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Need new prescription riding glasses? Here are five things to consider

  • By Steve Genzler
  • Published Jan. 28, 2014
  • Updated Feb. 20, 2014 at 3:49 PM EST
Prescription sports optics can improve the riding experience of those needing corrective lenses. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Whether you are a newly minted “four-eyed freak” or just due to replace some well-worn riding shades, cycling-specific prescription eyewear can enhance and improve your time on the bike. We’re not saying that the right eyewear will make you faster, but it just might just give you a little edge over the poor saps that don’t take their equipment as seriously as you do.

Instead of attempting to make due with non-functional (yet very stylish) fashion sunglasses, or squinting through rides in your regular, everyday glasses, step into the world of performance prescription sunglasses. Here are a few things to consider before making your purchase.

Protection

As a cyclist, protecting your eyes and ensuring you have the proper vision in all scenarios on your bike may be the difference between a great ride and a great fall. Regardless of where you ride, it’s important to have lenses that wrap around your face. This improves protection from debris, wind, and bugs as well as minimizing the amount of glare that comes from light bouncing off the back of the lens and into your eyes. Shatterproof lenses are also a necessity. Shards of glass (even tempered glass has sharp edges when it shatters) are bad news in a crash and can do more damage than just the impact of the crash itself. High-grade polycarbonate is recommended for cycling. The lenses are lightweight, while still providing excellent impact resistance, and are far and away the best lens material for active sports.

Frame fit and design

Often times, people want to take a curved fashion or lifestyle sunglass that they already own and use it for cycling. While this may seem like a good idea on the surface, the main difference between cycling-specific glasses and curved casual frames is a good, athletic frame fit. In addition to being lightweight and durable, cycling glasses have rubber on the nosepiece and earstems and provide a secure three-point fit, even while perspiring. This will make a huge difference when you are bombing down a hill, sweating like crazy, and don’t want to take your hands off the bars to adjust your glasses.

This sounds silly, but one advantage of styles that don’t have a frame on the bottom of the lens is that sweat just drips off. In more of a lifestyle design, sweat tends to pool in the inside corners of the lens and leak into the eyes at the most inopportune moments. Oakley’s Racing Jacket, built specifically with cycling in mind, is one style that was designed to actively channel sweat through ports in the frame and away from the eyes. The design of the frame and the way it handles sweat may make the difference between you making that corner or getting a new case of road rash.

Lenses

Lenses can make or break a cyclist’s experience. Let’s look at a few factors: on sunny days, a mirrored lens is going to block more light and improve contrast and definition by selectively tuning the light spectrum. Clear or orange tinted lenses are great for overcast days because they still block the harmful light and help brighten the view when there is low light.

Polarized vs. Non-Polarized: Polarized lenses do a good job of cutting the glare reflecting off the road, but the fact that you can’t see your cycling computer’s LCD screen with polarized lenses is a definite drawback.

Photochromic (Transitions): If you ride in a variety of light conditions or go on long rides, lenses that lighten or darken according to the ambient light can be a good choice. The downside of these lenses is that they never get quite as dark as traditional sunglass tints, but they do offer a solution that works for 80 percent of the light conditions. However, you should expect to pay more for these.

Progressive lenses: One interesting development this year is Oakley’s introduction of cycling-specific progressive lenses. Progressive lenses are lineless bifocals and the modern solution to needing a distance prescription and reading magnification in the same lens. This is important in cycling so that the rider can see the road in the distance as well as their cycling computer on the bars. The angle of the rider’s head while road cycling usually involves the chin being higher than when walking or sitting or doing other normal daily activities. This means that a normal progressive lens is not going to work in a way that is optimal for cycling. The Oakley True Digital Road Cycling Progressive lens is designed with these head and eye positions in mind. This allows them to create a lens that provides a large, clear distance field, a longer intermediate zone, a narrower reading zone and really improve the peripheral clarity.

Purchasing

You may have a local sport optics retailer with a skilled optometrist and a large selection of frames and lenses. If you don’t, another option is to seek out an online retailer.

Expert advice is important for a purchase of this size and if you are ordering online, it’s worth the effort to seek out an online store that provides not only the convenience of ordering from home, but a customized experience based on your riding conditions and style. Someone that is able to help guide you through the different choices to ensure you are getting the best possible frame and lens combination for your needs is usually worth his or her weight in gold. A new generation of optical websites are tailored to not only cater specifically to customers who are outdoor minded, but actually have experienced staff who understand cycling and the intricacies that go along with the sport.

As optical technology continues to evolve, it makes sense that you would want your prescription performance eyewear to be as up to date as the rest of your gear. Remember, ill-fitting or non-sport-specific prescription eyewear has the potential to ruin your ride in more ways than one.

Steve Genzler is the founder and CEO of SaltCityOptics.com

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