THE BEST CYCLING SUNGLASSES
If you are a serious cyclist, you likely have a pair of glasses you regularly use on your rides. They may or may not be cycling sunglasses or the best cycling sunglasses or even glasses designed for cycling.
They should be. Regardless of how unique our eyes or riding environment or fashion preferences are, those of us who ride most days of the week, in varying conditions, seasons, and locations can ride better and more safely with a pair of sunglasses that serve cycling-specific needs.
And, while the list prices may seem high, the actual market prices for some of the best cycling sunglasses are in the mid USD$100, £100 and €100 range. Considering what’s at stake – your speed, confidence, enjoyment, and safety – it’s not a big price to pay.
Unfortunately, there are 100s of cycling sunglasses out there and seemingly as many articles telling you about the 5 or 10 or 16 or 24 best ones. Rather than independently compare the performance of the “best cycling sunglasses”, most of these articles provide the basics about what you should look for in frames and lenses, summarize the promoted features for each pair of sunglasses in their article, and give you a bulleted list of the features they like or don’t.
These articles are written most of the time by the stores that sell the same sunglasses, by publications that run ads for cycling products, or by online services that provide survey posts or “bests” lists of a wide range of mostly non-cycling products.
Local bike shops might carry a few models from a line or two of lower-priced, lesser performing sunglasses. They can’t afford to stock the range of better or more expensive sunglasses you would want to try out before settling on one.
Even the Oakley stores and sunglass specialty retail outlets have dwindled in number and they usually don’t carry many cycling-specific models. Some brands sell cycling sunglasses through opticians but they too don’t carry many models in the store.
With that being the state of affairs, it’s awfully hard to depend on any of these resources to make a confident decision of which are the best cycling sunglasses for you to buy.
That was the challenge I and my fellow testers Miles and Nate faced when we independently decided we needed (or wanted) new cycling sunglasses at the beginning of the season.
PICKING THE BEST CYCLING SUNGLASSES
If you will indulge me, I’ll take you on the journey we followed to help find the best cycling sunglasses for us and hopefully help you figure out how to do the same for you.
I don’t claim we’ve figured it all out. I do think we’ve come up with a simple process and recommendations to help you as a cycling enthusiast or racer trying to cut through all the noise and hype.
To get an idea of what was out there, I first read what looked to be the best dozen and a half articles (yes, I read 18) of the 100 million (113 million to be precise) that come up when you Google “best cycling sunglasses”. As I noted above, almost none of these are critical analyses. They do, however, tell you what current models are being promoted, what their features are, what they cost, etc.
From this, I listed the more frequently mentioned brands and models of cycling sunglasses. Of those, I sorted through which are targeted for performance vs. value shoppers, which looked trendy vs. classic, which you could wear in a more casual setting and which you should never wear off the bike, which had notable performance features worth looking into further, etc., etc., etc.
There were about a handful of brands that showed up frequently – Oakley (the biggest presence by far), 100%, Smith, POC, Roka, Rudy Project, Bolle, Tifosi. A few others – Koo, Ekoi, Shimano, Scott, Spy Optic, Rapha, Addidas, Under Armour – sponsor professional cycling teams but don’t appear to have been “reviewed” by the cycling media and stores.
I went to the sites for each of these brands and researched their cycling sunglasses models, asked Miles and Nate what was important to them in their next pair of sunglasses, asked myself the same question, and created a list of decision criteria to compare performance, design, quality, and price criteria.
From that, I picked the following sunglasses to go buy and review:
- Oakley Flight Jacket
- Oakley Radar EV Path
- Oakley Flak 2.0 XL
- 100% Speedcraft SL
- 100% Sportcoupe
- Smith Attack
- POC Crave
- Roka SL-1x
- Tifosi Alliant
I could have picked a half dozen more or a half dozen different ones but, for reasons I’ll outline here, I started with this list.
- Focus on performance cycling sunglasses that you can race and/or train with
- Cover a range of price points, though probably more that were higher yet still reasonably priced than lower because of the focus on performance
- Buy models that range from maximum lens coverage to the more classic cycling look to a couple that you can also wear in more casual, non-cycling situations and not look like a geek
- Buy models with lenses that were best for the kind of light where and when we ride. Try one with a photochromatic lens for variable light conditions. Steer clear of polarized lenses because of potential difficulty seeing some LCD screens.
- Have a couple that can be ordered with a prescription lens or lenses
- Buy brands and models that are distributed broadly and available from stores I’ve previously reviewed as having the best prices, selection and independently verified customer satisfaction ratings and fair sunglasses return policies
This last reason caused a couple of brands and models I would have liked to have added fall off the final list.
As I mentioned above, I learned that you can’t find many cycling-specific sunglasses to try on at bike shops or sunglasses stores or opticians. I did spend several weekend afternoons taking trips to each of these types of stores in the metro area and ‘burbs where I live only to discover a very limited stock of cycling sunglasses.
Even the couple of stores that had some of the models I was interested in were often staffed by salespeople who knew little if anything about the frames and lenses suited for cycling conditions.
I did discover that several online cycling stores have a good range of brands and models of sunglasses for cyclists. Some of the better stores even have people on their chat lines who know cycling sunglasses pretty well and could answer a lot of questions about them.
Those with great customer service also make it easy for you to buy a few pair, check them out, and then return the ones you don’t want to keep within 30 days. As long as you return it in like-new condition with all the tags, packaging, etc., they’ll give you a full refund or credit/exchange and pay for the return shipping.
The US store Competitive Cyclist has the best selection of cycling sunglasses of the online cycling stores I’ve ranked (see here for cycling store rankings). They have exceptional customer service and a 30-day return policy like what I described above. They get it.
If you live in the UK or Europe, Merlin, Tredz (In The Know Cycling readers can get a 10% discount on many brands by clicking the Tredz link from our site and using code ITK10), Chain Reaction Cycling, and Wiggle have a good selection of cycling sunglasses, good customer satisfaction ratings, and 30-day return policies.
Since I live in the US and they had the best selection, I bought most of the sunglasses on the list from Competitive Cyclist.
You can also buy direct from Oakley and most of the other major cycling sunglasses brands with the same 30-day return/refund/shipping policy. Some give you more time and are ok with you wearing them on a few rides as long as they come back in a condition that they can sell them again. I have not seen any independent customer satisfaction ratings for these company stores.
TESTING AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Beyond being dedicated roadies, my fellow testers Miles, Nate, and I are each quite different in our riding profiles and sunglass preferences. By the end of our reviews of many of the same sunglasses, we each came up with a pair that was best for us and that we really dig about both their performance and looks.
If you are short on time (or have read enough already), here’s a summary of our combined recommendations.
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FOR THE RACER
Tester Miles is a Masters and Pro/1/2 racer. He does 15-20 races a year including crits, road races, stage races, and gravel grinders. He wins a bunch of them and is in the first group of finishers most of the time. He races at Nationals. A fast dude.
Coverage was the one thing he told me he was looking for. He had been using an inexpensive pair of Tifosi sunglasses with basic rectangular-shaped lenses that covered the area around his eyes but not much more.
Miles was looking for glasses that gave him totally unimpeded vision. He didn’t want to be looking at the tops of the frames when he was head down sprinting for the line or the bottoms when he was looking at his stem mounted GPS. And he didn’t want any variable sunlight coming in from his left or right when he looked to the side to see who was alongside him.
The 100% Speedcraft SL, Oakley Flight Jacket, and Roka SL-1x seemed like the best candidates to serve this racer’s needs. I shuttled those glasses to him and waited for his feedback.
100% Speedcraft SL
“I can move my head in any direction at any speed and the Speedcraft SL don’t budge a millimeter”. He summarized this equilibrium of comfort and grip telling me, “when I wear them, they feel like they are not even on my face.”
Being light and fitting well with his helmet also contributed to this sensation from these 100% shades. Both Miles and I wear Kask helmets and we’ve found the internal strapping of both the Protone and Utopia models can sometimes mess with sunglass arms. The Speedcraft SL arms sit low enough not to cause a problem.
No doubt, the large lens size and shape made Miles and his eyes feel like they were in their own environment. While preferring not to have the top frame bar that the 100% Speedcraft SL does, Miles discovered it was high enough with this pair not to impede his line of vision when he was in full aero position.
The 100% lens height and width protect your eyes from the wind and a lot of airflow, a characteristic that Miles prefers to the greate airflow that comes with smaller lenses. He also liked the “not too close, not too far” distance that the Speedcraft SL’s lens sat from his eyes.
I ordered this pair with the HiPER Red Multilayer Mirror lens that allows in 21% of visible light. Miles thought it provided a consistent amber with good blocking of a bright sun. Across the top of the lens, the shading switches to a blue hue which for him, reduces the glare when the sun is high.
Considering both our climate and tree-lined roads, bright and high sun is something we don’t see a lot of in New England where Miles, Nate and I ride most of the time. Given that, lenses with a 20% visible light transmission rating (allow 20% of the light to reach your eyes and blocking out the remaining 80% ) is about the lowest you want to go. 100% also sells the Speedcraft SL with darker lenses if you live in sunnier spots.
These sunglasses come with a clear lens too, one you’ll often want to use for early morning training rides. Removing the Speedcraft SL lens is fairly straight forward. Getting it in is a bit more difficult. The whole process takes about a minute after you get the hang of it. Once in place, the lens is held securely. 100% provides a quality bag and good-sized case and to hold your glasses and an extra lens.
Finally, and perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier because it’s probably the first thing you notice, the 100% Speedcraft SL are sharp-looking cycling sunglasses. You look like a racer wearing them in the same way you look like you should be a fast rider if you have deep wheels or wear an aero road helmet. That, along with their great fit and lens performance made these Miles’ go-to cycling sunglasses for both racing and riding.
Nate and I also gave these Speedcraft SLs a go. Nate liked the lens coverage but thought the glasses were a bit too big for his face. He also felt the top frame bar interfered slightly with the front of his Specialized Evade aero helmet. (You can see front and side profile photos of the Evade and ten of the better aero helmets I reviewed here.)
We both noticed a slight pink-orange glare from headlights and other bright reflections. Among the cycling sunglasses we tested, only the Oakley and POC were totally glare-free. The HiPER Red lenses in these Speedcraft SLs were among the best of the rest.
The placement of these 100% on my nose was key to my experience. If I brought them up as high as possible, the top bar would rest up against my forehead and transmit sweat onto the lens.
Lowering them a touch solved that problem and the grip was solid and comfortable without any movement. They also vented well with no fogging in this position.
The lens was a bit too dark for my liking as I typically ride before the high sun is up and on roads with plenty of tree canopy.
Ah, and the look. It works for a race liker Miles but on me, I look like a poseur.
Depending on the frame and lens colors you prefer, the 100% Speedcraft SL price out at USD$155 to USD$195, £112 to £180. They are available online using this link to Competitive Cyclist, one of my top-ranked stores and Tredz in the UK store, another top-ranked store that gives In The Know Cycling readers an exclusive discount when you order using the store link above and enter code ITK10 at checkout.
Oakley Flight Jacket
The Oakley Flight Jacket looks like the well established Oakley Jaw Breaker without the bar across the top of the lens. It is a large lens with tremendous coverage. Like the 100% Speedcraft SL, the Flight Jacket’s size, styling, and color combinations together make a statement that you are invested in your sunglasses. If you’re pulling up to the start of a race or fast group ride, wearing these clearly say you are ready to crush it.
Like the other Oakleys we tested, the Flight Jackets fit very well. The arms have just the right amount of pressure against your head and the nose piece seems sized right with enough grippy material to hold these Oakley cycling sunglasses in place no matter the speed, head position, heat or humidity.
Miles liked not having a bar across the top. The lens reaches up so far that I don’t think he’d notice one if it was there. I certainly couldn’t.
The frame covering the sides and bottom was more of an issue for both of us. Miles didn’t like that the bottom frame sections blocked the view to his stem mounted GPS and the sides hampered his peripheral vision. I sensed the bottom weighing down the glasses, making them feel unbalanced and among the heaviest pair I wore.
Unique among Oakley cycling sunglasses, the Flight Jacket’s nose piece has a lever you can push to move the frames away from your face. The idea behind this is to allow more airflow between the sunglasses and your face to prevent fogging or overheating.
First, I didn’t experience the Flight Jackets ever fogging up. But assuming there are situations that are more prone to fogging than I encountered, neither Miles or I could easily get the damn thing to hinge up out of the way while we were riding. I worried that I would smudge the glasses trying to locate the nose piece. Miles feared he was going to break it if he pressed it too hard.
I bought these with Oakely’s Prizm Road lens, their premier, 20% light transmission lens for sunny days. The lens gives you a very sharp and clear view of the road and your surroundings.
While Miles and I both found it plenty dark on the sunniest days, he squinted when looking into the brightest sun. I saw the colors as muted and somewhat washed out compared to what you would see looking through an amber or grey lens.
While Oakley doesn’t provide a second clear lens with these sunglasses, you can pick from about a dozen other Prizm lenses you might prefer from grey to brown to blue and ones that are polarized or change with the light.
The Oakley Flight Jacket cycling sunglasses will run you USD$162 to USD$226, £148 to £185, €170 to €213 depending on frame and lens colors and the store you choose.
They are available online using this link to top-ranked stores Merlin Cycles and Competitive Cyclist, where you can get another 10% one-time discount on Oakleys and other brands with code ITKCC19 exclusively as an In The Know Cycling reader. You can also buy them through this link to the Oakley store site.
With no frame surrounding the lens, Roka’s SL-1x is the lightest of the big coverage cycling sunglasses we tested. At USD$135 to $150, it is also one the least expensive.
In addition to the standard frames and lenses, you can also go the custom route by picking arms, nose pieces and lenses in a good range of colors to match your helmet or kit. That can make up for lower bling factor of these Roka sunglasses compared to 100% and Oakley if you care about that kind of thing.
While their light weight contributes to their comfort, the SL-1x don’t feel like they stay in place nearly as well as the 100% or Oakley sunglasses that Miles and I tried out.
The arms feel more like they are sitting there than providing a little bit of pressure to stay with you when you move. They are adjustable but there’s no spring in the material they use in the arms so you feel constant pressure whether you need it or not.
There also doesn’t feel like there is any grippy material in the arms or the nose piece to hold them in place. Roka molds in ridges to create a rough finish instead of applying a tacky surface on the material th. In our experience, it doesn’t work as well.
Miles put the arms under the helmet straps to keep them in place. I know, this is probably violating some Velominati rule. Roka also makes this in a slightly smaller SL-1 version but the difference is in the height rather than the width of the glasses.
I ordered these with the HC Octane Mirror lens, a brown shaded one which has a 21% transmission rating. Roka offers darker standard lenses in purple and grey shades and a half a dozen custom ones from clear to blacked-out that you can view here.
We agreed the lens on these Roka cycling glasses were first-rate. The lens is crystal clear and field of vision in every direction is fully protected and totally unimpeded.
Without frames and with the lens off your face, the air circulation around these SL-1x is good and not prone to fogging.
I also found the colors to be truer than nearly every other pair of sunglasses we tested though they don’t give you the pop that others do.
Miles also loved the case. It’s better fitted (read “smaller”) to this model than those of the more generic, fit-any model cases from others. While still providing a small fortress for your glasses, it takes up much less room in your bag. The exterior is grippy and the zipper is smooth.
Priced at USD$135-$150, you can order the Roka SL-1x directly by clicking through to this page on the Roka site. I bought them from Competitive Cyclist but they didn’t carry this model when I wrote up this review. They aren’t available in UK online stores.
FOR THE LEADER
Nate is a tester that sets the pace. Literally. He leads the fast group rides in our 300+ person cycling club including the Tuesday morning “Bullet Train” that moves along at 25-26 mph. He also finishes on the top step of the podiums for his busy-working-guy-with-wife-and-kids age group on some of the toughest hill climbs in the northeast. Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, for example.
More than anything, he wants everyone he rides with to do so responsibly and have a good time. He’s a leader, an organizer and has his sh*t together so he can pull all of this off in an engaging, fun way.
Admittedly, he hasn’t invested a lot in cycling sunglasses in the past. When I see him Saturdays at the start of the group rides (I’m in a muchhhhhhh slower group), he’s usually wearing his prescription glasses or his contacts and “fake Oakleys.”
While he didn’t specify, I figured Nate would be a good candidate to try out some proven sunglasses that he could wear with his contacts, others that you could put prescription lenses into, and a stylish pair or two appropriate for the leader he is.
So I shared the Oakley Radar EV Path and Flak 2.0 XL with him as well as the 100% Sportcoupe and Speedcraft SL (reviewed above).
Oakley Radar EV Path
Nate picked the Oakley Radar EV Path as his favorite cycling sunglasses. He felt the fit “excellent” with no adjustment needed. They gripped well and were so comfortable on him that he commented they are “easy to forget they are on”.
The size of the Radar EV Path, slightly shorter than the full coverage Oakley Flight Jacket and 100% Speedcraft for example, suited Nate’s Specialized Evade II aero road helmet and his Giro climbing one.
I tested these sunglasses as well and also found the gripper material on the nose piece and arms kept them nicely in place. It took me a few attempts to find the right place for them to sit on my nose and not interfere with bracing on my Kask Utopia helmet but eventually did.
Beyond their fit and comfort, the Radar EV Path sunglasses seem to thread the needle among modern-day cycling sunglasses for both their lens and look.
The lens provides excellent coverage without seeming oversized as is the current trend. Nate noted he had great peripheral vision with no gaps in their coverage looking side to side and riding in the drops. Likewise, I saw everything with no distractions while wearing them.
We both reported the lens clarity was excellent with no perceptible distortion. They also vented well – enough air coming through so you didn’t feel cut off but not so much that they would trigger watering with contacts (Nate) or trigger any pollen allergies (Steve).
Fogging wasn’t an issue for me when I wore them on a couple of days when the temps went from 45-60F with both sun and overcast skies. They did fog up for Nate after a rainstorm passed through but not when he wore them on sunny humid days.
Appreciating that Nate leads early morning rides, I bought these with Oakley’s Prizm Trail lens that has 36% light transmission rating. As it turned out, they let in a bit too much light for him and have more green enhancement than he prefers.
I thought they were perfect for low sun, low light morning conditions and gave very realistic colors, great contrasts with absolutely no reflections or glare.
These clearly have the look of cycling sunglasses and aren’t ones you’d wear out to dinner on a summer evening.
That said, they aren’t as big or trendy as the largest cycling sunglasses you can get now. You can enjoy their great performance with a subtle, classic basic black frame or get loud with the neon “Retina Burn” frame. And, there are a lot of color choices in between to get the look you want.
This Oakley Radar EV Path line is a classic cycling look. I expect they’ll continue to be around for a while. Depending on your preferred store, frame and lens color, the will cost you $120 to $196, £110 to £195, €127 to €213.
You can check them out through these links to my two top-rated stores Competitive Cyclist, where you can get another 10% one-time discount on Oakleys and other brands with code ITKCC19 exclusively as an In The Know Cycling reader, and Merlin Cycles. You can also get them by clicking through to the Oakley site.
Of course, sunglasses are a personal thing, The frame, lens and look all have to work for you. If one of them doesn’t, it doesn’t matter how well the others do.
That was never more evident than with our testing of the 100% Sportcoupe cycling sunglasses.
The frame fit Nate and me very well. No adjustment needed. Good grip with no movement during the ride.
Nate felt they were very comfortable. I liked the comfort initially but as the riding went on, the pressure from the Sportcoupe’s arms was a bit too much.
While not the hippest sunglasses to wear to the beach or rooftop barbeque, if you went with black frames and grey or silver mirror lenses, they might not even look like sports sunglasses and more of a high-end casual pair.
They also come in a range of more colorful frame and lens colors if you are looking to match your helmet or kit or express your own artistic sensibilities. They look like a slightly larger version of the popular Oakley Flak 2.0 XL, perhaps the model they were designed to compete with.
I got these with 100%’s purple multilayer mirror lens to work well for morning riding and in areas where there are a fair amount of tree-lined roads. They have a 24% transmission rating, letting in a bit more light than many of the others I bought for this review.
Unfortunately, these lenses were the downfall for these sunglasses. While having great coverage, clarity, and true colors, the Sportcoupe’s lenses suffered from severe, distracting glares from both direct and peripheral sun. On overcast days or dawn rides, car headlights created red reflections. Not good. Not acceptable.
The nosepiece on the Sportcoupe is large and on some models match the dominant color of the frame. With the polished translucent crystal smoke frame model we tested, this combination created a big fail for Nate. He viewed an ever-present, “bulky and bright orange blob” in his lower peripheral vision. Also not good or acceptable.
The 100% Sportcoupe sell at far lower prices (USD$135 to $175, £100 to £160) than many of the other cycling sunglasses we reviewed. A black frame color and a grey or smoke lens might reduce the glare and peripheral vision issues we experienced.
If you’d like to try that combination, you can order the 100% Sportcoupe through these links to these pages at top-ranked store Competitive Cyclist.
FOR THE GROUPIE
I don’t race but love to do group rides where we push each other ride fast while still being safe. Mine is the B-group (18-20mph average speeds) and I try to do my part in keeping the pace, taking my share of pulls, and generally contributing to the spirit and speed of our rides. In that way, I’m what you might want to call a groupie.
During the week, I’ll do my training and test out new gear in the mornings. Those rides are almost always solo so I can keep to my training plan and focus on taking mental notes on the gear I’m riding. I usually get in a century length ride about once a month during the season either on the road or off of it on gravel or dirt paths.
As far as what that means for sunglasses, I try to fit in with the group and long rides. I’m neither flying or styling though may try to do one or both on a good day. In reality, I’m not fast enough or bold enough to do either well.
For several years I’d been using an all-purpose pair of non-cycling-specific sunglasses and switching between light and dark lenses. They were average quality, getting rather worn and scratched up. Inertia was keeping from getting a new pair until I committed to doing this review.
My goal was to find sunglasses that would work on different types of rides in the morning and over a long day. I was also hoping to get some that I can also wear off the bike as comfortably as on it. And since I spend way too much money buying gear for In The Know Cycling reviews and to generally support my cycling habit, a fair price was another goal.
So, in addition to buying and trying some cycling sunglasses for Miles the racer and Nate the leader, I ordered some I thought might suit my needs and others that could feed my ego and motivate me to ride faster.
Oakley Flak 2.0 XL
For me, they stay in place really well. There’s just enough spring in the arms to hold them tight above my ears without ever feeling like they are pressuring my head.
They also feel quite light and grip my nose securely without feeling grabby. Altogether, it’s a comfortable fit to the point where you almost forget that you’ve got them on.
Nate thought they were a tad too loose, specifically around the nose.
The nosepiece on these Flak 2.0 XL is quite small and never in my field of vision. There are small rubber tabs on the upper outside of each frame that overlap the lenses and help hold them in place. Those tabs do get into my side peripheral vision. They bothered me initially but I’ve become unaware of them after a few rides.
While nowhere near the size of the big cycling lens sunglasses like the 100% Speedcraft SL or the classic-sized ones like the Oakley Radar EV Path, the Flak 2.0 XL gives me all the coverage I seem to need.
While the lenses are slightly smaller than the 100% Speedcoupe, the size and shape of the nose piece and bottom edge of the lenses allow them to sit in a way that shades the same area of vision.
If I spent a lot of time in aero bars or sprinting to the line, I’d want glasses with taller lenses or no top frame bar. Nate, who rides the occasional TT and TTT noted this limitation with the lenses but said this wouldn’t prevent him from buying these glasses as the coverage on the sides was fine.
Indeed, Nate picked these as his favorite sunglasses from a style perspective. Likewise, I wear them both on and off the bike and to the beach. I’ll also wear them to the rooftop barbeque if ever get invited to one again. (Was it something I said?)
Popping the lenses in and out of the Flak 2.0 XLs is easy, a 30-second process including cleaning them off. I ordered them with the 20% light transmission Prizm Road lens which I’ll wear on sunny days on and off the bike including at the beach and on the boat. To those, I added the 36% Prizm Trail lenses which I use on wooded trails or on morning group or solo road rides.
The clarity, contrasts, and absence of distortion are as good as it gets with the Oakley lenses. In my experience, they don’t fog and there is no glare or reflection at all from sunlight or car lights even with the non-polarized Prizm lenses we’ve tested. I can’t say the same combination of things about any other company’s cycling sunglasses.
Yes, you can get cycling sunglasses with more coverage and style. But, for the combination of lens and frame performance you get with the Oakley Flak 2.0 XL and their low price and versatility on and off the bike, it’s one of the better all-around options available.
They are available at prices from USD$109 to $196, £100 to £195, €115 to €196. Use these links to my top-ranked stores Competitive Cyclist, where you can get another 10% one-time discount on Oakleys and other brands with code ITKCC19 exclusively as an In The Know Cycling reader, and Merlin Cycles. You can also buy them through these links to the Oakley online store.
I wondered how good they were. Actually, I was curious to know whether the best Tifosi cycling sunglasses were good enough for a non-racing but serious cycling enthusiast to save $50 to $100 buying them instead of a top-performing pair of Oakleys or ones from another highly promoted brand.
The Tifosi Alliant and Aethon appeared to be their top of the line cycling models, at least based on their $70-$80 price. I went with the Alliant as it doesn’t have a bottom frame bar (the Aethon does) and has slots on the top and bottom of its lens for added airflow.
The model I picked had neon highlights in its frame that matched my helmet. Instead of getting the standard $70 model with two lenses, I spent another $30 and bought one with their light changing Fototec lens that my LBS ordered for me through their Tifosi Custom option.
Well, with the exception of the low price and great match with my helmet color, the glasses have been a disappointment.
For anything more than a 1hr ride on a cool day, I’d prefer to wear and would be willing to pay extra to wear almost any other pair I tested.
The fit was the biggest problem for me. Despite both the nose piece and arms being adjustable, I haven’t been able to get them to sit right.
The cut-out for the nose piece isn’t high enough on the lens to allow the sunglass arms to reach the top of your ears without them sloping down at an angle from the front of the frame. And there’s no grippy surface in the nose piece to keep it in place once you start sweating or going over uneven pavement. If you squeeze in the nose piece to grip you better, the Alliant sunglasses will rest further up your nose, increasing the downward angle of the arms toward your ears.
The arms themselves are an all-or-nothing proposition. Instead of having a flexible material in the arms that apply some springy, variable pressure to hold to your head, the adjustable ends of the Alliant arms appear to use a relatively stiff wire wrapped with a flexible pad.
Once you adjust the arms to grip your head better, they ain’t moving. After an hour, I found the arm pressure to be too much. Adjust the wire to ease the pressure and the glasses don’t stay in place.
The Alliant’s photochromatic lens changed shade about as fast as others I’ve tried or read about, which is not very fast. These types of lenses are best suited for going out on several hour rides when you know the sky is going to change from dark to bright or vice versa over time, for example for a ride that starts near or before dawn or ends near or after dusk.
If you don’t want to carry an extra lens on a cloudy day that may turn sunny or vice versa, photochromatic lenses are also a good choice.
Once the Alliant lens darkens, the colors look authentic but there is no added contrast or “pop” that highlight darker road sections or mute bright ones like you get with some of the colored lenses.
With the nose piece sitting low in the lens, there’s ample coverage above the centerline of your eyes and not enough below it. The bottom of the Alliant’s lens and the venting slots on the outside bottoms are in your line of vision whenever you look down.
If they had added another 5mm to the bottom of the lens or moved the nose cutout 5mm higher, this would probably be less of an issue. But, as it is now, it’s quite annoying and something my eyes haven’t gotten used to noticing over a dozen rides.
Riding through changing light conditions often means you are riding through changing weather and temperature. While the Alliant’s lens did fog occasionally after I slowed or stopped on a humid day, they cleared quickly after getting back underway.
They don’t seem to be hydrophobic or have a water repellent coating on them. On misty or dewy morning rides, drops of water will stick to the glasses for miles. That’s really annoying
I’ve taken to using them on short, early morning rides when I’m looking to get my training in within an hour or so of sunrise and am too lazy to change the lens in my other sunglasses. I imagine they’d also be a good, inexpensive option for commuting too.
You can pick up the Tifosi Alliant sunglasses at many local bike shops or order them through this link to Competitive Cyclist.
Ok, the Smith Attack and the POC Crave I review below aren’t for groupies who don’t want to stand out. Quite the opposite. I added them to the cycling sunglasses review list because of their brand reputations.
I thought the Smith Attack would be a pair of sunglasses to share with Miles because of their large coverage area. But, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment, I never did.
Smith also sells the Attack Max with a larger lens for larger faces.
The Attack I ordered came with the 15% light transmission Sun Red Mirror lens for bright sun and the Contrast Rose lens for overcast or shaded area riding. I haven’t been able to find a light emission rating for the rose lens but it’s similar to having a clear lens in.
Both lenses provided crisp and true colors. The clarity was also good and the top, bottom and side coverage were all more than ample. Objects appeared quite sharp as did the numbers on my GPS. And despite the large size of the Attack’s lens, I could feel a lot of air venting in around them.
While all of those attributes were plusses, that’s where the goodness ended.
Both lenses were affected by car headlights and taillights. The reflection was more severe than any that I’ve tested and a major distraction to my riding.
The Attack lenses also fogged quite easily on humid days when I stopped at a light. They quickly defogged once I started riding again but then fogged up again at the next light. I was surprised that Smith lens with all of their experience and assumed built-in technology would fog so easily.
I also had mixed success with the frame. The lenses were probably the easiest to change of all the sunglasses I’ve tried. You pop off the arms and nose piece and then pop them back into place on the new lens. When you are replacing the lens and nose piece, you can hold the lens by the edges in these frameless cycling sunglasses and not have to worry about smudging it.
While I’ve read comments on Smith’s website from some users who’ve been disappointed that the plastic molded connection pieces don’t hold up well, my experience with the Smith Attack was too short to weigh in on this.
I couldn’t make the fit work with my Kask Protone and Utopia helmets. There was clearly competition between the ends of the Attack’s arms and the Protone’s bracing. Miles also wears a Protone so I didn’t ask him to review these sunglasses.
I’ll bet the Attack fits well with Smith helmets though!
While the Smith Attack retails for USD$249, £200, €203 you can get Attack in some frame and lens color combinations for as little as USD$99, £120, €136 and others for not much more than that. You can see the Attack and Attack Max options and order them by linking through to these pages at top-ranked store Competitive Cyclist.
POC Crave Clarity
POC certainly stands out for the distinctive, postmodernist look of its products. Some people love that look, others wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it. I don’t know too many people that fit in between.
What is particularly interesting about POC is that they seem to be pretty focused on performance as well as creating a brand known for a unique look. Or, maybe the focus on the former produces the latter. Either way, from my experience with their helmets as both a skier and cyclist, I’ve found POC makes high performance gear.
So I was curious to see how their cycling sunglasses performed for those enthusiasts who prefer their styling to other options.
I tested the POC Crave model with the Brown/Electric Mirror Clarity lens that has a 22% visible light transmission rating.
The Crave frame fit comfortably and felt quite light. Looking through it, it seems to have as much coverage as any of the biggest cycling sunglasses we tested. Its rounded shape and lightweight made it look and feel like it isn’t as large though.
I also liked the brown lens color of this POC Clarity lens. Everything seemed natural and quite chill.
While the “Brown” in the lens name seems accurate, I’m not sure where the “Electric Mirror” comes from. “Clarity” is the brand name they give to all their current lenses, similar to how Oakley calls their “Prizm” or Smith uses the “ChromaPop” moniker.
Objects in this “Electric Mirror” lens don’t pop out or get electrified in low light the way they do if you look through an Oakley Prizm Trail lens with the same visible light transmission rating. This POC lens also doesn’t have a mirror finish and is likely not to be dark enough for the sunniest days when that kind of finish might block out the brightest light.
Whatever. I did like the lens quite a bit and for partly sunny days, it was spot on.
Whether you like the look or not and regardless of the lens color choice, there were two performance issues which ultimately turned me away from the Crave.
First, there is little to no grippy surface material on the nose piece or arms. If I worked up any kind of sweat on my ride, I was constantly pushing the Crave back toward the top of my nose. Neither the nose piece or arms are adjustable to make up for the lack of grip from these sunglasses.
Secondly, the upper lens wicks sweat from your forehead. The frame is cut out between your eyebrows leaving the lens exposed there. And it is precisely there, and only there, that my sweat dripped onto the lens.
My guess is that if the frames gripped my nose and head better, the opening to the lens would be far enough away from my forehead to keep the sweat out of reach.
The POC Crave frame may fit you and stay in place better than it does on me. At prices hovering around USD$250, £200, €250, it’s best to try them from a store where you can return it hassle-free if it doesn’t. This link to Competitive Cyclist, one of my top-ranked stores, will give you that option.
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