For all my preparation for the 2022 Subic-Masinloc-Subic audax, there was one particularly bad equipment failure I didn’t properly account for: my protective eyewear.
The nose bridge piece on my Lazer SS1s fell off into parts unknown as I was pulling them out of their carrying pouch while riding. I could still wear them if forced, but the fit was now nowhere near as good…and that pretty much ruled them out as usable. The timing of this failure was spot-on, as around the time it happened was the beginning of the sun making itself known, and the winds of Zambales picking up steam.
It stood to reason, then, that wearing the sunglasses from the very start would be the way to go minimize this risk. For that, a cyclist would need a pair with photochromic lenses, which would dynamically reduce their visible light transmission when more ultraviolet (UV) light is out, while being more transparent during darker or more overcast scenarios.
All great, except for one problem: photochromic technology is expensive. The most affordable pairs I came across were a discounted Oakley Radar for just under PhP10,000, and a Rudy Project model on sale for PhP13,000. This is particularly bad news if, like me, you have a track record of getting your sunglasses lost.
Fortunately, French warehouse retailer Decathlon is out to prove that photochromic lens technology can be for the masses. Let’s see how they intend to do so.
- Photochromic lenses rated to darken in 30 seconds, and lighten in 45
- Permanent anti-fog coating
- Visible light transmission: 15% to 55% (Category 1 to Category 3)
- Lenses: Polycarbonate
- Frame: 80% polyamide, 20% ethylene butadiene styrene
- Suggested retail price: PhP4,600
When I ordered these from Decathlon Philippines, they were selling for 40% off, which translated to PhP2,740 a pair. That meant I could buy two of these for just slightly more than the regular retail price, and what I ended up doing. Wouldn’t hurt to have a spare pair in case my clumsiness gets the better of me yet again, I reckon.
Out of their case, the Van Rysel RoadR 920 shades come in a pleasing shade of translucent violet, comprising the main color of the wrap-around lens. In this sense, they’re not quite up to the full transparency of the Oakley or Rudy Project options when they’re not subjected to UV light. The 55% maximum visible light transmission rating does mean they still remain useful in overcast environs, though. For reference, “transparent” tint films for cars are usually rated at 70% visible light transmission.
Because the Van Rysel shades don’t have to account for lens-swapping like the Lazer SS1s do, owing to the photochromic tint, they’re a little more solidly constructed. The nose bridge piece doesn’t come off, and the frameless construction overall feels quite sturdy and tolerant of some abuse. Borrowing a trick from other athletic eyewear manufacturers, the center region of the lens is a little taller than the rest, which is a good way of ensuring coverage and visibility while riding in the drops or in an otherwise low, aerodynamic position.
So, for the party trick: how does that lens fare? Over a Sunday morning ride from 6 am to 10 am, the transition from light to dark tint is quite neat, bordering on unnoticeable while you’re riding. Without having an outside observer, or before-and-after comparison self-portraits, I would not be able to tell that the tint had indeed gotten darker. It just does its thing in the background, letting you continue your ride as it compensates for more sunlight. The range between maximum and minimum visible light transmission is more constrained compared to other photochromic cycling optics, and the purple tint is never completely going to go away…but it does work.
The photochromic purple tint may be the headline feature, but the RoadR 920s are also notable for their resistance against fogging. This is even considering that their design isn’t exactly the best ventilated. Many cycling sunglasses have cutouts meant for wind to come in and mitigate fog formation; these have no such concession. Decathlon/Van Rysel does state that this permanent anti-fog coating requires that you avoid wiping them clean when dry – they need some soapy water and a wipe from their own microfiber cloth pouch, lest they succumb to scratching.
If there is a weakness to these shades, it may lie in their fit. Buying them online meant I had no opportunity to test how well they got on with my face, but on balance they worked well enough. That said, as prone as it is to falling off and getting lost, the nose bridge piece on the Lazer SS1 shades seems to follow the contours of my nose better, with more of an organic curve to its shape, allowing the nose gripper pads to work better. The RoadR 920s do an okay job staying perched on my honker, but I definitely felt that they were a little more square-edged and could improve in this regard.
The restricted range of visible light transmission on the RoadR 920 sunglasses may be a bit of a letdown for those expecting a fully transparent view in the dark, and a huge reduction in light transmission when the sun is out. Then again, this is a case of getting what one pays for, and for what it is, it does do what it says on the tin.
That said, taken as just a normal pair of cycling sunglasses, they’re not bad. The lens shaping is thoughtfully done for those of us who ride in the drops, and while the nose bridge piece isn’t the last word in fit and security, the frameless design is well put together. The photochromic capability is a useful way of extending the time these spend on your nose protecting your eyes, and the translucent purple filtering is a useful compromise between protection and picking out detail.
If you don’t care for the variable light filtering and are stuck to a tight budget, these might not be up your alley. However, if these fit you well, and you want a road cycling specific pair of sunglasses that can help you keep on riding with less faff than usual, these are worthy of consideration. And of course, when they go on sale, they’re an even better deal.