Madison Eyewear Cipher Photochromatic Glasses review – bargain light sensing specs

Are the photochromatic lens equipped glasses as big a steal as they seem?

Close up of a man wearing Madison cycling sunglasses
(Image: © Rich Owen)

Bike Perfect Verdict

You get a lot for a very reasonable amount of money with the Cipher. The fit is comfortable and secure, and the lens clarity is great. Fogging is an issue and the lens tint is slow to fade once darkened – which isn't ideal when riding in trail conditions with mixed light.

Pros

  • +

    One of the cheapest photochromatic options around

  • +

    Light and comfortable to wear

  • +

    Excellent field of vision

  • +

    Takes seconds for the lens to darken

Cons

  • -

    Prone to fogging

  • -

    Takes minutes for the darkened lens to return to clear

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Madison Eyewear's Cipher Glasses come with a bargain price tag when fitted with standard lenses, but the price doubles for the photochromatic option I've been testing recently. That said, it's still one of the cheapest light-reactive mountain bike sunglasses around, so how did it fare on test?

The Cipher glasses seen from the front

Lens clarity is good, but the glasses tend to fog up above the nose piece (Image credit: Rich Owen)

Design and specifications

The Cipher has a large lens that measures 53mm deep and gives an almost completely unencumbered field of vision when combined with its TR-90 plastic half-frame. For comparison, the biggest lens on any other glasses we've tested appears on Madison's full-frame Crypto glasses which is 56mm deep. The lens itself is polycarbonate which meets the ISO 12312 standard for sports sunglasses and offers UV-A and UV-B protection.

While open at the bottom, a vent sits above each eye designed to guard against lens fogging. The flexible nose piece is covered with non-slip rubber, while the curved plastic arms have internal ribs to help keep the glasses in place.

Weighing the Cipher, they come in at 33g. Some fancier rivals are lighter, but it's still very respectable for a pair of riding spectacles with a large lens.

The lens is removable and interchangeable – Madison offers various lens-only options for the Cipher along with spare nose pieces. Included with the glasses is a hard and soft case.

Some Madison Cipher glasses on gravel

The curved, flat arms played nicely with a selection of different helmets (Image credit: Rich Owen)

Performance

The Cipher was a great fit for my face and felt totally comfortable throughout the months of testing, with zero pinching at the sides of my head even when wearing for long rides. They remained in place on even the most rattly of rides with no bouncing on the nose like some specs do in these situations. The deep lens gave excellent protection from mud and trail debris and I didn't have any issues with roost finding its way behind the lens. I also had no issues with the Cipher interfering with the selection of helmets I tried.

In bright conditions, the lens darkens within a few seconds. However, it takes much longer to start to clear when entering darker trails. This means for the first few minutes in the shade, I would struggle to read the trails properly and end up riding more slowly as a result. While this is more of a general issue with photochromatic lenses, the Cipher's lens is slower to clear than more expensive photochromatic options. The Madison lens is also slightly tinted even without being affected by sunlight.

Another issue the Cipher struggled with was fogging. The unvented section between the nose piece and the frame edge would mist up when I started sweating  – even when moving at a reasonable pace that increased airflow. It was more minimal when riding rapidly, but the fogged area would spread out when I slowed down or stopped. Working hard on warm days meant a lot of lens wiping.

Cipher glasses arm detail

A rubbed section inside the arms helps to keep the glasses in place (Image credit: Don NG)

Verdict

If you're after a comfortable pair of cycling glasses with a bargain price tag, then despite the fogging issues, Madison Eyewear's Cipher is worthy of consideration. While the photochromatic option is excellent value, it did cause problems on rides when I was coming in and out of shaded trails. I've not tried the standard lenses, but they would likely be a better option if that's the kind of riding you tend to do.

For riders who mostly pedal in the open and want a lens that will cover full sun to overcast conditions, the Cipher is a decent, wallet-friendly, photochromatic option.

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The lowdown: Madison Eyewear Cipher Photochromatic Glasses
AttributesNotesRating
LensGreat clarity but fogs up and tint is slow to clear★★
ComfortFeel light on the face and head★★★★
DurabilityRobust for half-frame glasses★★★
ValueA lot of features for the price★★★★

Tech specs: Madison Eyewear Cipher Glasses

  • Price: $TBC / £79.99 (photochromatic), from $54.00 / £39.99 (standard lens)
  • Frame colors: White, Black
  • Lens options: Photochromatic (tested), Black Mirror, Silver Mirror, Green Mirror, Pink Rose Mirror
  • Weight: 33g 
Rich Owen
Editor, BikePerfect

Rich Owen is the editor of the Bikeperfect.com team. He's worked as a journalist and editor for over 24 years, with 12 years specializing in cycling media. Rich bought his first mountain bike (a rigid Scott Tampico) in 1995 and has been riding MTB for almost 30 years.

Current rides: Merida One-Forty 6000, Banshee Paradox, YT Jeffsy Core 3, Saracen Ariel 30 Pro

Height: 175cm

Weight: 69kg