We recently showed you the best gloves for winter riding now it’s the turn of the glasses. There’s no such thing as special winter biking glasses so what can you do to protect your eyes from the cold air and muck? Here are the surprising results from our group test of six models.
“Plop!” –- a big lump of muck lands in the middle of my face. My reflexes take over; I shut my eyes tightly and rapidly blink in a desperate attempt to get a clear view. The others are in the same boat: everyone is riding with squinting eyes as the mud sprays everywhere, our glasses are either stowed in backpacks or left at home.
Winter is a crux: without glasses the annoying cold wind makes your eyes run and with them the constant fogging interrupts forward progress. Stopping to clear filthy glasses every few minutes risks scratching the lenses and who wants that? On the other hand getting the forest floor catapulted into your eyes isn’t much fun either. What to do?
Not wearing any glasses at all isn’t an option: every single grain of sand damages your eyes and this damage is irreparable. You’ll get the come back later in life when the many minute injuries cause irreversible diminishing of your vision. But it can end up much worse: even a small, unfortunately hanging branch at eye level could cost you your eyesight. We protect our bodies without questioning with helmets and protectors and the same rules should apply to your eyes. So fogged up glasses are no longer an excuse, the risks are too high.
But how can you get the annoying fog under control?
Manufacturers like to advertise their (expensive) lenses, which don’t suffer from fogging. Is a clear view just a question of price? The optician ruins the illusion: such wonder glasses are mostly marketing; the tendency of glasses to fog up isn’t an objective criterion. Special coatings help in the fight but the most important factor is that the glasses fit their wearer. The warm air between your eyes and the lenses needs to be able to escape in order that it doesn’t turn to steam and then sticks to the inside of the lenses. But too much cold wind shouldn’t reach your eyes. Every face is different and this makes an objective comparison of individual glasses fog resistance difficult.
So if you’re looking for new glasses try out different models and choose based on the best fit. Mountainbike glasses should align with your forehead whilst your line of vision should be through the upper third of the lens. The lenses should sit around 4mm away from both the forehead and the cheeks in order to allow air circulation. Compared to everyday glasses the frames should be wider.
There should be around 5mm distance between your cheekbones and the temples (arms). Our tip: try out different models from your riding friends or go to an optician (ideally a sport-optician) in order to see which models best fit the shape of your face. The work is well worth it – after all it’s about protecting your eyes!
With this in mind there’s a big choice of models and makes which you need to choose from.
Along with a good fit mountainbike glasses need to fulfil two criteria above all things – firstly they need to be shock proof and impact resistant so that they don’t injure the wearer in a crash. Secondly they need to high quality optics to deliver an accurate view of the trail ahead. These two attributes are difficult to combine and the better they are achieved the more expensive the lenses become. For us the additional factors of a comfortable fit and price are decisive criteria for choosing suitable biking glasses.
Adidas and Oakley are considered the benchmark amongst opticians when considering impact resistance and optical accuracy. But this comes at a price and most models cost above € 200. Our test group has therefore been widened to include four other cheaper models from the competition. In choosing lenses we went with the manufacturer’s recommendations: but the request for the best glasses for wet, gloomy winter riding yielded different choices. Oakley, Uvex and Alpina recommended their photochromic i.e. self-tone-adjusting. Adidas, NIKE and Swiss Eye submitted models with interchangeable lenses.
All six models were tested on the same route below zero degrees including muddy holes, climbs and descents. Here are the results:
Oakley: Flak Jacket XLJ – Test winner
€ 199 | available sizes: normal and XLJ (same frame size, bigger lenses) | Lenses: photochromic | Replacement lenses: 20 different replacement lenses from € 60 | Weight: 24g
Putting on the Oakley Flak Jacket XLJ results in a small wonder: reality looks clearer through the Flak Jacket lenses than without them. Like someone pressed a “HD” button, trail irregularities suddenly look pin-sharp.
The photochromic lenses are extremely sensitive and even during dusk they allow enough light to reach your eyes. In dark conditions they are as good as completely clear. The light frames go almost unnoticed on your nose and ears and you almost forget you’re wearing glasses. The only downside: the lens shape is quite shallow and they allow more cold air to reach your eyes than other models. For especially sensitive eyes (in our case for one tester who uses contact lenses) this is a deal maker. Everyone else who tried the € 199 glasses was equally impressed.
Adidas: Evil Eye Halfrim
€ 169 for the base model with tinted lenses. Additional clear lenses for
€ 50 | available sizes: XS, S, L | Included lenses as standard: depending on price different combinations and sets |
The Evil Eye also impresses with distortion free view although the experience isn’t quite as overwhelming as with the Oakley’s. The shape is especially well executed for use in mucky conditions: the lenses are heavily formed and cover a large area around your eyes. With the adjustable nosepiece, arm angle and three overall sizes the Evil Eye glasses are the most customisable in the group test and we couldn’t find a single face, which they wouldn’t fit. The Evil Eye can be fitted with over 20 different replacement lenses with varying tones. They can make quite a difference optically e.g. the mirror lenses and allow adjustment to every light situation. But even though switching lenses becomes quite quick after a few practices the high quality photo chromatic option is a little bit less complicated in use.
Uvex: Sportstyle 700 vario
€ 129.95 | Sizes: one size | Lenses: photochromic | Replacement lenses: no | Weight: 30g
The frames of the sportstyle 700 are quite chunky which is reflected in the noticeably higher overall weight. This in turn makes them less comfortable to wear than the competition. The advantage of the fully framed lenses is the increased strength in case of a crash. Our testers were always aware of a black block in the lower field of view, which was difficult to get used to. But don’t forget: try them yourself! For other shaped faces the full frame lens concept might work perfectly. But the automatic tone adjustment on this model didn’t win us over; even in moderate light the lenses were too dark. So for our use during the winter this model isn’t recommended.
Alpina: Eye-5 VL+
€ 109.95 € | Sizes: one size | Lenses: Varioflex+fogstop | Replacement lenses: no | Weight: 28g
The Eye-5 VL also uses fully framed lenses and thus offers ideal protection of both glasses and wearer in a crash. Just like with the Uvex we were always aware of the frames in our field of vision although it was less noticeable. The frame of the Eye-5 is slim, filigree and thus very pleasant to wear. The photochromic adjustment works suitably even though it can’t quite match that of the test winner. If you can live without this feature the Eye-5 VL version offers a cheaper alternative. The fogstop-coating didn’t offer a measurable difference during our testing. Fogging occurred just like with every other model as soon as air circulation was interrupted.
Swiss Eye: Novena – Best Value
€ 89.90 € | Sizes: one size (Model Novena S for narrow faces) | Included lenses as standard: clear, orange, tinted | Replacement lenses: can be ordered from an optician (price depends on the colour). | Weight: 27g
You can feel straight away that the Novena is the cheapest model in the group test: the plastic frames feel cheaper than those of the competition. But that’s about it with criticism: as soon as the glasses are sat on your nose they impress with a well-covered field of view and unnoticeable fit. The lenses deliver a sharp view, which is equal in every way to that of the other cheaper models. Three lenses are included and they can be quickly swapped with two easy “clicks.”
The red tinted lens gave the impression that the Novena would also deliver good performance in the summer. As the cheaper photochromic lenses couldn’t fully satisfy the testers we would recommend those on a budget choose a model with interchangeable lenses – the Novena is thus our best buy.
NIKE: Show X-1
€ 169.90 | Sizes: one size (model Show X-1 Pro with narrow cut lenses) | Included lenses as standard: orange, tinted | Replacement lenses: 8 additional lenses available € 36 – € 50 | Weight: 32g
The Show X-1 is the outsider that sneaked into the test group – it isn’t actually a bike-specific model. The manufacturer reassures that its impact resistance is sufficient for this use and so we’ve discovered another excellent pair of glasses for winter use. The lenses are wide and sweep back offering the eyes optimum protection. The only disadvantage: the arms are bent down behind your ears and so not really designed to be combined with a helmet unlike the straight arms of most biking glasses. This means the Show X-1 can’t easily be pushed back behind your ears if you are already wearing a helmet – but this is a minimal problem. The clean black looks as well as the great function were what we liked most.
In comparing these glasses one thing became clear: there’s no such thing as glasses, which don’t fog up on hard climbs. Unfortunately the rules of physics dictate that a meeting of cool air and warm air creates steam. For trail performance a good fit proved to be essential, only so can the air freely circulate and give the rider a clear view of the trail. Glasses, which sit flush to your cheeks, fog quicker. Sometimes a quick lifting of the glasses resolves the problem. If the glasses don’t fit well the most expensive coatings can’t help prevent fogging. Therefore: try as many models as possible before purchasing! The search will be worthwhile as even if the most expensive glasses occasionally need defogging they still protect your eyes. For this purpose we liked the € 199 Oakley Flak Jacket XLJ best of all. Its pin sharp optics and unrivalled fit secured the test win. The best buy goes to the € 89.90 Swiss Eye Novena supplied with three easy to swap lenses.
Text: Hannah Röther Photos: Hanno Polomsky