On the mountain bike, few people ever really discuss the importance of finding the perfect pair of glasses. That is because your ideal set of glasses are easily forgotten, they blend into your face and easily become a standard part of your riding routine. Your sunglasses may not make your ride exponentially better, but the wrong pair can make your ride exponentially worse. Fogged up lenses, floppy frames, or dust in your eyes are all sure-fire ways to make you want to pack it up early. See the trails in the best possible light and learn How to Pick The Perfect Sunglasses For Mountain Biking.
Type of Glasses for Mountain Biking:
The first and most basic thing to consider when buying a pair of sunglasses is the type of glasses. When you look up cycling sunglasses you will likely see titles like: ‘sports performance,’ ‘active lifestyle,’ and ‘casual’ sunglasses style. For the purposes of mountain biking, you will want to purchase a ‘sports performance’ style. These types of glasses will fit your face best, and won’t flap up and down while you ride.
Cross Country Mountain Biking: For cross-country mountain biking you will use any of those cycling sports performance sunglasses. In order to help you pick exactly which pair, the rest of this article details the specifics.
Enduro/Downhill: For endure races or downhill mountain biking you will want to purchase ‘goggles.’ Goggles are the only style of sunglasses that you can comfortably wear with a full-face helmet, although you can still wear goggles with other styles of helmets as well. While many cross country mountain bikers find goggles to be too hot, for downhill they provide maximum coverage for safety and dust protection.
Read another article about Mountain Biking with Glasses – learn the tips and tricks for doing it right.
Best Lens Color to MTB:
Depending on what brand of sunglasses you want to buy, the brand will offer a variety of lens colors. Some style of glasses will allow you to change the lenses, which financially makes the most sense. If you are able to buy the sunglasses frame and purchase a variety of lens colors then you will certainly have the right lens for every ride and weather change. If you chose to buy glasses without interchangeable lenses then you will need to have multiple pairs of glasses in order to meet the needs of your rides.1
Black: While black is a common color to see in the store, it is not recommended for mountain biking. It is too dark for any trails with shade and black or grey won’t assist with clarity or depth perception. Black glasses are primarily designed for road cycling or if you only plan to ride on long, sunny gravel roads.1
Brown: The color brown filters out blue light waves and therefore increases how green looks to our eyes. It improves contrast, clarity, and depth perception.1 Therefore, for bright and sunny days on the mountain bike, brown should be your top pick.
Amber: I rarely see amber lenses anymore and when I do they seem so retro, but from what I have read more of us should be using these. Since amber blocks blue light, it increases contrast and can better help your eyes detect all those obstacles hidden in the shadows. These glasses are best for trails that are heavily shaded or dimly lit.1
Red or Rose: We’ve all heard the saying, “See the world through rose colored glasses.” That is because these glasses will actually change the shade of the colors that you see and it will brighten the world around you. These glasses are best for cloudy days.1
Orange: Orange is sort of a combination of all of the lenses we have just discussed. They are best for cloudy days, but can function in all types of weather.
Yellow: If you live in a foggy city or complete most of your workouts in the morning before the fog has lifted then you might consider purchasing a pair of yellow lenses. They increase clarity and allow you to see through the fog in the best possible way.1
Blue: Apparently blue lenses are not a good option for riding because in order to increase contrast and depth perception you actually want to filter out blue light.
Clear: Every cyclist should have a pair of clear lenses. When it is too dark outside, the trail is too dark, or it’s raining, I always wear clear lenses. They protect my eyes and face without influencing what I see around me. These are the only glasses that you should wear during a night ride. These are a staple.1
Transition Lenses: Transition lenses, also called photochromic lenses, adjust to the light around you. They are clear or close to clear when the light is dim or you are in dark trails, and they become darker if you are on light and exposed trails. They are great for rides when you are starting in the day light and ending in the evening or if you live in terrain that is exposed on the climb up but dark in the trees on the way down.
The downfall of transition lenses is that because they are pretty good at a lot of things, they aren’t the best at anything. They will darken and lighten up as needed but you won’t get the benefits of contrast and depth perception like you will with these other color lenses. Additionally, if you are darting in and out of trees they are unable to adjust quickly. It takes time for them to change shades.
Even with different colors of lenses available, there are different degrees of light protection within each color of lens.
Visible Light Transmission and How it Works for Mountain Biking:
When digging deep into the specs of the sunglasses that you plan to buy you will see the acronym VLT which stands for visible light transmission. These values are presented in percentages and are used to indicate what type of conditions you should wear the sunglasses in. The values are determined based on the amount of light that passes through the lens. When light passes through a lens some of the light is reflected, some is absorbed, and some passes through. The percentage of light that passes through your sunglasses is your visible light transmission.2
- 0-19% VLT: These sunglasses are for bright sunny days and will be darker.
- 20-40% VLT: This is an all purpose sunglasses lens and can be worn in most conditions.
- 40+% VLT: This is a lighter lens and will allow more light to pass through. It is best for hazy, overcast, or low light conditions.
- 80-90% VLT: This lens is best for dark conditions or night riding. The lens will be almost clear and allow a maximum amount of light to reach your eyes.
After you pick out the level of light protection you will gain from your sunglasses you will need to pick out all the ‘extras’ that sunglasses can offer.
Best Lens Coatings for MTBing:
The more money you are willing to spend on sunglasses, the more perks you can gain. Some of these perks are coating that are painted on the sunglasses in order to enhance certain qualities about them. These coatings are fairly self-explanatory but you can’t know to buy them if you don’t know they exist.
Hydrophobic Coating: This coating is designed to repel water. This coating might not be essential for mountain bikers but if it already comes with the sunglasses that you want, it certainly won’t hurt. It might repel small water droplets from puddles, rain, or even sweat on the lenses.***
Anti-Scratch Coating: I think this is very important for a mountain biker’s sunglasses. Just think of all of the things that can scratch your sunglasses! Small rocks getting kicked up by bikes, crashing, or glasses flying off and hitting the ground can all cause small scratches on the lenses. Plus if you are anything like me, glasses end up getting put in your helmet, lost in the car, or stuck in your bag after a long day on the trail. You need to give them a little extra protection.***
Anti-Fog Coating: Whether or not you chose anti-fog coating might directly correlate to your body’s temperature regulation or the climate that you live in. If you sweat a lot then you might need a little extra anti-fog resistance. If you live in a high-humidity location then you need some anti-fog coating. Some companies don’t require you to commit to a permanent anti-fog coating; some have anti-fog sticks that you can paste onto the glasses for a ride.***
Lens Materials that Work Best For MTBing:
Along with all of the other factors that we have discussed, lens material will affect clarity, weight, durability, and cost.
Polyurethane: This is the most expensive style of lens, but for the extra money you get the best impact resistance and great optical clarity. It is lightweight and flexible to fit your face.3
Polycarbonate: The polycarbonate still has great impact resistance and optical clarity, although not as good as polyurethane. These lenses are more affordable, but less scratch-resistant.3
Acrylic: These will be the least expensive lenses option, but will cause some image distortion. For that reason, these glasses are best for casual sunglasses and not recommended for riding or training.3
Brand Specific: Some brands have even patented their own lens materials. Oakley for example, has created a polycarbonate-blended lens that can supposedly take a BB shot without shattering.
Is Polarization Needed for Mountain Biking?
Polarized glasses help to reduce glare. Originally they were designed for water sports and/or fisherman in order to reduce the glare from the water. They are still most beneficial for reducing water induced glare, however, they can reduce glare from other surfaces as well. Most people find polarized glasses to be better and more comforting, but they are more expensive and can make reading your screen or cell phone more difficult.
MTB Glasses for Safety:
At the end of the day, the most important thing about your sunglasses when you are mountain biking is the safety that they provide. Your glasses need to protect your eyes from UV rays, glare, flying debris, dirt, dust, rocks, stray tree branches, and more. That said, despite all of the technology that goes into making lenses, all of that becomes trivial if the glasses don’t provide the appropriate coverage and fit.
Don’t let an injury keep you out of the saddle. Read this article 10 Common Mountain Biking Injuries and Tips to Avoid Them.
Sunglasses Coverage While Riding:
When you examine a variety of sunglasses or sunglasses brands you will find that some sunglasses are larger than others. The larger the sunglasses, the more coverage or protection they provide.
- Pros: The benefits of larger glasses mean that you have a wider view of the world around you. Smaller sunglasses can actually get in the way of your vision if you can see the outside of the frame in the corner of your eye. They protect more of your face. This limits the amount of dust that can get into your eyes or scratches from plants or trees. Not to mention that bigger glasses with more coverage are actually in style right now.
- Cons: Bigger sunglasses can feel heavier or more obnoxious on your face. This is especially true for individuals with smaller faces or heads. Glasses with larger coverage often have larger frames and can make it difficult to find ones that fit and don’t move around on your face. Larger glasses might also require more ventilation.
Ventilation Helps to See the Trail:
Ventilation is often overlooked and forgotten when purchasing sunglasses, but if it weren’t there you would know there was a problem. Sunglasses usually have holes drilled or designed to sit right at the top of the lenses. This way air flows above the lenses allowing sweat to dry on your face before dripping down and getting into your eyes or fogging up the sunglasses. Every style of glasses will have a slightly different ventilation system so you just have to decide what works best for you.
If you have too big of ventilation vents you might find that dust or dirt enters the holes. If the holes are too small then you will not feel enough air flow on your face. If the holes are the perfect size, then you will feel airflow relief and the vents will only make the glasses feel lighter.
Does Sunglasses Weight Matter Riding?
Sunglasses are pretty light as it is. Unless you are really concerned about weight, the heaviness of your glasses is probably not a numerical problem as much as a comfort issue. Oakley glasses weigh somewhere in the range from 20 to 30 grams. Just try a few pairs of glasses on in order to decide on your weight preference. If the glasses are too heavy then you will constantly be aware of their presence on your face. If the glasses are too light then they might flop around a bit too much because they aren’t heavy enough to be weighed down in the wind.
The weight of the glasses isn’t nearly as important as the fit. A better fitting pair of glasses can cancel out any weight discrepancies. The weight of the glasses should be evenly distributed across the entire glasses and not all centrally located on one part of the face.
MTB Sunglasses Fit
The best way to determine how a pair of sunglasses will fit your face is to try them on. Even if you plan to purchase the sunglasses online, you can try on the sunglasses in store before purchasing online.
The frames should fit snuggly on your nose and ears but should not pinch in any location.3 They should be tight enough that when you shake your head they don’t move or pop up and down, but not so tight that they place pressure on your temples.
The arms of the frame should grip the sides of your head so that they feel secure and you are not concerned about them falling off, but they should not be stretched to the point of bending outward to reach around your head.
The lenses should be far enough from your face that your eye lashes do not hit the lenses when you blink.
Finally, a part that is easily overlooked is how your glasses fit both in and around your helmet. The perfect pair of glasses can suddenly become uncomfortable when adding the helmet to the equation.
Do the Sunglasses Fit With Your MTB Helmet?
The most important aspect of the sunglasses fit with the helmet is the width of the glasses and the length of the sunglasses arms.
If the sunglasses are too wide then you will need to tuck them into the helmet, which can make them too tight and uncomfortable. If the sunglass’ arms are too long then they will hit the helmet near the back and the glasses will constantly be knocked around.
In addition to how the glasses fit on your face with a helmet on, you will want to try how well the glasses fit into the top of the helmet. If you ever want to take your glasses off during or after a ride, it is very common to tuck your glasses up into your helmet for storage. Every helmet is slightly different and glasses will fit differently into the helmet. Consider testing how the glasses fit into the helmet before making a final commitment.
Many sunglasses companies allow you to order prescription sunglasses online. You can simply upload your prescription directly to the website. Some vision insurance companies will even pay for your prescription sunglasses. If your insurance won’t cover the sunglasses then you can purchase prescription glasses, but they might cost you a pretty penny. In fact, all sunglasses have a pretty good price tag attached to them.
Prescription Mountain Bike Sunglasses
With all of the remarkable options available for sports performance sunglasses, it only makes sense that prescription sunglasses would be available.
Cost Prescription Mountain Bike Sunglasses
Many people are surprised at how expensive sports performance sunglasses can be. On average sunglasses prices will range from $130 to $250. After that you can add on sunglasses insurance, extra lenses, lens coatings, prescriptions etc. It’s easy to walk away with a big bill from a sunglasses company so it’s important to shop around to find a pair that you will be happy with and you feel like was the best deal. Every brand offers a different style and different benefits.
Brands: Oakley is arguably the top sport’s eyewear seller. CHECK OUT all the selections on Amazon here -> OAKLEY SUNGLASSES They usually have a pair of glasses in the top sunglasses each year and they are constantly innovating and adjusting their products.
Ride 100% (link to Amazon) has made a huge impact on the cycling community as well and their glasses can be seen on pros and amateurs alike at all cycling competitions.
Other sunglasses companies of note or to check out are Rudy Project, Tifosi, Adidas, Spy Optic, ROKA sunglasses, and more.
Through the Best Lens
When it comes to glasses, the little things make a big difference. Don’t settle for good enough. Your eyes are your windows to the world. Protect them and assist them in seeing everything mountain biking has to offer. I know you see amazing things out on the trails, make sure you see them through the best lens.
Bloom, Levi. “How to Select The Proper Sunglass Lens Color for Your Riding
Conditions.” CoachLevi.com, 5 Nov. 2017, coachlevi.com/cycling/sunglass-lens-color-selection-guide/.
White, John. “The Importance Of Visible Light Transmission.” World Expert on Aviator Sunglasses & Shooting Glasses, 21 Oct. 2016, aviator-sunglasses.net/knowledge-center/what-is-visible-light-transmission/).
***“How to Chose Sunglasses: REI Expert Advice.” REI, www.rei.com/lear/expert-advice/sunglasses.com