4 Reasons Every Cyclist Should Wear Eye Protection

Mountain biking in Ironton

If you’ve ever watched a cycling event (mountain biking, cyclocross, or even the Tour de France), you probably noticed that nearly every cyclist wears eye protection of some kind. This is more than just a fashion statement–though some do shell out quite a bit of money for a really great pair of shades. 

When cycling, it’s just as essential to protect your eyes as it is to wear a helmet. The right glasses will protect your eyes from the sun, dirt, debris, and other hazards that might cause eye injury. Here’s a handy guide to why every cyclist should wear protective glasses and how to select a quality pair to meet your needs.

UFOs are Real

Unidentified flying objects (UFOs) are real! I don’t mean the flying saucer kind; I mean tiny pebbles, gigantic bugs, dirt, low-hanging twigs and branches, and other debris you probably encounter along the trail. Just recently, I took a direct hit to my sunglasses by what I can only assume was the bug version of Godzilla while out for a Saturday morning bike ride. Had I not been wearing a good pair of sunglasses, Godzilla-bug might have caused severe damage to my eye. 

If you are a downhill mountain biker, you probably already wear a full-face helmet and goggles. The rest of us cyclists should add eye protection to our standard safety measures every time we head out for a ride. Whether you plan to ride a local trail or pedal around your neighborhood, dirt and debris can get kicked up by other cyclists, passing cars, or, in my case, gigantic flying insects. 

It doesn’t really matter what type of glasses you choose, as long as they are large enough to protect your eyes and have shatter-resistant lenses. Many sunglasses on the market have polycarbonate lenses that are very lightweight, durable, and shatter-resistant for a very affordable price. 

Blinded by the Light?

Jen Jordan cycling in southwest VA
Photo credit: Jen Jordan

Wearing sunglasses on bright, sunny days cuts down on the glare and prevents your eyes from straining to see clearly. Most sunglasses also protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Extended exposure to the sun can cause severe damage to your eyes, especially at higher altitudes or when the sun is at its highest (usually between 10am and 2pm). 

If you expose your eyes to a lot of UV radiation over a short time, it can cause photokeratitis. Photokeratitis is like a sunburn on your eyes and can be very painful. The most common symptoms include red eyes, extreme sensitivity to light, excessive tearing, and a “gritty” feeling or sensation that there is a foreign object in your eye. 

Usually, the symptoms are temporary, and photokeratitis rarely leads to permanent damage. However, people who regularly expose their eyes to solar radiation increase their risk of cataracts or macular degeneration.

When selecting sunglasses, make sure the lenses block a high percentage of UV-A and UV-B rays for maximum protection against solar radiation. Lenses with a uniform tint are the best choice. The best color lense for all-around use is a neutral grey or brown because they don’t distort color as much as other lenses. 

Select frames that fit the contours of your face and sit close to your eyes, so they block out more sunlight. Nylon or plastic frames are lightweight and safer than metal frames. Shield or wrap-around frames offer the most protection from the sun and debris. 

Dry or Irritated Eyes are a Bummer

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the transparent membrane that covers the white part of your eye and the inner part of your eyelid. Keratitis is an inflammation of your cornea. Both conditions can occur when dust and tiny bits of debris get into your eyes and cause irritation and even infection. 

Many cyclists who do not wear adequate eye protection also experience a general “dry eye” feeling. Some people aren’t bothered by the breeze in their faces as they speed downhill, but the constant blinking and extra work your eyes are doing to stay clean and hydrated are not healthy. 

If you wear contact lenses, it is especially important to protect your eyes from irritants and getting too dry. Choosing a pair of sunglasses that protect your eyes from the rushing air is essential for your overall eye health. 

If you often experience very uncomfortable dry eyes when you ride, consult your ophthalmologist about treatment options. If untreated, dry eye syndrome can lead to scarring or ulceration of the cornea. 

Some soothing drops and ointments help heal any damage to your eyes. If you find your eyes are especially sensitive to the wind in your face, consider investing in glasses that block the wind.  

Function, Meet Fashion

Smiling mature man on a bicycle with copyspace behind him
Image by GlobalStock from Getty

If we’re honest, sunglasses are just as much a fashion accessory as they are a functional piece of protection. There are literally hundreds of combinations of colors, sizes, shapes, and styles to choose from. 

Whether you’re the type of rider that matches their glasses to their bike or has a pair of sunglasses for each cycling jersey, there’s something out there for you! There are even prescription sunglasses and special glasses with prescription inserts for cyclists who need corrective lenses. 

No matter what fashion statement you want to make or what features you need, there is a pair of protective sunglasses for you. I hope after reading this blog, you’ll consider protecting your eyes with proper sunglasses to be just as important as protecting your head with a good helmet.

Do you have a favorite pair of sunglasses you wear while cycling? Or do you have a story about when wearing eye protection while bicycling saved you from injury? Share in the comments!

4 reasons every cyclist should wear eye protection


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