A bad pair of sunglasses can be an annoyance throughout a day of mountain biking, however, not wearing any at all can ruin a day out on the trails, but for an entirely different reason.
Beyond just looking good, sunglasses not only protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, but also flying trail debris, whether it be pebbles kicked up off your riding buddy’s rear tyre, or a sharp stick aiming to literally poke your eye out.
BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SUNGLASSES: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
With sunglasses, you get what you pay for. While safety glasses from the hardware store will get the job done, they will also fog, go flying off your face on a rough descent and the lenses scratch easily.
We will concede that most sunglasses probably carry too hefty a price tag, but there is a tangible difference in optical clarity, hydrophobic coatings, impact protection and the durability of hinges and lenses on a pair of genuine Oakleys, Smiths, or 100%s over the Foakleys, Miths and 80%s you find on Alibaba.
You might already have a set of sunnies for road riding, and they will work just fine out on the trail, but for serious mountain biking, there are a few additional factors to take into consideration.
When it comes to protecting your face from errant trail debris and stabby branches, the larger the lens, the better the coverage. However, too big, and not only will you look like the third member of Daft Punk, but your glasses will likely interfere with your helmet.
Ideally, you want shades that have some curvature to wrap around your face for a bit of side protection but also to prevent wind and light from sneaking around the edge and making your eyes water.
Leave your sunnies with glass lenses at the trailhead. We love a good set of Ray-Bans or other fashion-focused shades, however, if they have a glass lens, you're putting your eyesight in danger. At the risk of flogging a dead horse, the primary duty of eyewear on the trail is to protect your eyes, so when that pebble your roosty riding mate kicks up hits the plate glass sitting in front of your peepers at 60kph, what do you think is going to happen? Instead, look for sunnies with polycarbonate lenses or similar impact-rated material that won't shatter into your eye.
Having the right colour and tint lens is also going to make a huge difference in you seeing that slick root well before you ride over it. Lenses with amber or rose tints increase contrast and help your eyes pick out trail details. Photochromic lenses are also a good option, especially if your local trail network goes from wide-open meadows to thick tree canopy cover.
Many optical brands are offering colour filters on their lenses, like Oakley's Prizm and Smith's Chromapop. Each brand's system is slightly different, but they all use special dyes to filter individual colours to increase contrast and for better detail recognition and depth perception.
Also, look for some type of hydrophobic coating at the very least on the outside of the lens. When moisture and oil come into contact with your glasses, whether it be from a stream crossing or sunscreen infused sweat dripping out of your helmet, a lens with this coating will bead and run off instead of smearing and obstructing your vision.
It's also worth looking for a bit of venting in the lenses to prevent you from fogging up as you slog up a steep fire road.
The frame of your sunnies or lack thereof will largely determine their fit. Avoid metal-framed glasses as they are not designed to withstand any kind of impact, and in a crash they will create sharp edges around your eyeballs and face.
The majority of riding glasses are half-frame meaning the frame will connect to the lens on the top half, leaving the bottom edge exposed; though a new crop of riding sunnies like the Oakley Flight Jacket and Ryders Roam see the frame run along the bottom edge of the lens - there are also plenty of full-frame and frameless glasses too.
A good pair of glasses should only touch your nose and your head just behind the ears. You want to look for a rubber nose piece with a bit of adjustability built-in, and the ear stocks should have plenty of length, but shouldn’t be so long they interfere with the retention system on your helmet.
As these three points are what keep your glasses stuck to your face, in addition to the rubber nose piece look for grippers on the ear stocks, which should provide enough tension to hold the glasses on but not give you a headache.
THE BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SUNGLASSES IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE
1. Oakley Radar EV Advancer
A great option for humid rides
Lens type: Prizm | Frame type: Half frame | UV protection: Yes | Changeable lenses: Yes
The Oakley Radar has been one of the most popular cycling sunglasses both on- and off-road for some time. A few years back, Oakley launched the EV or extended vision version, and now they have adapted the no-fog, Advancer nose piece to the platform. With a vented lens, the Advancer nose piece can push the spectacles a few millimeters away from your face with the flip of a switch to improve airflow behind the lens.
For the latest iteration of the Radar, the EV Advancer features a new larger lens cut which extends coverage, and a more rounded lower edge to make it less likely to cut your face in a crash. The nosepiece and earstocks feature the brand's Unobtainium rubber which gets tackier as you sweat, and the glasses are available with Oakley's Rose Prizm Trail lens.
2. Smith Ruckus
The most hassle-free lens swapping system on the market
Lens type: Chromapop | Frame type: Frameless | UV protection: Yes | Changeable lenses: Yes
Adorning the faces of the Canadian Norco XC team, the Ruckus is the latest evolution of Smith's PivLock easy-change system. The lens is changed by rotating the arms 90-degrees and inserting the egg-shaped nub into the new lens and returning them by turning them back down. The arms no longer fit directly into the lens, now they go into a reinforced plastic mount on the edge of the lens, a welcome improvement as it was easy to scratch the lens with the previous system.
Smith's colour blocking technology is called Chromapop and filters two specific wavelengths of light (blue and green, and green and red) that cause colour confusion. The brand says this allows for improved definition, more natural colour, and unmatched clarity, allowing your eyes to pick up more detail.
The Ruckus comes with two lenses: a dark mirrored lens; and a Contrast Rose Flash lens.
3. SHRED Stomp
The best casual looking yet technical frame
Lens type: SHRED Contrast Boosting and Polarized | Frame type: Full frame | UV protection: Yes | Changeable lenses: No
Not everybody is looking for a set of 'go fast' sunglasses when they swing a leg over a mountain bike, and many are after a more casual look they can also wear for a beer afterwards. So far the best I have found that ticks this box are the SHRED Stomp sunnies.
SHRED and partner brand SlyTech were founded by US Olympic ski racer Ted 'Shred' Ligety. First making armour and goggles for ski racers, the brand has now expanded into mountain bike gear.
The Stomp sunnies get a liquid cast urethane lens finished with the brand's own version of a contrast-enhancing colour filter. While the frame looks pretty casual, they've still got rubber grippers on the nose and temple tips to keep them attached to your face down a rough descent.
4. 100% S2
The best sunglasses for changeable light conditions
Lens type: HYDROILO photochromic | Frame type: Half frame | UV protection: Yes | Changeable lenses: Yes
Over the past few years, 100% have gone from a company best known for their motocross gear to a cycling powerhouse with a sizable range of performance sunnies.
The S2s are half-frame shades disguised as full-frame glasses, with the bottom of the lens textured to mimic the look without the weight. It doesn't serve any technical function, but hey it looks cool, and the rounded lower profile may be less likely to cut your face should you go over the handlebars.
They are a tad smaller than 100%'s other sunnies to suit petite faces, but still feature the Ultra-grip nose pad and temple tips. While 100% offer a vast range of colours and lens tints, I like the photochromic lens. It's a filter category 1-3 meaning the light transmission can go from a dark 16% transmission all the way to a nearly clear 77%.
5. Bolle Shifter
Best for those who need prescription sunnies
Lens type: Phantom Vermillion Gun | Frame type: Full frame | UV protection: Yes | Changeable lenses: No
Bolle have done a cannonball into the hot tub time machine with the new Shifter sunglasses and I for one love the retro style. In fact, Bolle styled the Shifter after the iconic Chrono Shield model, however, even with its roots in the 1980s the Shifter is not devoid of modern technology.
The Vermilion Gun lens uses Bolle's Phantom NXT technology, which boasts both photochromic and contrast improving technology. The lens also gets an anti-fog treatment, which in combination with the vented lens can prevent you from getting misty even on slogging slow climbs. Even though the frame goes all the way around the lens, it's located well out of your line of sight, even in the riding position.