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Motorcycle Eyewear 101

What you need to know before you ride

In Washington, and many other states, eye protection is required by law.

Buying the right eyewear for riding can make the difference between a pleasant day on the road, or one that will tire you before you know it.

Buying sunglasses in general can be a tricky game. With hundreds of choices it's helpful to understand what and why a product is the right choice for you.

After long hours of research on the subject, this article has been designed to help you better understand 10 essential points to selecting the eyewear you'll wear when you ride. Even if you wear prescription lenses, there are solutions in this article you may find useful.

1. Frame Types

Goggles vs. Glasses � When it comes to street riding, the type of helmet you wear is a leading indicator as to whether you're better off with goggles or glasses. If you wear a full face helmet, the obvious choice will be glasses, as goggles and face shields don't mix well. In the world of dirt helmets it goggles work, but typically not with the design of street helmets.

Goggles would be the preferred choice of eyewear when you use a three quarter or half shell helmet. The obvious reason is because you don't run the risk of losing the eyewear in the wind if a serious wind gust or bump occurred during your ride. A number of motorcycle sunglasses are coming on the market that either convert to goggles, or have an adjustable strap option.

Metal vs. Plastic/Nylon Frames � If you're opting to go with sunglasses, the best choice here is going to be a plastic or nylon frame. Metal frames don't hold up to the rigors of travel and can get bent repeatedly during storage and while taking them on or off. When selecting eyewear for riding, look for plastic or nylon frame construction.

Wrap It Up � Look for glasses or goggles with a contoured bend to go with your head. This means you'll cut down the amount of air and debris that can come between you and the lens and also cut the chance of reflection on the internal side of the lens.

Above/Right: WileyX's Romer II features nylon frames, interchangeable lenses and wraps the face nicely.

2. Lens Type and Quality

Glass vs. Polycarbonate � Polycarbonate hands down. Most states that require eye protection do not consider glass acceptable. Glass shattering during a strike from an oncoming object such as a rock, gravel or bird can render your lens useless and leave you blind. Polycarbonate is a shatterproof compound that will deflect objects as detrimental as a fired bullet.

Optical Quality � Optical Quality is critical to vision fatigue and damage to your eyesight. The five dollar blue-block eyewear that John Doe sells on the side of the road is probably made of low grade plastic and obscures the image enough to cause damage and fatigue while you ride. Stay clear of these cheap sunglasses. To check for this, simply hold the lens a few feet from you and see if the vision is distorted vertically or horizontally.

3. Lens Size

Those cutie little rose colored rectangles that Elton appears in now and then may look cool, but provide little eye coverage. The bigger the lenses the better when it comes to your riding eye wear.

4. Lens Coatings

There are all kinds of lens coatings. Let's take a brief look at the important ones and how they affect your ride.

UV (Ultra-Violet) � The most standard coating of all which protects your eyes from the rays of the sun. If you don't see eyewear clearly marked with a UV mention, pass on it. Even clear lenses (which we will discuss later) should have UV protection.

Scratch Resistant � If I'm riding all day I typically will put on and remove my eyewear more than a dozen times. Inevitably I will drop it at some point. This is why we leave the $300 Revos at home in the convertible. Once a lens gets scratched it will indeed impair your vision � ever so slightly, but enough to cause fatigue. Look for lenses with a scratch resistant coating. This doesn't mean you can grind them into the ground with your boot and they'll still work great � they won't.

Non-Reflective Inside Coating � With normal reading glasses you'll notice how your skin can reflect on the inside of the lens which is a pain sometimes. It can play havoc with your eyes when you're riding. A non-reflective coating eliminates the occurrence but is usually only found on eyewear about $75 and above. You can spot a non-reflective coating because it shows up as a purple hue on the inside of the lens. As long as your frame has a well contoured wrap to your head, you'll greatly reduce the occurrence without the need to find eyewear with a non-reflective coating.

Polarized Coating � You've probably been in a situation where you were riding directly into the sun, or got blinded by a puddle of water. Polarized coatings greatly reduce glare and allow you to see in the most blinding conditions. Up until recently you had to pay through the nose for this luxury, but technology and popularity have brought the cost down on this option. Get it.

Anti-Fog � Sounds like a nice idea. In testing under moist conditions at 40 degrees under a full face helmet it didn't work however.

Transitional Light Adjusting � Transitional lenses work by reading the UV light and adjusting the lens color to provide better more shading in bright conditions, less during moments of low light levels (such as riding into a tunnel). True transitional lenses are found on high end priced eyewear and may not suit you if you're the type who losses glasses every six months. The option is to go with a multi-lens touring setup where you can interchange lenses in glasses or goggles from clear to smoke to amber and otherwise for far less than expensive transitional lens eyewear.

5. Lens Colors

Depending on the time of day and conditions you can utilize a number of lens types to enhance your vision. As mentioned above, touring multi-lens setups provide a good option to dealing with various conditions during a given ride.

Clear � A clear polycarbonate lens means you'll be able to operate your bike legally at night, when tinted lenses are deemed illegal otherwise in many states. These also come in handy during rainy moments when a tinted lens hinders your ability to see.

Yellow/Amber � A yellow or amber lens increases your depth perception during foggy and low light conditions. These are kind of fun to drive around with at night as it gives you the feeling you're out performing some secret military mission for the armed forces � even though you're not.

Grey/Smoke � Grey lenses provide the truest picture of the actual light you are seeing, while providing respite from the high light levels of a sunny day.

Green/Blue/Brown and all other colors � Eyewear can come in a variety of other lens color choices. The choice is yours, but remember you're not getting the real picture if that's critical to you, rather a tweaked out Technicolor view of the world outside.

Above/right: Global Visions C-2000 kit includes five interchangeable lens sets making it the optimal touring package at an affordable price.

6. Fitment

Your eyewear has to fit right. It's no fun pushing glasses half way back up your nose as you roll down the highway at 60 m.p.h.

Ear Tips � How the eyewear rests on your ears is critical. Look for frames that are comfortable � not too loose, not to tight. Have you ever felt the ear tips of your glasses grind into your temples when you put them on through a full face helmet? An unpleasant experience indeed so look for ear tips that point outward at the end.

Nose Piece � Find a set of glasses that have a comfortable nose piece. Adjustable nose pieces are okay and may be necessary as you'll see in the next section. A nose piece should not leave indentations behind after you remove your eyewear.

Eye Coverage � The more coverage around the eyes the better. When trying on different glasses, you may notice some will slide down your nose and allow light to enter through a crack between your eye brows and the top of the eyewear. Not good. Eyewear with an adjustable nose piece will provide you the needed option to get the glasses further up your nose and seal the light gap.

7. Prescription Lenses

If you're near sighted and need prescription glasses to ride you're in luck. There are three options for you!

Custom Lenses � the obvious option is to have custom lenses ground and put into the frames by the manufacturer. A number of them will do that now. Typical cost for the service ranges from $75 to $150.

Custom Inserts � There are a number of touring glasses on the market with interchangeable lenses. Custom lenses can be created for these models as well.

Goggle over glasses � Many motorcycle eyewear manufacturers have developed goggles, that are large enough to allow you the ability to place them over your prescription eyewear.

Right: A single set of prescription lenses can be made to slip behind this five lens system called the GV Adaptable from Global Vision

8. Lens Care

When you're out riding your eyewear is getting exposed to far more dirt, dust and your own hand oils, than if you were driving a car. Keeping the eyewear clean is critical to insuring your vision is the best it can be every time you ride.

Cleaning Cloths � Micro fiber cleaning cloths are the best material to clean your lenses with. The cloth is such that dirt can imbed itself into the cloth so you don't scratch your lenses as you wipe them. A cotton handkerchief does not allow the same absorption of dirt. Never, never use paper towels or any other paper products such as napkins to clean your lenses. It's a surefire road to scratching your eyewear and ruining it forever. Wash micro fiber cleaning clothes regularly by hand with mild soap and water.

Soap and Water � Mild soap and water is a good way to remove layers of body oils, suntan lotion, face moisturizer and other residues that can build up on your lenses. This is a good thing to do each day you ride. DO NOT resort to ammonia based cleaners such as Windex because these have the ability to rip through the microscopic coatings such as the UV, polarized and tint layers placed on the lenses by the manufacturer.

Plastic Cleaners � Because your eyewear is made of polycarbonate, you can successfully use a quality plastic CLEANER such as those on the market by Griot's Garage, Meguiar's and Honda. Noticed I capitalized "cleaner." These companies also make scratch removers for plastic windshields which are not appropriate for your eyewear's coatings.

9. Storage

Storing your eyewear properly will make it last longer.

Cases � For the kind of full wrap eyewear we're discussing here, hard cases are out of the question. You can however purchase soft padded nylon cases at most outdoor shops with an external clip that will allow you to clip the case to a number of places on your person or bike. These cases should be cleaned out each season you ride so as to remove any harsh dirt that may have found its way inside. Get a case that's big enough to store both your eyewear and a small micro fiber cleaning cloth. Most interchangeable lens touring sets come with their own case.

Pouches � A pouch made out of micro fiber material is a simpler way to go. You kill two birds with one stone by providing storage for your eyewear and the ability to clean it all in one piece. Micro fiber pouches should be washed in mild soap and water every season you ride to insure they remain clean and won't scratch your lenses.

10. Price Ranges

Quality eyewear doesn't have to cost a lot. In fact, when it comes to motorcycling, it shouldn't. Let's look at a few ranges.

$5 to $20 � Eyewear in this range typically comes with poor optical quality and is manufactured to last a short time. Not recommended.

$20 to $150 � This is the recommended range to be looking for eyewear in. The variations such as frame versatility, lenses coatings, interchangeable options and lens tints are all factors in just how much a set of glasses or goggles will cost.

Below: WileyX's SG2 and SG4 eyewear include light adjusting lenses that change based on UV levels, unlike some of the older lenses from other companies that read heat.

$150 plus � Unless a product in this range features transitional lenses, it's likely you're paying too much for what you're getting. It's time to look at less expensive options with the same features. After all, you'll be using your eyewear under some extreme conditions such as riding into a dust storm, or simply just dropping them on the ground now and then as you put your gloves and helmet on. If you ride year around, 12 months maybe all your eyewear will last before the lenses show signs of wear, so why sink a boatload of cash into the purchase. Save your money to get some fancy Maui Jim's or Oakley's for your boating or golfing adventures.

PT/Winter 04


The Sound RIDER! Store now stocks these and over a dozen models of sunglasses and goggles that are suited for motorcycle riding.


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