We are at a pivotal moment for cycling eyewear - this essential piece of kit, so focused and specific in its purpose, has been embraced by street fashion.
"About time," you might say - how has it taken this long to notice how cool cyclists look? And how amazingly capable their kit is. Take said shades - aside from the core purpose of helping you see better when it’s sunny, they must be be reasonably indestructible, protect the eyes from road-based projectiles and offer vision unencumbered by plastic bits.
Style, of course plays a large part but this is in part dictated by the practical nature of their purpose. But as technology progresses, style evolves, which is why there is no greater indicator of an era than the eyewear of the day.
Today's cycling eyewear is big - it draws more heavily than ever before on the visors from the likes of motocross and skiing that the key manufacturers established themselves in. But while oversized is good, weight is bad and developments in technology have created big shades that are light as a feather.
So how do you choose? To give you an idea we've been testing our favourite models from the three key players in cycling eyewear. To give you some real-life context we're scoring on aspects that have the potential to enhance or frustrate a ride.
Ride 100% S2
You can split Ride 100%'s trajectory into two distinct parts - pre and post-Sagan. This US company has been around for a good 30 years on the motocross and downhill mountainbiking scene but before they announced their partnership with the Slovak superhero in December 2016, the brand was almost unheard of in road cycling.
The story goes that Peter Sagan contacted them. He was looking for something that stood apart in the peloton and Ride 100% had come to his attention through his love of motocross. They signed a lifetime partnership deal and less than two years later, Ride 100% is known by pretty much everyone. Something we should be very grateful for.
Ride 100% have a heritage that overshadows that of Oakley and three decades of research and development in their products. The result in the case of 2018's S2 is a near-bombproof pair of shades that feels so secure on your face that you wonder if they've grown roots.
The silver mirror Hiper lens that came fitted to our test frames are good for a wide range of light conditions and are produced in Italy. There are some sweet touches, such as the filed edge along the bottom of the lens that helps to prevent the onset of corrosion from sweat, and the Hydroilo exterior surface coating for even more resistance to oil and water.
A great thing about the S2 is that they come with an additional clear lens for low-light or night riding, which does of course mean you have to change the lenses out. It's a simple process, but one best done with a steady hand, a clear head and a bit of care and teasing, at least on the first attempt. The frames are tougher than they look but you're not going to want to risk snapping that nose bridge. Also, make sure you have your lens wipe ready - they’ll look like a crime scene with all the finger prints.
The real pleasure of these sunglasses is in the wearing - because you won't even know that you are. The lenses are so huge and visor-like that your vision is totally unhindered in all directions and the nose and temple rubber so adept at comfortably sticking to your face that you'll forget that you ever put them on.
Which could present a bit of an issue if you're still wearing them in bed. Hopefully someone will have mentioned them by then.
Nose slippage: Zero
What is it about Poc that divides opinion so? This is a brand that puts the science into safety, that seems to conjure visions of a crash test dummy at the very mention of its name, while remaining inherently stylish and unmistakably Swedish. We haven't even touched on the retro sci-fi undertones.
Poc had a solid base in ski and snowboard hardwear before widening its remit to encompass all 'gravity sports' and therefore cycling. It has worked with the various incarnations of Jonathan Vaughters' Slipstream - most recently known as Team EF Education First - since 2014. The distinctive helmets and eyewear have become an integral part of the team's identity and established Poc as a serious player in road cycling.
Craves were added to the eyewear lineup in 2016 and while on first impressions they don't appear to be much different to previous incarnations such as the Do Blade, a couple of millimetres here and there and a minor tweak to the curve of the lens have updated the look. The interchangeable lenses are all Carl Zeiss and come in a bewildering array of tints for every conceivable weather condition. They are also treated to repel crap that might spit up from the road. Changing the lenses couldn't be easier - just pull the arms off and stick them on the new lens. It's so easy you'll think you'd done it wrong, which you could if you don't make sure you've seated the arms properly.
These were developed specifically to complement the Tectal MTB helmets but work just as seamlessly with a Ventral or an Octal (Poc's two main road helmets) or any other helmet for that matter.
On the face you get ample coverage and the curved lens serves to make sure of unhindered peripheral vision. Despite this, you are still aware of the frames, a fact that could even reassure you - they certainly don't get in the way.
While Poc could still be considered an acquired taste in certain circles, these Craves could be considered ahead of their time given the two years they have already been available. They offer an incredibly flattering silhouette and the easily interchangeable nature of the lenses provides year-round versatility. They do, however eventually slip down the nose after a while on a long ride although a quick push-back is usually sufficient to keep them in place for the remainder of the journey.
Nose slippage: Once
Oakley Flight Jacket
Oakley have almost become to cycling eyewear what Hoover were to vacuum cleaners, so ubiquitous are they on the faces of cyclists, pro and amateur alike. This shouldn't put you off - this is a cool brand with aeons of product development experience to draw from and a habit of pushing boundaries and testing sensibilities.
Which brings us to the 2018 Flight Jacket, which when it was released seemed to turn every known convention on its head, quite obviously. Comparisons were soon drawn to Dennis Taylor's upside-down snooker glasses and Flight Jackets were roundly laughed out of the room.
Until people realised that they make sense. When you're hacking it along on the drops, you're looking through the top of your sunglasses and the last thing you need is to be looking at a strip of plastic. Likewise when you're climbing and shunt your glasses down your nose to allow some ventilation. By removing the top bit and strengthening the rest you have a pair of sunglasses that is sturdy enough to deal with the rigours of road cycling without having your vision compromised.
Oakley also incorporated a little gimmick on the nose piece specifically for climbing that would lift the glasses away from the face at the flick of a nose-mounted switch, thus increasing airflow. We have yet to meet an owner of Flight Jackets who even knows this feature exists, let alone uses it.
On the road you get incredible clarity of vision from Oakley's trademark Prizm lenses, with a tint that bathes everything in a warm LA glow, and the frames have a reassuring solidity that tells you these shades will soak up any punishment your ride would care to throw at you. This is a fantastic feeling, especially when enhanced by the great fit. But this bombproof, rose-tinted state of bliss is slightly tainted by the regular movement of the glasses down the nose. It could, as another reviewer has suggested be the result of the bottom-loaded weight distribution of the frames or perhaps Oakley needs to address its nose rubber situation. Perfection is a mere nose-slip away.
Nose slippage: Multiple
You're not going to go wrong with any of these sunglasses - they are all more than capable of performing well beyond the limits any average cyclist might care to put them through. You're also not going to find a real weight advantage by picking one over the other, given that they all tip the scales in the region of 30g.
So that leaves you with personal choice and to a degree, comfort. The latter is again a very tight call, but if we were forced to choose out of any of them, the Ride 100% would marginally pip the post. They really are so comfortable that you forget you're wearing them and those enormous visor-like lenses just make anyone who slips them on feel as if they could be Peter Sagan for a couple of hours. And looking as cool as f*** has to be a key consideration, right?