Bike Shorts: Why Cyclists Should Never Wear Polarized Sunglasses
Sunglasses are an essential piece of gear for every cyclist. Not only do they protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, but they also keep them safe from debris and wind.
That said, not every pair of sunglasses will make your rides safer. We’ve written elsewhere about how to choose sunglasses with the right fit and features. But there’s one more thing that’s so important that we needed to write about it separately: polarization.
Are polarized sunglasses good for cycling? Despite the benefits of polarized lenses, polarized sunglasses aren’t the right choice for cyclists. To understand why, we spoke with our friend and longtime cycling coach, Darryl MacKenzie.
Why Polarized Sunglasses Can Be Helpful
Not all sunglasses come exclusively with polarized lenses. Polarization is an add-on feature that costs a little extra, and some people like the effect for good reason.
Polarized lenses are primarily designed to reduce glare and provide more clarity and contrast when you’re wearing sunglasses. In most cases, they do just that. For instance, if the sun is in just the right spot to reflect off of a car or some snow on the ground, it can create a bright glare that makes it difficult to see. Polarized lenses cut that glare out so you can see clearly.
In general, polarized lenses can reduce eye strain and provide an overall better viewing experience than non-polarized sunglasses that don’t have this feature.
Why Polarized Sunglasses Aren’t Safe for Cycling
This all sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there’s one key problem for cyclists. Despite adding clarity in many ways, polarized lenses reduce safety in one critical area.
If you’ve worn polarized lenses before, you’ve probably noticed a strange effect when you look through car windows or at LCD screens. With tempered glass, polarized lenses reveal the underlying grid formed through the tempering process. This can make the window appear distorted or difficult to see through. LCD screens, on the other hand, can be downright impossible to see from certain angles.
This leads to two obvious cons of polarized sunglasses for cyclists. The first (and less serious) one lies in the difficultly of reading the screen on your cycling computer. You can usually correct this by adjusting the angle, but the issue can be a nuisance.
The second problem is much more significant: Polarized sunglasses impede your ability to see and communicate with car drivers.
Darryl experienced this problem clearly on one occasion while riding with another cyclist. When the two of them came to an intersection, a driver motioned them to go ahead. Darryl saw this signal, but the other rider didn’t and panicked when Darryl pedaled on ahead. Why? The other cyclist was using polarized lenses for cycling. You can probably see why situations like this can be a safety problem.
“If that driver is going to come into where I am, I want to know about it so I can prepare to brake or swerve,” says Darryl. “And the best place to look is at the driver’s head to see where the head and the eyes are pointed. Does that driver see me?”
That other driver may also be trying to communicate, hold up their hand, motion you on, or any number of things. The more information you can glean from seeing them clearly, the safer you are.
For Coach Darryl, safety always comes first. So the solution here is simple.
“When buying sunglasses, always order lenses without the polarized option,” he says. You may lose a few of the benefits of polarized sunglasses, but the tradeoff is worth it.
Be Sure You Can See Clearly
When you’re moving fast on your bike, clear vision is essential. Polarized lenses can provide more clarity in some ways, but the tradeoffs aren’t worth it. You need to be able to see and communicate with drivers so you can share the road safely. When shopping for your next pair, skip the polarized lenses and stick to non-polarized sunglasses for cycling.
Photo by Viktor Bystrov on Unsplash