Perceptions of what is “essential” gear for cycling can be different for every rider. While most cyclists appreciate the posterior protection that a good pair of knicks affords, not everyone dons colourful lycra, cleats or even cycling gloves (although you’ll appreciate the last if you ever come off your bike).
But one riding accoutrement that many cycling gurus think should be more universally adopted is cycling glasses.
A big reason to consider cycling glasses comes back to the location where cycling takes place – outside. With the great outdoors comes all manner of hazards for humans; there’s the wind in your eyes, and pollen, bugs and other bits borne in it, the glare of the sun (not to mention damaging UV rays), and occasional rainfall, which compromises good visibility.
And let’s not forget the perils of the peloton. No-one wants to cop a droplet of sweat in the eye from the riders in front of you – or any other flying gobs of bio-hazard – or take a twig in the eye flicked up from another bike’s tyre.
Off-road cyclists are well aware of the need to protect one’s eyes, but all forms of riding can be made more comfortable and safe with proper eyewear. While looking cool is a valid consideration, and protecting one’s vision an undeniable essential, neither has to be necessarily compromised to achieve an improved riding experience.
What’s the difference?
Riders new to the benefits of cycling glasses can be puzzled why they differ from ordinary sunglasses. Peter McGuinn, the sales manager at Rapido Cycles in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon, says their advantages over ordinary sunglasses are easily demonstrated. “It’s how they are vented for one thing,” he says. “When you’re on a bike, ordinary glasses can so easily fog up with the natural heat that a rider will generate when peddling along. But cycling glasses are designed to get more ventilation behind the lenses.”
Another point of difference is the ability of cycling glasses to actually stay on your head. “There are rubbers on the nose piece and ear pieces, but also how the frames are shaped,” McGuinn says. “This is to keep them on your head, given the way a cyclist’s head is held, and the natural looking around – left and right and up ahead. Casual sunglasses just sit there on your nose and ears, usually with little grip.”
But the big difference between cycling glasses and ordinary sunglasses is the lenses. For one thing, they are generally made from polycarbonate material, which is a resin that is strong and impact-resistant, can absorb sharp blows and is shatterproof. They are also a lot lighter, but have one disadvantage of being more susceptible to scratching, as polycarbonate is a “soft” form of resin (although a mark on your glasses is better than physical trauma to your eye).
Most polycarbonate cycling glasses will block damaging UV rays (although it can’t hurt to check when you’re buying a pair), and one option not universally offered are lenses that are polarised, which helps reduce glare. But the primary variable to manage light and glare is the colour of the lenses.
Shades and tints
As with “beach-wear” sunglasses, darker lenses cut out bright sun glare, and the choice of dark grey or brown tinting will be a personal one. Clear lenses of course will still protect your eyes but are better for low light conditions or night riding. A yellow tint is helpful to enhance definition and is good for bad weather and cloudy conditions, and red or orange tinted lenses help define vision (for example, to be better able to see stones or potholes in your way) but are also intended to be “all-day” optically-relaxing eyewear.
Of course a lot of the time a rider will be out in all manner of conditions, so will probably feel the need to have different shades for a variety of weather and daylight hours. The solution many cycling glasses have come up with are interchangeable lenses, which simply snap in. “Someone who likes to get going early in the morning can start with a clear lense, then put in a more shaded lense if the sun gets bright,” says McGuinn. “Or if they’re caught out in the twilight, the more yellow tinted lense may help sight.”
The only trouble is that you then have to carry a variety of lenses (which however are very light) and if this is a worry, one option is to go for photochromatic lenses, which change according to light conditions. McGuinn says if price is a concern, a general average tinting is useful for most riders.
If you usually wear prescription lenses, many cycling glasses come with prescription insert capability, so that your corrective lense can sit behind the regular cycling lense. Many of the more widely available brands are able to have prescription lenses fitted, but you will have to check (and this will add to the cost).
Style and design
Wraparound styles are popular due to the extra peripheral vision these afford. The extra visual field can be important in a group of riders or in traffic. There is also the added dirt and dust protection from having the frames wrap back further along the side of your eye area. Being a style that more fully encloses the eye area however means that ventilation needs to be adequately addressed, so watch for ventilation solutions (some even have visible holes around the frames).
Then there are the specific design quirks that make cycling glasses different to everyday sunglasses. For example some styles will have lenses that extend higher than the wearer’s eyebrows so that vision is not obstructed when riding low on drop bars. Also, although most of the widely available glasses will have been designed with this in mind, make sure they will fit under and alongside a helmet comfortably.
The range of styles and brands of cycling glasses is huge, but so too is the price range. “You can stay under $50, but it goes to hundreds of dollars if you want to spend that,” says McGuinn. “The main higher end brands are Rudy Project or Oakley, and these brands bring with them higher end technology to the construction of the glasses as well.”
Points of difference that Oakley boasts, for example, include its “hydrophobic” coating, which easily sheds water so it won’t stay on the lense surface, and a lense changing mechanism that ensures no distortion of the optical surface. Rudy Project is proud of its frames, with slim hinging and generally fully adjustable ear and nose pieces.
McGuinn says most people who walk in will target the $50 to $100 range. “But people can always get a cheaper pair and try them out. Some you can get for around $30, which can be a good way to test the advantages of cycling glasses and see how you go with them. Sometimes you need to try before you realise that glasses are actually an important piece of riding equipment.”
Adding style to your ride can’t be a bad thing, but when the cool tool also makes riding more comfortable and enjoyable, there’s little to argue against. And just remember, it’s very hard to ride without your vision, so protect those eyes.
This first appeared in Australian Cyclist magazine