In this post I’ll explain the topic of cycling glasses (goggles, or “eyewear” as it is often advertised) and then share my experience with a particular model: Uvex 802 Variomatic.
Table Of Contents (T.O.C.):
- The difference between the cycling, and “ordinary” sunglasses
- Polarized lenses
- Different colours and types of lenses
4.1. Clear (not tinted) lenses
4.2. Dark lenses
4.3. Yellow/orange lenses
4.4. Photochromic (“photo grey”, “transitions”) lenses
- Cycling sunglasses frames
- Subscription lenses
- The best cycling sunglasses in the world
I’ve been cycling for almost 40 years. I live in Novi Sad (Serbia, Europe, 3rd rock from the Sun) – which is a moderately sized, flat city – perfect for bicycle commuting. With a nearby Fruška Gora mountain, for when you feel like riding, or hiking through the woods, going up and down hill.
Novi Sad is on the Danube river, which is another beauty, but it comes with a flaw: lots of insects for most of the year, which go into one’s eyes when cycling. Also, a nice cycling route along the Danube goes from west to east – so you are likely to have the sun going into your eyes.
Another thing to note is that I often cycle home after the sun has set – in the dark (I already wrote about bicycle lights).
Finally – I don’t need reading or viewing prescription glasses (at least for now), and my eyes aren’t sensitive to the sun (they are dark… like my soul 🙂 ).
This all resulted in me looking for cycling sunglasses that can protect the eyes from insects and that are as much see-through in the dark as possible. Of course, it was desirable for them to dim strong sunlight, especially when it goes directly into the eyes (when riding towards the rising or setting sun).
Over the years, I have tried many different types of cycling sunglasses, and in this text I will mention some of those, with their pros and cons. Most of the things written here are based on my experience and I’ll explain what has worked for me. I am trying to be as objective as possible and have also received much feedback from other cyclists over the years, so that too was considered when writing this. However, we are all different, so the best I can do is make some “rough” guidelines and share my experience, leaving the final choice to the readers and their, inevitable, trial and error – though this text might help you get cycling sunglasses that are perfect for you in fewer attempts.
2. The difference between the cycling, and “ordinary” sunglasses
I’d say it’s noticeable on the first fast descent (post on fast bicycle cornering). “Ordninary” sunglasses usually don’t protect the eyes from the wind at high speeds nearly as well as cycling sunglasses. They also often don’t fit, or don’t stay in place so well when the head is tilted downwards, as is the case on road bicycles, where the rider looks forward “under the eyebrows” – head is tilted down, eyes looking up (forward). Also, cycling sunglasses usually have both lenses and the frame made of plastic – they need to be light so they don’t “jump”, or fall off when riding over bumpy terrain.
Fashion sunglasses or prescription glasses are far from useless, but also far from perfect for cycling. Having said that – cycling sunglasses have become fashion too, but more on that later (unless I forget 🙂 ).
The bottom line is that cycling sunglasses should stay stably when riding over bumpy terrain, while offering protection from the wind, insects, dust, and any road debris thrown toward the eyes (truck wheels can do that for example).
3. Polarized lenses
They deserve their own chapter. What are polarized lenses? I’ll try to explain without going into the light waves reflection and polarization. Simply put, polarized lenses block (filter) light that comes directly towards them – like sun reflection from a water surface, shining straight into the eyes, blinding us (not permanently of course).
For this reason, they are phenomenal when one is spending a lot of time looking at snow, ice, water surface (when fishing, for example) etc. However, when cycling, one of the ways to tell there’s some wet, more slippery surface ahead is the extra sun reflection it gives. Polarized lenses hide this, in my opinion & experience, important information from us. That is why I do not use polarized lenses for cycling, driving, and/or motorcycling.
There are people who “have been riding for years with polarized sunglasses and are happy”. Can’t argue with that – it’s important that everyone is happy. I’m happier when I can see the road texture as well as possible. Even some notable manufacturers offer a model of polarized lense cycling sunglasses. Why? Probably for the same reason they put tread on bicycle tyres for paved roads – it’s easier to take people’s money, than to explain things to them (see: slick bicycle tyres explained).
Now that we’ve explained polarized lenses, let’s see what kinds of “normal” lenses there are for cycling sunglasses:
4. Different colours and types of lenses
Cycling sunglasses lenses usually come in one of the three basic variants – and one that is a “chameleon”:
- Clear (as in not tinted) – for night riding.
- Dark – for strong sunlight.
- Yellow/orange – for daylight with lower visibility (rain, clouds, forest shade etc.).
- Photochromic (also called “photo grey”) – with adaptive darkening.
Cycling sunglasses frames often allow for easy lens swapping, and it is not unusual for a pair of sunglasses to come with several pairs of different lens types. I will now explain the most common lens types:
4.1. Clear (not tinted) lenses
Lenses that are not tinted are suitable for night riding. It must be noted that even these “completely clear” lenses do dim the light just a little bit. However, this is far outweighed by the protection they offer from insects and (cold) wind, so night visibility with such lenses is quite good.
Like all the other types of cycling lenses, they shouldn’t distort the image – unlike prescription lenses that do in one way, or another, these should be “optically neutral” so to speak.
Clear lenses made by renowned manufacturers often offer some degree of UV ray protection, even though they are not tinted.
4.2. Dark lenses
These lenses dim the light, making the sunshine seem less strong on the eyes. Some dim more light, some less. Lenses are usually with a shade of grey, brown, or blue. The good quality lenses won’t “colour” what you see in the shade of the lenses, but the colours you see will still be natural.
The amount of light let through is noted in per cent: ranging from 0% to 100% (theoretically, no lenses let 100% of the light, not even the clear ones, nor do any glasses block 100% of the visible light, of course). This is called VLT (Visible Light Transmission).
Shades that are “light”, not very dark, usually have a VLT of about 70%, while the really dark ones go around 20%.
It is important, especially for darker lenses, to provide good UV-ray filtering. Because when your shades are dark, your eye pupils will be more widely open, letting more rays in. Hence, your retina might get more burned than if you wore no sunglasses at all (without sunglasses, we squint if the sunshine is strong, and our eye pupils get very narrow). This is why it’s important to use good-quality sunglasses.
Disclaimer: I’m no doctor nor an optician, so take this information with a grain of salt and double-check. This is the way I understood it, i.e. “to the best of my knowledge”. Any corrections are welcome in the comments section below.
Some companies don’t note VLT in per cent, but use marks ranging from S0 to S4 – with S1 being the more clear (80 to 70 % VLT), and S3 being the more dark lenses (15 to 30 % VLT).
|VLT (%)||S (n)||Conditions|
|95 – 81||S0||Darkness (nigh)|
|80 – 51||S1||Very cloudy (“grim”)|
|50 – 21||S2||Mildly cloudy|
|20 – 10||S3||Sunny|
|9 – 3||S4||Very sunny|
Generally speaking, unless there is very strong sunlight from ahead, or a person’s eyes are very sensitive to sunlight, lighter (less dark) lenses allow for easier noticing of any potholes, bumps, or road debris – compared to darker lenses.
4.3. Yellow/orange lenses
What are the yellow or orange lenses good for? They are intended for cloudy days, and/or for riding through forests, so that shade and sunshine always interchange. They protect from sun glare (not as good as dark lenses, of course), while providing good visibility in the shade (though not as good as clear lenses). So they are a bit of a compromise. Making themselves an optimal choice in the forest, or when it is not too sunny (i.e. when it’s cloudy).
Some manufacturers make these lenses in yellow, others in orange colour. Yellow ones are usually less dark (they let more visible light – see Table 1 VLT), though some orange ones can also be quite “light”.
Many people believe these lenses are very good for night riding. They say yellow/orange lenses minimize the blinding effect of oncoming traffic headlights. This is true. However, they also block a lot of visible light, especially when it is dark (and more light is towards the blue side of the visible light spectre). Hence, when strong headlights are not blinding you, with these lenses you see a lot worse than you would with clear lenses, or with no glasses at all. A way to cope with blinding headlights is looking a bit downwards and sideways, towards the near side of the road, keeping the road where you are going just off your eye focus (in the peripheral vision).
4.4. Photochromic (“photo grey”, “transitions”) lenses
These lenses change their tint (“darkness”) according to the amount of UV light present, i.e. they react to the UV light. Getting “darker” when the sunshine is strong, and clearer when it is dark or cloudy.
The range of this “darkening” is limited. That is why manufacturers of cycling sunglasses with photochromic lenses usually offer various ranges. For example: from almost completely clear to decently dim (S1 to S3 – see Table 1). Or: from moderately dim, to very dim (S2 to S4). And so on.
A cool thing with such lenses is they don’t have to be swapped when the conditions change. Those starting from S0, or S1 are quite useful if you get caught by the dark, while they still help a lot in strong sunshine. This is super-convenient: no more fingerprints on the lenses when swapping them mid-ride, because it is getting dark, or because clouds have moved away and the sun is shining brightly. Just put them on and ride. 🙂
5. Cycling sunglasses frames
Frames are usually plastic and light. It is desirable for them to have an ergonomic, adjustable part that sits on the nose.
Good models are designed to not block peripheral vision, both to the sides and upward (when riding with head tilted downwards, like on a road bicycle).
In my opinion, it is completely irrelevant whether the frame is open or enclosed all the way around the lenses. It just matters that the glasses don’t block your peripheral vision (important for cycling) and that they are comfortable for you. If you ride with a helmet, make sure to try the sunglasses with the helmet on, to confirm they fit.
I did a lot of research (as always) for this post and read a lot of articles on the topic. Some deal with frame design and shape in great detail. In my opinion (and experience), when it comes to cycling sunglasses frame and fit – one trying on is better than a 1,000 expert opinions. Support your local bicycle shop: go, try, then buy.
6. Subscription lenses
I don’t have first-hand experience with this, but I know some cyclists who need prescription lenses for riding – to see the road and the other vehicles, trees etc. How to cope if one needs prescription glasses? Everything noted here is based on other people’s experiences I was told:
The best, but the most expensive solution, that isn’t always possible (for medical reasons) is an operation for elimination or drastic reduction of the needed dioptre. No worries with glasses, contact lenses etc.
Another solution is contact lenses. They enable the use of regular sunglasses. And they’re quite practical.
Finally, there are cycling sunglasses which enable mounting of prescription lenses by “hooking” them behind the sunglasses lenses or, even more exotic, prescription sunglasses. Both of these are rather expensive, unfortunately. It is how it is.
In the next chapter, with recommendations, I will note some models for the people who need subscription lenses.
7. The best cycling sunglasses in the world
If you have read the previous chapters, you probably understand that the best sunglasses are something everyone should choose for themselves, based on their criteria and priorities. However, I will note what I like best, and share some other models, especially for those needing prescription lenses.
The sunglasses I’ve been very happy with for about 10 years are Uvex Vario. They are shown in picture 3. They have photochromic lenses, and I went with the lightest amount of dimming (S0 to S2 – see Table 1).
They are comfortable, durable, offer a wide field of vision and are good for riding both in the dark and in the sun, as well as in forests.
The model is discontinued, but the closest match I could find is Uvex 802 V (Amazon affiliate link).
Could say I’m a fan of Uvex optics – still using their ski goggles purchased in 1990. Beaten and bruised, but still good for winter cycling.
Update 2022: after well over a decade of daily use, I managed to scratch the old sunglasses, so I bought the new 802 V model. I’m very pleased with these sunglasses.
Here’s the presentation of my Uvex 802 V – the best cycling sunglasses: 🙂
Other renowned manufacturers of cycling sunglasses are Rudy Project and Oakley (Amazon affiliate links).
What about those who need prescription lenses?
Uvex Sportstyle RXi 4101 v are cycling sunglasses with photochromic lenses, to which a prescription lens adapter Uvex RXd 4005 can be mounted. Couldn’t find these on Amazon, so links go to Uvex’s website, from where you will have to look for a local distributor.
Similarly, Rudy Project has Optical Dock, and many cycling sunglasses with prescription lenses, or compatible with the Optical Dock for mounting additional prescription lenses.
Oakley offers HALF JACKET® 2.0 XL (Amazon affiliate link), cycling sunglasses with polarized lenses, that can be ordered from an optician with a certain range of dioptres:
I tried to offer thorough information, so everyone can choose for and by themselves what’s best for them – based on their needs, wants, budget, and priorities.
Cycling sunglasses are a great thing: they help you see the road and notice hazards more easily, and prevent dust, insects, or strong wind from getting into your eyes.
Good quality ones, that don’t distort the image and offer good UV protection, are not cheap. There is no need to go for a crazily expensive model, but I would avoid cheap, no-name ones as well. Not because of some snobbery, but because of the eyes – you’ve got only one pair of those, for life.
Hope all of this was helpful. Any comments, additions and corrections are welcome in the comments section below.
- Uvex eyewear buying guide (PDF)
- Cooper Safety Supply lens guide
- Sport Conrad ski goggles buying guide
- Wikipedia – Photochromic lenses