Two-wheeled Brood X commuters: ‘Least of concerns is going to be the cicadas’

With the presence of Brood X cicadas, windshield wipers are getting a workout in cars and trucks — but commuters on motorcycles and scooters don’t have that luxury.

The thought — and reality — of having a large insect splat against a person’s body is messy, but should be a laundry concern, said Don Withrow, owner of Motorcycle Riding Concepts, which teaches safe riding in Northern Virginia.

“You’re not looking out for cicadas, you’re looking out for cars,” Withrow said. “I think one of your least concerns is going to be cicadas.”

Withrow said his first collision with a Brood X cicada was barely noticeable. “I got hit in the knee with it. Poor little guy left all his guts all over my knee. It smarted a little.”

Other two-wheelers in the area weren’t quite as nonchalant — some shared vivid memories on social media of incidents from the last arrival of Brood X cicadas.

“1987, on I-66 near Westmoreland/Lee Highway exit, on the downhill. Was doing about 60 mph when I got a direct visor strike. Almost dumped it,” said a Vespa scooter rider named Pete.

Bruce was riding on Route 606, near Dulles Airport: “I opened my helmet’s face mask, and one flew right in. With nowhere to immediately pull over, all I could do was continue on, with that thing buzzing around my head and face.”

Eric recalled riding in 1987 on the Beltway spur, near Old Georgetown Road — he said he was going about as fast as his 1979 Yamaha RD400 could go: “Direct center visor hit of two big healthy ones, near complete loss of visibility — kind of gross to flip the visor up to see.”

Motorcycle expert Withrow agrees: Cicadas pose more of a risk after they’re dead than when they’re still flying. Or, at least their remains do.

“You want 360-degree awareness of things around you,” said Whitlow. “It requires you to be able to see clearly.”

As car and truck drivers have no doubt noticed, several spritzes of windshield wiper fluid and a minute of wiping action usually result in a sticky, hazy windshield.

Waiting for the rain won’t help, Whitlow said. “If your windshield isn’t clean, the rain will actually stick to your windshield more than it would otherwise.”

He rides prepared.

“I always carry a can of spray and rags so I can clean, not only my windshield on the bike, but also my windscreen on my helmet,” Whitlow said.

Not all motorcycle riders have the benefit of polycarbonate separating them from cicadas.

“I ride a Harley, with no windshield or face shield,” says Ben. “I, um, haven’t been out in a bit, but plan to, this weekend,” he typed, adding a smiling face emoji.

We’ll see if his emoji emotion changes after the weekend ride.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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