After the wettest April to June on record, you might think that any talk of sunglasses is a bit rose tinted. But in overcast Britain, cycling shades aren't worn primarily to block out ultraviolet rays, nor even to look cool in like a pair of aviators. They're worn to keep stuff out of your eyes, like wind, flies, and dirt. A fly in the eye at speed can make you lose control, while the wind in your face from riding quickly will make your eyes tearful – and your nose run.
If you do want glasses to protect your eyes from sunlight, then look for the CE mark. This shows that it meets the the EN1836 standard for blocking harmful radiation, on a scale from 0 to 7: 'insufficient' to '95% blocked'.
UV protection is not dictated by the lens colour, although darker lenses will cut out more visible light. That's helpful in bright light but can compromise your vision in overcast or evening conditions. Yellow and orange are more useful colours than dark grey or brown for cycling, as you'll be able to use them year round.
Photo-chromic lenses darken or lighten according to light conditions. Be aware that they may not lighten quickly enough if you ride out of bright sunlight into the shade beneath trees or a bridge. Some glasses have swappable lenses instead, so you can select from, say, clear, yellow or smoke before you set out.
If your wear prescription glasses, you can of course cycle in those. They won't block wind or bright light as effectively, as they'll have less wraparound and probably no tint. If you cycle in rain, drops on a prescription lens will distort your vision. You could wear contact lenses and cycling glasses; cycling glasses that accept a clip-in prescription lens; or – most convenient but most expensive – prescription cycling glasses.
Whether you're using £200 prescription glasses or £15 eye-shields, your eyewear needs to fit your head properly so it's comfortable and won't fall off. Try for fit – and style - in the shop. Cycling-specific glasses often have adjustable nose-pieces, coated so they won't slip off when you sweat. Frames will have grippers on the arms to stay snug on the side of your head.
Cheap eyewear doesn't need to be especially durable as you can just replace it. More expensive eyewear obviously benefits from tough, scratch-resistant lenses and frames that won't snap if you sit or tread on the glasses.
Glasses seldom fall off while you're commuting. If you have a bumpy ride to work and this is an issue, a retainer will stop them bouncing away underneath a bus. Either make something or invest in a one from Croakies (www.croakies.com). Glasses can fog up in rain, or from your breath when you stop at the lights, so anti-fog coatings and vents are useful. You can also polish them with washing-up liquid or apply motorcyclists' visor spray.
Cycling glasses can be very expensive but unless they have prescription lenses they needn't be – as these ones show.
JSP Over Specs
Yes, they're safety specs, like your chemistry teacher used to wear. That's the obvious disadvantage. They're not designed to filter UV either. On the other hand, they cost two quid and you can wear them over the top of your prescription glasses to keep rain off and to provide more protection than your normal specs from wind and anything carried on it. Geeky but cheap.
Proper cycling eyewear for £15, the Spectral glasses have wraparound polycarbonate lenses that keep out the wind and filter UV. There's even an anti-fog coating. A soft nose-piece and flexible arms provide a secure, comfortable fit. They're available in six different colours, including yellow, orange, and clear; at this price you could have two or three pairs for different light conditions.
Northwave Optics Predator
Suggested for mountain bike use, where the clear lenses won't dimmer-switch your eyesight when you duck under tree cover, these glasses are just as suitable for four-seasons, night and day commuting. The polycarbonate lenses are water repellent and the nose-piece and arms don't pinch. The same-style Northwave Predator offers tinted lenses from £24.99.
Outeredge Revo White
Like most cycling glasses, these have 'decentered lenses' so your vision doesn't get distorted when your gaze switches from the lens centre to the periphery, to track that overtaking car. There are three lenses supplied: clear, yellow, and 'flash black'. A case is also included, so your spare lenses shouldn't go astray.
Bloc Stealth W92
Lightweight glasses that come with three lenses – clear, citrus yellow and vermillion. Both UV protection and wraparound is good, and there's no frame edge at the sides to restrict all-round vision. The frame itself is made of a nylon polymer that flexes rather than snapping or shattering. The lenses are tough too. Fit is adjustable, providing comfort and stability whatever your head shape.
These have features you'd appreciate in any eyewear: good wraparound, UV protection, and an anti-scratch and anti-mist layer on the lenses. And they're virtually unbreakable. The most important point, however, is that they're made to your prescription. Single vision is probably sufficient for cycling but you can have bifocal or varifocal lenses if you pay a bit more. There are lots of other styles too.
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