In the annals of popular wisdoms and quotes there is an oft-repeated adage accredited to Benjamin Franklin that goes, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, for a motorcyclist there is an additional certainty in life: Whenever you take the time to thoroughly clean your faceshield, rest assured that once you’re underway again, within a matter of minutes, a big ol’ bug is going to splatter itself across your pristine plastic.
This usually happens just as you and your friends have entered a choice section of canyon, precisely at the point when throttles are snapped open to welcome the twisting turns of paved road ahead. If you stop to clean your shield you’ll lose touch with your riding buddies and miss out on the bonds of a shared riding experience. The face shield splat also tends to happen right after you’ve refueled and rehydrated, usually as you’re flying down the on-ramp ready to tackle the open road. Then, bang! You don’t want to stop again so soon and try to tolerate the splatter, training yourself to peer around the mess of colored fluid, bits of wing, and remnant insect legs flapping in the turbulence, trying to pretend it’s not there. Good luck.
Some years back I stumbled across an interesting bit in a science journal that claimed the insect population of the world weighed twelve times that of the human population. This certainly would help explain where all the bugs come from that end up on our face shields each weekend. What’s interesting is that these airborne kamikazes rarely splat themselves slightly askew, off-center, at the top or bottom of your face shield and outside of your periphery. No, when bugs hit, they tend to smash themselves strategically, with malice and purpose, directly in the middle of your field of vision. Right between the eyes.
Believing there must be some strange scientific logic or motive to this phenomenon, I undertook a uniformly unscientific study and came away with the following: A freshly cleaned shield will collect a bug in very short order. Every time I took the time to thoroughly clean and polish the plastic to perfection, once underway again, within a few moments an errant bug would torpedo directly into it. However, if I rode with the remnants of a bug squished across my face shield without bothering to get rid of it, I rarely collected another. It’s as if the insects are marking territory — as is the habit in the animal world — and the others acknowledge the claim. Dirty shields simply don’t seem to have as much target value (the same way birds seem to be more attracted to a freshly waxed car as opposed to a filthy one).
Now obviously none of this applies if you’re riding through a swarm of bees, where you’re going to collect quite a few hits. I’m talking about the rogue bug out there on a stretch of back road, lying in wait for a clean shield to come along.
Now call me sentimental, but every time a bug expires itself across my face shield I get a little sad. Figuring that most bugs have very limited time on this planet (in some cases a life expectancy of just a matter of days), it seems a shame to cut an already short life even shorter. Of course the other possibility is that, for whatever reason, these bugs are intentionally ending it all, which in and of itself is disturbing because it would suggest there are an awful lot of unhappy bugs out there. It has to be either the nature of science or mere coincidence.
However, the bug splat scenario introduces another quandary. Do you continue to ride (getting cross-eyed every time you look at the splat)? Do you stop and perform a proper cleaning? Or do you dare use your gloved hand to try and wipe the mess off? As any rider knows, the latter is a real gamble. Given the wide range of consistency of a bug’s remains you never know what you’ll end up with. You might get lucky and wind up with a somewhat surprisingly clean shield, or perhaps just a faint smear. Unfortunately, passing your glove over the hit will almost invariably leave a wide, ugly, oozing swath of insect viscera behind. The resulting wide band of slime resembling thick brush strokes of paint on an old house is now obscuring half your vision field, making the initial splat seem insignificant by comparison.
Of course the consequences of collecting insects on the face shield of a full-coverage helmet is a much better scenario then the old days of the open-face. When I was a teenager, the first full-face helmet — the Bell Star — was introduced. Most riders were wearing three-quarter open-face helmets, and the Star’s narrow vision field felt horribly claustrophobic by comparison. As a result, many stuck with the tried and true. For those who only know the full-face realm, back in the day when riding with a three-quarter open-face it was common to get a bee sucked into the gap between the helmet and your cheek. This was always accompanied with a very specific, very subtle thud followed by the unnerving feel of something frantically buzzing around behind your ear, trapped between your skull and the helmet. The speed you were carrying dictated how far around the circumference of your head the bee ended up. The impact pissed the bee off and had the confused insect searching for something soft to sink its stinger into. For riders this was a test in remaining calm, slowing down and getting off the road as quickly and safely as possible to pull your helmet off before being stung.
After decades of full-face helmet use I recently had the opportunity to go retro for an Egli-Vincent ride in England. Staying in trend with the vintage machine I chose to wear a half-shell lid. Barreling down a country lane I felt absolutely naked. I had forgotten how painful bugs are when they nail you in the cheek at speed. For some reason there were a plethora of small winged things to run into out in the English countryside. I was also reminded of how you had to keep your mouth shut, save swallowing all sorts of things. Add to this scenario a right-foot shift, reverse-pattern gearbox and riding on the left. It was a far cry from the sunny, pleasant English countryside ride I had envisaged.
My recent open-face experience reminded me just how far technology has come. It made me think that the face shield bug squash dilemma is a minor inconvenience — compared to the old days — in exchange for the joy of riding. Someday a company will invent a solution for this; maybe a motocross-style “roll-off” system for the street (since obviously we can’t be littering the highways with tear-offs). Until then, we have to live with Murphy’s Law with regard to clean face shields and the insect population of the globe. Twelve times the weight of the human population. Think about that. Yikes! SR