The already-thin line between riding sunglasses and casual sunglasses has only further blurred in recent years. Just look at any pair of riding shades from the likes of Poc, 100%, and even some offerings from Smith. While classic race-style aesthetics and features remain, it’s increasingly common for your shades to look less like bug eyes and more like something you’d be okay wearing around town without your teenage kids cringing as they walk a half-step behind you.
That’s fortunate because now you have a choice: total race geekery, or crossover aesthetic appeal. Both options tend to have performance features you’ll want and need on the bike, like photochromic lenses, UV protection, light weight, and a comfortable fit. With such a wide range of sunglasses at your disposal, the choice becomes slightly more difficult to make.
In order to narrow it all down, choose your riding sunglasses based on these five factors:
This is priority number one for obvious reasons. You’re not just looking for something to block the sun. You also want lenses that provide plenty of contrast so you can spot obstacles in the road or on the trail more easily, thus allowing you to react more quickly. Zeiss lenses are perhaps the best-known name, and for good reason. You’ll pay more for these, but it’s hard to find other lenses that beat Zeiss.
You can also get your hands on photochromic lenses that lighten and darken based on external light conditions. These are great for all-day rides that perhaps start when the sun isn’t very high in the sky. As the day progresses and the sun gets more intense, your lenses will do more work to protect your eyes.
Make sure the lenses also offer UV protection. Other nice features include hydrophobic coatings to help repel sweat and moisture, scratch-resistant coatings, and smudge-resistance.
Finally, if you need a prescription, that will narrow down your choices considerably. This should be your first criteria for narrowing down your search. More and more companies are offering prescription sunglasses, but options are still pretty limited.
They’re all just plastic, right? Sort of. There are different types of composite plastics that help resist breakage while holding your head snugly. There are also several style options: full-frame, half-frame, and frameless are the most common. Obviously frameless options will be the lightest, while full-frame glasses tend to be heavier. But full-frame glasses tend to have a more solid build that feels somewhat more snug around your face.
It’s also important to note how the frame fits around your particular face. Does the top of the frame make contact with your forehead? Do the ear pieces extend so far that they’ll interfere with your helmet retention system? How do the arms affect your peripheral vision, if at all? Ideally, for a riding-specific set of sunglasses, you’ll want as much peripheral vision as possible, a solid feel around your head, and frames that won’t make contact with your forehead, thereby dumping sweat directly downward into your eyes.
You put glasses on your face and ride. How versatile can they really be? Quite versatile, in fact. The ability to swap out lenses is perhaps the most important feature you should look for. Almost all sunglasses now feature swappable lenses, but you’ll want to consider the ease with which the swapping process can be done. The best systems take seconds and help you avoid smudging the lenses with your fingers. (We maintain the best system by far is Smith’s Mag system, which we tested on the Attack Max sunglasses.)
Beyond the lenses, look for adjustable nose pieces. Some click into place, others simply bend and mold to the shape of your nose. Ear pieces too can often be bent to shape. Many manufacturers now make nose pieces and ear pieces with special rubber that sticks to your face better once they’re wet with sweat. These are all nice options that can drive up the cost of the sunglasses, so balance your needs and wants against the dollar signs.
Parts availability and warranty
It’s common for manufacturers to offer replacement parts, but many will only offer such parts for a set period of time. Only a handful of companies out there offer replacement parts for the life of your product. If you’re a habitual lens scratcher, or if you’re prone to sitting on your glasses when you get in the car, consider how each manufacturer backs its products to address those moments. And of course, be sure to note whether a company will offer some sort of replacement in the event of a manufacturer’s defect.
If you’re a crocs-and-socks kind of guy, style rules obviously don’t matter and this should be easy: basically everything is open to you. For the more GQ rider, you’ve got two basic choices: racer style or casual style. Sure, there’s some crossover, but generally, if you’ll just be on the bike, you can err toward racer style. (Think rimless, with plenty of ventilation, and light weight.) If you’ll wear these sunglasses while your bike is hanging in the garage or stowed on your car’s bike rack, consider something with a more casual or crossover look.
We tested a handful of sunglasses and liked the following five for different types of riders:
Best for: Weight weenies
If you’ve spent time in the triathlon space, you’ll recognize the Roka name. For everyone else, these are the new kids on the block, but Roka has done its homework. The SR-1 glasses are proof of that. At only 25 grams, these ultralight riding glasses are worth a look if you’re after crystal-clear optics and a low-profile, feathery fit.
$190 with Reactiv Photochromic/Zebra Light Red lens
Weight: 25 grams
Best for: Mountain bikers and gravel riders
In many ways, the Aerospeeds look like pretty standard riding glasses. The rimless lens connects to lightweight arms featuring flexible ear pieces for comfort. They’re light, comfortable, and take a page from the tried-and-true designs that have come to define athletic eyewear.
But Julbo has packed some neat features into the Aerospeeds to set them apart from the riff-raff. Ultimately, these are great glasses if you’re on the hunt for a light package that delivers a lens ideal for mountain biking or road riding in cloudy conditions.
Best for: Style freaks who need lots of coverage
Peter Sagan has an innate ability to make just about anything look cool. (Man-bun, anyone?) I have a similar talent: I have an innate ability to make everything look cringe-worthy. It’s a gift.
The S2 sunglasses seem to be the antidote to my inherent lack of cool. They even look great on me. And with plenty of lens coverage and a solid, comfortable fit, the S2 glasses perform well in all conditions too. If you’re after a sleek and stylish pair of sunglasses that set you apart from your riding buddies, this is it. (Avoid the man bun, though.)
Rudy Project Sintryx
$225-300 (depending on lens choice)
Best for: Riders who struggle with helmet/sunglasses interference
The Sintryx glasses feel solidly built. Perhaps it’s the increasingly rare full-frame construction, or the solid, wraparound fit. They’re slightly heavier than most competitors, yet they’re far from bulky. It’s that solid feel that makes the Sintryx glasses ideal for riders who are rough on their glasses.
Best for: Habitual lens scratchers
Revant’s just getting started, literally. The Portland, Oregon-based company was founded in 2010 as a lens replacement business. But it started manufacturing in 2017 in the USA — and making sunglasses as of 2018. Some growing pains are therefore to be expected. And while there are certainly a few flaws holding these back, the S2L sunglasses are remarkably well designed for an initial offering from a nascent company.