Like strapping on a helmet to hit the trail, most experienced riders won’t leave the house without eye protection. A small projectile from the front tire could change life significantly, and it’s always worth mounting a layer of plastic over those valuable organs.
We collected an armload of clear cycling glasses over the winter to test in low light and night riding situations, and these are the models that made the cut. All of them can also be used as sunglasses, but our interest here is on how well they protect eyeballs without blocking precious twilight rays or headlamp glow.
Some of these frames hold photochromic lenses that shift between shaded and clear, so we’ll note how quickly they do so, while others come with fully-transparent lenses for after-hours riding. We will also focus on coverage, airflow, clarity, and frame-fit adjustability for each pair.
100% Glendale Sunglasses
We like to joke about glasses being like windshields, and the Glendale from 100% will definitely catch some insects with their massive lens. The lens is large enough that it has a pair of mesh vents at the base that you can connect a heater to in the winter. Ok, maybe not, but this is quite the goggle-mimicking piece of eye protection.
With that large protective lens comes the need to keep moving when it’s cold out, as these will eventually fog up at slow speeds. The brand claims that their lenses offer “5-base cylindrical shield lens for increased peripheral view and protection” and there’s no doubt that this is one of the clearest lenses with the most protection I’ve tested. A lot of clear lenses disappear at night to let in maximum light, but this one is so ample that you can hardly see the frame while in an aggressive riding position. Swapping between shaded and clear lenses is easier with this frame than any of the others I tested.
The Glendale frame is reportedly shatter proof, with a solid build that should hold up longer than some others. Rubberized nose and ear grippers hold the lens in place well, and the temples are easily adjustable to fit your particular head shape.
The Glendale retail for $185 with a tinted and clear lens, and they weigh 41g with just one of those massive shields.
Julbo Fury and Rush Reactiv Lens MTB Glasses
Julbo has climbed to a prominent spot in mountain bike racing, with loads of sponsored athletes shielding their eyes in these lenses. Their Fury model seems to be one of the most popular, and the pair is touted as “glasses for speed.” The Rush is also quite popular, and since the main distinction between the two is 13 grams, I will review them together.
They are the fastest reacting photochromic lens I tested, shifting well with the light as it fades. Once the ambient light bows to night the lens disappears, allowing clear and sharp vision to poke through. They don’t transition as you ride quickly between shade and sun on the trail, and no transition lens truly does that, but they seem to react faster than some. The lens does transition to zero-tint, making these a fantastic option for night riding.
Fury frames offer maximum air flow between the lens and frame to keep them from fogging, though both pairs do a good job of of remaining clear as long as you keep moving forward a little. The lens wraps close to the face, keeping your eye sockets well protected and blocking most of the gusts from coming in. I wear contact lenses to ride, and the amount of direct air that gets past a lens determines whether they dry out on the ride or not. Dry contact lenses hurt, and typically have to be removed, and I haven’t experienced this issue while wearing either of these pairs of glasses.
The Rush frame temples are slightly longer, though both pairs fit my massive dome with its 61cm circumference. The Fury are slightly more comfortable, as the frame portion that touches your ear is made of a flexible rubber that grips your ear skin like a tiny rubber hammock. The shield height can be adjusted with the nose bridge as usual, and there are also Asian fit versions available.
Though the photos appear otherwise, I promise that these lenses transition to fully clear. I didn’t want to photograph them in the dark. I turn twenty for the second time this year, and my eyes are begging for more light on the trails these days. The Julbo Reactive lens lets in as much as a fully-transparent shield.
Of these two, I would definitely choose the Fury. While 13g isn’t much, it’s nice to have all the same functional benefits with less weight. Fury glasses weigh 24g and cost $219.95/€190 with the Reactive lens, while the Rush are 37g and retail for $229/€210 with the same lens.
- Julbo Fury ($219.95 MSRP) available at Backcountry and other online retailers
- Julbo Rush ($229 MSRP) available at Competitive Cyclist and other online retailers
Melon Optics Alleycat Clear Sunglasses
I reviewed the Alleycat glasses from Melon Optics a while back and included them here because they remain my favorite riding shield for day or night riding. I won’t belabor the finer points here, since that info is already written.
This broad transparent shield is clear like a raindrop, and the minimalist frame disappears while riding. They stay mostly fogless despite having a larger lens that wraps close to the cheekbones.
The temples are relatively rigid, making true adjustment a little difficult unless you want to heat them up. However, they fit tight enough against the head that you can always just raise one side to make up for that low ear.
Additionally, you get to pick all the colors! The Alleycat glasses weight 30g and retail for $150/€135 with this and a shaded lens.
- Price: $150
- Available from Melon Optics
Oakley Jawbreaker Photochromic MTB Glasses
Like the Alleycats, we do have an in-depth review of the Oakley Jawbreaker available, so there’s no need to redo that work. What we don’t have is a review of this more recent photochromic lens for the popular frame.
This lens is so clear and precise that It almost feels like my contact-lens prescription is enhanced in these. I don’t love the cyborg look of the frames, but with the level of optics these produce it’s hard to care about their appearance. They shift to fully clear at night, and undoubtedly work well as low-light eye protection.
Though the frames feel a little chunky in the hand they are in fact nice and lightweight, with plenty of curve to keep your peepers safe. I have managed to fog these up on colder rides, but the lens vents do a good job of clearing things once the speed picks up.
The lower frame comes quite close to my face, and folks with larger cheek bones might want to try a different shape. These and other Oakley models are also available in Asian fit.
Oakley offers the photochromic lens in several different frames, ranging from $123 to $246. The Jawbreaker version weighs 34g.
Rudy Project Cutline Photochromic Cycling Glasses
Another pair of glasses we’ve already reviewed that needed to be on the low-light list is the Cutline from Rudy Project. Despite its similar looks, the Cutline windshield is both taller and slightly wider than that of the Jawbreaker, providing even better coverage. The temples and nose piece are widely adjustable, and the lower frame bumpers can be swapped out for a different color or removed entirely to lower the pair’s 38g total weight.
The photochromic quality of the lens is similar to that of the Oakley and Julbo pairs above, clearing consistently as the ambient light fades. This broad lens does go fully clear, allowing maximum night-ride vision while keeping the rocks out of your eyeballs. The lens wraps relatively close to the face, and like the models above, it stay clear of fog as long as you remain in motion. Between the sweat and cold temperatures at night, all of these glasses will eventually fog, and the Cutline do an impressive job of staying clear despite their large coverage area and close proximity to sweat glands.
I wore these glasses on some of the only dusty rides this winter, and I woke up with plenty of the trail in the corners of my eyes. That’s not to say they don’t block debris as well as the others, but when there are clouds billowing from your friend’s rear wheel goggles are usually the better option.
These glasses use a quick release system to remove the temples, in place of the usual clips. If you’re really into color matching and mixing up frames you could buy two pair of these and leave one with clear lenses for night riding while mixing and matching the frame hues.
In addition to this transition lens the Cutline can be had with different shades of low-light coloration and tint.
Shimano Technium Clear MTB Glasses
Technical schmecnical, looks can come first. With the tinted or clear lens, the Technium glasses from Shimano look like they should be worn behind the wheels of a 1980’s Ford Bronco that’s on the way to a fortnight of camping deep in the forest. They are performance glasses, right on the cusp of fashion shades, and they don’t leave you looking like the cast of The Matrix at the post-ride barbeque.
The frame comes with a tinted and clear lens that can be swapped quickly, and the tinted version is definitely too dark for twilight riding. Each lens is about the same height as the Jaw Breaker, providing very similar coverage. It’s also vented similarly, and doesn’t fog any faster than the rest. The clear lens does have some slight blur in the peripheral, which might even help riders focus ahead. Those same edges are relatively clear when you look from side to side.
Frame temples on these glasses are made of soft rubber that’s flexible and can be adjusted to fit uneven ear heights. At 29g, these glasses feel nice and light, partially due to the low number of pieces holding them together. Like any classic shades, they are just a frame, temples, nose piece, and a lens, where some of these other pairs have bumpers and bits all over the place that can be changed — and lost.
The Technium shades can be found in a variety of colors, retailing for around €61. Available from Shimano dealers.
Smith Wildcat Clear MTB Sunglasses
When looking for durable, comfortable and great quality frames, the Smith Wildcats check all the boxes and more. It is no doubt that Smith has been at the top of the eyewear game for a long time, and they have plenty of sunglasses and goggles to fit all kinds of active lifestyles.
The Smith Wildcats are an excellent choice of frames for low-light and nighttime eye protection, as they include 2 interchangeable lenses: clear and tinted. This means you’re pretty much set for day and night eyewear protection.
These frames have a great overall fit. The flexible ear arms make them very comfortable to wear on short or long rides. The wide lens provides full coverage, and the fact that the frame sits a bit away from the face helps provide good airflow to prevent fogging.
The Wildcats stay in place even when things start to get sweaty and bumpy, thanks to the non-slip rubberized nose bridge, which is also adjustable. Having less than 20/20 vision, I wear contact lenses, so keeping my eyes from drying out is essential. I appreciate how well the Wildcats block the wind and dust. The 5-base cylindrical lenses provide a wide field of vision free of glare or distortion.
The Smith Wildcats are a bit on the pricier side at $209.00 – $229.00USD, but getting both the clear and tinted lenses makes it worth it. The Wildcats are a comfortable and lightweight option that offer great visibility that will keep your eyes protected in any low-light or nighttime adventures.
Frame Colors Available: Matte Black, White, Black Cinder, Get Wild (tested & pictured), Matte Iron, and Matte White.
Lens Colors Available: ChromaPop Black, Photochromic Clear to Gray, ChromaPop Red Mirror, and ChromaPop Ignitor.
The Tifosi Sledge features an interchangeable lens system, and in addition to the mirrored and tinted lenses that come in the box, there’s also a clear lens included. Honestly I tend to overlook clear lenses but decided to give these a shot to see how useful they are on the trail.
My first few test rides took place at night, and honestly I assumed I would take them off early in the first ride due to glare from others’ lights, or fogging, or just general annoyance. I ended up keeping the Sledges on the whole night, and on the next night ride too. The vented lens provides the right amount of airflow to reduce fogging, even in cool weather, and a lens feature Tifosi calls “Glare Guard” does exactly that. These glasses offer wide coverage, keeping the frame mostly out of view, so much so that I forgot I had them on most nights. Paired with a face mask, the lenses will definitely fog, but with a little airflow these tend to clear better than many I’ve tested over the years.
Here in the southeast our trails are more often shaded than sunny, and on cloudy days there really isn’t a reason to wear shades. I found myself grabbing the Sledges with clear lenses for daylight rides too for protection against branches and dust along the trail.
At 39g, the Tifosi Sledge glasses may not be the lightest in our test group, but they are among the most affordable priced at $69.96-79.95. There’s also a new model, the Sledge Lite, that drops a few grams and features a rimless design for the same price.