You could wear any old pair of glasses to ride in, but more likely than not they'll fog up, get spattered with sweat, pinch uncomfortably beneath your helmet, and, when it's all through, your eyes will likely sting anyway. I'm ambivalent about how expensive sunglasses have gotten (all cycling gear for that matter), but the truth is that a good pair of shades is pretty important if you spend much time on the bike. I've been testing a stack of new ones for the past month. Here are my favorite four.
Assos Zegho ($470)
Let's deal with the elephant in the room first: Yes, these glasses cost almost as much as a bike we recently reviewed. If you're buying that bike, the Zeghos aren't for you. If you have no fashion sense, they're not for you either, because the enormous, rimless design is both a touch feminine and very ostentatious. Those caveats aside, these are possibly the finest cycling shades made. They're carefully shaped to provide ample coverage but still sit far enough from your face so as not to get soiled when you sweat. They're so large that you don't even see the tops or bottoms of the lens when you're riding. The rubbery temples are designed to press gently on the sides of your head (not sit on your ears) without moving, and they definitely stay put. Thanks to the gradient lens, which goes from dark to light about two-thirds of the way down, you no longer have to worry about quick transitions to dark or shade—you simply look down through the clear. And the polyamide optics, designed by Carl Zeiss, are camera quality, with zero optical distortion.
BOTTOM LINE: Impressive? Absolutely. Worth the coin? That's a personal choice. Note: Roadies only—the last thing you want is a gash from an errant tree or OTB tumble on these swish lenses.
Spy Optics Screw ($150)
All the Spy's I've had in recent years have been more oriented to SoCal than speed, but as you might remember from their Matthew Busche ad during the Tour of California, the company is getting back to performance. I generally hate RoboCop-style glasses like these—shouldn't glasses look reasonable enough to wear off the bike in a pinch?—but somehow these blocky, shield-style sunglasses manage to be techy but not totally goofball. Part of the tech is in the lens vents, which let hot air out and blast it away with fresh airflow through the channels on the temples. The impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses never fogged, though the close fit did make for some sweat splash. The bronze with blue spectra lenses I tried were best in bright midday sun, and the lense change system—just slide 'em out—didn't cause major headaches or stress like other designs.
BOTTOM LINE: These are good value ($20 each for extra lenses) and hard-working technical shades for road or trail, though I still wouldn't wear them to the café.
Uvex SGL 202 Vario ($160)
These are probably my favorite new riding glasses because of their smart combination of solid perfomance, incredibly light weight, and reasonably good looks. Not to put too fine a point on it, but these glasses are so light (23 grams) that you literally do not feel them on your face. The brown Variomatic polycarbonate lens adjust to light automatically so they can be plenty dark for midday use but then lighten up enough to wear at dawn or dusk. The shift is quick, too, a few seconds, so that you're not left in the dark when you ride into the shade or totally blinded when you ride out. Uvex makes a big deal about the easy-to-clean coating on the outside, which sounded like a bit of bunk to me, but I have to admit that mud and spray wiped off without the typical smearing or smudging.
BOTTOM LINE: Highly versatile glasses that pack a lot of performance into a less technical-looking package. A great choice for mountain biking. One suggestion: perhaps the engineers shouldn't be in charge of naming duties.
Prior to getting the Hypermasks, it had been some time since I'd worn a truly high-quality shade on the bike and I was first and foremost struck by how sharp and clear these polycarbonate lenses were. The Racing Red variety that came on my glasses were great for the brightest New Mexico days and provided optical clarity second only to the Zeghos. For those worried about safety, the ImpactX lens material is the same stuff used in the windshields of Apache helicopters, so you needn't worry about shattering. The Hypermasks are also quite light (27 grams), and thanks to a best-in-the-bunch adjustable nosepiece they sat comfortably and receded on my head. The rubberized gripper earpieces kept things in place, though I did have a bit of trouble getting them situated comfortably with a couple of helmets. And the removeable brow interface is intended to help vent the lenses and prevent fogging, which worked great but put the lenses a bit farther from my face than I'm accustomed to.
BOTTOM LINE: A great, high-performance shield for road riders with top-notch optics. Too bad they're not $50 cheaper.