The Best Sunglasses for Mountain Biking in 2020

These top shades balance protection, performance, and looks

Gear

What to Look for in Sunglasses for Mountain Biking

The best sunglasses for mountain biking strike a delicate balance between protection, performance, and looks. Yes, it’s true that while function is critical, styling can never be discounted when it comes to something you wear on your face.

So what should you look for when seeking the best sunglasses for mountain biking? That’s a tough question to answer thanks to the myriad manufacturers, designs, styles, shapes, and various features. But we’ll do our best to break it down for you, plus present five of our top picks for the best sunglasses for mountain biking.

Start with Fit

Like pretty much anything you wear on your body, proper fit is paramount when choosing the best glasses for mountain biking. In this case you should consider how the glasses will fit on your face plus how they’ll interface with your helmet. Typically frames that have straight temple arms offer the best helmet compatibility, but if possible it’s always best to try before you buy. Some sunglasses offer adjustable nose pieces and/or temple arms that can be manipulated to provide a truly custom and secure fit.

The Right Tool for the Job

Yet another important factor to consider when searching for the best sunglasses for mountain biking is lens shape and tint. Dark or light, big or small, there are many options available from a wide range of brands and price points. When it comes to lens tint both have their pros and cons, but most importantly your lenses can’t be so dark that you can’t see the road or trail in lowlight conditions. This can be tricky, especially if you ride in a place where the trails poke in and out of the forest, meaning you need a lens that works in the darker situations, though it may not feel dark enough when you’re out in the open.

Lens shape, tint, and ventilation are all important things to consider when buying new glasses for mountain biking

One option to consider, and my personal favorite, are photochromic lenses. Engineered to actually vary tint depending on available light, which in turn makes it easier to deal with rides with variable light conditions.

Polarized lenses are yet another possible option and do a decent job at reducing glare. One downside is that polarized lenses make it very difficult to read digital screens such as cycling computers and watches, and they can make it harder to differentiate between obstacles on the road. Some larger brands are utilizing contrast-enhancing, non-polarized lenses which are typically a better choice for cyclists. Lens options such as Smith’s ChromaPop and Oakley PRIZM are designed to filter out specific unwanted wavelengths of light, thus enhancing what you want to be able to see such as roots, rocks, and potholes.

Coverage and Protection

It’s never fun to get something in your eye, especially when you’re bombing down a rocky section of singletrack. That’s why the best sunglasses for mountain biking provide ample eye coverage, including on the periphery. Many of the latest glasses designs are based around MASSIVE lenses reminiscent of goggles, and most cycling specific sunglasses have wide lenses to cover and protect your entire field of vision,  and protecting your eyes from trail obstacles.

 

Best Sunglasses for Cycling

If you’re smiling you probably made the right choice.

Keep it Light

As you’ll see below, most cycling sunglasses are fairly light. This is a good thing, because the lighter your sunglasses are the less you’ll notice them. And you sunglasses are definitely not something you want to be thinking about when dropping into a burly jump line or racing a full-gas cross-country race.


The Best Sunglasses for Mountain Biking

Now that we’ve run through the key basics of picking the best sunglasses for mountain biking, here are five of our top picks.

Roka SL-1x

Roka’s SL-1x offers a light, sleek design that fit well with numerous mountain bike helmets we tried them with.

A lesser-known brand in the cycling glasses market, ROKA was founded in a garage in Austin, Texas, by two former Stanford All-American swimmers on a mission to redefine the standard for performance design. Offering an array of glasses styles, we opted for the SL-1x for mountain biking for it’s lightweight, frameless design that offers great coverage and airflow.

A quick peruse through the Roka.com site and you’ll learn a lot about the brand’s technical ethos. These are some well designed shades with some nice detailed touches.

Price: $135-160
Weight: 23g
More Info: www.roka.com

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POC Aspire Clarity

Swedish brand POC is known for bright colors and simple design. A glitzy, space age aesthetic may not be for everyone but the POC Aspire is a comfortable lightweight glass with a massive field of vision and a highly reflective lens.

Pocs Aspire Clarity glasses are sleek and functional but their goggle style functionality can make helmet pairing a challenge.

I really liked these glasses in bright and sunny conditions especially in the desert. Overall, I liked the size and shape of the Aspire but did find the shape to be a bit more particular when it came to helmet pairings. I had the best luck with the POC Axion Spin helmet paired with the Aspire. Lens technology comes from optical industry leaders Carl Zeiss with a lens designed to help control the color spectrum for enhanced contrast and color definition while the lack of a lower frame improves overall peripheral vision. The POC Aspire Clarity are available in several lens tints, all featuring increasing contrast that helps you spot irregularities, holes, and gravel.

Price: $176-$220
Weight: 40g
More Info: www.pocsports.com

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Rudy Project Defender

With space-age aesthetics, the Rudy Project Defender may not be for all styles, but when it comes to fit and function, any and every rider can appreciate their fit, ventilation, and eye protection.

Since 1985, Italian-based Rudy Project has been making cycling glasses with the focus of creating more performance eyewear. In 2020, the brand has a wide offering of glasses for cycling of all types, triathlon, golf, along with casual and prescription offerings. We opted for the Defender with the photochromic lens that lightens and darkens depending on light conditions.

The Defender offers a nice lightweight feel with a nice wraparound fit and protection and seemed to work very well with a variety of helmet shapes and sizes. They also feature an adjustable nosepiece, temple, and interchangeable bumpers.

Price: $185-$235
Weight: 34g
More Inforudyprojectna.com

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Shimano Technium

Most riders haven’t seen much of the Shimano eyewear around at local retailers for one reason or another, but the component brand has a solid line of eyewear as well. For testing, we were drawn to the Technium for it’s sleek frame, large single lens and clean no frills aesthetic. Designed for aggressive trail riding, the Technium is a sleek, simple glass that fits and functions well without breaking the bank.

Clean and simple lens and frame design, a conservative amount of protection, and modest styling makes the Technium a winner in our books. Plus, at $70, they are quite reasonable in the price department.

Price: $70
Weight: 26g
More Info: bike.shimano.com

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Smith Wildcat

Continuing with the trend of larger lenses, Smith’s Wildcat pairs a retro styling with a well-designed technical sunglass. Sure, these things are huge but damn, the fit the face well and offer ample breathability while offering insane eye protection. Ranging in price from $199-209 they are available in a variety of lens and frames combinations.

I’ve really come to love the light “Ignitor” colored lens for the varied encountered if you live somewhere with tree cover. Be warned though, these are HUGE glasses and we did have some challenges with how they interfaced with some of our trail helmets due to their massive amount of face protection.

Price: $132-$159
Weight: 28g
More Info: www.smithoptics.com

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About the author: Jordan Carr

Having spent more than half his life riding all types of bikes at almost every type of cycling event, Carr loves the freedom two-wheeled travel has brought to his life. Having spent many years behind the stand at a bike shop, he’s tested mountain bike products for a number of publications. Follow Carr's adventures as they travel the country promoting trails and mountain biking on Facebook and Instagram.


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Comments:

  • Lars says:

    We always encourage folks to bring their helmet to try on glasses with… Very key detail you covered in this article! It really helps to choose the most coverage that will fit nicely between the bridge of your nose and the rim of the helmet. Sometimes the tips of the arms will touch the side rim of the helmet behind your ears as well, and that can be an issue.

    I’m surprised there isn’t a single Oakley Prizm Low Light or Prizm Trail reviewed as I’ve found them both to be just incredible. My Flight Jackets even have a hinged nose piece to allow extra venting on those steamy climbs 🙂 They also include a shorter set of arms and different nose thickness rubber dealios. The case is hard and holds up to all the gear abuse in my bag.

  • agmtb says:

    Really like my new Nike shades. The rubber nose piece keeps the sunglasses in place really well so not having to push them back in place at all.

  • Carlito says:

    You left out my personal favorite… Oakley Radar. The EV Advancer w/ Prizm Trail lenses are BOMB dot com

  • Joshua says:

    I’ll stock with my $25 Goodr sunglasses

  • Jordan says:

    Thanks for the replies!

    @Lars — We didn’t get our hands on a pair of Oakley’s but we’ll try to track some down and likely add them to the list. Thanks for the tips.

  • BLP says:

    There is a huge factor you have failed to consider – crashing.
    The frameless glasses look super cool and vent well, but have a very high chance of digging deep into your face in the case of a crash. This is why I ended up getting the Oakley Field Jacket. Protection is important not just when you’re riding.

  • MtbMike says:

    How do you not get a pair of Oakleys? They probably outsell all the other brands combined. That’s like testing cotton swabs and not getting Q Tips.

    • Jordan says:

      Hey MTBMike, Thanks for your reply. Yeah, I do think Oakley’s are still popular and a great option too. Do you care to share what we like about them?

  • Brian says:

    I like my Oakley Jawbreakers for ease of lens swapping and they have great coverage. The very rarely fog, and clear up fast once you speed up. I have Jade Iridium Polarized for bright rides (no problem reading my Garmin Edge 530), Prizm Trail for deep in the woods, and clear for night rides. All fit in the included hard case. Been an Oakley fan since they made grips. Since I’m old enough to remember Oakley grips I use OPTX Hydrotac stick on reading lenses cut in half on the bottom of my lenses so I can read the computer.

  • Bill says:

    Well written article. I have been loving the Oakley RadarLock glasses that I picked up at trailhead years ago. Super easy to change lenses although the photochromatic lenses darken on their own in the sun and are clear otherwise so I don’t have a need to swap them out during long rides. One of those items that you put on and don’t even think about during your ride. I wear them for Mtn and road. I realize not everyone wants to spend that much money on glasses so these other alternatives are great.

  • LBie says:

    One thing never mentioned. When you do mountain biking, you sweat! Sweat from my brow onto my glasses when I am out in the middle of nowhere, leads to frustration and damaged lenses. Trying to clean when nothing else on you or near you are clean scratches the lenses and the highly polished surface turn dull! And please don’t tell me to carry a cloth? When I am dusty and dirty, my hands are too. Everything I touch becomes dirty, cloths too. It is important to think/measure/design glasses that will channel sweat away to the side of the head.

  • Jeffery Smith says:

    I would definitely give Tifosi cycling glasses a look. The company is based in Atlanta, Georgia. They have won over many runners and cyclist because of design, quality, and most of all their low price point.

  • Darek says:

    I used to wear nice sunglasses when biking until I discovered safety glasses. Now most safety glasses are pretty hideous but the Pyramex Intruder ones are pretty good. I originally had a pari from work and liked them. They’re about $5.00 each and come and numerous colors. I have many different one and use different ones depending on lighting. Yellow ones on overcast days for better vision, mirrored when sunny, and clear ones when it’s getting dark. I will never go back to expensive glasses when out riding.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003UUCH80/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&th=1

  • Thenry says:

    Jeffery Smith, I am a big fan of Tifosi as well. Last few pairs have all been Tifosi. Durable, well thought out and you can’t beat the price

  • Johnny G. says:

    Another Tifosi fan here. I have had a couple of them and they were very high quality at a good price. However, I tend to lose, scratch, or break glasses very easily (I once wrecked some new Oakleys in less than a week), so my favorites are Uvex Genesis safety glasses by Honeywell. Less than $10, very good optically, many color options, and if you lose or break them, it’s no big deal. Sure, they may not be the latest cool style, but who cares. Like Frank Lloyd Wright said, “form follows function”.

  • Changa says:

    I’ve been using Bobster Fatboy glasses with chromatic lenses. Very comfortable and great on the trail.

  • Billy says:

    impossible to find the Shimano domestically… eBay via Australia

  • Sean Birnbaum says:

    I’d like to expand on this conversation and ask what the recommendations for the many of us that have to wear Rx lenses? Are there good options for us that don’t result in glasses costing $400+?

  • Jonny says:

    I have the Shimano technium glasses and as you stated price is great, for 40 pounds I got that and spare lenses, which are an ache to change but still covers different light situations. I have a few pairs of Oakley and in comparison I was pleasantly surprised by the Shimano. They do feel a little flimsy in comparison to Oakley’s and the lens doesn’t seem as robust to scratching but overall I would buy the Shimano glasses again as you can’t beat the price!

  • Cole Hargenrader says:

    I agree with you

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