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Reviewed: Prescription cycling sunglasses

By Chris Case • Updated
Photo: Brad Kaminski | VeloNews.com

Cycling sunglasses might be one of the most under-appreciated pieces of gear you own. And if you wear prescription glasses, they are essential: They enable you to see every detail in the road as you dive into a corner, protect your eyes from dirt and grime on trails and roads, and save your precious retinas from the sun’s rays. These are just a few of the critical tasks handled by your glasses.

Those of us who must wear, or choose to wear, prescription lenses can’t just pop on the latest, trendiest frames endorsed by Peter Sagan. But that doesn’t mean we are limited in our choices. In fact, the number of designs, shapes, styles, and features now available for prescription sunglasses can make it a daunting task to select the best pair for you.

Here, we’ll first discuss what makes the best cycling sunglasses, from how they fit the shape of your face to the types of lenses available, and much more. We consulted with the experts at SportRx, a company that has been crafting prescription sunglasses for athletes since 1996.

Then, we’ll review several great examples that we’ve thoroughly tested and can confidently recommend.

What to look for in your cycling sunglasses

Fit
Finding frames that fit your face and offer both the best coverage and protection should be your first priority. When it comes to cycling, though, you also have to consider how the sunglasses will fit with your helmet. Frames with straight-back temples almost always provide the best helmet compatibility. Straight-back temples will also allow you to seamlessly remove and replace your frames quickly if needed.

Grip
Cycling-specific glasses will have both temple and nose grips to ensure a secure fit on every ride, regardless of how much you might sweat or how rough the terrain gets. Many manufacturers now use rubber materials that increase in grip the more you sweat. This helps maintain the precise optical alignment that is especially important in prescription cycling sunglasses.

Coverage
The best cycling sunglasses have a wraparound frame design. More wrap means more coverage and extended peripheral vision. Wraparound glasses also provide additional wind and debris protection. If you have a high prescription, you can still find wraparound cycling sunglasses designed to accommodate your needs.

Weight
While the difference in frame weights can be a matter of grams, that difference can be very important. A lighter frame will be less apparent. It will also tend to stay in place better. The best cycling sunglasses will feel like they’re not even there.

Lenses
One of the most crucial decisions you will need to make is lens selection. This includes choices in tint, as well as technical aspects including whether the lenses offer photochromatic, polarization, or progressive technologies. Let’s look at these attributes one at a time.

For color and light availability on cycling-specific glasses, SportRx suggests it is always better to go with a lighter lens. They base this on safety. When riding, we are usually surrounded with grey tones, in particular, the ground, shadows, pot holes, and debris. Dark lenses may cause you to miss those obstacles, hindering your reaction time. Lighter lenses provide enhanced contrast, allowing you to spot uneven road surfaces. As a rule of thumb, a lighter lens creates more pop. As a result, SportRx recommends a lighter lens with UV protection for cycling applications.

Lenses with photochromatic or photochromic technology (often referred to by the brand name Transitions) change from dark to light, depending on the conditions. This is great when you encounter changing light throughout your ride. (Or, for rides that may start before sunrise or end after sunset.) These lenses typically come in grey, however, there are also now brown hues that help deliver more contrast. Some will have a base of brown and transition from, for example, a medium rose copper to a dark rose copper, creating a lens that can work in any daytime condition.

Polarized lenses cut glare. This feature makes for a good lens on the road in very bright conditions. However, if you’ll be doing a lot of mountain biking, SportRx suggests choosing non-polarized lenses. Polarized lenses have been known to affect some people’s depth perception, which can cause troubles when riding singletrack.

The choice of a progressive lens is highly personal. For those who wear them in daily life and like them, you will probably prefer them for cycling as well. There is great convenience in being able to fix a flat, order your coffee, or draft behind someone with the same glasses you wear for riding.

Our favorite prescription sunglasses

Oakley Field Jacket
$223 for frames (prescription lenses additional)
36 grams

The moment you put on a pair of Oakley’s Field Jacket, they feel locked in place, ready to rip on the trail or road. The contact points are perfectly formed to wrap the face, and Unobtainium nose pads increase grip with sweat. The temple arms tuck back against the head to minimize any interference with your helmet, and they come in different lengths to further improve compatibility.

The full-frame design, a good fit for medium to large faces, allows for prescription compatibility and holds the lenses in precise optical alignment. Again, it gives you that locked in feeling that usually comes with ski goggles — these glasses don’t budge.

The Prizm Road lenses are some of the finest lenses we’ve worn, with a supreme combination of contrast and sharpness. And the colors are precise to the world of a road cyclist — not too bright, not too saturated. The lenses also provide UV protection, filtering 100 percent of all UVA rays and much of UVB light.

The Field Jacket comes with something Oakley calls Advancer technology, an innovation that instantly opens airflow with the flick of a small lever above the nose bridge, which helps combat fogging and overheating. Grab the lever, flip it down, and it will retract back into the sunglasses, pushing the lenses away from the nosepiece. The contact points between your face and the nosepiece don’t change, but the distance between your face and the lens does, creating more space for air to flow under the glasses and out the top, reducing the chances of fogging and whisking away perspiration. Simply push the frame back toward your face and the nosepiece moves back close to the lens. The Advancer feature is a clever addition, and especially handy for those who sweat a lot or ride in humid conditions where lenses often fog.

The Field Jackets have quickly become my go-to glasses. I choose to wear them because of how securely they sit on the face, as well as their large coverage and sharp lenses. Despite the rough terrain on the many backroads I ride, and the variable light conditions I find in the canyons and forests, the glasses never budge and offer perfect sharpness and clarity.

See it on Oakley’s website >>

POC Do Flow with SportRx “Road Trip” signature lenses
$170 for frames (prescription lenses additional)
36 grams

With its big lens that sits high, the Do Flow provides an unsullied view of the road ahead, even in the aero position. They feature hydrophilic rubber temple inserts and an adjustable nosepiece that are comfortable and secure. The straight temple pieces fit nicely over helmet straps, so you won’t have to reposition them. All told, the Do Flow is one of the most stable sets of glasses we tested. It helps that they’re light at just 36 grams.

The SportRx custom Road Trip prescription photochromatic lenses enhance contrast in variable light conditions. The recipe for the lens is a Transitions XTRActive brown lens with a medium rose copper base tint and the ultra-premium anti-reflective coating. They don’t appear that dark from the outside looking in, but they are as dark as you’d want them for functionality and clarity of vision on even the sunniest days.

I chose to wear these for Dirty Kanza, not only because of their comfort and light weight, but also because of the variable light conditions I faced over the course of the 13-hour race. From the pre-dawn start to bright and sunny skies midday, shaded hollows under full tree cover, and the early hours of dusk, the lenses were the perfect choice.

The look may not be for everyone, and those with small faces might look elsewhere. They have a semi-retro, semi-wraparound shape that we think looks great on and off the bike.

See it on POC’s website >>

Rudy Project Sintryx
$225 for frames (prescription lenses additional)
44 grams including insert

With its large, bug-eyed frame design, the Sintryx offers plenty of visual coverage. The wraparound frame also boasts plenty of ventilation and heat dissipation thanks to several vents around the perimeter of the frame.

Adjustable nosepieces are comfortable and allow you to tailor the fit for any face shape. They can also be used to adjust the glasses’ height and their distance from the face to prevent fogging. They hold their position well.

The adjustable temples provide for a comfortable fit with most helmets we tried them with. That’s because the tips are completely flexible — there’s no internal structure, so the tips can flex around helmet retention systems.

The Sintryx glasses are well built. They’re slightly heavier than the others in this roundup, but they aren’t bulky.

One of the more innovative features of the Sintryx is its Push Release lens changing system: a single push on the central logo above the nose bridge releases the lower part of the Grilamid frame, allowing the lenses to be removed without putting pressure on the lenses or frames. The Sintryx is available with many lens configurations, including photochromic lens technology. And because the glasses are made prescription with a rimless insert, all the lens options are available.

The use of inserts comes with both advantages and disadvantages, according to Tyler Andersen, a certified sports optician with SportRx.

“Inserts are easier to make than prescription lenses for some frames, which means they can be cheaper than frames that are more complicated to make,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean they are the cheapest option. It is also easier to do a strong prescription in an insert.”

There are several disadvantages with the insert, however. First, there is an additional lens to look through, and it has the potential to be more prone to fogging. Also, the rubberized dots that you place on the insert to prevent it from scratching the outer lens is right in your line of vision when you look behind and over your shoulder. This is distracting and, in some cases, could prove dangerous if it prevents you from clearly seeing the road or traffic. Another disadvantage is the small amount of weight it adds to the front of the glasses, which can be noticeable on rougher terrain. Finally, if you have long eyelashes, the insert adds some thickness, which can lead eyebrows to press on the lens and leave smudges.

See it on Rudy Project’s website >>

Bollé B-Rock
$179 for frames (prescription lenses additional)
35 grams

Bollé’s B-Rock is a full-frame, shield-style design that incorporates prescription inserts directly into the lens. The frame shape offers good coverage, both horizontally and vertically. Looking up the road while in the aero position, vision is uninhibited. That said, the edges of the prescription inserts can be seen in the periphery of the visual field. Overall, this frame provides one of the widest fields of vision and greatest overall coverage of any of the frames we reviewed here.

The B-Rock’s frame is a two-piece construction. The lower part incorporates the replaceable and adjustable hypoallergenic nosepiece, made from Bollé’s proprietary Thermogrip, a hydrophilic material with moisture-absorbing properties. The bendable temple tips are also made of this material. The upper portion of the frame reinforces the lens between the arms. A slim rubber strip below each eye and across the brow of the frame is designed to improve hold, comfort, and sweat management. In our experience, this wasn’t exactly the case, since the strips did not make contact with our skin. On larger or wider faces, that may be the case.

The frame can conform to many different head widths given its spring. Plus, almost half of each arm can be bent to conform to head shape and improve helmet compatibility. As things heat up, the contact points become even grippier and the glasses get more secure.

Our test glasses came with the brand’s blue violet lens, comprising a grey polarizing base with a purple/blue mirrored finish. The prescription inserts are fitted directly and permanently into the shield. This proprietary B-Thin Active Design prescription program accommodates a wide range of prescriptions, from +6.00 to -8.00. There are 12 different lenses in the program, including multiple tints as well as polarized and photochromic options. Eight other lenses offer mirrored finishes.

See it on Bolle’s website >>

Smith Tempo Max
$199 for frames (prescription lenses additional)
27 grams

The Smith Tempo Max is a traditionally styled, two-lens frame that will work for small to medium faces. It features a slightly larger, more aggressive lens size than Smith’s Tempo frame, and anti-slip nose pads and temple surfaces. The lightweight frame conforms snuggly to the face and feels glued in position, in a good way.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of these glasses is a function of its compact design: the lens size doesn’t offer as much coverage as the others in this review. That may be a good thing if you have a small face. If you don’t, however, you may have issues when in the aero position, as you try to look under the top rim of the frame. Furthermore, the curvature at the bottom of the lens can allow a good amount of wind under the lens, which can lead to watering eyes on fast descents. If you have higher cheekbones, this won’t be a problem.

The lenses themselves offer excellent color quality and sharpness. A comfortable gray base lens is combined with a polished deep platinum mirror, and it is boosted with ChromaPop color enhancement technology to maximize clarity. The polarized lenses are great for high sun exposure. Smith has its own lab in Clearfield, Utah, and processes all prescription requests in-house.

The temple pieces are not bendable, but they do lay flat against the head and worked well with the helmets we wore with them. The auto-locking hinges make it easier to insert the temple pieces into your helmet when not wearing them.

See it on Smith’s website >>

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