Going the (First) Distance: An Introduction to Long Distance Motorcycle Riding, Point #3, Part II (Comfort con’t)


Wind protection: If a rider is used to only riding around town on sunny days or on urban interstates where tall buildings knock the wind down a bit, ten hours on the open road can feel like ten rounds with Evander Holyfield. However, how much additional wind protection is needed depends on each rider. Some touring riders (I know several of this type) swear by getting all of the wind off of them that they can. They would tell you to buy the biggest windshield you can afford and that’s the only way you will enjoy long days on the freeway.

I would respectfully disagree with them. Sure, I now have a FJR1300 that has a good-sized, electronically-adjustable windshield. Having the tall windshield is a godsend in cold or wet conditions. It pushes some of the rain and wind up over your head, and you can ride in (relative) tranquility. Larger windshields are also great when you are on a busy two-lane highway or a portion of a freeway that is under construction and traffic has been moved over to one side. When those convoys of semi-trucks blow by you, having a windshield can help deflect the blow from their disturbed air. I learned that when I rode to Salt Lake City and part of I-80 through Wyoming was under reconstruction. All traffic was moved to one side of the freeway. Between the strong cross-winds and the convoys of trucks coming the other way, I took a real beating on my flyscreen-equipped Suzuki Bandit 1200.

However, large windshields also have some downsides. For one, if the windshield is tall enough that the rider cannot see over it, it can become a hazard. Unlike cars, motorcycle windshields (at least all the ones I have seen) do not come equipped with windshield washers and wipers. Even if a rider wants or likes a large windshield, it is better to be able to see over the top of the windshield if it becomes foggy or bugged up. Large windshields are also disadvantage in hot weather. While a large windshield may keep the cold air off of the rider in cooler temperatures, it also keeps the moving air from cooling the rider off in warm temperatures.

I figured that last part out the first summer I had my FJR1300. The full fairing and large windscreen (even in the lowest position) were a huge change from my Bandit 1200. That summer, I took a multi-day trip from Columbus where I lived at the time to Allentown, Pennsylvania to see old friends. On the ride back, the air temperature was probably somewhere in the upper 80s. Despite doing 75mph on the wide-open Pennsylvania Turnpike, I could not get enough air over me to cool down. I survived the ride, but had not thought when I bought the bike about how much of a change the full fairing would be in hot weather.

Before I bought my FJR, I toured on my  aforementioned 1998 Suzuki Bandit 1200. That bike originally came with a bikini upper fairing. For a time I had taken the fairing off and had installed a traditional round headlight with a small flyscreen. I discovered that generally as long as I could take the wind off of my chest I could easily make it through 8-10 hours in the saddle. Even through a lot of sport touring riders like to ride with their windshield fully up, I still lower the windshield whenever I can. Without the wind blowing over me, I do not feel like I am on a motorcycle the same way I did on my previous bikes.

Ultimately, each rider has to find what amount of wind protection works for them. This is another area where test riding is so important. During the test ride, note how much wind you would want taken off of your and in which areas. If you just want to get your chest (which acts like a big wind catcher) out of the wind, go for something small. If you really feel beat up by the wind, try something bigger. In terms of moving the wind off of you, the amount that the wind will be elevated over the top of a windshield depends in part on the windshield’s angle. On my FJR, when I put the windshield fully up, the top of the windshield is probably at about the bottom of my helmet. The air comes off the windshield at the very top of my helmet. If I duck my head down a little bit, then wind is completely off of me.

If you opt for a taller windshield, be aware of “buffeting.” This occurs when wind coming off of a windshield causes a big disturbance in the air in front of the rider’s helmet. This can get very annoying for riders, especially during long riders. A lot of handlebar-mounted windshields have some degree of adjustability, so buffeting may be something you can dial out that way. Do a couple short test rides to get the wind where you want it to be before doing one of the longer test rides.

The smallest version of a windshield is usually called a flyscreen. These little screens are made for both cruisers and naked street bikes, and basically keep the bugs off of the back side of your bike’s gauge pods or handlebars. Personally, I recommend all riders at least consider adding a flyscreen. They will make bug-cleaning duty much easier, and also give a rider a place to mount an E-Z Pass or other electronic tolling tag. Those little tags save riders a lot of time at toll plazas, and usually come with some sort of discount. Even though I am an Ohio resident now, I still have my E-Z Pass account through New York State where I grew up. I get 50% off of most New York State tolls when I ride my motorcycle on the Thruway. In Pennsylvania, any vehicle equipped with an E-Z Pass saves 25% or more on cash tolls. For touring riding, it is much easier to be billed for tolls than to waste time digging through your pockets or tank bag at a toll booth.

After flyscreens, windshields begin to come in all shapes and sizes. For touring bikes or sportbikes that have fairings and built-in windshields, one nice option is a flip-up windshield. These shields are a direct fit for your current windshield, and have a top that becomes very vertical to push the air even further over you. I have not used one yet but have gotten favorable reviews from riders who use them. If you own a cruiser, standard, or dual-purpose motorcycle, windshields usually either attach to your handlebars or your headlight mounting assembly. Smaller screens like flyscreens or small windshields will mount to the bolts on either side of your headlight. These models can only really be tilted forward or backward. Larger windshields usually mount to the handlebars between the handlebar clamp and the electrical pods. Instead of researching the windshields themselves, research customer reviews of windshields with your particular motorcycle and see what other riders with your model bike have said about them.

 

Warmth: A lot of riders may think they do not need to think about warmth if they do not plan to tour in the early spring or late fall. When touring, climate conditions can change very, very quickly. Just because it is 75-degrees and sunny when you leave Daytona Bike Week in mid-March does not mean it will stay that way while you make your way north through the Great Smoky Mountains.

I learned this lesson on my trip to Salt Lake City. On the way out weather mostly favorable. I saw some snow in fields in Wyoming while I was on my way out, but the temperatures were probably in the high 40s or low 50s. My first day riding home I rode up out of the valley Salt Lake City is located in and immediately ran into a damp cold. It was very humid, and temperatures were probably in the high 30s. I was so cold and stiff when I got off the bike for the first fuel stop 100 miles into the ride. Like I said, weather can change very dramatically over the course of a day’s ride.

While only a select few heavy touring bikes are equipped with a true heating system (although some ST1300, FJR1300, and Kawasaki Concours 14 owners would disagree with that), there is now an electronic gizmo to keep practically every part of the body warm.  However, there are some less expensive ways of staying warm when the tour turns cold.

One non-electronic accessory that can really help is a set of handguards. These are usually made of plastic and attach to the handlebars on either side of the grips. I have not experimented with them yet, but riders I know who have them give them rave reviews. I will probably be adding a set to my FJR1300 during the next off-season.

As discussed in the section above, another way to stay warmer is adding a windshield. While a windshield will not add heat to the rider’s situation, taking some of the cold wind off of the rider at highway speeds can be a godsend. However, also as discussed above, big windshields are not for everyone and have the opposite effect in warm weather. I will cover clothing that can help with keeping you warm in Point #10.

A very common heated riding accessory is heated grips. These grips feature wiring that runs through them that connect to your motorcycle’s electrical system. Many modern touring motorcycles offer heated grips as standard equipment, and a set can be added to a motorcycle for as little as $75 or less. Installation is moderately difficult depending on the motorcycle. Like when installing traditional motorcycle grips, it is important to thoroughly clean the handlebars of residue from the old grips before installing new grips. Some heated grips come with more levels of adjustability than others and vary in terms of how hot they get. BMW grips only offer two settings, but are renown for how hot they become even on the lowest setting.

A less common heated accessory is a heated seat. Some motorcycles like Gold Wings come with heated seats from the factory. Heating elements can also be added to aftermarket seats such as Russell’s and Sargents. While there are benefits to having a heated seat, it can be quite an expensive proposition and is usually part of an expensive seat upgrade. If you are new to touring riding, I would be hesitant to invest in a heated seat. If you live in a colder climate or want to tour in colder climates and are in the process of getting a high-end custom seat built for your motorcycle, it may be worthwhile. However, for a new touring rider, it would likely be more beneficial to invest the money you would spend in a heated seat on a couple summer weekend road trips.

Modern heated accessories do not draw the same amount of power as older systems, and can more easily be run alongside other accessories. However, whenever adding an electrical accessory, be it heated grips/gear, a GPS (covered in the next section), or something else, it is important to keep in mind the load such accessories are placing on a motorcycle’s electrical system. Some touring-oriented motorcycles come equipped with powerful alternators to power lots of electronic farkles. However, even those systems have limits. Electrical system information is widely available over the Internet for most motorcycle models. Look up your particular motorcycle and see how many amps the alternator puts out, as well as how many amps the motorcycle’s native electrical systems draws when operating.

Personally, I just changed the heated grips on the FJR1300 because of some problems I was having with the aftermarket set that came on my bike. The old set was obviously a cheap product, and felt much more like plastic than rubber. When I tried to ride with my rain gloves on, the throttle would start rotating closed despite my grip on it. I have not ridden with the new Tourmaster grips I purchased yet. However, they are installed and worked fine when I tested them. The grips are much more rubbery and have a much more defined texture to them. I will write a full review once I have gotten some miles on them. While my experience is more the exception than the rule, be sure to look at customer reviews for the products you are looking to purchase.

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