Sunglasses are one of those things we can’t imagine bike touring without.
Before we started cycling, we hardly ever wore sunglasses and didn’t realise how much we would come to love them. Now, our prescription sunglasses from UK-based Optilabs are one of our most treasured possessions, right up there along with the bikes themselves.
Here’s why we love our sunglasses so much:
- Sunglasses protect our eyes against damaging UV rays.
- They cut the light down to a tolerable level, so we’re not squinting when riding into the sun.
- Debris like dust, dirt and even bugs that come flying through the air don’t get in our eyes.
- On a cold day, sunglasses protect against the wind. Without them, the cold wind makes our eyes water.
- Our vision improves with sunglasses. We don’t understand why, but we can see much more clearly in our rear view mirrors, for example, with sunglasses than with our regular glasses. Maybe it has to do with cutting the light on a sunny day down to a more tolerable level?
CYCLING SPECIFIC SUNGLASSES
When you’re shopping for sunglasses, get a pair that are made for cycling. This means they should:
- Wrap around your face to make it almost impossible for road grit and UV to reach your eyes, even from the side. Wraparound lenses are also more aerodynamic.
- Fit snuggly, so the glasses will stay put, even on bumpy roads.
- Be extra durable and resistant to cracking when dropped or bumped.
Interchangable Lens – Some sunglasses have a non-prescription outside lens and a prescription insert that sits just behind the exterior lens. You can get several lenses so you can change the tint of the shades. You can also remove the prescription lens altogether if you want to wear contacts. Some people report problems with fogging in wet weather with this type of lens but they are helpful if you plan to ride in a wide variety of conditions and light levels.
Single Lens – The option we prefer is a single prescription lens. This tends to be more expensive because of the difficulty in manufacturing a curved lens to fit the sport sunglass frame but the quality of the glass is very high and you aren’t carrying around extra lenses. Since we always aim to cycle during the day and stop well before dusk, we rarely have a problem with our sunglasses being too dark for the available light levels.
Lenses can be made of glass or acrylic but polycarbonate is the better option. Polycarbonate is excellent at resisting impacts, is lightweight and the quality of the optics is also high. Glass, by contrast, is heavy and breaks relatively easily, while acrylic lenses aren’t durable and the optic quality is also dubious.
That said, if you do any amount of bike touring, chances are you’re going to drop your sunglasses occasionally. The constant barrage of dirt and rocks will also take a toll and no matter how well you look after your glasses or what material they’re made of, you’ll eventually have to replace them. In our experience, this is after 18-24 months of daily use.
ABOUT OUR GLASSES*
We both cycle in glasses from UK-based Optilabs. Andrew has done so since we began bike touring in 2006 (he bought a pair of glasses from Optilabs at the start of our trip). Friedel began with Oakleys but swapped to Optilabs after about 18 months.
From Friedel’s perspective, the quality of the Optilabs glasses is as good as the Oakleys but Optilabs are cheaper and they have great customer service. We never got a reply from Oakley when Friedel had a question about the lenses, while Optilabs has always replied instantly to our queries.
Purchasing the glasses from Optilabs is easy. Everything is done online so all you need to do is enter your prescription details. At first this was a bit concerning since we’ve always purchased glasses directly from the optician but Optilabs are the only online company we found with a full money-back guarantee. If you get the glasses and don’t like them, it’s no problem to return them within the first week.
When you’re shopping around, you can also research other popular brands. Some of the more common sunglasses cyclists wear are Rudy Project, Oakley, Adidas and Bolle.
Aside from Oakley (see our notes above), we have no direct experience of brands other than Optilabs, so it’s hard for us to judge their quality.
*Disclosure: We bought our first 2 pairs of glasses from Optilabs as normal customers. They started sponsoring us halfway through our world trip. They provide us with free sunglasses.