A decent set of sunglasses is an essential part of any mountain biker’s wardrobe, for a number of reasons. The most obvious is protection from bright sunlight to give you a clear view down the trail, with less glare, less squinting and less damage to your eyes from harmful UV rays.
They also provide physical protection from flying trail debris, whether this be roost from your riding mate’s back wheel, spray from the endless ‘summer’ puddles, flies, or errant tree branches.
Obviously, the larger the lens, the more coverage it will offer against these dangers, but it’s also important that they wrap around to give some side protection, cut out light from entering there, and prevent wind from making your eyes tear up. Of course, that coverage needs to be balanced with how they fit on your face — if the lens or frame contacts you, then it means they’ll fog up more easily and it can also be uncomfortable or make the glasses move around on your face.
Make sure they integrate well with your chosen helmet and don’t dig into your head or create other pressure points
Many riding glasses use a half-frame design, where the lens is only partially attached to the frame, This allows a greater and less obstructed field of vision, but it does mean that the lens is more exposed to damage when not being worn.
Depending on your facial features and head size, different frames might work better for some people than others. Although we try to point out which glasses work well for different people, it’s hard to beat trying them on. Make sure they integrate well with your chosen helmet and don’t dig into your head or create other pressure points. Whatever anyone might claim, looks are also important, but that’s very much a personal choice and often there will be a selection of frame colours on offer for a model.
More expensive glasses tend to have more features, such as easily interchangeable lenses plus adjustable fit of the noise piece and arms. The quality and clarity of the lenses will go up with price too. A better lens will distort your vision less, giving better vision and also preventing eye strain. Many high-end glasses now have light sensitive photochromic lenses, which have a special coating that reacts to light. This means you can use a single lens for very bright days as well as more overcast ones, but even the best can take a bit of time to react and cheaper ones can take a long time indeed.
Now you’ve got the basics, here are the best sunglasses for mountain biking that we’ve tested recently.
Oakley Radarlock Path
Oakley’s Radarlock Paths offer excellent lenses and very little distortion Russell Burton
• Price: £155 / US$190 / AU$TBC
Oakley’s Radarlock Path glasses manage to tick just about every box going. The build quality is great, with excellent lenses and very little distortion. There’s a huge choice of aftermarket lenses too, including photochromic. Lens replacement is a quick and easy job thanks to the clever release system. In our experience, they are durable and resistant to scratching, but considering the high price tag you’ll probably want to take extra special care of them.
Comfort is superb too, with an adjustable rubber nose piece and rubber coated arms. Both lenses included are vented, which we found made a huge difference on clammy days, and coverage and clarity were good. When it came to fit, the Radarlocks are really secure without feeling overly tight.
Spiuk’s Arqus has an impressive field of vision and offer a decent amount of coverage too Seb Rogers
• Price: £90 / US$125.54 / AU$150.92
The Spiuk Arqus come with three lenses, which are relatively easy to fit. Each one has the same four sizeable vents cut into the one-piece lens to help dump heat and increase airflow to prevent fogging.
The arms have flexible tips and are curved enough to hug your head without feeling tight. The flexible nose piece is comfy and helps keep the glasses where they need to be. The field of vision is impressive and they offer a decent amount of coverage too. Photochromic lens options are also available.
Madison’s Recon glasses score high on comfort and fit Seb Rogers
• Price: £49.99 / US$NA / AU$N/A
Madison has more or less nailed the ergonomics of these glasses. They have comfortably curved one-piece arms that hug the head without feeling tight. They also have rubber grippers on the inside of the tips to prevent slipping, and the nose piece is soft and flexible. Our frame has some grubby marks on it that we couldn’t shift, so we’re not sure how nice they’ll look in the long term.
A big plus is the six vent slots that run across the top of the lens and help prevent fogging. Coverage is good and the field of vision is usefully uninterrupted thanks to the half. Lens changes aren’t as smooth as the best though.
Adidas Evil Eye Evo VARIO
The photochromic lenses adapt to light conditions impressively fast Steve Behr
• Price: £190 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
The Evil Eye Evos certainly mean business with a sturdy, large frame holding whopping bug-eye lenses. The lenses are Adidas’s VARIOs, which are photochromic and adapt to light conditions impressively fast. There’s little need to swap lenses, but should you wish to do so the sliding lock mechanism means it’s a very easy job. The large lens also has very good optical clarity and minimal distortion, partly thanks to the stiff frame.
They work well with a helmet on and the removable sweat brow off. We didn’t find the foam sweat brow offered much protection from sweat dripping in the eyes anyway, and ventilation is improved without it. The arms are slim and comfortable, while the nose piece has two positions for better fit.
Ventilation is the Evil Eye’s only slight stumbling block, as it isn’t as good as the best, with only small vents in the frame and lens. That said, it does clear fairly well once you get moving and the hydrophobic coating on the lens means water droplets also clear fast.
Tifosi Podium XC Fototec
Smaller faces will suit the Tifosi Podium XC Steve Behr
• Price: £65 / $80 / AU$91
Tifosi’s Podium XC is the smaller version of the Podium, and suits a smaller face thanks to the shallow lens. Those with a bigger face might find the coverage, especially at the bottom, a bit lacking. Fortunately, the frameless design means that there’s nothing intruding into your field of vision. The lack of a frame also aids fit as the glasses are a touch more flexible, and they exert little pressure onto your face.
The low profile arms also fit nicely under helmets. If you have wonky features though, you might find that the flexibility impacts on the lens a touch too much and you may find a little distortion.The lens is photochromic and adjusts to differing light conditions fairly quickly. Clarity is good through the lens and there’s a prescription option too.
The nose piece clips into the lens and is adjustable, aiding fit on what feels like a very light glass to wear. With a small lens, fogging isn’t too bad, although as with any of the smaller, non-vented glasses, the closer to the face you wear them the more foggable they become — a balance needs to be found. With the nose piece adjusted, and also thanks to the long rubberised section on the arms, security is good.
POC’s Crave comes with Carl Zeiss lenses Steve Behr
• Price: £215 / US$245 / AU$N/A
Paired best with POC’s Tectal or Tectal Race helmet, the large lens on these POC Craves doesn’t look out of place yet offers an almost unparalleled field of vision. The lens sits in a near-complete, thin frame that intrudes little into your line of vision.
As we’ve come to expect from Carl Zeiss lenses, the optical quality is up there with the best you can buy. The Green Mirror lens we tested is pretty dark and best suited to bright sunlight, but aftermarket replacement lenses are available.
There’s little venting present, and with a large lens that fits close to the face they can mist in the most humid conditions. However, the hydrophobic coating does a surprisingly good job of minimising this and helps rain drops bead on the lens.
The thin rubber grippers aid a secure fit even when sweaty, thanks to a hydrophilic finish. The arms are low profile, so don’t interfere with helmets, and have a bit of flexibility to aid comfort. Despite only having a soft, not adjustable, nose piece, they had great fit and comfort on test.