Sunglass Lens Color – Suggestions
Black, gray, and/or smoke lenses are best for bright conditions – they dim the bright sunlight to ease the strain on your eyes. While the lenses do darken your vision, gray does not alter color, so everything remains the same color. Gray also makes a great lens color for driving sunglasses. Best for: road rides, especially on sunny days. Not for: mountain biking. The dark lens may be too dark for trail use, especially if you are dealing with shady areas and shadows. Gray won’t improve contrast, clarity, or depth perception, either, and those things come in handy on single track.
Brown is a good “all around” lens color choice. It is dark enough to save your eyes in bright conditions, but brown also improves contrast, clarity, and depth perception. Plus, it really enhances shades of green (i.e. trees, bushes, and grass.) Brown does this by filtering out blue light waves. Best for: mountain biking in good weather. Not for: night riding.
Amber is somewhere between a light brown and a dark yellow lens. It will block blue light, which greatly increases contrast, making it a good choice when rocks and roots are jumping out at you from the shadows. Best for: mountain biking under cloudy skies or on dimly lit trails. Not for: bright, sunny days.
Red, Rose, and Vermilion Lenses
Red lenses, usually referred to as “rose” or “vermilion,” will increase contrast and brighten cloudy, dreary days. These lenses will distort colors, however, so don’t wear them in situations where you need to see perfect shades of color. (That’s not necessarily bad, though, because sometimes this distortion is pleasant and easy on your eyes.) Best for: rides in cloudy, hazy conditions. Not for: bright, sunny days, or situations where you must identify poisonous snakes by their color.
Orange comes in somewhere between red, brown, and yellow lenses, and as such, works well in darker, cloudy weather. Best for: mountain biking on hazy, cloudy days. Not for: bright, sunny days.
I have found yellow lenses to be my favorite for foggy, hazy conditions. Yellow increases clarity so you can actually see where you are going, even if you’re in dense fog. Best for: road rides in the early morning fog. Not for: bright, sunny days.
Clear lenses do not alter your vision, so they work great in dark conditions when you still need to protect your eyes from dirt, debris, and harmful UV rays. Best for: dark conditions, such as night riding. Not for: bright, sunny days.
I had a pair of fishing sunglasses that used green lenses. They will enhance your perception of red and yellow light, and increase contrast much like brown lenses Best for: a fishing trip (when the fishing hole requires some mountain biking to reach it.) Not for: bright, sunny days on the road bike.
I haven’t found a good use for blue lenses when it comes to cycling, because they make things look funky. And if you want to filter out blue light to increase contrast and depth-perception, blue lenses just ruin that. Best for: a fashion show. Not for: road or mountain biking.
Photochromic (or “Transitions”) Lenses
These are the lenses that transition from clear to a dark gray color depending on the sun. If you’re out in the sun, they’ll be dark gray; if you’re in the shade, they will be either a very light gray or clear. Best for: road rides, when the weather is changing or you’re going in and out of wooded areas. They may also be a good choice for 24 hour mountain bike races if you only want to carry one pair of sunglasses. Not for: mountain biking during the afternoon. The lens won’t transition quickly enough if you go from a sunny section into a dark, shadowy section, and brown would be a better choice, anyway.
Sunglass Lens Summary
In the end, you only need a few different lenses to get by. It seems it would be ideal to own 10 different lenses, but in reality, it’s a hassle to change your lenses all the time (especially if you are on vacation or doing a multi-day race.) So here are the popular lenses… Get gray lenses if most of your rides are on the road in nice weather. Go with brown lenses if you are a mountain biker. If you venture out in rain or fog, get some red, yellow, or orange lenses for those conditions. But… if you were getting just one pair, I’d say brown is the way to go. Brown is great in the woods, especially on shadowy singletrack (due to increased contrast and depth perception offered,) and it’s not bad on the road, even in the sun (since it is dark enough to dim the brightness.)
*TIP* Whatever lens color you get, be sure the lens is shatterproof. Most lenses will be polycarbonate, which is the ideal material. Polycarbonate lenses are shatterproof, durable, and they filter out 100% of the harmful UVA and UVB rays. (Yes, even the clear lenses do this.)