SCICON Aerotech Sunglasses Review: Armor For Your Eyes
PEZ readers familiar with SCICON probably know the brand for their air travel bike cases, and some of you have seen the Pez’s video review of their pretty cool Race Rain bag. It doesn’t get any more high tech than the AeroTech Evolution X TSA hard shell case, which has been used by more than a few professional bike racing teams. But SCICON isn’t only in the business of protecting your bike. With their recently released Aerotech sunglasses, SCICON now offers protection for your eyes.
Yes, UV protection that you would expect from sunglasses. But also armor for your eyes with optics formulated with the same material used for the Apache attack helicopter – not that I’m going to be testing their supposed bulletproof quality.
What you get in the box
One pair of Aerotech sunglasses (in a microfiber bag inside a hard shell case that has a carbon fiber pattern), one ultraviolet flashlight, and one miniature AeroTech Evolution X TSA bike case (I can’t say that the flashlight and miniature bike case will be part of standard retail packaging)
To give you an idea how small the miniature AeroTech Evolution X TSA case is
The miniature bike case actually a USB data drive that has the press release, product info, and pics
And there was actually a lot more once I opened everything up, including a second set of Clip Switches, small and large nose pieces, a second set of Regular Fenders, antifog lens cleaner, and a small multi-function screwdriver – all of which will be part of standard retail packaging
Not part of my box contents, but SCICON says will be included in the retail box is a frame guard that is an adaptor for prescription lenses which can be installed by a qualified optician.
Back to the future styling
The first thing that struck me is that when viewed from the front, the Aerotech sunglasses looked a whole lot like iconic Oakley Pilots – which is to say they cover a fair amount of facial real estate.
Andy Hampsten wearing Oakley Pilots in the ’87 Tour de Suisse and me wearing SCICON Aerotech circa 2019 … bring back the 80s!
All the bells and whistles
As we’ve come to expect from modern performance sunglasses, the Aerotech is more than just a pair of sunglasses. The frame is made from Grilamid TR90 Polyamide, which is a light yet strong, UV and chemical resistant, flexible yet resistant to stress cracking, and allergy free (FDA drinking water approved) material. In simple terms, that means it should hold up well to the sweat drenched rigors of extended outdoor cycling in bright sunlight.
The Aerotech frames are available in black, white, and what SCICON calls “frozen matt” which is translucent-like. Mine are basic black.
I’ve already mentioned that the lenses are military grade. To be more exact, they are NXT lenses developed by Essilor Italia. They have the features you would expect in a pair of performance glasses:
# Optical clarity
# High impact resistance
# Chemical resistance
# 100% UV protection
But rather than an interchangeable lens system that most other manufacturers use, SCICON chose to outfit the Aerotech with a single photochromatic lens using NXT Varia photo-sensor control technology that’s embedded directly in the lens. Instead of having to switch lenses according to light conditions, it’s possible to ride across a wide range of light conditions with the same lens.
The photochromatic lens in the Aerotech is rated from Category 1 (80% visible light transmission or VLT) to Category 3 (18% VLT). In simple terms, that means the lens tint varies from very light (for lower light conditions) to very dark (for brighter light conditions).
And it’s not just that the lens can change tint. It also has very fast kinetics. Meaning that it responds very quickly to changes in light (either activating or fading the tint).
Putting the UV flashlight to good use to demonstrate the differences in photochromatic tint: no UV (so a lighter tint) on the left and subjected to UV (so a darker tint) on the right
SCICON offers four different color lens tints:
# Silver – best for bright conditions with a grey tint that doesn’t alter color
# Blue – for very bright and sunny conditions and greatly reduces harmful blue light
# Red – for increased contrast and to brighten cloudy, dreary days
# Bronze (what I got) – to improve contrast, clarity, and depth perception
Note that although SCICON’s product material calls these different lens tints “mirror,” at least my bronze lens does not have what I would call a true mirror finish. In their lightest mode, the bronze lens is essentially “see through.” As the lens gets darker, it acquires a subtle bronze-ish mirror-like finish that’s more noticeable in person than in pictures.
The lens and frame is vented both top and bottom to help reduce fogging
The lens also comes in two sizes: Standard (what I have), which is 50mm tall, and XL, which is 55mm tall.
Fit to a T
The SCICON Aerotech doesn’t just adapt to changing light conditions. It also adapts to your face and head. SCICON claims 30 different ergonomic configuration options.
The nose piece has two distinct click positions to adjust for width. And here are three different nose pads:
# Big nose
# Small nose
Since I am of Filipino ethnic heritage, that makes me Asian so that’s what I went with for the nose pads.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I wanted to try switching out the different nose pads just to test them out, but even though SCICON provides an online instruction video I couldn’t figure out how to remove them and it felt like I might break something if I pulled or twisted too hard. I’ll wait till someone posts actually doing it on YouTube.
The Asian nose pads have a bridge connecting them, while the big and small nose pads are two separate pieces
You can add or reduce flexibility around your face via three Clip Switch pieces on the temple. I was comfortable with all three in, but you can remove one, two, or all three for increased flexibility.
Use the Clip Switch pieces to adjust temple flexibility (and you can change the colors to suit your taste)
And temple rubber end tips can be adjusted either up or down by bending them in either direction. I was fine with the way they came from the factory so I didn’t mess with them.
Some added protection
The Aerotech also comes with “fenders” – elastomer material pieces that affix to the lower part of the lens for additional protection in the event of impact. They also create the illusion of a full frame and give the Aerotech a bit of a “badass” look.
There are two types of fenders: Regular and Sprint, with the Sprint being slightly beefier/more aggressive. And they come in four different colors: black, white, yellow, and red. My Aerotech shipped with red Sprint fenders installed and that’s what I’m riding.
But the fenders are optional and it’s entirely possible to ride without them if you find them distracting or obstructing your vision.
With a choice of three frame colors, four lens tints, and four fender colors (both Regular and Sprint), you can mix and match to create just the sunglasses look you want.
I wear my sunglasses at night
In terms of fit and comfort, the SCICON Aerotech sunglasses were pretty much spot on for me right out of the box. Which is to say, with all three Clip Switches in place, the temples unadjusted, and the Asian nose piece. The only adjustment I really fooled with was the nose piece position, opting for the narrower option to keep them in place on my nose. The fit and grip was tight enough for no slip, but not so tight as to create any pressure points.
For the past few years, the sunglasses I’ve reached for more often than not when I go riding have been a pair of Tifosi Podium XCs that are a frameless design. So it took a few rides to get used to the SCICON Aerotechs, especially the fenders. There’s no not noticing them. Of course, I could ditch them if they really bothered me but I like the idea of them adding a little extra protection. And then there’s cool factor of the way they look.
If you’re used to wearing frameless sunglasses, the fenders might take a little getting used to
But what I really loved was the lens. In bright sunlight, it goes from relatively clear to darker tint very quickly. If you ride in conditions where you’re in and out of direct sunlight (for example, transitioning from being in trees with a lot of shade to out in the open), you’ll appreciate how the lens changes tint so it’s not too dark in the shade but dark enough when you’re exposed to direct sunlight. And in the shade, the bronze tint provides fairly sharp contrast and good depth perception to be able to pick things out. It also works well in cloudy/overcast conditions.
A note about how dark the lens gets. At least with my bronze tint lens, it doesn’t get so dark that it appears “blacked out” to someone looking at them. Even with the slight mirror effect as it gets darker, you can almost see my eyes behind the lens. Yet it’s tinted enough for me to look through them comfortably in direct, bright sunlight. But I also have dark (brown) eyes that are less sensitive to sunlight. If you have lighter eyes that are more sensitive to sunlight (or know you’re going to be riding all day long in very bright light, especially if there is reflective light – such as off water or snow), you might opt for either the silver or blue lens – both of which are more suited for very bright and sunny conditions.
Chuck on the road
And where the SCICON Aerotech SCN-XT photochromatic lens really shines is when it gets dark. During the riding season, I lead a Wednesday night hill ride that starts after 6pm. Even on the longest days of the year, we finish or ride home (usually after a post-ride dinner somewhere) after sunset. With “ordinary”sunglasses I’d have to (a) change lenses (I don’t usually ride carrying extra lenses) or (b) ride with dark tinted lenses at night (not the smartest idea in the world) or (c) risk injury by riding without eye protection. With SCICON Aerotechs, the lightest tint is light enough (but not a clear tint) to be able to safely ride at night with a good bike light and ambient street lighting. As Cory Hart sang, “I wear my sunglasses at night” (there’s that 80s vibe again).
Do it all in one sunglasses
What sets the SCICON Aerotech apart from the crowd is that they are “do it all in one” sunglasses because you don’t have to deal with changing lenses. PEZ readers might ask, “What’s the big deal about that?” You just pop out one lens and put in another. Well, if you know you’re going to be riding in certain light conditions and only those light conditions, then changing out to an appropriate lens isn’t such a big deal. But if light conditions are going to vary during the course of your ride, how many of y’all carry extra lenses to swap out mid-ride? That’s what I thought. With the SCICON Aerotech, you have one lens that adapts to nearly all riding conditions.
At nearly $280, the SCICON Aerotech sunglasses aren’t cheap. But if you want a pair of performance sunglasses that you can wear under all conditions – from bright sunlight to cloudy/overcast skies and into the heart of darkness – without having to hassle with changing lenses, the SCICON Aerotech is one of the few options on the market to offer such a solution. That practicality is combined with styling right up there with the competition. And the military grade eye protection gives them additional street cred. In fact, if you opt for doing your frame and fenders in all black, you’d pass for a badass character right out of Spec Ops or Call of Duty.
Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close up
PEZ contributor Chuck Peña is a former weekend warrior racer who now just rides for fun and coffee (as well as the occasional taco), but every once in a while manages to prove Fausto Coppi’s adage true: Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill. He lives in Arlington, VA with his wife (who is his favorite riding partner), his daughter (who takes great joy in beating him at golf all the time, but at least he’s still faster on a bike), and their dog (who is always there to greet him when he comes home from a ride). You can follow him on Strava, Twitter, and on Instagram.