Motorcycle Sunglasses Review & Buyer's Guide
Motorcycle sunglasses affect both comfort and safety, but many riders wear glasses that match their riding attire better than their riding environment. This should be expected since it is almost impossible to find objective information about selecting motorcycle glasses. This guide is our attempt to remedy that problem. As an avid motorcyclist and the owner of ADS Sports Eyewear I get to road test every major brand of motorcycle glasses on the market. As an optician I know what’s needed to improve contrast and protect eyesight. The following guide presents two fundamental steps to follow when selecting motorcycle eyewear. At the end of this guide I also give my opinions about the Best & Worst products from the top four manufacturers, and let you know how they compare to each other.
Step 1: Choose glasses that fit the type of riding you will be doing.
Longer rides or rides at higher speeds require motorcycle glasses that prevent wind from swirling around behind the lens and drying out your eyes. If you’re usually riding between stop lights you will want eyewear that allows more air circulation to minimize fogging and perspiration around the eyes.
Wiley X and Panoptx 7 Eye each offer several glasses with a foam eyecup that protects the eye from swirling winds. Both manufacturers also feature a venting system that manages the amount of air that comes through air vents on top and escapes out the bottom or on the sides. While too much circulating air will dry out your eyes, too little circulation will suffocate them. Either condition will reduce the amount of time you can ride comfortably. Many of the knock-off versions of these glasses are not designed to effectively balance these airflow requirements.
|This close-up shows the soft rubber eye seal on top and the hinge bolt in the lower right corner.|
Oakley Sunglasses aggressively entered the motorcycle market with a totally different approach to this high-speed eyewear. Then they suddenly stopped making it. We don't have many of these left, so if you look for this and the option is gone you can assume we ran out. Oakley modified the Split Jacket to hold a very soft rubber-like eye seal that is very comfortable. The result is called the Oakley Wind Jacket. The lenses are very easy to swap out because the frame opens up just like the Split Jacket. Riders who will be out past dark can carry an extra set of lenses instead of an additional pair of riding glasses. This is a huge advantage for riders who require prescription motorcycle sunglasses. The wind seal in the Wind Jacket is removable, so just like the Panoptx 7Eye or Wiley-X glasses these can be worn like regular sunglasses when you’re not on the bike. The only downside to this new creation is price. All this comfort and versatility is about twice the price of some other options.
See the bottom of this page for more on the Oakley Wind Jacket.
Be extremely cautious about wearing eyewear on a motorcycle that is not designed specifically for speed. Choose a frame that adequately wraps around the side of your eye. Smaller frames will direct the burble of air created by the lens right into your eye. While this might keep the bigger bugs from directly impacting your eye, it will provide little protection from wind and dust. The frame should also be built to withstand impact. An unbreakable lens has little value if it is mounted in a frame that could disintegrate right in front of your eyes.
Step 2: Choose a lens that fits your needs.
There are an infinite number of good lens choices available to motorcyclists, and an equal number of bad choices. The importance of making the right choice cannot be overstated. The correct lens choice should reduce eyestrain, improve contrast, and quicken reaction time. Most importantly it must protect your eyes. Lenses that are NOT a good choice for motorcycling include plastic (often called CR-39), high index lenses, and of course glass lenses. At 60 MPH a June bug will go right through all of these lens materials.
Polarized lenses will allow you to see through the glare on a car windshield or a wet road. It will also show stresses in a windshield, so if the back windshield has heating elements to clear fog you might see a big checkerboard through polarized lenses.
Factors to consider when selecting a lens include: lens material; polarized or not; photochromic or not; and lens color. Regardless of what you choose, there will be lots of pros and cons. Here we try to present the pluses and minuses associated with each alternative.
Lens material choices should be limited to polycarbonate, Trivex, or SR-91. Any other material could shatter if struck by a rock or a bug at highway speeds. If you wear regular street eyewear on a motorcycle it’s just a matter of time before Darwinism takes you out of the gene pool. You can see a video of these lens materials being tested on our Tactical Eyewear Buyers Guide.
If you’re purchasing prescription motorcycle glasses and someone offers to sell you a UV lens treatment, you can assume this person is either inexperienced or unethical. The three lens materials listed above block UV rays naturally. No additional coating is required. Any lens that requires a UV lens treatment is breakable and should not be used in motorcycle eyewear.
"Polycarbonate, Trivex and SR-91 lenses all block UV rays naturally. No additional coating is required.
Any lens that requires a UV coating is breakable and should not be used in motorcycle eyewear."
We use polycarbonate lenses in about 80% of our prescription motorcycle glasses. Trivex is gaining a bigger portion of this market as more people find out about it. The new SR-91 polarized prescription lenses are now available for most of our motorcycle frames. SR-91 is about 50% more expensive than polycarbonate, but the optics are phenomenal. (Somehow the SR-91 Progressive lens is proportionally more competitive than the single vision SR-91.) The SR-91 Copper-12 lens is very compatible with motorcycling. All SR-91 lenses are polarized, none are photochromic.
Polarized lenses are the most effective way to cut glare and get a clean, crisp view of the road. Polarization is not a lens coating. It is a series of crystals sandwiched inside the lens that blocks scattered light from reaching your eye. Sources of glare could be windshields, wet roads, buildings, or directly from the sun. Reasons not to get polarized lenses include: older LED instrumentation is harder to see through a polarized lens; vision could be distorted if polarized lenses are worn under some full-faced helmets; and polarized lenses are more expensive than traditional lenses. If you do not have older LED instrumentation or a full-faced helmet, we highly recommend polarized lenses for motorcycling.
What Most People Do:
>80% Black Frames
We've done lots of testing and published several articles about wearing polarized lenses while motorcycling. This article titled Polarized Sunglasses Tested for Shortcomings has some of these results. This was done in response to the old-school belief that polarized lenses should not be worn on a motorcycle because it would be harder to see puddles in the road without glare reflecting off the water. Our findings proved this theory to be blatantly false. Glare does not help you see anything. Polarized lenses allow you to see through the glare on top of the water so you can see hazards in a puddle. In summary, if you need glare to Differentiate pavement from a puddle you are a candidate for prescription motorcycle glasses.
Photochromic lenses are becoming very popular with people who want one pair of motorcycle glasses for both day and night riding. This is especially true of prescription lens wearers. The biggest downside of photochromic (or Transitions®) lenses is that polycarbonate lens material does not get quite as dark as the more breakable photochromic lenses (like glass or CR-39 plastic). For people who are more sensitive to bright light, or people who prefer a dark sunglass lens, these may not get dark enough to be comfortable.
Lens color is almost as important as polarization when trying to maximize clarity and contrast. For most people, shades of copper provide the best contrast, and copper will always sharpen colors like reds and greens. Grey lenses are best for maintaining true color. In low light conditions like dusk, dawn, or rainy days a yellow or light rust lens color can cut glare and improve contrast. But if your only source of light is your motorcycle headlight a slight tint will not improve contrast. It will just reduce the little bit of light you have to work with.
What Most People Do:
Our customers are generally motorcycle enthusiasts or prescription lenses wearers. (or both) Motorcyclists, runners, bicyclists, or prescription lens wearers constitute a large part of our customer base . So our statistics may not be identical to the industry as a whole. But this is what we sell to motorcyclists:
Over 80% of motorcyclists order eyewear with black frames. About 60% order polarized lenses. About 15% of lenses are photochromic, and over 65% of lenses are some form of grey. (This includes photochromic grey, polarized grey, and tinted grey lenses.)
The most popular frames that we sell motorcyclists are the Wiley-X Brick, Oakley Wind Jacket, Panoptx 7Eye Bora, Wiley-X AirRage, Wiley-X Jake, and the Panoptx 7Eye Churada. (Churada is best for smaller faces.) Our most popular woman's motorcycle sunglasses are the Panoptx 7Eye Briza. Most motorcyclists with very high prescriptions prefer the Liberty Escapade or Liberty Rider. See these products and more motorcycle sunglasses recommendations on the right.
Oakley just released a very impressive model called the Oakley Wind Jacket that is everything motorcyclists have been asking for. This features a removable eye seal AND Interchangeable lenses. The frame style is very much like the Oakley Split Jacket. (The lenses are actually interchangeable between these two models.) Even Prescription Wind Jacket lenses are easily interchangeable. Until we received this Wind Jacket the best option for motorcyclists who wanted interchangeable lenses was the Wiley-X SG-1. The SG-1 lenses are interchangeable, but each lens is mounted in its own padded gasket. So the glasses cannot be worn without the padding. Other models with interchangeable lenses did not have and wind barrier, and only non-prescription lenses were really interchangeable.
When the rubber eye seal is removed from this Wind Jacket it fits and looks exactly like the Split Jacket. This wind seal is not like anything we have seen before. It’s rubber, not foam like the Panoptx or Wiley-X eye seals. The rubber is lighter and softer than we expected, and it seems to breathe enough where it does not cause skin to perspire where it touches your face. At first glance we thought the construction of this Oakley eye seal was not quite as durable as the Panoptx or Wiley-X foam eye seals. But so far, no one has ordered a replacement eye seal from us. So the jury is still out.
The Best and Worst of each manufacturer:
What are the best and worst qualities of each manufacturer? How do the world’s best motorcycle eyewear manufacturers compare to each other? Here’s what we think.
|The Panoptx 7Eye Diablo features a removable foam eye seal and a temple that can be adjusted longer or shorter.|
The best of Panoptx includes the glasses in their CV Series, also called SR100 Velocity Series. These glasses all have a padded eyecup with the deepest, most comfortable foam eye seal on the market. This eye seal is removable in all the CV Series glasses, so you can wear the goggles as sunglasses when you get to your destination or when traveling at slower speeds. Their frames are very well constructed and are an excellent choice for riders who want prescription lenses. Some of the frames in the CV Series have an adjustable temple length. Panoptx also features a great Polarized Copper lens. The Panoptx Diablo has the most universal fit, and is their best seller. The Briza is Panoptx best seller with women riders, but it looks great on a few men as well.
Panoptx limitations are fairly predictable. The thick foam eyecup is comfortable, but sometimes interferes with peripheral vision. When you are not riding the foam can make your eye sockets feel hot and sweaty. Pulling the glasses slightly away from your face and letting a little air circulate behind the lens can usually fix this. The well-constructed frame lacks flexibility and can be less comfortable under a helmet. Panoptx tells us that glasses in the SR-75 Speed Series will block about 75% as much wind and dust as glasses in the CV Series. The SR-75 glasses cost about 30% less, but you get more for your money with the higher quality CV Series glasses.
The best of Wiley-X is their newest line of motorcycle eyewear. The Wiley-X Jake, AirRage , and Brick are all hugely popular for glasses that
|Wiley X ArRage fits most smaller faces and comes with a snap-in retainer cord.|
are relatively new. All of these feature lightweight nylon frames and removable eye seals. The frames are lighter, thinner, and more flexible than other quality frames. They are very well made and they cost less than comparable motorcycle eyewear. The foam eye seals are a slightly lower profile than the Panoptx glasses, so peripheral vision is sometimes better. The Wiley-X SG-1 is a large frame that continues to be popular, and one of the only frames that allow interchangeable prescription lenses.
It's difficult to find things that we don't like about Wiley-X glasses. The worst of Wiley-X is probably the flimsy cases that come stock with all of their eyewear. But since we give away a leather hard case with most of the top selling Wiley-X glasses, this is a non-issue. Another minor issue is the way the removable eye seal attaches to the frame. These can sometimes fall out when the temples are pulled apart wider than your head.
This is a pretty easy choice. The Wind Jacket is the only motorcycle-specific model currently made by Oakley. We really like this model. It's comfortable, versatile and manages wind flow very effectively. For riding in town or between stop lights Oakley models like the Monster Dog,
Oakley Lens Colors
VR-28 Black Iridium Polarized
Gold Iridium Transitions
Darker Lens Colors:
OO Black Iridium Polarized
Black Iridium Polarized
Straight Jacket and Gas Can provide great wind protection. But at highway speeds without a helmet shield these may allow too much air to swirl around your eyes.
Oakley prescription lenses for these models are surprisingly cost effective. The Oakley lab is using the new Free-Form Digital lens design that provides amazingly crisp vision throughout the entire lens. We use a very similar design, and we are able to price these lenses very competitively. So you would expect Oakley lenses to be much more expensive. They're not.
The frame price is the only real downside to the Wind Jacket. The value is obvious, but for some people the price removes this model from the list of possibilities. For these people the Wiley-X Brick might be a better option.
Finding the right motorcycle eyewear will make riding safer and more enjoyable. It requires a little information, and a little time. We can give you the information. You have to get off your bike for a few minutes and make the time. If you have any questions, call us. We’re happy to help or offer suggestions.