Remember the 1980s? I do. [sigh.] They were a time of, well, it’s hard to summarize an entire decade of human existence, but is there a better single object which does so than eyewear? Before the 80s, pretty much all glasses had two lenses of varying size, one for each eye. By the end of the 80s... there was just one.
Seriously, the ski goggle style popularized by the La Vie Claire team back in 1985 was a bolt of fashion lightning, for cyclists and fans. Sure, they basically just took some big scissors to a pair of ski goggles, but whatever. I literally ran out and bought a pair with what amounted to a two week supply of lunch and dinner funds (these were college years) to get me my first pair and complete my connection to Greg LeMond, minus the talent or other cycling attributes. I was so far ahead of my classmates’ fashion senses that they looked at me quizzically from behind their tortoise shells. But before long, the concept caught on as a statement on cool, quasi-modern, sleek-lined 80s fashion, the perfect accessory for your white cotton suit and skinny tie. And then the practicality of the unilens got noticed. By the 90s full size wraps were just as likely to be a hit with your grandparents as your friends. Not all of this was good news, but that’s how it goes with fashion I guess.
Wraps hit sports big time, but got slimmer and slimmer until, say, track stars looked more like DEVO fans. In the cycling world, the large wraps never stopped making perfect sense, but they had their limitations too. Made of plastic, my 1985 version fell apart pretty quickly, and the ski-style strip of foam on the upper edge lost its will to live after one sweaty New England summer. It didn’t help that they fell off occasionally. They were still very cool, but before long they definitely needed replacing.
Numerous cycling eyewear products have since flooded the market, single lens versions included, addressing things like durability, comfort and versatility, changing shapes and designs in an effort to get noticed. I have had several over the years, and had plenty of good experiences. But there was always room to grow. Now, having acquired a set of Smith’s Shift MAGs, I am wondering if that room has now filled up.
Smith Sports Optics is an Idaho company which pioneered the idea of lenses over breathable foam inserts to allow skiers the opportunity to see where they were going in all conditions, free of fog. They’ve kept innovating with different styles and technologies, eco-friendly source materials, and even moving into the world of helmets, to pair with their renowned goggles. Skiing tech long ago overlapped into cycling tech, and the company has kept on growing. But the Shift MAG is its biggest cycling innovation in a while, and it’s quite a statement.
I’ve been riding these shades since March, and by riding I mean on my cross bike, road bike, mountain bike and skis. I’ve subjected them to road grit, mud, snow glare, fog, rain and now summer’s trail dust. They have passed every test to the point that I usually forget there is a test happening at all.
Pro’s for Pros
Some things I like, that seem like important changes from other eyewear:
- The big wrap style has always been a good idea for cycling, IMO. Maybe you can get by on a nice clean strip of tarmac with narrower glasses, more power to you. But if you mix in any gravel or dirt, then you need all the protection against dust that you can get. Oh, and my sneaky favorite use of cycling eyewear, downhill skiing, for sure benefits from the full size shield against the sun reflecting on snow. Uncomfortable light rays are no more likely to sneak in around the margins than trail dust.
- They stay put. Like, shake your head vigorously and nothing happens. The rubbery coating over the arms keeps them snug on your temples. They are designed to fill up the space below the brim of your helmet, which they comfortably do. They are probably the only glasses I’ve ever owned that have yet to fall off.
- They stay clear. Along the top edge there are two narrow slits through which air can pass as you move. Not enough to feel anything, but enough to prevent fogging. Obviously that’s a huge problem when it happens, more likely in cold, damp weather. I tested them in the Seattle winter and on ski days, when we were required to wear face coverings, about as sure a setup for lens fogging as you can get. And once I got moving, they were crystal clear.
Things I didn’t like? The fit over the bridge of my nose isn’t super snug. They rest there comfortably, and on a typical nose, you can adjust the nose piece into either of the two fittings simply enough. For me and my Roman proboscis, however, this is a regular challenge with glasses, and Smith hasn’t reimagined all its products for guys like me. I might prefer being able to bend them out at will instead of the two indexed positions? Still, that’s barely a complaint; thanks to the ear pieces the Shift MAG stays where it belongs regardless.
Oh, and if you are riding in the woods, probably don’t go with the fully darkened lens; the grey or red tint will probably work better. Given the variable light conditions we, ahem, enjoy in the Northwest, I should probably order a happy medium lens to complete my options.
Best Feature: Swappability
The reason you should think about footing the $259 retail is that the ability to change lenses really does make them two complete sets of eyewear. Each Shift MAG set comes with a clear lens, along with whichever one you choose — black, grey or red mirror tinted — so you have swappability. Like every eyewear set since forever, right? Sure... except the swappability is like nothing I’m used to. It is both simpler and far more secure than lenses of the past. No twisting and popping out lenses; you just click the button over each corner and gently remove the lens. The “MAG” part of the name refers to the use of a magnet in the joint that you release to remove the lens — but that is otherwise magnetically inclined to stay shut tight. What you get then is shown above: the lens with the top half of the frame separated from the rest of the frame.
Gone are the days of ruining my frame’s shape trying to force the lenses back into place. So too are the risks to the lenses themselves — scratches, fingerprints, etc. The Shift MAG lens pops in and out so easily that even a gear simpleton like me can manage it without ever hurting the lens or frame. The result is that I actually use both lenses, rather than shying away from switching them for fear of messing up and/or fingerprinting the lenses in the process. So yes, this really is like having two sets of eyewear.
Final Word: Fashion
This part is totally subjective, but as a child of the 80s wave of innovation, I can’t help but love the full lens look, albeit a bit flatter and squared off compared to the original designs. They come in white, red and matte or glossy black frames, plus the array of lens options. They don’t shrink down and try to pretend that their function isn’t to actually protect your face while riding. Wearing them, you look like a cyclist, but hardly in an exaggerated way. The white rim is a nice clean look for winter or summer, though I could have easily been swayed toward the red option.
Anyway, this is a definite recommendation from me! They’ve passed every test and are definitely my go-to lenses these days.