Sunglasses

Wire-rimmed sunglassesWire-rimmed glasses are popular and attractive, but generally are not acceptable for motorcycling use. With this kind of frame, the lenses can easily become dislodged on impact, and ultra-thin lenses like these are rarely shatterproof or eye-impact resistant.

One might assume there's very little to think about when buying a new pair of shades, but in reality quite a few things need to be carefully considered when selecting sunglasses for riding.

Never forget that sunglasses are far more than just fashion accessories — they're a necessary protection for the eyes. While most people already know about the dangers of sun exposure to the skin, many are unaware that the eyes are also susceptible to being burned by the sun’s rays. Our eyes' corneas, lenses and retinas are all vulnerable to overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Over time these invisible rays can harm the eyes if left unprotected, with long-term exposure leading to cataracts, macular degeneration, skin cancer around the eyelids and other debilitating conditions. As a result, UV-blocking sunglasses are a must when you're riding in the daylight.

When shopping for sunglasses, it's important to look for a label that lets you know how much UV radiation the lenses reflect. Only consider purchasing sunglasses that block out 99 to 100 percent of the UV-A and the more harmful UV-B light, because — believe it or not — tinted glasses with little or no UV protection cause more damage to your eyes than wearing no glasses at all. That's because the eye attempts to compensate for less light by opening the pupil wider. In turn, this allows more of the damaging radiation in. Also, make sure the lenses cover the entire eye area, including the eyelids — and it's important to remember that tinted contact lenses do nothing to protect your eyes from the sun.

The next thing to consider is what color tint you need in your lenses. The answer is, it depends. Different lens tints filter different wavelengths of light. Some may enhance or distort colors and affect contrast. Here's a basic list from the Mayo Clinic highlighting how different tints work:

Riding gogglesCertainly not the most attractive alternative, riding goggles DO afford the best in protection from wind, rain and flying objects.

Wraparound sunglassesWraparounds with plastic safety lenses are a good compromise between safety and fashion. Unfortunately, many are made with these wide, straight-back earpieces, which rarely fit well through your helmet padding, and are likely to create very uncomfortable pressure points.

  • Green — Allows true color perception and good contrast in bright light; reduces eyestrain in bright light.
  • Gray — Allows true color perception; does not enhance contrast; good for cycling or running.
  • Brown — Good in hazy sun; enhances contrast; good for high glare environments.
  • Amber — Brightens cloudy, hazy, or foggy skies; excellent for contrast; minimizes eyestrain; distorts color (images look yellow-orange).
  • Yellow — Improves contrast and depth perception in low light; good for overcast days.
  • Red — Excellent depth perception in low light; contrast objects against blue or green backgrounds.

For riding, you really should buy and stick with safety glasses. While conventional sunglasses may protect the eyes from glare, they do a poor job of protecting them from flying objects, such as dust, rocks and insects. When an object strikes the lens of safety sunglasses, it's very unlikely that the lens would shatter or dislodge. This is not true of conventional eyewear, especially styles with wire frames. When an object strikes the lens of conventional sunglasses, the lens can shatter, showering the wearer’s eye with shards of glass or plastic. With a pair of approved safety glasses, the lens may break, but it will not shatter back into the eye.

Safety sunglasses can also have shields to reduce the risk of foreign objects reaching the eye form the sides, top or bottom. Regular sunglasses do not. Because regular sunglasses have a darkened lens, some people mistakenly believe these glasses will provide the needed protection from infrared and UV radiation, but this is not true. As I mentioned above, even safety glasses without proper UV protection can be more dangerous to your eyes than wearing no glasses at all.

Wraparound sunglassesA slightly better alternative, these wraparounds have thinner, more flexible earpieces, with rubberized padding at the ends. Note that this pair also has built-in “cheaters” — bifocal reading glasses for a better view of you instruments. Great for aging eyes like mine.

Rau's favorite sunglassesThese are my personal favorite sunglasses — shatterproof, “blue blocker”-type lenses, unbreakable frames, flexible earpieces, 100% UVA and UVB protection and bifocal reading glasses. They cost me $19.95.

To recap, here are my tips for choosing safety sunglasses:

  • Check for the Z87.1 (safety glass) designation
  • Label should indicate 99 or 100 percent UV protection
  • Make sure the glasses are lightweight and adjustable
  • Look for sunglasses that are close-fitting to prevent UV rays from filtering in
  • Look for larger lenses or wraparound styles to prevent light and other harmful substances from entering the eye
  • Don’t be misguided by price — higher-priced safety sunglasses usually reflect fashion, not level of protection
  • Understand that dark-colored sunglasses don’t necessarily provide better protection, because the UV protection coating applied to the lens is clear
  • Don’t buy any glasses until you’ve tried them on while wearing your helmet. If the frames are too wide or tall, or the earpieces don’t fit properly through the padding, the glasses are going to be uncomfortable and possibly downright painful.

One final note of caution involves polarized lenses. I know, I know… polarized lenses are supposed to reduce glare and be good for riding, but I found a potentially dangerous downside to using them. You see, a lot of bikes have windshields, instrument panels and helmet face shields made from Lexan plastic. Under certain conditions, when the sun is at the right angle, if you're wearing polarized sunglasses your windshield, instrument panel or face shield may suddenly and without warning, either turn totally black, or explode in a rainbow spectrum of bright colors — either of which you can’t possibly see through. This usually happens at the worst possible time, and carries potentially deadly consequences. With that in mind, polarized lenses simply are not recommended for use on a motorcycle.

I hope some of this advice will help you avoid the numerous sunglasses shopping mistakes I’ve made over the years.

What type of sunglasses do you wear when riding? Why did you choose them? Where did you get them? Share your comments and opinions below and help out your fellow riders.

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