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Head To Head: 2 Sunglasses For Cycling

Comparing the Oakley Tour De France RadarLock XL Straight Stem with the Smith PivLock V2Max.

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Triathletes spend a serious amount of time on the bike and protecting your eyes from the sun and debris is a must. Sport sunglasses have come a long way and continue to add specific features. One feature that triathletes benefit from is lenses designed specifically for riding in the aero position. As you tuck your head down and peer out of the tops of your eyes the frames of many sunglasses impede your vision. At best you’re constantly pushing them up, at worst you’re putting yourself and others in danger. Here’s a look at two sunglasses specifically designed for better vision when tucked in the aerobars.

Oakley Tour De France RadarLock XL Straight Stem ($240, Oakley.com)

The Oakley RadarLock XL Straight Stem is a larger version of the RadarLock. The XL denotes that there is an extra seven millimeters of lens, pushing the frame up higher. The extra lens height means that when you put your head down you have a clear view. The straight stems are another slight differentiation from the RadarLocks. By straightening out the slight bow in the RadarLock, the Straight Stem models fit slightly closer and better under helmet straps. Also provided are two different nose pieces to further customize where the sunglasses lie on your face. Oakley also includes two lenses, an Iridium and G40, both vented. The Iridium is meant for bright days while the G40 is better in cloudy conditions. Swapping out lenses is now super easy as the RadarLock uses the SwitchLock system. Fold in the arm and a small slider appears. Push the slider back and the frame will release with ease. Slide in the new lens and it will pop in securely. Like all Oakley sport sunnies these feature their Unubtanium rubber for the nose piece and along the stems. Just in time for the 100th edition of the Tour De France, Oakley released two special Tour De France versions, one white and one black, both with blue, white and red accents inspired by the French national flag. The Tour De France logo is also etched into the lower right lens and they come with a special yellow TdF microfiber cleaner bag.

On the road I came to appreciate the extra seven millimeters of lens. I’ve worn the RadarLocks and I was often bothered by the frame being in my view. The XL fixes this issue. Even when I’m on my road bike in a less aggressive position I prefer the XL option. With the extra lens, the frame sits higher and kept my vision clear. When on the tri bike the advantage is even greater. No longer was I pushing sunglasses higher or trying to look over the frame. For the majority of my riding I used the wider of the two nose bridges with comfort. If you have an upright position or a broader nose, the wider option will be a good choice. If you have a narrower nose bridge or ride in an aggressive position with a low head, the narrower nose piece will be a revelation for you. The straight stems are also a noticeable difference from the standard RadarLock, especially when wearing a close fitting aero helmet.

The lenses are incredibly clear. The bright sun of Colorado can be intense, but the Iridium lens kept the rays out of my eyes. The G40 lens was a nice option for the cloudier days and it’s a pretty good do-it-all lens in its own right. The larger lens surface also offers extra protection from the wind and elements. The three vent slots on each side help to bring in some air flow. This cools you a bit and keeps the lenses from fogging up. On the head, these feel light but secure. The ear stems don’t have much flex to them but I never experienced any pressure points along the temple. The Unobtanium rubber is amazing at becoming more tacky as you sweat.

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Smith PivLock V2Max ($239, Smithoptics.com)

These are another pair of sunnies that are derived from their smaller brethren. Larger than the PivLock V2, the V2 Max add more lens for rider protection and better vision. Smith’s approach to clear vision is to do away with the frame altogether. This leaves a clear view, both under and over the sunglasses. The V2 Max nose bridge is easily adjusted in three positions from narrow to wide to find the perfect fit for you. Just press the nose piece in or out and you’ll hear the piece click into place. They also come with three sets of lenses, a blue mirror, clear and photochromic ignitor. The blue mirror is the choice for bright days. If your ride will have changing light conditions use the photochromic ignitor and they will darken or lighten as needed. The clear is good for riding at night, but why are you riding at night? With the PivLocks you don’t switch the lenses as much as you switch the ear pieces. Pivot each earpiece up (hence the name) until they gently pop out of the lens then pivot them onto the lens you need for the day. It’s an elegant and simple design. All lenses have a hydrophobic coating that helps sweat and water bead off the lens.

I’ve worn the standard V2 and never thought I needed more lens height. After trying the Max I realized that it does help greatly. The extra coverage gives you more lens to view through and it’s especially helpful when time trailing. The more aggressive position you ride, the greater advantage you’ll get from the design. Additionally, these fit very close to the head so no light leaks through. Having three positions to adjust the nose piece and be able to change it in a few seconds is a huge bonus. The widest position was too wide for me, but the middle position worked perfectly for me in most conditions, while the narrow position was useful for time trailing. The ear stems are quite flexible, flat and fit well under a helmet. The Evolve frame material feels is a good mix of lightweight and flexible but still secure. Even with my head down during a time trial these stayed in place. No matter how much I sweat I didn’t have to push them up.

The blue mirror lens does a great job protecting your eyes from the sun and wind. Even in the sunniest conditions, these kept the light out of my eyes. I was also impressed with the photochromic lens option, which adjusts to the level of light. I often commute to work a leave the house before the sun is fully up but as I ride it gets brighter and brighter. Using the photochromic lens meant I could see well no matter what the light conditions. Like most photochromic lenses I’ve tried, I did find that it didn’t get quite dark enough for me when the sun was brightest. Still, it’s an nice option to have should you need it. I didn’t have a chance to try the clear lens as I don’t ride in the dark. The hydrophobic coating was decent at moving water and sweat off the lens, but I still ended up with some streaks across them. The PivLock system is quick and easy to use. Pivoting the arms up they smoothly pop from the frame. You don’t have to muscle it and there’s no concern of snapping the arm as the pressure needed is pretty light.

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Which is right for me?

These sunglasses are very similar. Both pairs provide extra coverage perfect for triathletes, are secure enough in the aero position and offer several nose widths and lens options. So which is right for you? In my opinion the Smith’s felt a bit lighter and have more flex to them and if you want a photochromic lens option, want the lightest feel and prefer frameless sunnies, the Smith’s would be your choice. The Oakleys have a bit more coverage and felt slightly more secure on my head. If you need more coverage and the most secure fit then the Oakleys are your pair of sunglasses. With an item this personal, I suggest going in to your local triathlon or bike shop and trying them on to see for yourself which pair fits the bill for you. In truth, you can’t go wrong with either pair.

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