Choosing the right sunglasses for riding is almost as hard as choosing everything else for the bike because of the huge range of styles, pricing and levels of quality. And after narrowing down your selection, there are even more options such as lens type, colour options and suitability for your cycling conditions and preference. As you can guess, Bunnings safety glasses would never be an option for me… clarity is far too important so I always put thought into understanding and selecting the right details for the eyewear.
Jeff Banks is a well-known British fashion designer who also styles and designs glasses, you may have seen his frames already at a Specsavers retailer. He is also a cyclist, sponsors a local cycling team in the UK and (true story) was the wedding tailor when Professional cyclist Geraint Thomas got married in 2015. The Sun RX07 glasses are his newest models and were design specifically for cycling so I jumped at the opportunity to test these prescription cycling sunglasses for myself. I want to know what makes these different or better than other sunglasses.
This is also a two-part review and in the first part I am reviewing the Jeff Banks SUN RX07 prescription glasses. The second instalment will focus on multifocal lenses for cycling.
Update November 2019: The Jeff Banks Sun RX07 glasses for cycling have sold-out at Specsavers and they now offer Sun RX 121 as an alternative sports eyewear model.
Sun RX07 glasses – different or better?
At a glance there isn’t anything to suggest to the casual observer that these glasses are special. There are no glaring colours, no jangly angles or eye-popping design features. The also skip the trend of the immensely oversized cycling lenses (which could almost make two sunnies from one lens). In fact, you could describe the design as plain… but plain can be good.
Featuring a predominantly matt black finish on the main frame , the arms blend from the matt black and into a faux carbon fiber pattern that has a grey/black carbon weave pattern that then transitions into integrated white rubberised grey ear pieces.
I’ve found in the past, the tension on the arms of sunglasses while wearing them can very from too loose, which leads to nagging doubts whether the could fall off, through to ‘too tight’ which starts to become painful. The Jeff Banks glasses were a decent compromise for me so I didn’t have any issues even as I tackled rough and tumble off-road single tracks.
The Jeff Banks could be described as unobtrusive cycling glasses, the carbon fiber pattern connects it to cycling but we have established that they are not obviously different but have to delve deeper to find out if they are better and worth your attention and investment.
Surprisingly good value !
It is not uncommon to see brand-name cycling glasses in the $200+ in price category. With this in mind, the Jeff Banks RX07 appear to sit within upper end of the price spectrum at $249 per pair.
BUT… a very very big BUT!
The Jeff Banks eyewear brand is distributed exclusively through Specsavers. These glasses are part of their “buy one get one free” promotion and come fitted with high quality single vision tinted lenses with UV400 treatment as standard. If my maths is correct and you get two pairs for $249, this brings them down to $124.50 per pair. That is a pretty good price if a standard single vision lens works for you.
Like many brands of sports sunglasses, there are options. Polarised lenses can be added a cost of $100 per pair (these also have the UV400 treatment), the tint on the Polarised lenses are 18% Light Transmission Factor (LTF). The figure of 18% means that it blocks 82% of the ‘visible light’ from reaching the eye. This is apparently the darkest legal ‘driving’ tint allowed in Australia. The polarising option is a sensible one for many riders, as it removes reflective glare and does not affect light transmission.
In my case, I needed multifocal lenses rather than single-vision and the cost of the multifocal lenses range between $150 and $350. This means that the total cost of the Jeff Banks Sun RX07 glasses with multifocal lenses is between $399 and $599 and if you want polarised lenses this is an additional $100 per lens.
In my case, the lenses I had were the the top of the range multifocals but I didn’t choose polarised lenses so the total cost was $599 for two pairs ($299.50 each). Don’t forget, health insurance rebates will then give you back cash so your actual out of pocket expenses will usually be lower.
The RX07 Glasses were supplied with a robust, if not bulky case and cleaning cloth. The case is too big for a jersey pocket and more suited as a storage case at home.
The lowdown on lens and tint quality
It is a common complaint among cyclists to express dismay at the prices of some riding glasses; sunnies are too easily dropped, damaged or lost and hence are a risk to the high investment. But pricing can reflect the differences in quality, and certainly does with the Jeff Banks RX07 sunnies.
To explore optics further, I spoke with Dr. Colin Hall, an Industry Associate Professor at the Future Industries Institute (UniSA) who leads a research team focused on developing robust coating systems for aerospace, mining, automotive and energy applications. Dr Hall kindly shared insights into lenses and coatings.
Michael Bachmann: What are the key attributes of a good lens ?
Dr Colin Hall: One component of a good lens is the optics, if it’s a prescription lens then there are all sorts of things that can be “optimised” to make a good lens. Material – that determines refractive index (how much it bends the light) and how thick/curved the lens needs to be to do its job, impact resistance, abbe number. This are important for normal “plano” (unpowered) sunglasses too – you don’t want distortions.
Michael Bachmann: What kind of quality differences will you see between lenses in a mid-range priced specs ($100 – $200) and the upper end ($250 +) and is it noticeable for most people?
Dr Colin Hall: Most often it is just the name – people buy a brand. All lenses have to pass standards; impact resistance, UV blocking, colour etc. The quality of the frame is where people will notice a difference, probably not the lens – unless the lenses scratch-up quickly and that comes down to the coating
Michael Bachmann: What colour lenses do you feel are best for cycling?
Dr Colin Hall: I think the best colour is neutral – grey / brown. There are standards for certain colours to ensure that they don’t interfere with traffic light signals. There are minimum transmission levels too, they can’t be too dark. Driving lenses would be designed to consider the wearer is sitting behind the windscreen and that will cut light levels by circa 10%, this would be different for a cyclist so the darker tint maybe more appropriate. And I’d recommend polarised as it cuts glare from the road.
Michael Bachmann: how important is the coating quality? Is the tint in the coating or the actual lens ?
Dr Colin Hall: Most lenses are tinted in the lens material. A coating can be made to tint a lens, or alter an existing tint. But mainly the coating on the front is for fashion, a coating on the back (anti-reflection) can reduce ghost reflections or annoying side reflections.
All plastic lenses have a hard coating to protect the plastic from scratching, any additional coatings will further improve the scratch resistance and be used to add a colour. A poor coating here will scratch easily and be noticed. A good coating will extend the life of the lenses, a poor coating will shorten them.
The all-important fit
As a relative latecomer to glasses, I’m still becoming acclimatised to wearing them so am quite sensitive to any pinch points or areas of tightness. The clear advantage of purchasing glasses from Optometrist is that time is (usually) spent ensuring you get the correct fit for your face.
By design, the soft nose bridge is fully adjustable in all directions. In contrast, most sports eyewear have basic plastic or rubber pads with limited or no adjustment. The rubber pads on the Jeff Banks glasses are moulded to encompass a slightly malleable wire hoop that allows them to be spread apart, moved front and back, as well as angled to suit the nose. In my case, a broken nose bridge from high-school days meant that I needed a slight adjustment sideways in order for the lenses to be placed as square as possible for my eye location.
I was worried about the thickness of the arms and whether they would interfere with the helmet straps and place unnecessary pressure on my head, but those fears were unfounded. The straight arms with the rubberised ends felt pretty good straight off the bat, and also after a few hours of riding. The straight arms allowed the glasses to be easily stowed in the Kask Vallegro and Specialized helmets that I own and felt secure enough that I didn’t have any second thoughts about losing them.
The glasses felt good and with the details starting to reveal themselves to me, I can see that the “Jeff Banks is also a cyclist‘ is not merely a marketing gag, these glasses are starting to make a lot of sense.
Lets ride !
A downside of these glasses is that the test period coincided with one of the more miserable winters in Adelaide! You will recall that these are called ‘Sun RX07’ and that are indeed for fair-weather cycling. When the sun shone, these glasses were in their element.
The most noticeable factor with these glasses is the tint. The following animation doesn’t do these glasses justice because the the prescription lenses make the image from the camera blurry. What you will notice however is the tint and for my eyes, the tint worked to provide crisp visibility, improve the contrast and also ‘brighten’ entire scene. As a result, they were completely useable for early morning dawn riding and even more so on the rare bright and sunny day.
Several of the test rides were off-road with a mix of gravel roads and single track adventures on unfamiliar trails. The aforementioned ‘enhancing effect’ of the tint seemed to highlight obstacles better and provide much better clarity than my other pair of cycling sunglasses. I will note that some of the additional ‘obstacle clarity’ was also because the lenses were multifocals though the prescription level is fairly low.
A second part of the review will be published and this will cover the lenses in more detail, for examples, I will outline why the polarised lenses were not recommended by the optometrist for me. Without polarised lenses, I didn’t experience issues with glare but to be fair, there weren’t any ‘36 degrees not a cloud in the sky‘ days… yet.
Fogging is an important consideration for cycling sunglasses and I was able to test this. For most cycling glasses that I’ve used/owned, as long as there you are moving, fogging isn’t an issue. The smaller footprint of the lenses gives the RX07’s plenty of ventilation and space for heat from the face to escape. Come to a stop at the top of a rise after a solid effort on a damp morning, and the inevitable fogging started, but almost as soon as you are under way, it clears pretty quick.
The well ventilated glasses however created an issue for me on cold mornings (Zero – 6°C) with the wind-rush causing my eyes to water. I would experience this when I started and quickly accelerate up to speed. I found that after about 2 minutes my eyes acclimatised and it was no longer a problem.
In my case, this is acceptable as it is temporary and I expect for warmer weather, it won’t happen at all. But it is a reminder that my great sunnies may not be great for you, the form and fit of eyewear is personal. Testing the wind flow in-store is not very easy. But you will benefit if you ensure you have a good fit and by orientating yourself to the sunglass shapes and styles that have already proven themselves to work well for you.
The optical alternative
Buying cycling specific glasses from a country-wide optical chain may not be your typical first choice… or even fourth choice. But buying prescription glasses from anywhere else than an optometrist is questionable. The Jeff Banks RX07 come with single-vision lenses and are reasonably priced and two-for-one promotion makes them a very attractive proposition.
Factor in the Health Insurance rebates, consider the polarised lens or other colour tints (at an additional cost). You could opt for different lens tints and even prescriptions (at an additional cost) between the pairs. For example, one pair for low light and the other for sunny days.
The RX07’s provides fairly accommodating options though still has competition from other sports sunglasses that can accommodate prescription lenses.
For me, the muted styling and compact size are of the Jeff Banks cycling sunglasses are attractive. Then attention to detail during the fitting and adjustment as well as the quality of the lenses meant that these were more than off-the-shelf glasses. The distortion free lenses and improved contrast from the tint are well genuine benefits and the adjustability of the nose piece seals the deal.
Borrowing the catchphrase of Australian personality Molly Meldrum, I say “Do yourself a favour…” and see what is possible for ageing eyes.
Further details and Online Purchasing from Specsavers:
Jeff Banks Sun RX07 Sports Cycling Glasses ($249 for two pairs with single-vision lenses)
UPDATE 28.11.2019: SpecSavers has ‘soldout’ of these frames ahead of time and an alternative model called the Sun RX 121 sports prescription eyewear is suggested.
Stay-Tuned for the second instalment about fitting and cycling with multifocal lenses.