Buyers guide to all-year-round cycling eyewear

You should wear some eyewear on every bike ride that you do. Far too many cyclists only think about eyewear when the sun comes out to play.

The main issue we have is arguably one of terminology. Eyewear is often just called “sunglasses”. Bright sunshine is not something we’re burdened an awful lot with in the UK. What about glasses for when it’s not sunny?

For more than just sunshine

oakley racing jacket (this is an old post and the linked content no longer exists)Glasses should be thought of in terms of protection. Yes, that can mean protection from glaring sun but it should also include protection from loads of other things.

There’s the obvious things like protection from debris, road spray, trail muck and rain. These are all well worth protecting your eyes from.

But what about wind? The invisible enemy of all cyclists. It’s great when it’s on your back but it very seldom seems to be. Eyewear protects your eyes from the wind. It’s not that the wind is going to harm your eyeballs. Wind will impair your vision though.

You don’t have to travelling very fast to have the wind buffeting your eyes. This affects your focus clarity – not to mention making you screw up your face, leading to tension and ache.

Riding with some eyewear on removes all this grief. You’ll see things more easily, earlier and much clearer. Eyewear with high optical quality lenses actually improve your clarity of vision even when you’re not moving. They cut out glare and they add contrast. Things appear sharper and clearer – particularly in your peripheral vision.

How are they different to casual shades?

Some cycling glasses aren’t actually massively different to casual fashion eyewear. There is a big crossover market and to be frank, we’d recommend wearing a pair of casual shades over not wearing any eyewear at all. The big sporting eyewear brands have extensive fashion-orientated ranges too.

smith optics lowdown slim (this is an old post and the linked content no longer exists)

But for even vaguely ‘performance’ cycling it’s worth making the switch to more sporty eyewear. Sporty glasses have curved fronts and curved arms. They sit closer around your face compared to fashion eyewear. The frames are generally thinner and more unobtrusive. The nose-pieces and arms are rubberised for stability without pressure points. The lenses are typically on the lighter side of the spectrum.


Non-spectacle wearers often have certain prejudices about wearing eyewear. They assume it’s going to be uncomfortable or somehow restrictive. Modern cycling glasses aren’t like this. They’re light, comfortable and frame-less ones offer an extremely uncluttered, non-distracting field of view.

The nose pieces are soft and grippy. The arms don’t aggressively clamp the sides of your head, they stay in place with specially designed rubberised arm ends.

smith optics v90

What lenses to go for

If you’re going for some eyewear with a fixed lens then make sure it isn’t a very dark one. Lens colours in the pink or pale orange spectrum work well for the vast majority of the year. They add a bit of contrast and warmth to things without things going all wacky or too dim when riding in shaded areas.

If you have the budget then glasses that have lenses that change how light or dark they are depending on the surrounding light levels (photochromic glasses) are great. Make sure that they go pale enough for riding in dim conditions though.

oakley radar path photochromic (this is an old post and the linked content no longer exists)

The range of light-to-dark change on offer is getting broader all the time but it’s not quite possible yet for photochromic lenses to change from really dark to really light, so it’s best to go for a pair that go from mid-dark to near-clear.

Interchangeable lenses

There are quite a number of glasses that come supplied with a multiple of different coloured and tinted lenses. You can choose which to use on the day. You can even change the lenses mid-ride if you wanted to.

Generally the lens combo includes a dark (possibly mirror) lens, a pale colour lense (pink or orangey) and a clear. The clear comes into its one when you’re riding at night through winter.

smith optics overdrive

Frame shape

First of all, any eyewear is better than no eyewear. Secondly, frame design is about compromise. Compromise between protection and fogging-up.

The more air that can freely flow and circulate around the lenses the less chance there’ll be any fogging up. There will also be more chance of debris and wind getting in your eyes too. Frames that sit very close to the face and/or have large lenses will keep more stuff out of your eyes but they may fog up more readily.

Some high-end glasses have lenses with vents in them which assist with a bit of air through-flow.

Mountain bikers can get away with more casual, fashion-y shaped glasses if they want. But road riders will need more overtly sporty-designed eyewear with curved pseudo wrap-around lenses that keep wind out when they’re on the drops.

Looking after them

It doesn’t take much. Just keep hold of the soft cloth bag that almost all glasses come supplied with and make sure you always keep them inside the bag. Try not to stuff them in your jersey pocket or hydration pack knocking up against multi-tools and such.

Which eyewear should you buy?

Leisure riders may not be riding at high speed or tackling rugged terrain but there’s always the weather to content with isn’t there? There’s no need to break the bank. It’s probably more important to go with a set of glasses that you don’t feel too self-conscious in.

Mountain bikers can get away with more casual-looking eyewear if so desired. The more upright riding position of MTBing and the generally lower average speeds, place fewer demands on sporty frame/lens shapes. Interchangeable lens systems are really worth looking at (hah!) if you’re a MTBer who does night riding or riding in dense woodland.

Road riders should look at close-fitting, sporty frames with minimalist frames and a suitable pale lens tint of pink or orangey. If you’re a really speedy rider who kicks out the wattage then consider getting lenses with venting to prevent your glasses from steaming up.

3 comments to “Buyers guide to all-year-round cycling eyewear”
  1. Is it me, or am I the only cyclist out there who is having a problem finding cost-effective / inexpensive cycling glasses with directly-glazed prescription lenses, i.e. NOT inserts? Inserts are cheap’n’nasty affairs which do not provide sufficient field of vision, add unnecessary weight to the nose-piece and frequently restrict sufficient adjustment of the nose pads in order to achieve a reliable fit.

    At £250+ it’s possible; below that and you’re restricted to standard sunglasses or inserts, many of which foul one’s eyelashes and otherwise irritate the rider.

    There’s a massive gap in the marketplace which sorely needs filling.

    • I have found a website specifically aimed at Sports Prescription Sunglasses and this could be the answer you are looking for.
      They are a UK based firm based in the North West and the service I received was brilliant. I would highly recommend them.

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