15 July 2009

bikefix Initial Review: Smith Reactor Max sunglasses

As much as I love the Rudy Project Rydon's that have been my sunglasses of choice for over five years, their interference with a recent helmet purchase (and the resulting headaches) started me looking at other options. For riding- especially on the road- I tend to prefer eyewear without fairly minimal frames. Not only does this tend to make changing lenses easier, but it allows for an unobstructed rearward view- essential for quick glances over or under the shoulder while in traffic. When I saw Smith's new Reactor Max model, I was impressed by the apparent quality of the provided lenses, the glasses' shape and (most importantly) the fit promised by their adjustable nosepiece.

Though I don't consider my nose to be either particularly large or particularly bumpy, I have a hard time getting glasses with molded-in-place nose pads to sit right on my face. For that reason, I have a hard time getting along with some of the more fashionable riding eyewear that's become popular over the past several years. In my case, adjustable nosepieces allow me to adjust glasses such that they sit securely on my nose and not so far off my cheeks that wind or tearing become an issue. To the adjustable nosepieces, Smith's Reactor Max's add a pair of neither too big nor too small lenses and skull-embracing curved temples to create a package seemingly designed for a medium-faced cyclist such as myself.

Though my Reactor Max's come with a number of primary lenses (mine were "smoke," a medium-dark gray) all come with (at least) "Clear Mirror" and "Ignitor" lens sets. It is the rose-colored Ignitor lenses I have found most useful for riding. Red-tinted lenses offer increased contrast over gray tints without the blinding effect that yellow lenses can have in bright conditions. For high-speed activities or those that take the wearer in and out from under shade, they are near ideal- better, in my opinion, than brown or amber lenses in most conditions. As an added bonus, looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses reportedly improves ones mood and worldview- which can't hurt. With 32% light transmission, Smith's Ignitor lenses don't block as much light as Rudy Project's Racing Red, making them a bit better for people (like Charlie) who prefer a lighter lens or life in more forested or cloudier areas (New or Old England, respective). While I personally wouldn't mind a slightly darker lens, I don't find myself squinting even in full sun at midday and would rate the Ignitors as very good overall, very clear with no noticeable distortion.

Initially, my feelings about the Reactor Max's were mixed. I was happy with the lenses and the glasses' shape, but while riding I would find myself adjusting them frequently and having to push them up my nose. Somewhat disappointed, I resolved to eBay them when I had the chance. Fortunately, a busy spring meant that I never got around to it, and when a new helmet arrived, I decided to give the Smiths another chance. Without Giro's Roc Loc constantly interfering with their arms, the Reactor Max's felt like altogether different glasses. The Smiths' light weight and well-shaped arms mean that they can hold my face with minimal force yet stay put, even off road or face down in an aero tuck. The lenses are large enough that their edges sit outside of my normal field of vision, as do the frames, without looking like translucent red wings. The rubber temple inserts and nosepieces hold securely without drawing attention to themselves. Heck, considering what they have to work with, they're even pretty good looking.

While not unheard of for good quality sunglasses, my Reactor Max's $149 price tag seemed a bit high. Looking at the company's website, though, the Reactor Max's are available with a blue mirror lens (plus the Clear Mirror and Ignitor) for only $109. Better still would be the brown-lensed version, which will add a high-contrast lens for bright conditions for $119. The zippered carrying case is a nice addition, is better made than those that come with some more expensive glasses, and has pockets for all three lens sets. Further justifying the price is Smith's well-regarded lifetime guarantee, which covers defects in materials or workmanship.

Overall, I could find virtually nothing to change about the Reactor Max's. I wouldn't mind buying the glasses with the Ignitor lenses alone for, say, $90, but the three-sets thing has long been Smith's schtick. I think that Giro helmet owners might want to look elsewhere first, but medium-faced riders with less-obtrusive helmet retention systems should be very well served by the Reactor Max's.




zobl said...

Bought these glasses a few days ago with the blue mirror/ignitor/clear lens kit. The ignitor lens is very fine for very different light situations. The blue mirror, however, is very disappointing as it produces a lot of glare and reflections if the sun shines directly on the lens. Otherwise, very good glasses and very good review.

bikefix said...


Thanks! I've never quite understood blue lenses, especially on the road. Beyond your complaints, their tint makes stoplights and brake lights harder to see and as a result countries in the EU discussed banning them for driving several years ago... That said, polarized lenses can cause odd patterns in cars' windshields (keeping the rider from seeing if anyone's inside and moving to open a door)- but that hasn't slowed their wide acceptance... Take care, marc

zobl said...


Actually, the lens isn't blue but rather gray - only the mirror is blue.