Don’t wait until you’ve had a big fat bumble bee or chip of gravel strike you in the eye before you buy a pair of cycling glasses.
And it’s not just flying insects and debris that they will keep at bay; they will also let you ride through rain and hail in safety and comfort.
Darker lenses will stop you squinting on summer days, while some lenses are even designed to increase contrast, making it easier to see the road ahead in low light.
As with ordinary specs, you can get photochromic lenses that adapt to changing light levels, while many have a hydrophobic coating that helps water and oils run off.
Modern polycarbonate lenses are designed not to shatter on impact, while decent frames will bend in a crash rather than snapping into sharp bits that could stick into your eyes or face.
Many sports glasses come with removable lenses, so you can swap them around depending on the weather.
And while some are wraparound styles aimed at giving you the maximum protection and view of the road, others are more traditional styles that you can wear off the bike too.
We have put in hundreds of miles on the road trying out a selection of the best designs on the market right now – from budget offerings through to cool, customisable models costing hundreds of pounds. Take a look and see what you think.
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Smith Optics attack
While these were up against some tough competition, this pair edged it in the race for our IndyBest Buy thanks to the amazing magnetic arms. It’s so easy to swap between lenses – you just tilt the end of the arm and then snap it out of position to remove it – you then click it into your spare lens and away you go.
Our pair came with both dark grey and, for low light, pinkish chromapop lenses. There is a huge range of alternatives on offer including photochromic grey and a green mirrored version. With no frame to get in the way, forward and peripheral vision were excellent, while a little cut out section at the brow helped airflow, so they didn’t fog up. The megol nose and arm pads ensured they stayed firmly in place, even when our testers were sweating in hot weather. They come with both a hard case and a soft pouch, plus lens cloth.
Oakley flight jacket
Oakley virtually invented sports glasses market back in the 1980s and it’s still probably the biggest brand out there. You’ll see Oakley frames on the faces of countless professional cyclists including last year’s Tour de France winner Egan Bernal. These aggressively styled “flight jacket” glasses offer excellent performance in all weathers. They stay glued to your face at all times, and the absence of a frame across the top of that large lens offers excellent visibility when you’ve got your head down in an aero position. You can also reposition the nosepiece to angle the lens forward and get more airflow behind the lenses on long climbs. The prizm coating on the lens really helps you spot any bumps or debris in the road more easily. They are pricey, but you get a hard case, soft pouch, spare nose piece and a pair of shorter arms so you can tailor them to fit your favourite helmet.
If you like a larger and less angular pair of glasses, these could fit the bill. POC’s signature oversized look offers impressive protection and visibility. These do a brilliant job keeping debris and rain out of your eyes and the frame is out of sight when the glasses are on, so it doesn’t obscure your view. You can easily swap the lens around, of which there are eight, each for different light conditions. We were big fans of the category 2 brown/ silver mirrored lenses (cat 2 lenses are the most common category – providing good protection from visible light and from UV rays) – great in both bright sunlight and overcast conditions. These are the pair for you if you like a bit of Scandi cool, you can even team these shades up with one of POC’s excellent helmets.
These brand new frames are as suited to the road as they are to cool pavement cafés. There are five different colours available, with either black or rose lenses. We loved the slightly retro style of the orange pair which was reminiscent of the sunglasses worn in the professional cycling peloton before the days of dedicated eyewear. Having said that, there’s nothing retro at all about the way they perform – Rapha has used rubberised sections on the arms and nose piece which do a good job of keeping them in place. They come with an anti-scratch coating on the lenses, there’s also a soft pouch in the box and another nose piece (it’s a different size) in case you don’t get on with the one fitted. We really liked these, they’re light, comfortable, and you can wear them on and off the bike.
Dhb vector photochromatic
Chances are, if you live in the UK, you’ll spend a lot of time riding in changeable light conditions. The photochromic lens on this pair of frames can move from Category 1 to 3, so are ideal if you plan on riding in both bright and dim light conditions. We liked the expanded coverage offered by the large lens. We also liked that you can extend the arms by a few extra millimetres to get a more secure fit. You can even adjust the nosepiece if needed. You don’t get a spare lens with this pair, but they do come with a hard case and a cleaning cloth.
If you’re one of those riders who refuse to ride in anything other than a perfectly colour coordinated kit, look no further than this British brand. There are eight colour options for frames and fenders, 10 different lenses, another eight arm tip options – even eight different coloured logos. The maths is beyond us, but the number of possible combinations must run into the millions… if not the billions. We haven’t even touched upon the variety of nose pieces that come packaged in the box with them. The shades themselves are big and bold, with a thick plastic frame and the brand’s signature “8KO” lenses that sit nicely just below your helmet with no annoying gap. There’s a lifetime guarantee on the frames, even if you break them accidentally, and you can buy a replacement lens should you ever scratch it. The carrying pouch is even made from old plastic bottles.
They may not be the most modern looking frames around, but these prescription specs are brilliant for anyone who needs distance glasses – they are potential life savers, given the number of potholes lurking on our roads these days. Everyday prescription frames just don’t cut it when it comes to cycling as they don’t offer the same wraparound protection and are rarely tough enough to cope with hitting the tarmac if you drop them while taking off your helmet. Our tester has been using a pair of these for a year and now won’t go out without them. The lenses could do with being a bit taller so that you don’t find yourself peering over the top of them when riding hard on the drops of your handlebars, but that’s a minor quibble. If your budget runs to it, pay extra for photochromic lenses so you can wear them all year round. They come with a clamshell case, carrying pouch and lanyard.
No, our photo isn’t upside down. These outrageous optics are unlike anything else on the market. And they don’t just look great, they perform superbly too. Positioning the hinges at the bottom of the frames means they are kept well away from your helmet straps, while that cleverly tapered lens is aerodynamic yet offers great protection both ahead and at the sides. Roka’s super sticky geko elastomer has been used on the nose and arm tips to hold them in place even when things get sweaty. There’s a choice of frames and lens colours, from matte black with dark bronze through to fluoro green with teal mirror. Sadly, despite the price there’s no hard case, but you do get a choice of nose pieces, a soft carrying bag and a two-year warranty. Buy them if you really want to stand out on the road.
Most glasses in the 100% range are boldly designed to say the least, with a thick frame around a huge lens. It is, after all, a motocross brand at heart. These hypercraft sunglasses are real a departure, with much lighter, finer frame designs, although the lenses are still whoppers. These are great value, with a clear lens in the hard shell cases along with your chosen “sunny weather” selection. Swapping between lenses is straightforward once you’ve got the knack – the arms and nosepiece simply unclip in an operation that only takes a couple of minutes. The oversized, angular lenses are great. A nice and tall pair, you can easily look through them rather than over them when riding hard with your head down, and they wrap around nicely at the sides. To stop them steaming up they have four cut out sections for ventilation.
You’ll struggle to find tougher lenses than the ones on this Italian pair. They are made from NXT – a material designed to be used for the windscreens on military helicopters. Not only rugged, these are also highly customisable – with removable “fenders” to protect the bottom edge, a range of frame colours, and arm tips that you can bend into the perfect shape for your head, as well as the option for prescription lenses. There are even little plastic sections in the arms that you can swap to alter how much they flex. They come in a heavy, carbon fibre effect metal case along with a cloth cleaning/carrying bag.
Our test pair had a classy, Cat 3 lens (which provide extra protection from both visible and UV light and are suitable for open mountain ranges) that looked blue but gave the world a greenish tint. You can even choose the size of the lens according to your face. Scicon says 90 per cent of buyers pick the 55mm deep XL, but there are also 50mm and XXL 60mm options
What type of lenses should I choose for cycling glasses?
Lenses come in a range of tints, colours and transmission categories, so it should be easy to find a pair which suit you. Lenses usually go from Category 1 to 4 with 4 being the darkest with the least light transmission. We would only recommend Category 4 lenses if you’re riding in really bright conditions, for UK summers Category 2 or 3 should be just fine.
If you’re just after glasses for eye protection, go for a pair with a clear lens, and if you often ride in dim conditions you could choose some low light specific ones as they can really brighten up murky conditions and increase contrast.
Some of the more expensive cycling glasses come with a choice of glass for both sunny and dull conditions.
Look out for handy features such as hydrophobic coatings that will repel water and oil, and make sure you buy from a reputable company to make sure they meet current safety standards and won’t shatter into dangerous shards in the event of a crash.
What are photochromic lenses?
Photochromic lenses adapt to light conditions based on how much ultraviolet (UV) light they are exposed to. They should be transparent indoors where there is little to no UV but will darken considerably outside where UV levels are higher. This makes them a great choice if you like ride in a range of light conditions as they will darken as conditions get brighter.
What styles of frames are there?
There’s been a movement towards bigger frames in recent years, just look at Oakley’s flight jacket or POC’s aim. However, if that style’s not your thing, there are plenty of other options available, with some glasses being little more than a pair of arms and a nose piece that clip straight on to the lens, like the Smith attacks or the minimalist 100 per cent hypercrafts we tested.
Other cycling glasses use a more traditional arrangement of two separate lenses set into a rigid frame – like the Optilabs and the Raphas in our round-up. This type of frame is mostly seen in designs where you can’t swap the lenses and is a good choice if you want a pair you can use off the bike too.
How to get prescription lenses for your cycling glasses?
If you struggle to see without glasses, then contact lenses are worth trying – although we know not everyone gets on with them. Some manufacturers can supply a small clip on device that sits at the bridge of the nose and holds a pair of prescription inserts – it works, but it isn’t the coolest looking option. We’ve even seen stick on prescription lenses that fix to the back of a standard pair of sports glasses. Perhaps the easiest, and often cheapest option is to buy a pair of cycling specific frames with lenses made to your exact specification. A specialist optician such as Optilabs can test your eyes or make up a pair using a prescription supplied by your own optician.
The verdict: Cycling glasses
As we’ve said, the magnetic fittings on the arms or the Smiths make it a breeze to switch between lenses. Having a choice of both low light and dark versions made it almost like having two pairs of glasses in one.
If you’re on a budget, dhb’s vector photochromatic perform well in a range of light conditions. Exhibitionists will love the styling of the Roka matador, and if you need prescription lenses and don’t want to try contacts you should take a look at the Optilabs pulse.
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