What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ-Tech: Sports Optical Custom RX Glasses

Sports Optical are the answer for loads of folks who want cycling specific glasses with prescription lenses and full wrap coverage but don’t want the hassle of clip-in, stick on or flip up additions. Anyone needing vision enhancement, regardless of the task at hand should have a look.

Sports Optical have been one of my favorite products for years and I’ve plonked down my own money with pleasure for their cycling specs as well as their “off bike” items several times.

In fact I have a bit of a collection that includes work and travel specs as well as eye gear for motor and pedal bikes…

The latest editions for two wheels are from Smith and Rudy Project

And a nice set of off-bike specs from Smith with a little more funk than my last office glasses.

This batch all get special lens treatment from Sports Optical that make for pretty solid benefits compared side by side to my “store” bought glasses. We’ll start with the Smith Redline Max.

Two sets of lenses for this set up. It’s easy to spot that they’re brown and clear, but looking a little closer helps you pick out what’s special about shades from Sports Optical…

These are shaped and ground custom, lens by lens, to fit most frames from most manufacturers…

Get snug and you can see that these are not popped out of a mould set to a standard RX.

And this is pretty much the crux of what makes Sports Optical special…

Yes, this set of Smith glasses have lenses you can pop in and out. Sure clear and dark are available…

But what Bret is doing here is pretty special and it’s down to the quality of vision above and beyond what you normally get in most companies’ mediocre efforts at “wrap” style lens RX. Long gone are the days of clip in clutter, but that’s not the full story.

Bret would not share his system with me (nor should he), but he’s got a way to have the RX portion of glasses that maintain great clarity across a larger portion of the lens than any other wrap / large coverage glasses I have used.

Most sport glasses are a lot larger than non sport glasses, and they have great clarity in a sweet spot. The glasses I get from Sports Optical have a vision sweet spot substantially larger than most brands’ in house lenses.

In fact on more basic shapes like the Redline Max, virtually the whole damn lens is a sweet spot. My vision is perfect way out into the peripheral range on these that is generally useless on other sport RX glasses (except to block wind and dirt).

That’s the big deal here… Sports Optical make a greater portion of the lens more useful.

And Sports Optical do that not just on simple shapes, but on far larger and tougher lens shapes. The glasses lower right (below) are a lot easier than the others shown here and even on these, manufacturers stock RX don’t maintain the RX as far…

And these are stand alone Polycarbonate lenses in performance frames, meaning the weight is kept very low…

Now getting back to the glasses at hand, there are some differences that people should pay attention to when picking sports specs. Not all are the same and some will serve you much better than others… LOTS of things to consider past pretty colors.

Another Sport Spec I have from Bret are Rudy Project Rydon.

Rudy make different glasses than Smith and they differ a little in the details. For example, Rudy use a VERY flexible frame “leg”. It can be bent in any direction…

Smith use a fixed temple piece.

A good glasses place can heat and mold the fixed piece to your head, so in a way it is flexible. Some prefer the Rudy for ease of adjustment and some find it a pain in the butt to always be messing with the shape because it bends pretty easy. Some like the Smith solid feel (and it is adjustable) but wish it were more simple to move around (different helmets etc might make you wish for simple adjustment).

They both have grippy material that holds well (it’s called Hydro prophylactic or something-or-other…) and I can use either. I actually prefer Smith for Moto Helmet use because the stiff temple pieces push right back without changing shape.

On the Nose…
Another spot where lots of glasses differ is the nose piece.

Smith use a fixed beak binder…

And Rudy use a more adjustable wire and rubber job…

Pretty much the exact same conditions here, where the Rudy Project specs are more adjustable than the fixed rubber on the Smiths.

This one is a bit more important though as the Smith are a bit wide for my nose and they are not adjustable. The Rudy can be squeezed as narrow as you like so that you can adjust how and where they rest on your nose.

Now, in my case the Redline Max work fine because the lenses are tall enough to get good coverage but some glasses will benefit from more adjustment, and or a fixed but tighter and more flexible nose (Like Oakley and Adidas).

Off the Bike?
Sports Optical can make some pretty trick adjustments making for pretty stylish options for the time spent off wheels…

The new glasses this round are again from Smith in the form of their new Troop.

These come in a few different sizes and frame colors for both frames and ear piece sections.

For this set it was Matte Silver with Blue.

The earpiece section is fixed (again adjustable at your optician) and you’ll note the nose piece is fully adjustable on this design.

A trick bit of engineering has a slight channel ground into these lenses that holds a teeny bit of fishing line (probably called something much more technical). It runs down and around the bottom holding things firm.

Lens Tech
My glasses this time all have a lot of lens coating and tech to go with the shaping.

With that in mind, I did a bit of Q and A with Bret on lens tech because he is the highest qualified glasses person I know while also dispensing the least amount of marketing bullshit. You might also note the jersey number collection behind him a few pictures above… I think his lead times would be half what they are if he spent less time on the bike, but who in the hell can fault that?

PCN: How many years in the business and what got you started?

Started in March of 93 so starting my 18th year. I’ve always been involved in sports and started wearing glasses in the 4th grade. Glasses were a disadvantage at that time because they would move around, fall off, or even break. On top of that they didn’t have good peripheral vision and coverage for protection from the wind and dust. I went in the Army after high school and when I got out I decided to go to school for opticianry. I graduated with an AAS in Opticianry in 1991. I had the idea for my business basically before I ever went to school. I kind of invented most of my processes for myself.

PCN: A couple of pro names to drop?
Between you and I XXXXXXXXXXXX… (ok I had to cut this, but you have seen his glasses everywhere from the pro peloton to the X games (multiple sports) to the racetrack. Big hitters that Bret can’t afford to sponsor but makes specs for…)

PCN: How long have you been riding?
I used the wear the wheels off my big wheel on a regular basis and kept on going. Started racing at 11 so this will be my 32nd year racing.

PCN: Favorite riding type?
I started with road in the late 70s. I’ve since raced mountain bikes (both downhill and cross country), BMX, Track, Snowbiking (winter X-games 2x) . I guess my favorite riding now is whenever I can ride with my kids. They are getting pretty fast.

PCN: What types of finish can you put on?
Mirror Coatings are available in many colors. Blue and silver are the most popular. We also have anti reflective coatings for low light conditions. Heavy duty scratch coatings are available if you’re really hard on your lenses.

PCN: Is Polarized ever a bad thing in any condition?
Sometimes you can’t see certain LCD screens as it may be oriented the wrong direction. It kind of operates on the same principle so they can cancel each other out. You can also see stress lines in glass and that bothers some people. On certain rare occasions the road can seem a little wavy. Usually for most people the benefits of less eye strain is far better than small inconveniences.

PCN: Does a colored coating do anything but look cool?
It mostly looks cool. It can make the lens up to 10% darker depending on the color. Above 10,000 feet it can actually block IR. Below that the atmosphere blocks it.

PCN: What brands can you make lenses for?
We make lenses for almost any brand. We make lenses for frames that other people say can’t be done. I won’t make them if they won’t work really well. We have extremely high quality standards here.

PCN: How long does a set of lenses take (basic, coated, etc)
On average the custom lenses take 2-3 weeks and coatings such as mirrors and AR (anti reflective) add at least a week and possibly as much as a month depending on color. They are custom and hand finished so on rare occasions they take longer if something doesn’t meet our quality standards and we have to start over.

PCN: What’s the most RX you can reasonably do?
We have made insert glasses up to -15D and direct lenses to -11D. Pez’s Dr Stephen Cheung has some of these, they are really thick but not heavy and the increased peripheral vision is incredible. You should talk to him. Up to -6D gives you a lot more options. Progressives up to -5D. And where we really stand out is astigmatism powers up to -7.50. D=Diopters.

Our own Dr. Stephen also uses Sports Optical and was extremely pleased with his spec’s.

Stephen: I’m pretty much blind like a bat without my glasses, with one eye at -11 and the other at -8 plus astigmatism. Bret started me off with a set of clip-in inserts with highly curved full frames (Adidas Evil Eyes) and the part-frame Rudy Project RB3s in 2005. At that time, direct RX in my prescription just wasn’t possible. Then Bret called up late 2006 and told me he wanted to try making my RX in Direct Lens technology. We chose a flatter frame/lens (Rudy Project Ketyums) with a set of Racing Red lens which I loved for its all-around performance in different light conditions. The difference between using the small clip-in inserts with the Evil Eyes and even the larger Rudy clip-ins was just incredible, in that I now truly had full vision throughout the entire lens. Since then, Bret’s also built me a set of Transition lens for the Ketyums with a wider lens that stretches the vision range even further. The Transition lenses work terrific for cycling both on an off-road, and the Ketyums/Transitions are my go-to option for all my cycling and also for squash.

PCN: Are the lenses the same quality or better than most stock lenses (what material are they made from).

They are made of the highest quality polycarbonate. This is what most high quality sports glasses are made from. There are other materials available but through my personal testing it is still the best for sports lenses. Light, strong, and clear.

PCN: Can you really do something with a lens that makes it better than just clear lens for low light?
Anti reflective helps quite a bit with low light conditions. It is a personal preference thing but yellow also works very well for a lot of people.

PCN Prices start at?
$129 for our budget clip in system. Around $300 for Direct Sport Lens Technology with a frame. The red Rudy Project Rydon, are Photochromic with the mirror coating and were $349, frames $179. The Smith Redlines are with Drivewear lenses. These lenses are both photochromic AND polarized. The clear are anti reflective. How do you like them? Lenses are $349 and frames start at $99. We also do 20% off second sets of lenses or glasses.

The deal on low light is this… The Anti Reflective helps a lot. I won’t order glasses from anyone at this point without it. Even folks getting glasses without RX can benefit. We’ve all seen the reflection of our own eyeballs and eyes in our glasses and this cuts down that distortion by more than half. In low light and at night, especially driving, this is a very good feature… As for Yellow or amber, when in low light, BUT NOT night time, some tint helps create depth and contrast. I like it, but frankly in low light I would use nothing but clear with anti reflective.

Mirrored coatings are neat. I like em just for looks and I have clear visors with coating just to cut a little light and to look cool.

Photochromic is great for the bike. The Red Rudy’s and the Smiths with this work well in all but late dusk situations. A pair of glasses with the right base tint and Photochromic lenses and a set of Clear are all of the Lens Types I would ever need for cycling or Motorsport and I know a few folks in the Military that use this Tech. I would guess they are a pretty much the classic example of critical vision and identification requirements and a lot of guys are switching from “cool looking” glasses to glasses that simply do a better job of looking…

The same importance is there in the having the broadest field of vision possible and this is where Sports Optical really kicks ass. People in multiple disciplines benefit from having the proper RX, as our eyes move around and need to see through more available lens space.

Don’t be satisfied with limited RX or house brands selling you 100% RX but on smaller lenses…

As for the frames… When you buy a name brand, upper end set of sports glasses from most folks today you’re getting a composite structure that you can damn near drive over in a car. They all have special names for their plastic… And all of them perform pretty well. The big tech comes in the rubber nose pieces and temples and in the lens technology. That’s where the higher dollar guys separate themselves for the most part from the lesser folks.

You can reach Sports Optical.com here…

or just pop on to their site.

Have Fun,
Charles Manantan

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