and spread 24 inches wide, with four inches of vertical adjustment. Its sizable width meant good torso protection, and the shield's turbulence at higher speeds was tolerable even for our tallest rider. The Classic is angle-adjustable too, though we kept it mostly upright.

Installation was straightforward except for a few mis-sized screws that we replaced for a more solid bracket connection. The whole operation took 35 minutes, with two polished stainless steel brackets attaching to the upper and lower triple clamp and Allen head screws connecting the screen to your choice of four mounting holes. Optics were better than average, and all testers liked the looks of the Rifle; it seemed to complement the Kawasaki's proportions nicely. The shield scored well in every category, and even though it was the priciest piece here, we felt it was a fine all-around unit.

Net the Classic L for $319 with hardware included. Rifle also makes cruiser shields in three other configurations for different degrees of coverage.

SLIPSTREAMER
SS32 Shield, $189

Sliprtreamer is no newcomer to the shield market either, and its SS32 screen has been in the repertoire for quite some time. It's made of clear 3/16-inch thick Lucite acrylic, and even though this plastic blob was shaped like a manta ray, the unique look was what some testers liked about it. The shield stood just over 16 inches tall and puffed out more than 23 inches wide; because of its amoebic shape, the Slipstreamer provided the best overall protection, especially near the handgrips, where it curves out to a whopping 34 inches.

Unfortunately, our shield came with no mounting instructions and it took us 30 minutes just to discern what went where. The fasteners were triple chrome-plated, but we were unimpressed with the rest of the stock metal. The shield mounted to two-sleeved brackets that wrapped around the forks, with slots in the mounting bolts allowing for angle adjustment. This unit rated near the bottom of our rankings for installation, requiring just about an hour to assemble.

When mounted, the Slipstreamer looked almost appealing on the Kawasaki. Turbulence was low even at high speeds, but a few testers weren't thrilled with the optics, since the shield's design incorporated many curves that distorted straight edges. The SS32 is an enigma -- one tester drooled over its funky shape, but the other riders were put off by its equally funky distortion. Love it or hate it, the Slip Streamer SS32 is a pretty good deal at $189, with all necessary mounting hardware included.

YAMAHA
Silverado Shield, $300

Yamaha's Silverado Windshield is also available through the company's parts and accessories branch. The Silverado is molded of clear hardcoated polycarbonate and comes in three sizes -- short, medium and tall. We were given the shortest assembly, which was 17 inches tall and 23 inches wide. All testers approved of the traditional styling, which was punctuated by an embossed Silverado logo stamped on the brushed aluminum cross bar.

The shield offered adequate protection at speed, and only slight turbulence compared with the taller, stock Silverado unit (which gave us fantastic protection, but was really too tall for urban use). Optics were uniformly good on our shorter test unit, and installation took less than half an hour. The shield has two settings that allow height to be adjusted 50mm (2 inches), up or down. The screen can be bolted directly to the Roadstar Silverado motorcycle, or with the provided steel hardware, to the standard Road Star. The Silverado shield compares to the Kawasaki Vulcan screen as a solid all-around unit that offers an appealing combination of good protection, clear optics and nice aesthetics suitable for most types of riding. We found the OEM units, such as this, to be the simplest to install.

The Silverado shield retails for $300, and includes all hardware.

CONCLUSIONS

We all had opinions about what we wanted from a windshield -- some testers were adamant about having a barrier to hide behind, while others were more concerned with the best combination of height and looks. The bottom line is you need to personally seat-test a windshield before opening your wallet -- what works for a 6-foot-tall rider on a VTX will not work for the 5-foot pilot of a VLX. With the multiple variables of height, width, torso length, arm reach and riding position conspiring to confuse the issue, it's best to believe your own eyes when choosing a shield.

If you're of a more individualistic bent, you might want to check out Clearview Shields, which bills itself as the "motorcycle industry's windshield tailors." The company claims to measure your anatomy as applied to riding position and then custom-builds a windshield to match your body's dimensions with that of your motorcycle.

If you buy your shield via mail or Internet, make sure there's a solid return policy. Although the plethora of plastic can be confusing, the right choice can make your path a whole lot clearer.

RESOURCES

Clearview Shields
(800) 798-6089
www.clearviewshields.com

Kawasaki Motors Corp.
(949) 770-0400
www.buykawasaki.com

Memphis Shades
(901) 853-0293
www.memphishades.com

National Cycle, Inc.
(708) 343-0400
www.nationalcycle.com

Rifle Fairings
(805) 466-5880
www.rifle.com

Slipstreamer
(763) 780-9757
www.slipstreamer.com

Yamaha Genuine Parts & Accessories
(714) 761-7300
www.yamaha-motor.com

For additional evaluations of, comparisons of, and shopping advice for motorcycle gear and accessories, see the Accessories and Gear section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.