26 February 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Specialized ArcTerra sunglasses

I bought these glasses after reading about them in one of the bicycle magazines. The ArcTerra are mountain bike specific photocromic sunglasses (I thought the word was photocromatic but Specialized is using the word “photocromic”)– how could that be bad? When reading about them, they impressed me with the lens material, and the amount of visible light they let through in their clearest state. Some people like lenses as dark as possible, some like them very lightly tinted. I am one of those people that likes a lighter shaded lens. Even in blinding light I like only minimal tint. In fact, I only need a little bit of visible light reduction at the brightest times, and I dislike any reduction in visible light when it is overcast, or when riding in the shade under the forest canopy. Given their high light transmission rating, ArcTerra sounded good.

The ArcTerra's Adaptalite lens is made from some kind of hi-tech poly-something material which is extremely resistant to shattering. Specialized claims that their photocromic lens provides a light transmission range of 78% to 22% which is a wide range when compared to other brands’ photocromic lenses (such as Rudy Project's 16-50%), and most importantly to me, one of the lightest tints available when at it’s clearest.

When you put them on for the first time you notice lens quality is very high- there isn't a bit of optical distortion. The single uninterrupted wrap lens makes for a spectacular field of vision which is further enhanced by the minimal metal frame. The frame is unique in that it has no hinges- just a flexible metal frame that hugs the head. In the store, the fit was firm, but still comfortable. The non-folding nature of these glasses does mean they take up more room than others and are somewhat awkward to store and handle. $155 isn't unreasonable for a 'premium' pair of riding glasses and they do come with a nice hard case (pictured) and a lens rag.

On the trail the lenses lived up to my expectations and performed almost flawlessly, the only exception some lens fogging in just the right conditions (me stopped and hot, air cool), but it cleared immediately once moving. The lens has more of a yellow tint than my usual favorite red tint lenses. It works so well, though, that I like this as much as any lens I have used.

The only real problem I had with these glasses was the frame cutting into my left ear. It is not noticeable when I first start riding with them, but within a half an hour they begin digging into the top of my ear. I thought that my helmet straps may have had something to do with this but after trying a number of different helmets it seems to make little difference. These are not my favorite glasses solely because of this problem. To be fair to Specialized, I have uneven ears, and I suspect they are the root of this problem. Fit is very personal anyway so just try before you buy. Spez makes the folding plastic frame Chicane ($110) with the same lenses which I will likely someday buy because I love these lenses that much.

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