Do Motorcycle Fly Screens Work?

Motorcyclists have lots of differing opinions when it comes to using fly screens. If you’re new to motorcycling, you might be feeling overwhelmed by so many conflicting answers. And you don’t want to waste your money on an accessory that isn’t going to do anything.

Do motorcycle fly screens work? Fly screens are less effective than full windshields at directing air away from your body. This is because of their smaller size. Whether a fly screen is right for you will depend on how you want to use it.

People use motorcycle accessories for a variety of reasons. Since wind and debris are issues that all motorcyclists have to deal with, many accessories are designed to protect against them. Most fly screens are not designed with this purpose in mind, but they can still be helpful in some cases.

For New Motorcyclists

Maybe you’ve just gotten into motorcycling, and you’re wondering what accessories to buy for your new vehicle. Or you might have just gotten back from your first interstate haul, and you’re wondering what to do about that awful wind blasting your body. 

Fly screens are small sheets of extremely tough plastic that attach to the front of a motorcycle. They’re specially designed to be smaller than full-size windshields, which many people think are bulkier and uglier. 

Many motorcyclists will tell you that a fly screen is the perfect balance between style and wind protection. But there are also those who think they’re useless for anything other than looking good—or that they actually make air resistance worse. This difference mainly comes down to personal preference, as well as the way air flows in different situations.

Motorcycles and Air Flow

Yellow motorcycle with fly screen in front of a lake
Photo by Derek Blackie on Unsplash

If you’ve ridden your motorcycle even once at higher speeds, you’ve felt the powerful effects of air resistance. If you don’t have any protection in place, you’ll be fighting against this resistance the whole way. This is why many new riders feel tired after longer hauls.

When thinking about whether fly screens work, it helps to know a bit about the aerodynamics of motorcycles. When air hits an object, especially a fast-moving one, it curves and slides around it in different ways, depending on the angle of impact. If the air hits a shield of some kind, it curves around that, too, leaving a protected “bubble” behind it where things are much calmer.

This mostly happens at higher speeds. When a vehicle like a motorcycle is moving slower, the air has more time to slip into these “bubbles,” making a fly screen or windshield less effective. But this isn’t usually a problem since air resistance is a lot more bearable at lower speeds.

You’ve probably figured out by now why fly screens are less effective than full windshields. A smaller shield means a smaller “bubble.” Most riders find that a good fly screen at least keeps some wind off of their upper body, but that it directs that wind up at their helmet instead, causing buffeting and discomfort. Full windshields prevent this by directing the air all the way over your helmet and around your body. That way, you feel almost no air resistance at higher speeds.

Different People, Different Motorcycles

It’s worth noting that, even if two people buy the exact same fly screen, their experiences might be completely different. That’s because even slight differences in a person’s height and the design of a motorcycle can affect the way the fly screen performs.

For example, a taller rider’s head will rise higher above their motorcycle, so a bit more of their body will be outside the fly screen’s protective “bubble.” A shorter rider would have more of their body protected. And if your fly screen fits a bit lower in your motorcycle than in your friend’s, that would also affect where the wind hits you. It will be hard to know exactly how a particular fly screen will work for you and your motorcycle until you try it out.

Hazards and Protection

Black and grey motorcycle parked in front of a brick building
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Fly screens and windshields are good for a lot more than just fighting air resistance. If that air is cold, you have an even more important reason to keep it off of your body. Exposure to cold wind for long periods of time can sap heat from your body. In extreme cases, this could lead to frostbite or hypothermia. Even a fly screen will offer you some protection in this area.

There’s also debris that can hit you while riding. Besides the obvious issue of bugs, it’s also possible for small rocks to fly up at you from the road, or to fall toward you from the top of a tall trailer. Windshields will obviously deflect more of this debris, but once again, a fly screen is still better than nothing.

Just keep in mind that even the largest screen is no substitute for a sturdy face shield. If you’re at all concerned about keeping your face safe while riding, don’t expect a fly screen to do much good.

Gas Mileage

You’ve probably heard that sleeker, more aerodynamic cars have better gas mileage. They slip through the air more easily, so their engines don’t have to work as hard to maintain higher speeds. So if fly screens help with aerodynamics, does that mean they also improve a motorcycle’s gas mileage?

Probably, but not by much. If your motorcycle has you sitting upright while riding, your body acts a bit like a sail, catching the wind and creating drag. A fly screen is more aerodynamic than an upright body, so there will be a bit less drag when the air hits it instead of you. But this effect is minor at best. If you’re looking for ways to boost your motorcycle’s gas mileage, don’t rely on a fly screen to do the job.

Are Windshields Better?

At this point, it might sound like fly screens are a waste of money. You might be thinking that if fly screens do poorly in so many ways, it’s better to go with a full windshield or nothing at all. Is this the right mindset?

The truth is that the fly screen vs. windshield debate comes down to the individual. Most fly screens are carefully designed, and in the ways we discussed above, they’re certainly better than nothing. If air resistance bothers you and hazards concern you, but you hate the look of big, bulky windshields, fly screens might be the perfect compromise.

On the other hand, if you want something highly effective and don’t care what your ride looks like, windshields are the way to go. And if you happen to like the way a full windshield looks? Then it’s a no-brainer—you get the best of both worlds!

Is a Fly Screen Right For You?

When you’re deciding whether to buy a fly screen for your motorcycle, it’s best to take some time to consider your priorities, as well as the pros and cons of using one. You might also want to experiment with a few and see if they perform the way you expect. Especially with online purchases, it’s usually possible to return a product if you’re not happy with it. This might even be necessary if the one you buy doesn’t fit your particular motorcycle.

Lots of motorcyclists have different opinions when it comes to fly screens. Whatever decision you make, don’t let anyone get you down about it. Only you know what’s best for your motorcycle and your unique needs.

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