Oakley cycling glasses: A comprehensive overview

Oakley cycling glasses
(Image credit: Will Jones)

In the days of Fausto Coppi, cyclists would wear what we'd now think of as 'normal' sunglasses (Persol ones in the case of Coppi, if you're interested). Nowadays Oakley is still the most recognisable brand in sports eyewear, especially in cycling.  Since 1985, and the iconic Eyeshade glasses, it has been at the forefront of performance sunglasses. Since then we have had the Razor Blades, perched on the face of Greg LeMond, and the M-Frame, on the face of Lance Armstrong. In the late 90's the brand went a bit wild with models like the Over The Top as sported by David Millar, fortunately with a TT helmet to cover his frosted tips. 


The DNA of glasses like the Eyeshades can be seen in modern models like the Sutro (Image credit: Courtesy)

Since then the number of cycling-specific, or at least sporting performance models has proliferated greatly. Gone are the Jawbones beloved by Geraint Thomas, but in their place we still have the Jawbreaker, Sutro, Encoder, Flack and many more. Below I'll take you through the lot, with info on fit, function, drawbacks and advantages, as well as an explainer on the different lens options that Oakley offers.

Now, Oakley is just one brand, and there are plenty of others on the market making fantastic options. Having now tested well over 40 pairs I've put together a comprehensive guide to the best cycling glasses on the market, so if you're not dead set on Oakleys then you'll almost certainly find an alternative in the mix there, along with some answers to more generic questions, like "why do cyclists wear such massive sunglasses?".

Oakley cycling glasses

Oakley lenses

If you have decided to kit yourself out with a pair of Oakley sunglasses you're going to be faced with a choice of lenses and will come across some jargon that I'm going to try and demystify, as well as give you some helpful pointers.

My main advice is that, if you are mainly riding on the road, you should opt for the Prizm Road lenses unless you have a good reason not to (like them not matching your helmet). They are the best on the market, with the best clarity and contrast, and are useable in the widest range of light conditions, from bright sunshine to near dusk. 

Other Prizm lenses are available; sapphire, jade, 24k (gold, to you and I), black and several more. There's even a trail-specific model, which is tuned to off-road riding. They all perform very well indeed, though none quite match. The 24k gold lens is the darkest of the lot though, so if you're riding in blazing sunshine all the time then these will be a better option, and likewise, the Prizm Low Light will be best if you're constantly riding in overcast conditions.

Bear in mind that not all (though most) models can swap lenses, so you may have to commit, and Oakley replacement lenses aren't cheap. They also rarely if ever come with a clear replacement, unlike those from other brands. 

Non-prizm (i.e. the 'normal' range) offer the same sun blocking and tints as the Prizm range, but don't have quite the same levels of contrast; effectively the Prizm range marries an orange-ish base lens with a reflective surface coating to give the boosted contrast.

Finally, you have polarised lenses, offered on some but not all models. In my experience, polarised lenses offer little advantage to the cyclist, and often make it harder to see standing water coming at you fast.

How to choose the best Oakleys for you

Still have some questions? Well, hopefully, I can answer them. Given the variety of models and lenses and the fact that the pro riders all seem to choose different options for different races, it's hardly surprising. 

Why is Oakley so expensive?

Well, in the context of cycling glasses, they really aren't. I'm not saying they're cheap by any means, with most pairs setting you back £120 or more, but on the whole, they're not usually more expensive than models from POC and 100%. 

Is Oakley Prizm better than polarised?

For cycling, yes I'd say so. Polarised lenses, as mentioned above, block the reflections from standing water you you may not see it at speed and plough through a puddle unexpectedly. Polarised lenses aren't really going to be a drawback, but between the two I'd recommend Prizm, especially Prizm Road unless you're riding off-road.

Do Oakley lenses scratch easily?

No more than those of any other brand in my experience. The super reflective nature of the outer lens coating does make scratches more apparent though, so look after them and wash them under a tap before you scrub them with the microfibre bag if you suspect there's grit anywhere on them.

What colour Oakley lenses are best for cycling?

The Prizm Road lenses are the best option, but any of the Prizm range will stand you in good stead. If you're riding a lot in low light the the Prizm Low Light is a great option, and for really bright days go for Prizm 24k. 

Will Jones
Tech Writer

Will joined the Cyclingnews team as a reviews writer in 2022, having previously written for Cyclist, BikeRadar and Advntr. There are very few types of cycling he's not dabbled in, and he has a particular affection for older bikes and long lasting components. Road riding was his first love, before graduating to racing CX in Yorkshire. He's been touring on a vintage tandem all the way through to fixed gear gravel riding and MTB too. When he's not out riding one of his many bikes he can usually be found in the garage tinkering with another of them, or getting obsessive about tyres. Also, as he doesn't use Zwift, he's our go-to guy for bad weather testing... bless him.

Rides: Custom Zetland Audax, Bowman Palace:R, Peugeot Grand Tourisme Tandem, Falcon Explorer Tracklocross, Fairlight Secan & Strael