Cycling glasses seem to be getting bigger and bigger every season, with plenty of amusing memes floating around online where the lenses clearly threaten to engulf the entire face of the rider beneath.
But cycling glasses are not all about fashion – they are an essential item for most riders throughout the year.
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In the summer, they do as you’d expect and keep too much sunlight out of your eyes. But through the rest of the year they also provide a barrier to the snow or rain, or even just the wind, road spray and bugs.
But what should you be looking for in a pair of cycling glasses that can be used all year round?
Cycling glasses lenses
The most important part of any pair of cycling glasses are their lenses, as the tint of the lenses will dictate what conditions you can wear them in.
Many more expensive glasses have lenses that are suited to a range of light conditions. The Oakley Prizm lens, for example, excels across a range of weathers.
However, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to get a pair of cycling glasses with interchangeable lenses which can be swapped out according to the weather.
Most cycling glasses with interchangeable lenses will come with three different options. First up you should have a standard shaded lens that will provide 100% UV protection and help to dim bright sunshine when riding in the height of summer. However, they shouldn’t be so dark that you’re struggling to pick out the road surface if you find yourself descending down a heavily wooded lane.
The second lens should have a yellow tinge, which will be great for brightening things up when riding in overcast conditions, making it easier to spot rough road surfaces in flat light. And finally they should come with a clear lens that is there for when you’re riding after dark.
What are photochromatic lenses?
The other option for riding in changeable condition is photochromic or photochromatic lenses which will change their lightness and darkness depending on the conditions. Back in the day these might not have been great for cycling as they would not change fast enough if you were riding in and out of shade.
However, those on the latest cycling glasses are much better, offering quick changes in tint, although they don’t quite offer the range of cycling glasses with inter-changeable lenses. Pick these if you want to ride in different conditions, but don’t want the faff of having to change lenses.
Cycling glasses and lens shape
Aside from the colour of the lens, there are a number of other things to look for when picking your cycling glasses.
First of all you want decent coverage. As well as sunshine, you want your lenses to keep bugs, water, and wind out of your eyes (with the latter being particularly important for those wearing contact lenses). One piece lenses are usually the best for this, and you also want a decent amount of coverage around the sides of your eyes.
Cycling glasses for riding in the rain
Look out for cycling glasses with lenses that have a hydrophobic coating. When combined with a cycling cap, cycling glasses are very useful when riding in the rain, and a hydrophobic coating will make sure that water doesn’t stay on the lenses impeding your vision.
Misting can be a problem when riding in damp conditions, or just when you get a sweat up tackling a hill. Some glasses come with venting slots or other features to help guard against this. For example, the Oakley Flight Jacket glasses have an adjustable nose piece to let moisture dissipate. However, we didn’t rate this solution so well, finding it created a bottom heavy pair of shades with a tendency to slip down the face.
Finally, at some point your sunglasses are going to be knocked off a cafe table, so an anti-scratch coating is an important consideration especially if you’ve invested heavily.
Cycling glasses frames
When you pay for your new cycling glasses, most of the money will probably be going towards buying the frame rather than the lenses, so you want to make sure that you’re getting good value in this area too.
The most important thing is that the frame fits well. The tips of the arms should fit snugly around your temple just above your ears, holding the cycling glasses securely in place even when you’re looking down or swinging your head from side to side when sprinting out of the saddle. However you don’t want them to be too tight otherwise they will quickly become uncomfortable.
A lot of cycling glasses have little rubber pads that grip the side of your head to hold them securely in place without needing tight arms. There are also a few with adjustable arms to ensure a good fit.
The other important area to look at to ensure the frame fits properly is the nosepiece. Most cycling glasses have adjustable rubber nosepieces that can be shaped depending on the dimensions of your nose. That’s crucial, as you don’t want the glasses slipping down your face if the nosepiece is too big, or sitting too high and falling off completely if it’s too small.
Broadly there are three different styles of frame design: full frame, half frame and frameless.
All offer similar function (although some full frame cycling glasses might have a problem where the upper or lower part of the frame is in your eyeline), so which variety you decide to go for depends on the look that suits you and the priority you give to weight.
Prescription cycling glasses
If you wear prescription glasses, you may want to look into getting prescription lenses for your cycling glasses too.
Some brands – for example Oakley and Bollé – can supply prescription versions of most lens styles. Other brands provide clip-in inserts which can sit behind your sunglass lenses. Both options do come at extra expense and can be ordered via an opticians.
The alternative is wearing contact lenses underneath your normal cycling glasses.
Our pick of the best cycling glasses
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Oakley Radar EV cycling sunglasses
The price might be in typical Oakley territory, but the quality of the Radar EV sunglasses is just what you’d expect from the American brand. Both the frames and the lenses ooze quality, and although there are no replacement lenses, the ones supplied are good enough to cope with a wide range of conditions.
We’ve also tested the Youth Collection variant of the Radar EVs. A great option if you’ve got a smaller face, they’re not just for adolescents.
Buy now in the UK: Oakley Radar EV sunglasses from Wiggle for £120.99
Buy now in the US: Oakley Radar EV sunglasses from Competitive Cyclist for $196.00
100% S2 cycling sunglasses
Review score: 10/10
Case in point re the new generation of large lenses! 100% is well known for its outspoken designs, but we found the S2 model fitted the slim face of our tester well. The HiPER lens performed exceptionally well, though we wouldn’t recommend choosing a pair without this option.
Buy now in the UK: 100% S2 cycling sunglasses from ProBikeKit for £134.99
Buy now in the US: 100% S2 cycling sunglasses from Competitive Cyclist for $195.00
Rudy Project Defender sunglasses
Review score: 10/10
Another pair sporting the ‘big lens look’, and we loved the expansive field of vision this afforded. The photochromic lens impressed us no end too, and we found that misting was minimal. The price tag might be high, but these performed excellently.
Buy now in the UK: Rudy Project Defender sunglasses at Amazon for £213.15
Buy now in the US: Rudy Project Defender Sunglasses from Amazon for $174-$224
Tifosi Crit sunglasses
Review score 10/10
The Tifosi Crit glasses are good value for lightweight sunnies with photochromatic lenses. There are two fit options, with the smaller option fitting the face of our super-picky tester just fine. There’s loads of adjustability to the nosepiece and the side arms. Good venting works for sweaty or rainy rides up your favourite mountains and the lenses change fast enough to get you through rain or shine.
Buy now in the UK: Tifosi Crit sunglasses from Wiggle for £48.79
Buy now in the US: Tifosi Crit sunglasses from REI for $59.93–$99.95
Rapha Pro Team Full Frame sunglasses
Review score: 9/10
Rapha’s road riding wrap-around sunglasses pack some well-considered touches into a stylish package. The lens is a high performer when riding in dappled or changing light conditions and the fit is snug and secure. At £120 they are cheaper than a lot of other high-end offerings on the market and come in three styles.
Buy now in the UK: Rapha Pro Team Full Frame form Rapha for £120
Buy now in the US: Rapha Pro Team Full Frame form Rapha for $165
Smith Attack Max sunglasses
Review score: 9/10
These glasses work really well in a range of light conditions, thanks to the ChromaPop tech providing definition and clarity. They’re not photochromatic, though.
Swapping the lens is easy thanks to a magnetic side arm attachment system, and we found the fit comfortable without being overly firm.
Buy now in the UK: Smith Attack Max sunglasses at Amazon for £212.15
Buy now in the US: Smith Attack Max sunglasses from Competitive Cyclist for $149.40-$259.00
Bollé Shifter Phantom sunglasses
Review score: 10/10
Some of the best we’ve had on test, winning points on clarity, anti-misting and performance of the photochromic lens.
The frames feel like excellent quality, and grippers kept them in place well.
Buy now in the UK: Bollé Shifter Phantom sunglasses at Amazon for £77.82
Buy now in the US: Bollé Shifter Phantom sunglasses from Amazon for $111.19
100% S3 sunglasses
Review score: 9/10
Peter Sagan’s chosen specs may look large, but they provide an excellent fit as well as superb peripheral vision. Large glasses are very in right now as well, so you’ll look super stylish.
Buy now in the UK: 100% S3 sunglasses from ProBikeKit for £149.99
Buy now in the US: 100% S3 sunglasses from Amazon for $155.00
Oakley Jawbreaker cycling sunglasses
Probably the most popular pair of sunglasses in the professional peloton, the Oakley Jawbreakers provide the best coverage of any cycling glasses we’ve tested. The large frames might not be the best for those with small faces, but there is a wide choice of frame and lens options to choose from.
Buy now in the UK: Oakley Jawbreaker from Wiggle for £130
Buy now in the US: Oakley Jawbreaker from Competitive Cyclist for $216.00
Extra features to look for in cycling glasses
Aside from the glasses themselves, there are a number of other little things you should be looking for when buying your cycling glasses.
First off, you should be after a hardshell case that will be useful if you’re throwing the sunglasses in a bag and traveling with them. Second, you should hope for a soft microfibre cloth to help keep the lenses clean. You might also find a lens cleaning cloth or even a kit with a spray. And finally, if you’ve got bad eyesight but can’t wear contact lenses then make sure you get a pair of prescription lenses.