Our eyewear wardrobe for touring addresses 4 needs:
Though we both need corrective lenses, Bill rides without correction and manages with his natural, dual-monocular vision. One of his eyes is only great at distance vision, the other eye only excels at close-up vision, and his brain has adapted to what would be unbearable chaos for the rest of us. I, on the other hand, have garden-variety aging eyes and need magnification for both near and distance vision.
In the past, I rode with bifocal diopters (“die-op-ters”)—sunglass inserts that clip to the inside of specially designed sport sunglasses. The diopters were great for optimal vision correction but are expensive, heavy, fragile, and are technically difficult to have made. If you need them, they are worth problems and both Smith brand glasses and the national chain Performance Bike have diopters on at least one of their sport sunglasses models. I rode with the diopter inserts in my sunglasses for years, but in preparation for our nearly year-long tours, I wanted to be dependent on as few specialty products as possible.
Because I only need magnification, I was able to switch to a product designed to convert fashion sunglasses into fashion sunglasses with reading correction. Optx2020 makes clever little plastic stick-on hemi-circles that adhere to lenses by static electricity. A dap of water between your sunglass lens and the little plastic patch is all it takes to get them to stick. You trim them to size and can easily peel them off and move them around as you like. They are available online directly from the company (www.optx2020.com ) for about $20 a pair. I bought my first pair at REI, though they don’t always have them in stock at their retail stores.
I took these stick-on correction lenses a step farther than the manufacturer intended by applying 2 rows of corrective patches to my sunglasses. The upper pair, with less correction, improves my distance vision while the lower pair gives me the extra magnification I need for map reading. In 2005 when I had large sunglass lenses, I left a gap in between the 2 rows of corrective spots and did some of my looking without any correction. The next year my new sunglasses were narrower and so the 2 rows of correction were stacked top to bottom, as shown in the photo.
In 2008, my continuously
deteriorating vision had me experimenting with stacking a second pair of
corrective lenses on the bottom stick-on's to achieve the needed +5 correction
for reading. Much to my delight, the little pile of stick-on lenses stuck-on
just fine. Four months into the experiment, they hadn't broken loose once and I
enjoyed the greater correction for reading maps and package labels in the
In 2009 I had the rude awakening that this slick trick would not work on all sunglasses. Sunglasses fashion trended towards even more narrow and more conforming glasses that were bent so with so much curve that the correction was hopelessly distorted. It wasn't until 2010 that I discovered Tifosi's Dea style glasses (model T-1730 for the black version) were flat enough to support my stick-on's.
If you don’t know what magnification you need, try on several different strengths of reading glasses at a drugstore. Whether you want distance correction or magnification for reading the fine print, it will only take a few minutes to choose your correction strengths.
Off the bike, we both wear our regular prescription glasses. We both carry our eye glass prescriptions in our handheld computer medical files in case we smash or lose our street glasses. It would be a terrible nuisance to replace glasses abroad, but at least we wouldn’t have to start with an eye exam.
We made a number of radical changes in preparation for extended touring abroad and one of those changes was to all but abandon wearing dark glasses. I was inspired by reading that my extreme photosensitivity was likely a conditioned response and therefore could be reversed.
Shedding my photosensitivity was a provocative and exciting prospect as with my blue eyes I have always been painfully reactive to bright light. I often wore dark glasses even on cloudy days because of the uncomfortable glare. And if I didn’t wear shades when it was bright out, I’d risk ending up with a muscle tension headache from all the squinting.
Both Bill and I gradually subjected our eyes to brighter sunlight without tinted glasses and indeed our photosensitivity drastically diminished. Now we both ride almost all of the time with clear lenses in our sunglasses. I probably ride a few hours a year with dark lenses and Bill usually wears his a few days a year. Though I am generally more photosensitive than he is, he has more hay fever in Europe than I have and that alone can painfully increase photosensitivity.
We weaned ourselves off of dark glasses for 3 reasons. First, it fit with our general strategy to decrease the number of specialty items on which we were dependent, and being able to ride without dark glasses makes us just a little more versatile. Second, dark glasses are a barrier to conversations. We always strove to remove our dark glasses when speaking with people as a friendly gesture, but for me that meant losing my correction. I am more comfortable and more appropriate when I can clearly see when talking to people, especially if maps become a part of the interchange. And the third reason for giving up tint was that by primarily wearing clear lenses we can see well even with darkness due to a change in the weather, the lateness of the hour or if a tunnel appears on our route.
We still use sport sunglasses with a system with interchangeable lenses, like Smith and Performance sell. Almost all of these systems come with 3 lenses: a clear, a very dark tint and an intermediate shade. In the past when we rode with dark glasses, we would have to switch to clear if for some reason it became too dark for the shades. It isn’t hard, but if we are tried, it’s cold, it’s late or we are in heavy traffic, it is easy to not to bother to make the switch, which compromises our safety. But if we wear clear lenses all the time and have the rare need for the dark lenses, the need for the comfort will overcome the resistance to making the change for brightness control.
We wear clear lenses instead of no lens at all for eye protection, both from grit and bugs in the air, and from the UV rays of the sun. And of course for me, the lenses give me a vehicle for my correction.
We do not ride with our regular plastic corrective glasses, primarily because of the inferior wind protection they provide. The closer fit of sport sunglasses hugely decreases the watering of our eyes from the wind we create when riding. Also the closer fit of sport sunglasses gives better UV and particulate protection than our regular eyewear.
We are scrupulous about protecting our eyes from the sun’s UV rays as UV exposure is a major cause of cataracts—eliminate the UV and the risk of cataracts drops way down. Fortunately, almost any plastic will screen out the harmful rays, so you don’t need tint or anything fancy to get the job done.
Glass, as opposed to plastic, lets the UV rays pass through the lens unless it has a special coating. So off the bike we wear our regular glasses with plastic corrective lenses and on the bike we wear our sports sunglasses with clear lenses to filter out the harmful UV rays.
Few glasses fit closely enough to shield eyes from all of the sunlight, so if the sun is out, I always wear a hat or visor to block the sunlight coming in at eyebrow level when sightseeing. And I always buy a bike helmet with a visor for the same UV shielding (and to keep the rain out of my eyes.)
Eyes in the back of our heads are almost available with the help of the rear view mirrors we indirectly attach on our heads. I still stick with our original wearing position, which is clipping the mirror onto the side of my sunglasses while Bill has switched to attaching his mirror to his helmet. Either way, it is wonderful to see what is going on behind you when on a bike. And when walking, I often find myself trying to look into the mirror that isn’t there as I am so accustomed to almost 360˚ vision.
We are loyal customers of “Take a Look Cyclist’s Mirror” by the Bike Peddler, which sell for under $20. I first used a mirror with a plastic arm and it snapped in 2 in no time. The Take A Look mirrors have metal frames and nearly indestructible. We replace ours every few years when they become too scuffed up, but they seem to tolerate rough treatment short of stepping on them (as Bill discovered). These nifty mirrors aren’t available in Europe, regardless of the brand, so we always carry a couple of spares as gifts and in case we lose one.
In the first days of my adult biking career, I used a large mirror attached to my handlebars, but I was far too unskilled for that to be safe. I had the bad impulse of turning the handlebars to get the view I wanted from the mirror, which of course also changed my course while my attention was on the mirror. It is much safer for me to turn my head a little to see behind. Perhaps with the tens of thousands of riding miles behind me I could now manage the coordination issue, but I love my little mirror too much to change.
Other Vision Aids
In addition to a dark lens insert for my sport sunglasses, I carry 2 other eyewear items in my non-crushable glasses case, both of which are clip-ons for my street wear glasses. One clip-on is a generic dark lens for sightseeing if it is just too bright, like in Turkey on a clear spring day when I was surrounded by gleaming white marble pavers and columns. The other clip-on is for magnification.
My Costco optometrist thought it odd, but she gave me the prescription I requested for magnification lenses to be placed in a pair of clip-on’s frames I bought. We rarely use these magnifying clip-ons, but if we need that extra magnification for plucking a splinter out of a finger or spotting a tiny puncture in a bike inner tube, either of us can snap these on to our street glasses and still have both hands free.
One More Thing…
I usually saw off the ends of my plastic sunglasses as they stick out a bit from the contour of my skull. Sometimes these protruding ends get caught in my helmet straps and they are definitely a problem when wearing a skull cap on cold winter days, as the snug fit of the skull cap tends to tilt my sunglasses a bit. Shortening up these unisex frames so they fit on my head like they fit on Bill’s larger head eliminates this small but constant aggravation from my day. After shortening up the glasses, I use a metal shop file on the rough edges and then give them a quick pass through a candle flame for a final smoothing.