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There seem to be a lot of different lens options for sunglasses, and there must be objective differences. For example, I've seen golf lenses advertised as filtering out blue light to improve reading of greens, but this would not seem to have any benefit for cycling. What particular tint colors are most useful for cycling sunglasses?

Would it be adequate to stick to neutral-colored filters (which would presumably be ideal for enjoying the scenery), or do any particular colors provide a significant advantage? Do photochromic (a.k.a. photochromatic or Transitions) lenses vary the darkness ideally, or is it really better to have multi-lens glasses with a few different colors?

Related questions: Sunglasses for commuting? (which asks for recommendations for brands/models of sunglasses), What are the features that I should seek in cycling glasses? (which asks for which features are desirable in general)

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There are two interesting effects that have to do with perceived contrast and perceived white balance of the environment under different light conditions: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purkinje_effect and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kruithof_curve –  heltonbiker Mar 6 '13 at 12:30
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7 Answers 7

up vote 15 down vote accepted

There are many factors that influence choices. - terrain you ride, sunlight intensity, shade effects etc, and personal preference. A quick internet search will give you technical answers on what colors do look here .

For me personally, I mostly Mountain Bike, I live in New Zealand, which has extremely high UV light levels. Therefore I do not venture out for more than an hour without some protection. I will use different glasses for different rides, but only because I have them. For use while riding, the all rounder is Yellow, for other things as well, I would head towards amber. If correct color perception is important, then you will struggle to get glass that work as well as Yellows/Amber's - especially in low light.

The advantage of the blue filters (blue blockers) is they lift depth perception and contrast - maybe roadies don't need it, but off road MTB it is a definite advantage.

Clear - I use these where protection from things other than sunlight is desirable (insects, sticks, dust etc), and maximum use of available light essential - mostly night riding.

Yellow - I use these a majority of my riding. Do a great job at smoothing the transition from shade to full sunlight (i.e. I can see into dark forest from bright sunlight). On bright days, let too much light in for comfort (But still protect from damaging UV). Mine are specific sports style - not really a fashion accessory....

Amber - Similar to yellow, but filter more light, making the shade a bit darker. Probably my most versatile sun glasses - use them when the yellows will look dorky -rides with family, beached etc.

Blue/polarised - Better color perception so I use the driving, fishing and general wear. Mine are pretty much towards the "fashion" end of the style range, not good for riding - too dark for forests.

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Nice answer. Don't forget grey photochromatic. I use them 99% of the time as they adjust to the light they're getting, especially useful on early morning rides. –  alex Mar 6 '13 at 1:29
    
Just a side note: I'm not sure if blue glasses are that good for driving. Blue glasses filter out yellow light which is in many countries used as signal color (e.g. on signs, traffic lights, signal lights on road works...). Therefore reducing your perception of yellow might not be a good idea in traffic situations. –  Benedikt Bauer Mar 6 '13 at 11:50
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Also note that you can get clear glasses with 100% UV protection. The color of the lenses says nothing about how much UV light they block. –  Kibbee Mar 6 '13 at 13:25
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My personal favourite is also amber. Second bests being Yellow and brown-ish. I like how them all increase contrast. In forests you really see more clearly the shape of bushes, trees, etc. so you have a better perception of the path. Also amber and yellow are marvelous during the blue hour (after sunset, before sunrise), some of them amost have the ilusion to brigthen up the scene, makit it easier either ride the bike or even drive. –  Jahaziel Mar 6 '13 at 15:05
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@alex, feel free to add another answer about grey photochromatic lenses--I think such an answer would be very helpful, particularly if you give insights like what type of range in light transmission is best. I'm also curious about whether cold temperatures present significant problems. –  amcnabb Mar 6 '13 at 20:46
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I think it depends largely on conditions.

I like to wear Bollé glasses and treated myself to a pair last summer. They do lots of variations so before purchasing the glasses I did a bit of research. They published a really useful paper outlining the appropriateness of different colour lenses under different light conditions, Very useful.

A couple of other things:

  • since different lenses are appropriate for different conditions, you might want to look at glasses which support changing lenses. I got a spare pair of lenses for the Bollé glasses I got, but they were difficult to get hold of and relatively expensive too.

  • having said all this, apart from the few months of summer we seem to get these days, my glasses of choice are actually clear, high-contrast safety glasses. For example, these Bollé Axis glasses on eBay. Personally I think these are every bit as good as cycling-specific glasses in terms of quality, but come in at a fraction of the price. The "contrast" aspect is good for poor light conditions.

Sorry if this seems like an ad for a particular manufacturer, they just happen to be my favourite - but I'm sure that the pdf link would apply just as well to other makes.

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That link covers a very wide variety of colors and is very helpful. –  amcnabb Mar 8 '13 at 17:08
    
+1 for suggesting changeable lenses. –  Carey Gregory Mar 8 '13 at 20:04
    
Glad it helps. There's another link here but I'm not sure you get anything more than the original link - this one is maybe easier to read. I got the glasses themselves (Draft) with one of the "shady" colours - they're easier to find and cheaper that way. The extra lens I bought was one of the lemons. –  PeteH Mar 11 '13 at 8:57
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Clear glasses with no tint and a good 100% UV and Fog resistant coating that do not block peripheral vision are useful in the almost any conditions

They may not be optimal for all, they have the fewest benefits but few faults. They are generally safe and useful in Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night conditions. Lenses with any Tint may be dangerous at night or at dusk, especially in off-road conditions.

As an all season commuter, mountain biker, and occasional road rider, I use clear glasses the most. Typically $10ish safety glasses from UVEX or MSA, but more high-end performance options exist.

See the answer from mattnz for an excellent rundown of the pro/cons of other tints, but if we are asking what tint most useful in general, I think the answer is none.

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It depends.

There are reasons that many sunglasses come with multiple lenses. I use darker color when riding in bright sunlight, less dark when it is cloudy and clear when it is dark and/or raining.

But then again, I have seen pretty much all colors out there. The biggest reason that we wear sunglasses isn't for shade but to protect our eyes from crap flying into our faces.

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I have five sets of lenses for my glasses, and tend to use the dark amber photochromatic lenses the most (dubbed "Red Fototec" by Tifosi). They filter the most visible light, and are decent if the sky becomes overcast. I use yellow lenses on heavy overcast days, and clear lenses on night rides.

I rarely use "smoked" (grey) lenses, except maybe for driving (photochromatic lenses don't usually work as expected in cars because of the UV filtering by the car windows), but I usually wear another pair of sunglasses when driving anyway.

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Thanks for pointing out that reddish lenses are really dark amber. Now that you mention it, it makes sense, and this ties in well with mattnz's answer. –  amcnabb Mar 26 '13 at 20:17
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Different hues of lenses have been well covered in existing answers, but light transmission hasn't been directly addressed. Lenses are characterized by how much visible light is transmitted through them. A dark lens has low light transmission, and a clear lens has high light transmission.

Clear Lenses

Most clear safety lenses have light transmission in the 75% to 95% range. Lenses in the 75% range appear to be clear, but if you put them on, they reduce brightness by a small but noticeable amount. As Benzo mentioned, clear lenses provide physical protection and filter ultraviolet light, even though they don't filter much visible light.

Sunglasses

Most sunglasses have lenses with light transmission in the 10% to 15% range, with some wavelengths filtered more aggressively than others. Other answers cover the usefulness of different colors.

Photochromic Sunglasses

Photochromic (a.k.a. photochromatic or transitions) lenses vary light transmission in response to ultraviolet light:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photochromic_lens

Most have light transmission of about 10% or 20% in bright conditions and about 50% in dark conditions. Note that photochromic lenses darken in response to cold temperatures. Also, they don't darken in cars since windshields filter ultraviolet light.

Low-Light Photochromic Sunglasses

Some photochromic lenses are designed for low light and have 75% light transmission (almost clear) in dark conditions. However, low light photochromic lenses have 20% or 25% light transmission in bright conditions and don't get as dark as ordinary sunglasses.

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I always go for the tint with the most mirror. The better I can see myself in the reflection the better the tint for me. I usually go with some really nice polarized sunglasses.

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We tend to frown on self-promotion on this site. Please see our help pages for more info. –  jimirings May 15 at 18:50
    
Would you please consider updating your answer to clarify why you find reflective sunglasses to work better? –  amcnabb May 20 at 18:38
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