Glasses can be a fashion statement if you want but on a bike their number one role is to prevent your vision being impeded.
Even cyclists who don’t need prescription spectacles often wear glasses. Eyewear helps keep sun, wind, insects, dirt, and pollen out of your peepers. This is important for road cyclists, whose faster speeds mean more tears from the wind and worse impacts from insects etc, and for mountain bikers, who are more likely to get mud in their eyes or foliage whipped across their faces. Yet glasses can be useful for commuting and leisure cyclists too, especially during the summer when UV levels are higher.
Glasses are essential, of course, if your distance vision isn’t good enough without them. For although there’s no legal minimum vision standard for riding a bike, the ability to see well while cycling is a no-brainer. Normal prescription glasses are usually fine for cycling, but cycling-specific ones with wraparound lenses are more effective. Prescription cycling glasses come in two types: those with clip-in secondary lenses, which are more versatile; and those with integral prescription lenses, which are more convenient. If you use contact lenses, you’ll want off-the-shelf cycling sunglasses over the top to prevent the contacts drying out in the wind and to keep debris off them.
Non-prescription cycling glasses are eye shields, like ordinary sunglasses. They’re shaped differently, with greater coverage and more wraparound, so that they’ll keep wind and debris out of your eyes better. Those aimed at road cyclists often have no frame at the bottom. This avoids obscuring your peripheral vision and marginally improves aerodynamics. Those aimed at mountain bikers tend to have full frames.
Cycling eyewear can be expensive. Broadly speaking, the more stylish and ergonomic the glasses, the dearer they will be. Fortunately they can be included in your Cyclescheme package, assuming you get them from a Cyclescheme retailer. There are plenty of good pairs for less than £50 (RRP). The Endura Shark glasses pictured are £37.99. You can spend more – Oakley’s Jawbreaker glasses are £192 – but you don’t have to. Decathlon do cycling-specific glasses with UV protection from about a fiver.
There are even cheaper options than this. You can pick up safety specs from the likes of Screwfix or B&Q for a couple of quid. (You won’t be able to include them in your Cyclescheme package but at this price won’t need to.) Most aren’t the chunky goggles you remember from school chemistry lessons either. If all you want is to keep debris and wind out of your eyes, safety glasses will do it.
Whether your glasses cost £200 or £2, check that they filter out harmful UV light. They should be described as giving UV protection and/or conforming to the EN ISO 12312-1:2013 standard. Even cheap safety specs often offer UV protection. Don’t go by the category number, which ranges for 0 (clear) to 4 (very dark). All that tells you is how darkly shaded the glasses are and thus how much or little you’ll squint while wearing them in bright sunshine.
Dark lenses are often a handicap in UK conditions. Yellow or orange offers better contrast in low light, while clear works fine in any but the brightest conditions. Some glasses come with interchangeable lenses so you can choose clear or yellow for an overcast afternoon and dark for midday sun. Photo-chromic lenses darken or lighten according to light conditions. They’re more expensive, however, and won’t always react quickly enough if you suddenly ride out of bright sunlight into deep shade.
Try glasses for fit if you can. Different types fit different face shapes better or worse. Cycling-specific glasses may have adjustable nose pieces and/or arms, so you can tweak the fit for comfort and stability. Other useful features are anti-scratch and anti-fog finishes. The glasses won’t be impervious to either scratches or misting up but they’ll resist them better.
Standard prescription glasses are fine for cycling – with a few caveats. Plastic lenses such as polycarbonate are safer on a bike than glass because they’re more durable; you really don’t want shattered glass near your eyes if you have an accident! A stretchy strap – an expensive one from Croakies or a cheap one from eBay – will hold generic prescription glass on your face better, which is handy for mountain biking. You’ll have to accept that more wind and debris will get past the smaller lenses but don’t compromise on UV protection.
For prescription cycling glasses, you’ll need an optician rather than a bike shop. High street opticians stock a range of sports frames, including cycling ones, into which they’ll fit your lenses. They can be quite expensive. Online retailers who specialise in prescription eyewear for sport, such as Optilabs, are significantly cheaper.
Like normal prescription glasses, cycling prescription glasses are available with single vision, bifocal, and varifocal lenses. For cycling – but not necessarily reading a handlebar bike computer or café menu – good distance vision alone is enough. If you also need reading glasses but don’t fancy springing for bifocals or varifocals, you can sometimes increase the size of text and numbers on a cycling computer by choosing to display fewer data fields. For café stops, a magnifier app on your phone should be sufficient.
Prescription cycling glasses are designed to stay on your face better so you’re unlikely to need a strap. The lenses will be polycarbonate or some other kind of plastic so accidental damage is less of an issue. However, such lenses do scratch more easily than glass. So whatever colour and type of lenses you choose, it’s worth paying extra for scratch resistance. An anti-glare coating is also useful for cycling.
A peaked helmet or peaked cycling cap (which can be worn under or without a helmet) is often useful when wearing glasses. On bright days a peak will shade your eyes if your glasses aren’t tinted. When it’s raining, a peak will help keep raindrops off your lenses. That’s especially important with prescription lenses as the drops will distort your vision, not merely obscure it.
The convention is that the arms of glasses go over the helmet straps, not under. It’s mostly a style thing but may serve as a useful reminder to keep your helmet straps snug. The arms of ordinary prescription glasses may fit better under the helmet straps than over, however, and it makes sense to do that if you’ll be keeping your glasses on after removing your helmet.
Don’t put any glasses into a rear jersey pocket or rear shorts pocket when you’re off the bike. You might sit on them. Store them folded in your removed, upturned cycle helmet, clip them to the front of your jersey, or just push them up on top of your head. Pro cyclists, and those who want to look like pro cyclists, stash their glasses in their helmets (while they’re wearing them) by flipping the glasses upside down and slotting the arms in the helmet vents.
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