Whether you’re cruising cross-country on the back of a classic touring bike, carving through hairpin turns on a sport bike, or tackling both on and off-road routes on an adventure bike, customization is a key part of motorcycle culture. From custom gauges and crash bobbins to heated grips, aftermarket indicators, and performance tires, there are plenty of ways to turn a run-of-the-mill motorcycle into a one-of-a-kind creation. Performance-related mods are often the first project a rider will undertake when building out a bike to fit their own needs and style, but modifications to the bike’s appearance are usually never far behind. Case in point: according to a recent survey by a motorcycle parts supplier, aftermarket exhaust systems are the most popular motorcycle mod with 25 percent of the vote, followed by tail tidies at 14 percent.
For those unfamiliar with the world of two-wheeled vehicles, a motorcycle tail tidy––also known as a fender eliminator––is a popular aftermarket accessory commonly found on sport bikes that replaces the large, unsightly rear fender and license plate holder with a smaller version designed to give the bike a clean, minimalist look. In addition to serving as a place to mount a license plate, tail tidies also include the license plate and indicator lights that are commonly integrated into an OEM fender. What are the pros and cons of tail tidies, and most importantly, are they legal? Join us as we take a closer look at this popular motorcycle modification and see how much of an impact it can have on the overall riding experience.
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: tail tidies just look cooler than stock fenders. The OEM fenders that come on most sport bikes are often unattractive, to say the least. Arching far past the center point of the rear wheel, factory fenders are often blamed for ruining the flowing lines and sophisticated, sporty design of a bike. They also tend to have a cheap, plastic look, which can undercut the appearance of an otherwise pristine bike. Tail tidies fix this common issue by replacing the large, cumbersome rear fender with a much more demure setup, allowing the fender to better meld with the overall look of a bike instead of sticking out like a sore thumb.
A tail tidy or fender delete is often categorized as more of an appearance-related modification, but it can offer some subtle performance benefits as well. Shrinking the size of the fender and license plate holder can improve the aerodynamic properties of a bike by reducing wind resistance. Less wind resistance also helps when it comes to a bike’s overall efficiency and can allow a rider to achieve higher speeds than they might with a bulky OEM fender. Many tail tidies have integrated turn signal mounts, which further streamlines the bike by repositioning the indicators.
A motorcycle’s fender is far from the heaviest component on a bike, but when you’re trying to get the most out of your bike, every pound makes a difference. Tail tidies are often made of lightweight materials such as aluminum, fiberglass, or even carbon fiber, which confers some significant weight savings over the stock fender. It’s not going to make a huge difference––most riders estimate around three pounds of total weight savings––but even that little bit can have an impact on a bike’s handling and maneuverability. To put it into perspective, those three pounds represent around 0.75 percent of the weight of the average sport bike. That is equivalent to around 30 lbs of weight savings on the average car, which helps to illustrate just how helpful a tail tidy can be.
Many tail tidies replace the stock license plate and indicator lights with new LED alternatives. These LEDS are not only more efficient than the stock bulbs found on most bikes, but they’re also much brighter, making it easier for drivers to see your bike on a dark, rural road or in bad weather. This sort of visibility brings some obvious safety benefits, making tail tidies one of the easiest ways to improve overall security.
While it can be tempting to replace the stock fender with a simple tail tidy, it’s important to remember that it’s there for a reason. A rear fender not only serves as a mounting point for the license plate, plate lights, and turn signals but also plays an important role when it comes to keeping water, mud, and mystery road fluids from coating your bike and you. The most common complaint around tail tidies comes down to the lack of protection they offer, with riders citing wet or mud-splattered backs as one of the biggest drawbacks of the minimalist approach.
This is especially concerning if you’re using your bike to commute to work or often have a passenger perched on the pillion seat, as they’re very likely to serve as a sort of non-consenting human fender. If the mess is worth the look, by all means, replace the stock fender with a tail tidy, but just be aware that you’ll be spending a lot more time scrubbing down your bike’s shocks as well as on your own laundry. There are some solutions when it comes to minimizing the mess that can come with tail tidies. Some riders opt to install rear huggers, which cover a portion of the rear wheel with a plastic, fiberglass, or carbon fiber shield that effectively prevents water and mud from being kicked up.
In order to stay on the right side of the law, a motorcycle’s fender needs to include a rear reflector, a clearly mounted license plate, and a light to illuminate the plate. Some bikes have their turn signals built into the fender, which must also be relocated as part of the fender delete process. Most tail tidy products on the market have all these bases covered, but a few offerings and custom-made alternatives could present some issues the next time you see Johnny Law in the rearview mirror.
The location of the license plate is an especially important consideration, as many ne’er-do-wells attempt to obscure their plates in hopes of evading traffic or toll cameras. If you do decide to install a tail tidy, make sure the license plate is properly illuminated and clearly visible to trailing vehicles. Some states require a bike to be fitted with fenders or something like rear huggers to prevent mud, rocks, and road debris from being kicked up, so make sure to check your local laws before starting any tail tidy project. If you’re unsure of your setup, stop by the local police station and have them confirm that it meets all legal requirements. It might seem like overkill, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than learning your lesson after a ticket has already been written.
Tail tidies aren’t very difficult to install, but they will require a little time and effort. Removing the existing fender and fitting the new tail tidy is only half the battle, as riders will also have to rewire the bike’s electrical system to power the license plate and indicator lights. Most tail tidy products make this easy with plug-and-play capability, but it could take a little trial and error if you’ve got an older bike or a particularly complex design. Most tail tidy systems are known as no-cut eliminators, which means you won’t have to mess with the bike’s frame to get them installed, but make sure to read the fine print before splashing the cash. Compatibility is also an issue, so double-check to make sure the tail tidy product you choose will work with your particular make and model.
They’re Popular for a Reason
A tail tidy might not be at the top of every rider’s list when it comes to must-have motorcycle mods, but it’s one of the easiest ways to improve a bike’s profile. Today’s motorcycle brands know how to make a good-looking bike, but when it comes to the rear fender, they’re often all too happy to err on the side of safety and legality in order to ensure their products can be sold as far and wide as possible. A tail tidy is a great way to correct this unfortunate trend, allowing riders to create a custom ride that doesn’t look like it has an ungainly mass of plastic hanging off its rear end. A good tail tidy can also bring some very real performance benefits, reducing a bike’s overall weight, improving its aerodynamics, and even contributing to safety. If you’re considering a tail tidy for your motorcycle, make sure to thoroughly research different offerings, as there is often a significant gap in quality between different brands.