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.
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.
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.
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.
More Info: www.roka.com
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.
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.
More Info: www.pocsports.com
Rudy Project Defender
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.
More Info: rudyprojectna.com
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.
More Info: bike.shimano.com
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.
More Info: www.smithoptics.com
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