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I've recently started commuting via bike to work (6.5mi each way), and am looking for advice on gear... specifically sunglasses (which I find useful to prevent dust in eyes and to help block the ample sun).

Currently I'm using an expensive pair of Oakleys (not meant for riding per-se), but I'm wondering if I should get a specific pair of glasses that are preferred by riders.

Any suggestions on brands or even specific models would be nice.

  • Good question - there's obviously a lot of interest and opinions on the topic. – Mac Aug 25 '11 at 4:05
  • This question is starting to turn into a list of equally valid answers. Voting to close. – jimchristie Mar 4 '14 at 14:12
  • Remember, answers to this question should be about features or things about sunglasses that benefit cycling. Answers should not simply recommend a brand/model, instead highlight why that item is good. – Criggie Feb 24 at 18:27
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    I don't see anyone pointing out that the glasses should have a strap, at least if you sweat a lot or ride in the rain. I favor the Croakies brand, but there are others. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 25 at 0:16

10 Answers 10

11

Cycling glasses are a very functional piece of equipment. While any glasses will be better than none, you ideally want glasses that:

  • Wrap your face, so the frame does not obstruct your field of vision
  • Have lenses that are close to your eyes, without large gaps between them and your face (to minimize dust and debris from getting to your eyes)
  • Allow a reasonable amount of airflow to prevent fogging
  • Fit well (meaning they essentially meet the above requirements without causing discomfort).

Cycling glasses will meet all of these aspects. However, the specific set you buy can range from low-end, nearly disposable glasses to high-end high-dollar ones. Features such as interchangeable lenses (so you can have clear lenses on shady days or in the dark) are nice-to-haves, and can be had even on cheap pairs. An alternative is to have a few pairs of glasses so you can pick the right tint for the day.

The right tint is very important--whether you have one pair with interchangable lenses, or several that you use depending on conditions, you'll want to ensure you have a pair for any riding time. Riding without glasses can be dangerous. Large bugs, branches, and road debris can really hurt if it catches you in the eye.

Price will partly be dictated by how long you'd like them to last. These will be taking bugs and other debris at relatively high speed, so they will all need to be replaced eventually.

Personally, I have a pair of relatively low-end Uvex Blaze's--paid about $30--and they come with clear and medium-tint lenses. They have suited me well, and have taken some drops. I'd expect I'll get perhaps a year of usage out of them before I do something disastrous and they are gone. The interchangable lenses are quite nice--I use them regularly, especially when commuting where I often need clear lenses after dusk.

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    Cycling glasses are probably what all the serious riders are wearing that I see all the time around here. Thanks for the product link, I'll go have a look. – r00fus Aug 25 '11 at 0:37
  • how scratch resistant are those Blazes ? – memnoch_proxy Aug 25 '11 at 2:51
  • Also important to mention is gravel. If you ride chip-sealed roads, I have gravel bouncing off me from passing cars regularly. – memnoch_proxy Aug 25 '11 at 2:57
  • @memnoch_proxy they aren't very high end, so I wouldn't expect them to be scratch resistant. My glasses tend to meet their end in very silly ways, like dropping them while walking and stepping right on them, so $30 glasses are high-end for me. If you watch deal sites you can get a decent set within that price, but if you're more responsible with them than I then you may benefit from putting more money into them. – STW Aug 25 '11 at 3:21
  • @roofus -- yes, cycling glasses have a distinct "sporty" style. Personally I don't like the looks, but as I said their form follows function. For riding they are very well suited to the task; much better so than "casual" sunglasses. – STW Aug 25 '11 at 3:24
12

If you don't want to spend lots of money you can still get the most relevant characteristics in a pair of safety glasses.

You can find these at just about any hardware store and they:

  • wrap around,
  • are impact resistant,
  • block UV,
  • don't look half bad
  • come in clear and tinted (and are cheap enough to get one of each usually)
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    I keep a few pairs of $7 safety glasses stored in old socks in my trunk bag. A shaded pair, a yellow pair and a clear pair. I prolly have spent a bunch of dollars replacing them as they don't last, but with toddlers around the house, I'd really regret losing a $70+ pair of shades. My regret with cheap safety glasses is how quickly they scratch up. – memnoch_proxy Aug 25 '11 at 2:55
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    Very good suggestion! My safety glasses indeed are quite similar to my cycling glasses. Better yet, if I ever need to run a side-grinder for a curb-side repair I know I'll be covered ;-) Seriously though, it really is a valid option--and the sportier styles offered can be a very good fit for riding – STW Aug 25 '11 at 3:27
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    If you have a Dollar Tree store in your area, you can pick up wraparound sunglasses for a $1, cheap as they get, some actually look very nice also. – Moab Aug 25 '11 at 17:10
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    I was given some Bolle safety glasses. They looked the part and I went out with them. Boy was that a bad idea! I felt like I was having an out of body experience or had been drinking meths (not that I would know). The problem was the optical distortion. Everything was in focus but three foot away from where I thought it was. +1 for safety glasses but there are caveats. Might I suggest 'What cheap affordable safety glasses are good for cycling?' as a forthcoming question... – ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 25 '11 at 20:42
  • @ʍǝɥʇɐɯ interesting! I have never had that experience Good point to check them out before you buy! The Bolle link was just the first one I found with a picture of what I was thinking. I usually just get whatever the local hardware store has. – DQdlM Aug 26 '11 at 1:18
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Transition lenses!

After riding for years with various sunnies and cycling glasses with interchangeable lenses I got sick of having to carry around multiple lenses and changing them during the ride.

Recently, I got a pair of Oakley Fives with transition lenses. They are brilliant. No more need for changing lenses, they are always the right level of shading and it's just so convenient.

I only got the fives because they were pretty cheap and they suited my face. Plenty of sports frames can handle transition lenses.

Oakley Fives

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  • interesting! I wasn't aware that you could buy non-Rx transition lenses; however you've got me curious. I'll keep them in mind when my current face-shields meet their untimely end :) – STW Aug 25 '11 at 3:25
  • @STW Indeed you can. They add some cost but it's worth it when these are the only glasses you need in any conditions (in fact, in any outdoor activity at all) – Mac Aug 25 '11 at 4:01
  • Wonder if any other glasses allow for transition lenses... the Fives around $80, so I'm a bit hesitant to buy them. – r00fus Aug 25 '11 at 23:22
  • @r00fus - I'd say the lenses will be more expensive than the frames, so if $80 is too much you're not going to be able to afford this option. – Mac Aug 25 '11 at 23:44
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    @r00fus: I just searched on ebay.com for [ photochromic safety glasses ]. The cheapest pair that turned up was a pair of Uvex SX0406 safety glasses for US $32 plus shipping. The glasses include photochromic lenses with anti-scratch and anti-fog coatings. – unforgettableidSupportsMonica Dec 18 '12 at 6:20
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I always go for interchangeable lenses. I use the clear ones (or yellow if you must), at night, and dark ones in really bright sun. Although mostly I just keep the clear ones in day and night.
On every pair I've had the clear lens also gives full UV protection (although clear won't cut down glare of course).
Make sure you try them on so that they are a good fit to your face.

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I'd like to expand on the answers offered by @STW and @Mac.

The current rules here ask us not to offer product recommendations (the rules at the time of the original question may have differed). I'm going to focus on what to look for instead of specific products.

Coverage

I believe the OP had glasses that weren't sport-specific, which Oakley may call lifestyle glasses. I personally prefer cycling-specific or wrap around glasses. The objective difference is how much each type of glasses cover your field of vision. The wrap around glasses offer more coverage, including in your peripheral field of vision. This means it's less likely for dirt to get blown into your eyes.

Another possible issue is that sunglasses frames can get into your field of vision. Frameless glasses will avoid this. If you are a more performance-oriented cyclist, then sports-specific glasses often position the frames so that they aren't in your way when you're in a riding position. Lifestyle glasses are presumably designed for vision when you're not hunched over, so their frames may get in the way if you're on a more performance-oriented bike. However, if you have your commuter set for an upright position, this may be moot. In any case, it may also not be a major issue on a short commute.

I don't think it is necessary for commuters to get sports-specific glasses. If you have lifestyle sunglasses and you don't feel like you're getting wind or dirt in your eyes, then there's no barrier to just re-using them.

A subjective disadvantage to sports-specific glasses is that you may perceived as unfashionable or odd if you wear them off the bike. But this is subjective.

More serious cyclists will ride longer distances, and they may ride in more adverse conditions. I think more serious cyclists should consider sports-specific eyewear. As a tangential addition, sports-specific eyewear does not require additional retention systems, relying instead on special purpose rubber. In my experience, this is more than sufficient. General purpose or lifestyle sunglasses may not have as strong retention, and users might want to think about a strap if they find their glasses slide off.

Lenses

How dark are they (visible light transmission)

Sunglass lenses range in how dark they are. Often, this will be summarized by the visible light transmission (VLT) figure. I recall that the darkest Oakley glasses (the only ones I'm familiar with) offer VLTs of 9-12%, i.e. 9-12% of visible light hitting the lens gets let through to your eye. This amount of VLT is fine for very bright light. In cloudy conditions, some riders may perceive those lenses to be too dark. Alternatively, some riders may be more sensitive to light. Generally, a manufacturer's product webpage will tell you the VLT of a lens. A retailer should be equipped with this information as well. It's a key piece of information.

Selecting VLT is a matter of personal preference. I have been riding a pair of Oakleys with a VLT of 20%. This does initially seem quite high, but I found that it has actually been sufficient on sunny days. I'm familiar only with Oakley's offerings, and I recall that most of their lenses have VLTs ranging from 10 to 20%. I have a feeling that many people would find VLTs of 15 to 20% acceptable for general use, i.e. they'll be usable on very sunny or fairly cloudy days. However, once again, you should let preference be your guide and you may have to experiment a bit. As noted in some answers, some glasses allow you to interchange lenses, so it's possible you could get multiple lenses with varying VLTs. A side note: some manufacturers may make clear lenses with 75% or higher VLT available for cloudy days or dawn or dusk riding.

One answer mentioned transitions lenses (aka photochromic lenses). These change the amount of VLT when exposed to ultraviolet light, and they can be useful for changing conditions (e.g. you start a ride around dawn, and you ride back in full sunlight). Oakley's literature quotes a VLT figure of 23% for their transitions lenses, which is relatively high. Do consider this. Also, my experience with transitions lenses is that they don't achieve their full darkness (i.e. minimum VLT) unless you're in very bright sunlight. However, transitions technology may have improved since I last used them (around 2015 or so). Transitions lenses are generally available in grey base tints (discussed below), and I'm not aware of transitions lenses with other base tints.

Contrast and tints

Lenses also have a base tint, i.e. what you see when you look through the lens. This is not the color of the lenses when you look at them from the outside (i.e. as perceived by others); that appears to be a mainly cosmetic thing.

Some lenses have a gray base tint, i.e. they look gray when you look through the lens. That's considered to be a neutral tint. It affects all colors equally, and it doesn't affect your color perception.

Some lenses have bronze or rose tints. Both those types of tints increase contrast, i.e. the contrast between light and dark. Borrowing a graphic from the site All About Vision:

enter image description here

Bronze (synonyms may include copper, orange, or amber) or rose base tints may help you see the last row of letters better. In addition, blue light may affect your eye's ability to see details or to focus properly, and bronze and rose tints block more blue light than grey tints, as discussed at Sailing World. This can help you distinguish potholes or other hazards on the road, but if you are only commuting, this may not be a material benefit. This Wirecutter article contains a quote from Rob Tavakoli, who runs the online glasses store SportRx. He endorses contrasting tints for outdoor activities, explaining that they can really enhance your vision when traveling at speed. However, the site does say that more leisure-oriented riders or commuters should be fine with a neutral tint.

I'm less familiar with yellow tints. They should give some of the contrast benefits discussed above. In my limited experience, they tend to be mainly designed for low light conditions (i.e. pretty high VLT, perhaps 60% and over). Cloudy days would be an example. I don't see green tints offered for cycling eyewear, but I believe they may offer a more neutral color perception and may be favored in some ball sports.

Some people might find some tints to be off-putting. Rose tints do alter your color perception, which may be a further turn-off. Again, you may need to experiment and consider your preferences.

If you can't decide, the safest choice should be a neutral grey base. Personally, as a performance-oriented cyclist, I find that I like rose or bronze tints due to the added contrast.

Polarized vs not

Polarized lenses block glare from sun reflecting off car windscreens. Many driving glasses are polarized, since there can be a lot of glare when driving on the highway in sunny conditions. Ice or snow on the ground also causes glare.

It seems like many cyclists see that polarized glasses are more expensive, so they get them. I differ from this opinion. Many of us may not be in heavy automobile traffic, so glare reduction may not benefit us. Cycling on sunny snow days would seem like a use case where polarized might help, but how many of us are actually cycling in those conditions? In addition, we may actually benefit from seeing glare reflected off a puddle - it may help us perceive the puddle earlier. Further, while this may not be a consideration for many, polarized glasses can make your bike computer screen or smartphone screen look odd, and may impair readability. Last, polarized glasses may slightly affect your depth perception, as discussed at the Wirecutter article in the last link.

I would assert that polarized glasses are not necessary for most of us. Getting polarized lenses should be a matter of preference. If you're commuting in with your driving sunglasses, polarized lenses won't really impair you - my issue is with the contention that they are necessary for cycling.

The argument above is, admittedly, taken from videos by Oakley that discuss their rationale for the Prizm lenses - their cycling (and ball sports) Prizm lenses are not polarized, although their water and snow sports ones are. I have no commercial relationship with Oakley to disclose. I am merely a frequent customer.

Side note: altering color perception

This is likely not that important to the OP's question, but independent of the tint, manufacturers may be able to block more or less light on certain light frequencies using dyes. The rationale here is to emphasize colors that are important in specific environments. This is independent of the base lens tint. Oakley's Prizm and Smith's Chromapop lenses are examples of this type of lens technology. Oakley offers Prizm lenses customized to various sports, e.g. road cycling, mountain biking, shallow water sports, deep water sports, etc. Each lens highlights colors that are critical to perception in its sport. Oakley also seems to offer a line of general-purpose Prizm lenses, and Smith's technology also appears to be more general-purpose. Other manufacturers might use this technology, but I'm not aware of them.

This is definitely not vital for most consumers. As a more performance-oriented cyclist, I do like Oakley's Prizm Road lens for road cycling. It has a rose base tint, plus the lens enhances the transmission of yellows and a few other colors (to emphasize lane lines in the road). It was designed specifically for road cycling. However, it does seem a bit odd when I drive with it. In gravel cycling, it definitely seems a bit bright when I'm on gravel (which often contains yellows).

If you get a lens with very sports-specific light absorption characteristics, be aware of the trade offs in other environments. For a commuter or leisure cyclist, I'd recommend holding off from a sports-specific lens unless you know you're committing to the sport. As I mentioned, general-purpose versions of this type of lens exist, which some might want to consider; in fact, I'm trying one out right now.

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    An excellent post; thorough as usual. Just random thought: for very cloudy days and riding from dusk into night I like yellow lenses. They have a VLT of 92%, so they're not useful for sun protection, but the yellow colour improves contrast in cloudy/dusk conditions and helps reduce glare from car headlights. – DavidW Feb 24 at 22:09
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I hate to give yet another It Depends answer, but it does. In my experience, the shape of your face will determine the cycling goggles that work best for you.

I've got a long nose and narrow face, and I wanted sunglasses that didn't admit any sun over the top edge. I wound up with a pair of Nikes (now discontinued, like every good thing Nike ever does), but only after a lot of looking. My wife's facial features are just the opposite of mine—she can't wear my sunglasses at all, and after much looking she wound up with a spendy pair of Adidas sunglasses.

Interchangeable lenses sound nice in theory, although I never take advantage of that. Wrap-around lenses that cover your peripheral vision are good. Polycarbonate lenses (I think most quality cycling goggles have them these days) is important. If you spend any time at high speed (say, descending at 30+ mph), a close fit will prevent turbulence behind the lenses, which makes your eyes tear up.

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I recommend another expensive pair of sunglasses from Oakley: The Jawbone.

Excellent crystal clear peripheral vision. You can get lenses with little vents. Lens change-out is easy. Lots of colors to choose from. They stay on your face and are very durable. Many pros wear them. The only bad thing is the price at about US $200.

About lenses...

It is good to get two kinds, a dark tint for daylight and a yellow/clear one for dusk/dawn/night. I recommend polarized vented lenses for the darks and these for yellow.

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For my money, I can't go past Serengeti sunglasses. They're not a very popular brand, but in my opinion they are the BEST the only other brand in contention is Ray-bands. My pilot brother put me on to them - apparently all the pilots wear them - they're that good. I bought some 6 years ago for motorbiking and I would highly, highly recommend them.

For cycling: Serengeti Maestrale

Serengeti Maestrale

  • They wrap nicely.
  • They have photochromatic lens - increasing definition
  • They have a nice tint.
  • You can get them polarised.
  • They don't look bad at all.

You can pick them up at www.opticsplanet.com for under $US100.


I'm not an agent of Serengeti or OpticsPlanet, I just love them.

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  • so you actually get on with photochromics? I had a pair once and found them too pale in the light and too slow to lighten in deep shade. This might partly be because I find grey lenses preferable for their better colour definition and almost all photochromics are brown. – Chris H Mar 4 '14 at 14:42
  • @ChrisH I prefer photochromatic lenses to a regular tint. Especially as I use them when commuting in low light, sometimes even after sunset (dusk not night). Plus, they make everything look so much nicer. – Coomie Mar 5 '14 at 0:56
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You should definetly go for wraparound frames and look for polarized glasses, these are helpful against glaring from the sun

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  • Hi, welcome to bicycles. General advice like this has already been covered in the existing answers; you should only add a new answer if you have new or more information to add to the existing answers. Please read How to Answer. – DavidW Feb 24 at 15:27
  • You could say why the OP should definitely get wraparound frames. They have the advantage of more coverage, hence less chance that dust gets in your eyes, but if the OP's current glasses suffice, then they may not be necessary. Also, why is protection from glare vital? You're right that polarized glasses reduce glare, in particular glare from sun reflecting off cars' windscreens and ice on the road. However, we often don't cycle in areas where cars are dense, and we may benefit from being able to see glare reflected from ice on the road. And polarized makes your computer screen look funny. – Weiwen Ng Feb 24 at 15:53
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Yes! Cycling-specific sunglasses are super important. You need frames that stay on your face when you’re in the cycling position so you don’t have to look over the top of your glasses when you’re hunched forward. They also need to be compatible with your helmet as well as have rubber temples and nose grips to prevent them from slipping. Oakley and Rudy Project are two brands that make great cycling glasses.

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    Just fyi, if you're affiliated with the company that you've linked to, you must declare so in your answer. bicycles.stackexchange.com/help/behavior – jimchristie Mar 3 '14 at 22:40
  • Why would a rider be "hunched over" when commuting? At least for an urban commute, one should ride as upright as possible. Not only is it a lot more comfortable, but it is much safer as it both makes it easier to see and easier for others to see you. – Tony Adams Aug 12 '16 at 18:50
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    @TonyAdams "should be" who says so? More comfortably to whom? renehersecycles.com/… Some people DO get to a reasonable effort level when commuting. For me, commuting is part of my training. – Vladimir F Feb 24 at 9:47

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