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Cycling and eyewear have long formed a symbiotic relationship. Today, not only are cycling glasses considered by many as essential equipment before a ride, they’re also highly fashionable instruments that aren’t uncommon away from the pelotons of the world.

Wearing cycling glasses is highly practical and helps to make cyclists safer, too. They help to keep cyclists’ eyes safe from UV and the glare that can rise up from road surfaces. Their tinted lenses can also help to improve the cyclist’s contrast and depth perception. Even for overcast days, eyewear can be essential for helping to protect eyes from flying debris or just about anything that may impact vision.

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A Brief History of Cycling Glasses

Although the cycling glasses of today look as though they’ve come directly from the future, the eyewear actually has a history that can be traced back over 140 years. The earliest mention of cycling eyewear stems from a book entitled Hints on Continental Touring - A Bicycle Tour in England and Wales, which was published in 1879.

The book concludes that “a polo cap…cannot, however, afford any protection for the eyes, on whose behalf tinted spectacles or eye glasses will in most cases become necessary when on the dazzling roads, and in the bright atmosphere of Switzerland, Austria, Italy, or Southern France.”

For English cyclists visiting warmer climates, it became apparent that eye protection must also feature lenses that are ‘coloured or smoked’ in order to protect against dazzling glares emanating from roads - as Charles A. Brady noted when writing in The Springfield Wheelers Gazette following a trip to Barbados.

By the 1950s, cycling glasses started to take on a more familiar form. Lightweight materials meant that frames could become any shape and leather materials gave way to more responsive rubber.

The decade was a watershed era for the sunglasses industry, as brands like Ray-Ban and Person pioneered striking lens and frame designs that would be paraded by Hollywood’s brightest stars at the time.

Back in the peloton, new materials like nylon and silica glasses were helping to give the sport’s brightest names a new cutting edge in races. Champion of champions Fausto Coppi was making waves using the lightweight and universally popular Aviator glasses - though at this moment in time his striking look was still a rarity within the sport.

The Arrival of Big Brands

One of the earliest big brand arrivals on the cycling scene was Carrera, which had been developing sports glasses for skiing. In the 50s, Carrera’s use of more comfortable, lightweight, and customisable lenses, owing to developments in thermoplastics, meant that riders could enjoy interchangeable lenses to suit different conditions.

However, one of the most revolutionary arrivals on the scene came later on in 1975, backed with a $300 investment and a dog. James Jannard, using the name of his dog to create the motocross grips that he patented, Oakley was born.

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Although Jannard initially sold masks for pilots, by 1986, Greg LeMond had won the Tour de France wearing Oakley.

LeMond’s look was striking. The glasses consisted of a frame borrowed from prescription models and a large lens that carried the same appearance as ski masks. The different colours that tint the lenses have now become an iconic component of the cycling glasses that are widely popular today.

Even in 2022, Oakley’s relationships with leading figures in the world of cycling has seen the brand deliver its own range of collaborative models like that of the Mathieu Van Der Poel Signature Series Sutro Lite. Oakley has even managed to convert its iconic cycling designs into highly-functional prescription lenses. For more information about Oakley prescription lenses, follow this link.

In the years that followed, the world of cycling became intertwined with high fashion. Today, we’ve already seen major international celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid and Rita Ora sporting cycling eyewear in the name of fashion.

Even the likes of Prada have been unable to resist the lure of cycling eyewear, having recently created its own range of lenses inspired by the sport. The brand noted that the style of lenses aligned well with the essence of the Prada Linea Rossa collection, which seeks to recapture the streetwear stylings of the late 1990s.

Readying for a Cycling Boom

The recent surge in cycling fashion is likely to be down to the growth in popularity that the sport has experienced in recent years. The healthy functionality of cycling and the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has conspired to create far greater levels of interest in the sport - particularly around Europe and the UK.

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As the chart above shows, more than one-fifth of residents in nations like the Netherlands, Germany, India, Sweden, Finland, Brazil and Switzerland among many others have been cycling regularly within the first year of the pandemic.

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Taking the United Kingdom as an example, we can see that the distances that individuals cycled, in particular, experienced a seismic leap in 2020 - more than doubling in size compared to 2002.

With cycling becoming far more popular in recent years, we’re likely to see its relationship with the world of fashion strengthening further in the future. For an eyewear industry that sits at the heart of the sport, this presents itself as an opportunity to become even more inventive and stylish. The lenses may be rose tinted, but the future certainly looks bright for the future of cycling eyewear.