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 Mar 6, 2013 at 12:30
  • I wear prescription lenses, and can't see much with out them. So the only option for me is clip-ons. That means I can clip on a different colour for minimal cost, but they add to the overall weight. Plus I can do the John Lennon flip-up look when not required.
    – Criggie
    Jan 30, 2016 at 0:30

9 Answers 9


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, 2013 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. Mar 6, 2013 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, 2013 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, 2013 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, 2013 at 20:46

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.

  • That link covers a very wide variety of colors and is very helpful.
    – amcnabb
    Mar 8, 2013 at 17:08
  • 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, 2013 at 8:57
  • Both Bollé links are dead unfortunately
    – Sparhawk
    May 31, 2021 at 0:30

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.

  • Agreed. I often find myself blinded when I enter a forest with shaded glasses on. I can see very little until the eyes adapt to the darkness and it takes time. Aug 23, 2021 at 14:45

This answer draws some points from my answer on the commuting question that the OP linked to.

There are two characteristics that we may be conflating. Lenses have a certain base color, which affects what you see when you look through the glasses. To my knowledge, these include at least grey, bronze (aka brown), rose (aka pink), and yellow. These are the common ones I see in cycling.

Then there's the lens' mirror finish, which affects the color that others see when they look at you. I don't work in the optical industry, so I don't know this for a fact, but it seems like the finish may not significantly affect what the wearer perceives. It's definitely possible to make base colors in more than one finish. For example, Oakley offers bronze, gold, and reddish lenses; all of these have bronze base colors, and the latter two also have a mirror finish. The visual light transmission ratings (see below) do differ slightly among these lenses.

Separate from all this, visual light transmission (VLT) is the proportion of all visible light that the lenses allow to pass through. I am most familiar with Oakley glasses, and to my knowledge, most of their lineup has 10%-20% VLT. For cycling in the peak of the summer, some cyclists may perceive lenses near 20% VLT as inadequate. This depends on your preference. I'm not sure if some mirror finishes are associated with lower VLTs.

The original question asked,

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?

I believe this answer deals mainly with the base color of the lens. This probably involves some element of personal preference. Grey base colors reduce the intensity of incoming light evenly across all wavelengths. Said another way, they don't alter your color perception. Bronze and rose base lenses both increase contrast, and they may alter your color perception a bit (with rose lenses possibly altering your color perception more than bronze, based on my personal experience only).

What's contrast? There are technical definitions of the term, which I will skip. In cycling, increased contrast can help us to perceive obstacles like potholes on the road or rocks on the trail. As an extreme example, consider the two photographs of the surface of Titan, one of Saturn's moons. The images are taken from the Wikipedia entry. The left image has no contrast enhancement. The right image has been artificially contrast enhanced. Obviously, we aren't going to cycle on Titan's surface anytime soon, so the images just illustrate the principle.

enter image description here enter image description here

To answer the question, I think that neutral base lenses are definitely adequate for cycling. It's probably worth considering lenses with bronze or rose base colors at some point. Again, this is likely to be an issue of preference. Oakley's Prizm Road and Prizm Trail lenses, which are intended to be specific for road cycling and MTB respectively, have rose base colors. Smith appears to offer cycling lenses in both grey and bronze bases. (NB: these aren't product recommendations, these are two major manufacturers I'm familiar with, Oakley more than Smith). My own experience is that I like lenses with contrast, so I tend more towards rose and bronze bases for cycling.

There are other base colors, e.g. green bases appear to be marketed for golf, yellow/amber bases are marketed for low light conditions, blue bases may be marketed at snow and water sports. I'm not as familiar with these. They don't seem to be commonly marketed in cycling.

On the broader topic of color enhancement, some manufacturers are further tuning which colors are enhanced with the aim of enhancing visual perception. That is, they use dyes to block more light at certain wavelengths. Oakley's Prizm and Smith's Chromapop technologies use this principle, and other manufacturers may do this also. With Oakley, some of their Prizm lenses are marketed as being specific to certain sports. For example, the road lenses are said to enhance yellows, greens, and reds - all of which correspond to standard colors for traffic lights and road markings. They also have general purpose Prizm lenses (branded as Prizm Everyday), which are said to just make most colors more vibrant. I have a pair of Oakley's Prizm Road and one of their Prizm Everyday lenses, and to be honest, I think they are nice, but I'm not sure I could differentiate the effect from placebo, and this type of technology is definitely not essential. Naturally, feel free to experiment or not.

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?

To my knowledge, all the current photochromic lenses offered for cycling have grey base lenses. Based on personal experience and listening to cycling forum conversations, I'd assert this: photochromic lenses require UV light to darken. They don't seem to get to their darkest tint unless it's very sunny. At the time I tried them (several years ago), their maximum darkness (i.e. minimum VLT) didn't feel dark enough for the sunniest days. I'm not sure how much the technology has improved in the last few years. They might have a niche in cycling for riders who are competing in extremely long events that start in the morning and finish at night (or you could just remove your sunglasses when you don't need them). Other than that, I don't see that there's a strong rationale for transitions lenses.


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.


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.

  • 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, 2013 at 20:17

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.


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:


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.


Most cyclists ride on the road and feel that the road reflects more sunlight than the muddy ground. Since the rider spends more time looking directly at the road, it will receive more UV reflections. Cataracts can be caused by absorbing UV rays in the eyes for a long time. Cycling glasses can greatly protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays, and effectively reduce the impact of foreign bodies and sand on the eyes. The following five types of lenses can solve visual problems for riders.

Gray Plated With Red Lenses The color seen through these lenses is blue, the lenses can reduce the light entering the eye but will not affect the visual clarity. These lenses can achieve the effect of light absorption and no reflection and are suitable for riding, boating, fishing, and other sports under strong light.

Gray Plated Mercury Lenses The perspective rate of gray-plated mercury lenses is (?)%, which effectively reduces the light intensity and provides excellent visual effects. After using the lenses, the original color of the scene can still be clearly distinguished. They are the most comfortable and suitable lenses for various sports.

Transparent Lenses The perspective rate of transparent lenses is 64%. The main function of transparent lenses is to protect the eyes from foreign objects. You can wear transparent lenses for night exercises, which can effectively prevent wind and mosquitoes, and other foreign objects from flying into the eyes.

Yellow Brightening Lenses The perspective rate of yellow brightening lenses is 63%. The light yellow lenses have the most obvious effect of absorbing blue light, enhance the contrast, do not dazzle the eyes, and make the natural scene more clear. They are suitable for use in the dusk, night, early morning, foggy, rainy, and other environments. However, they are forbidden to use under the scorching sun and strong light.

Gray Polarized Lenses Grey polarized lenses have the main function of 0% UV protection. They can effectively eliminate and filter out the scattered light in the beam, make the scene look soft and not dazzling, suitable for a strong reflective sunlight environment.

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    Welcome to the site. Do please read the tour - if you have any affiliation or connection with the linked site, please disclose it. Also, you seem to have missed a number, please use edit to fix that.
    – Criggie
    Aug 21, 2021 at 8:24
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    Welcome! A couple technical points. 1) I'm not sure what you mean by perspective rate. I think you may mean visual light transmission, which is the fraction of visible light that the lenses let through. It's a technical term, and I'm not sure if there's a simpler term. 2) I am under the impression that all good sunglass lenses will not transmit UV light. Under grey polarized lenses, I don't think that 100% UV protection is unique to this type of lens. Also, many lens colors/tints can be polarized, not just grey.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Aug 21, 2021 at 14:59

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.
    – jimchristie
    May 15, 2014 at 18:50
  • Would you please consider updating your answer to clarify why you find reflective sunglasses to work better?
    – amcnabb
    May 20, 2014 at 18:38

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