Explained: Sunglasses Lens Materials

Founder, Mr. Mamil

As a cyclist who’s logged thousands of miles on my bike, I’ve come to appreciate the critical role of lens material and quality play in our cycling sunglasses. 

Drawing from my own firsthand experience, thorough research, and wearing numerous sunglasses brands, I’ve identified the important factors in determining the overall performance of cycling sunglasses. 

In this article, I will guide you through the various lens materials available, their advantages and limitations, and provide tips for selecting the right lens material and quality to enhance your cycling experience and safety.

How to choose the ideal lens materials

When selecting the perfect cycling sunglasses, it’s essential to consider the lens material to ensure the best performance, safety, and comfort during your rides.

The table below compares polycarbonate, Trivex, and glass lenses across five crucial factors: impact resistance, optical clarity, UV protection, durability, and their best use cases.

This comparison will provide a clear understanding of each lens material’s strengths and weaknesses, helping you make an informed decision based on your specific needs and preferences as a cyclist.

Impact resistanceHigh
(Excellent shatter resistance)
(Comparable to polycarbonate)
(Less shatter resistance)
Optical clarityGood
(Clear vision with minimal distortion)
(Sharper image quality than polycarbonate)
(Superior clarity, virtually distortion-free)
UV protectionExcellent
(Blocks 99-100% of UVA and UVB)
(Blocks 99-100% of UVA and UVB)
(Blocks 99-100% of UVA and UVB)
(Resistant to wear and tear, but less scratch-resistant)
(Similar to polycarbonate with slightly better scratch resistance)
(Highly scratch-resistant)
Best use casesCyclists prioritizing impact resistance, comfort, and affordabilityCyclists desiring top-notch optical clarity and impact resistance, willing to invest moreCyclists prioritizing optical clarity and scratch resistance, not concerned with weight and cost
Comparison between polycarbonate, Trivex and glass lenses

Common sunglasses lens materials

Polycarbonate lenses

Polycarbonate lenses are made from a thermoplastic polymer known for their strength, durability, and lightweight nature. 

These lenses are widely used in sports eyewear, including cycling sunglasses, due to their excellent impact resistance and ability to provide clear vision. Polycarbonate lenses are also relatively affordable, making them popular for many cyclists.

Advantages of polycarbonate lenses

  • Lightweight. Polycarbonate lenses are significantly lighter than glass lenses, providing added comfort during long rides.
  • Impact-resistant. They offer excellent impact resistance, making them suitable for various cycling conditions and terrains.
  • Affordable. These lenses tend to be more budget-friendly than other lens materials.
  • Good optical clarity. Polycarbonate lenses provide clear vision, though slightly inferior to Trivex and glass lenses.

Limitations of polycarbonate lenses

  • Scratch resistance. Polycarbonate lenses are slightly less scratch-resistant than other materials, requiring extra care or scratch-resistant coatings.

Polycarbonate lenses suit road cycling, mountain biking, and casual riding.

Trivex lenses

Trivex lenses are made from a high-performance urethane-based material, which shares many similarities with polycarbonate lenses. 

Trivex lenses are also lightweight and impact-resistant but offer superior optical clarity compared to polycarbonate lenses. This material was initially developed for military applications, but its benefits have been recognized and adopted by the eyewear industry, particularly for sports and performance sunglasses. 

However, Trivex lenses tend to be more expensive than polycarbonate lenses.

Advantages of trivex lenses

  • Excellent impact resistance. Trivex lenses offer outstanding impact resistance, similar to polycarbonate lenses.
  • Lightweight. Like polycarbonate, Trivex lenses are lightweight, providing a comfortable fit during long rides.
  • Superior optical clarity. Trivex lenses have better optical clarity than polycarbonate lenses, delivering a crisp, distortion-free vision.

Limitations of trivex lenses

  • More expensive. Trivex lenses are more expensive than polycarbonate lenses, potentially making them less accessible for cyclists.

Trivex lenses suit cyclists who desire top-notch optical clarity and impact resistance and are willing to invest in the more expensive lens material. These lenses are ideal for performance-oriented cyclists like road racers and competitive mountain bikers.

Glass lenses

Glass lenses are made from traditional optical glass, known for their exceptional optical clarity and scratch resistance. 

Glass lenses provide sharp, distortion-free vision, making them an attractive option for those who prioritize visual quality. 

However, glass lenses are heavier than polycarbonate and Trivex lenses, which can be less comfortable for some cyclists, especially during long rides. Additionally, glass lenses are less impact-resistant than polycarbonate and Trivex lenses, making them less suitable for high-impact cycling activities.

Advantages of glass lenses

  • Exceptional optical clarity. Glass lenses provide the highest optical clarity, offering sharp, distortion-free vision.
  • Scratch resistance. Glass lenses are highly scratch-resistant, making them more durable and low maintenance than other lens materials.

Limitations of glass lenses

  • Heavier. Glass lenses are heavier than polycarbonate and Trivex lenses, which might be less comfortable for some cyclists.
  • More expensive. They are more expensive than polycarbonate lenses, potentially limiting their accessibility.
  • Less impact-resistant. Glass lenses are less impact-resistant than polycarbonate and Trivex lenses, making them less suitable for high-impact cycling activities.

Glass lenses are recommended for cyclists who prioritize optical clarity and scratch resistance and don’t mind the additional weight and cost. These lenses suit casual cycling, touring, and road cycling, where impact resistance is less critical. 

However, they might not be the best choice for high-impact activities such as mountain biking or competitive cycling.

ANSI Z87.1 Standard for impact resistance

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1 standard is a set of criteria that evaluates the performance of protective eyewear, including impact resistance, optical clarity, and lens retention. 

Cycling sunglasses that meet the ANSI Z87.1 standard offer high impact resistance, protecting your eyes from flying debris, insects, and potential accidents. Wearing sunglasses that meet this standard can give you confidence in their ability to protect your eyes while cycling.

How to select sunglasses with ANSI Z87.1 standards

  1. Look for sunglasses labeled as meeting the ANSI Z87.1 standard. This information is often found on the product packaging or within the product description.
  2. Prioritize reputable brands known for their commitment to safety and quality. Research reputable brands and read customer reviews to gauge the reliability of their products.
  3. Consult a local sports eyewear store professional for personalized recommendations and advice.

Lens materials impact resistance comparison

  • Polycarbonate lenses offer excellent impact resistance due to their inherent strength and flexibility. They are a popular choice for cycling sunglasses because they provide reliable eye protection while remaining lightweight and affordable.
  • Trivex lenses also offer superior impact resistance, similar to polycarbonate lenses. They provide additional benefits, such as enhanced optical clarity, making them a premium option for cyclists seeking top-notch eye protection and visual performance.
  • Glass lenses are known for their exceptional optical clarity and scratch resistance, they are less impact-resistant than polycarbonate and Trivex lenses. This makes them less suitable for high-impact cycling activities where maximum eye protection is essential.
Lens materialImpact resistanceProsCons
PolycarbonateHighExcellent impact resistance, lightweight, affordableSlightly less scratch-resistant than other materials
TrivexHighSuperior impact resistance, lightweight, enhanced optical clarityMore expensive than polycarbonate lenses
GlassLowerExceptional optical clarity, scratch resistanceHeavier, more expensive, less impact-resistant
Lens materials impact resistance comparison

Optical clarity

Optical clarity is crucial for cycling sunglasses because it directly impacts your ability to see clearly and react to potential hazards on the road. Clear vision allows quick decision-making, safer navigation, and a more enjoyable cycling experience.

Lens materials optical clarity comparison

  • Glass lenses have the highest optical clarity, providing crisp and sharp vision. They also have excellent scratch resistance, which helps maintain their clarity over time.
  • Trivex lenses are a close second to glass lenses, offering superior optical clarity compared to polycarbonate lenses. They also provide excellent impact resistance and are lightweight.
  • Polycarbonate lenses have good optical clarity but may have slightly more distortion than Trivex or glass lenses. Despite this, they are still a viable option for many cyclists due to their impact resistance, lightweight, and affordability.

While there are differences in clarity among these lens materials, the variations may not be noticeable for most users, making all three materials viable options depending on your specific needs and preferences.

Lens materialOptical clarityProsCons
PolycarbonateGoodLightweight, impact-resistant, affordableSlightly less clarity than Trivex
TrivexExcellentSuperior clarity, lightweight, impact-resistantMore expensive than polycarbonate
GlassExceptionalUnparalleled clarity, scratch-resistantHeavier, less impact-resistant, expensive
Lens materials optical clarity comparison

How to ensure excellent optical clarity 

  • Inspect lenses for any distortions or imperfections before purchase, as these can negatively affect optical clarity.
  • Choose sunglasses with anti-reflective coatings to reduce glare, enhancing visual clarity, particularly in bright sunlight or when cycling near water or other reflective surfaces.
  • Maintain lens cleanliness by regularly wiping them with a soft, clean cloth to remove smudges, fingerprints, and debris that can compromise optical clarity.

Store sunglasses in a protective case when not in use to prevent scratches and damage that can affect visual clarity.

UV protection

UV protection is essential in cycling sunglasses because it shields your eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can increase the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye health issues. 

How to pick sunglasses with adequate UV protection

  • Look for sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection to protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays.
  • Polarized lenses can help reduce glare from reflective surfaces, enhancing UV protection and visual comfort.
  • Remember that darker lenses do not necessarily provide better UV protection. The lens material and coatings determine the level of protection, not the lens color.

Lens durability and longevity

The durability and longevity of cycling sunglasses depend on several factors, including lens material, lens coatings, frame material, and proper care and maintenance.

How to pick durable and long-lasting sunglasses

  • Choose a high-quality lens material such as polycarbonate, Trivex, or glass, as these materials tend to be more durable and longer-lasting.
  • Opt for sunglasses with scratch-resistant coatings to help maintain the lenses’ clarity and quality over time.
  • Select a sturdy frame material such as nylon, acetate, or metal to ensure your sunglasses can withstand daily wear and tear.

Proper care and maintenance can significantly extend the lifespan of your sunglasses. Clean your lenses regularly, store your sunglasses in a protective case, and avoid exposure to extreme temperatures.

Alex Lee at Mr.Mamil

Alex Lee is the founder and editor-at-large of Mr. Mamil. Coming from a professional engineering background, he breaks down technical cycling nuances into an easy-to-understand and digestible format here.

He has been riding road bikes actively for the past 12 years and started racing competitively in the senior category during the summer recently.