To wear, or not to wear, that is the question. Sunglasses or not? According to research by N3L Optics, 79% of motorcyclists wear sunglasses when outdoors, so presumably lots of us wear them while riding. Sunglasses serve the obvious function of reducing bright light and glare, but they also protect peepers from UV radiation, wind, dust and debris. If you wear an open-face helmet, then you must wear sunglasses, or perhaps goggles; in some states, motorcyclists are required by law to wear eye protection. I wear full-face helmets, and I almost always wear sunglasses, too. Of course, unless they have photochromic lenses that adjust tint to variable light, I remove them when the sun goes down, and they become optional when wearing a dark-tint face shield. During a ride I occasionally crack open my face shield to get a blast of fresh air, and sunglasses keep my eyes protected.
Not just any sunglasses will do when it comes to motorcycling. Like helmets, those that are cheap and designed primarily for novelty or vanity won’t provide the protection you need. Also like helmets, good sunglasses usually don’t come cheap, like the Oakley Split Jacket Transitions SolFX Sunglasses reviewed here, which retail for a wallet-emptying $260. Oakley has made high-end sunglasses for outdoor enthusiasts for years; back in high school, when Oakley used the corny cold-war tagline “Thermonuclear Protection,” I had a pair with iridium lenses and blue frames that, in hindsight, made me look pretty ridiculous. Fortunately, we’ve both matured.
Although Oakley’s Split Jacket sunglasses were not designed exclusively for motorcycling, they serve the purpose well. One issue I have with some high-end sunglasses is polarized lenses, which can create rainbow-colored distortions—similar to an oil sheen floating on water—when looking through face shields or windscreens, or looking at LCD instrument panels. Also, because of changing light conditions throughout the day, especially with the variable micro-climates in California, dark-only lenses can be problematic. That’s why I picked the Split Jacket with Transitions SolFX lenses that go from light to dark depending on available light. The tint of the Transitions SolFX lenses ranges from light to dark gray–light enough to be worn after sundown and dark enough to be worn at high noon.
The Oakley Split Jacket has a tough but featherweight frame made of “stress-resistant O Matter,” whatever the heck that is, and grippy “Unobtainium” stem sleeves and nose pads. The frame and stems are curved and hug my head closely, providing good wind blockage. The stem sleeves are held in place by a notched out portion of each temple arm. Unfortunately, repeatedly sliding the sunglasses on and off while wearing a snug, full-face helmet has stretched the sleeves and they tend to stay pushed onto the fat part of the arms (see photo). Some silicone adhesive would hold the sleeves in place, but then I couldn’t remove them for cleaning. And by staying stretched out, they are beginning to tear, hardly an endearing quality of $260 sunglasses.
Small Torx bolts on either side of the frame can be loosened for easy lens changes, which Oakley calls Switchlock technology (optional non-Transitions dark or light lenses are available, or prescription lenses can be fitted). All forms of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and blue light are blocked, and optical clarity has been excellent in all light conditions. According to Oakley, the Split Jacket meets ANSI Z87.1, the American National Standards Institute’s standard for eye protection devices, including standards for high velocity and high mass impact resistance. Fortunately, I haven’t been hit in the eye by a rock while riding down the road at 60mph, but I feel better knowing my eyes will be protected if it happens.
I’ve been wearing the Oakley Split Jacket Transitions SolFX Sunglasses for about six months, and aside from the stretched stem sleeves, I’ve been extremely happy with them. They’re durable, lightweight and fit well, and I love the convenience of the Transitions SolFX photochromic lenses. When the lenses get grimy from sweat, sunblock, etc., I use a microfiber cloth to avoid scratching the lenses. And when not in use, I store them in the provided impact-resistant case that has protective sleeves for a second set of lenses (a soft drawstring bag is also included).
The Oakley Split Jacket is available several models, with prices ranging from $200 to $260. Oakley sunglasses can be found at most sporting good stores, at Oakley’s website (www.oakley.com) or at N3L Optics store locations, where trained “Gearus” can help you choose the right sunglasses, plus ongoing cleaning and tune-ups when you visit. N3L Optics also has a webpage that offers a selection of sunglasses geared towards motorcycling.