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Few product categories in cycling are as saturated as eyewear. Between Oakley, Smith Optics, Bolle, Adidas, Rudy Project, 100%, Spy, KOO, Assos, Shimano, BBB, Briko, Salice, POC, and numerous others, it’s safe to say the choices can be overwhelming.
Based out of Canada, Ryders eyewear is no new player in cycling eyewear, historically concentrating at the value end of the spectrum. But since an acquisition by ophthalmic lens powerhouse Essilor (who recently merged with Luxottica to form an even-bigger conglomerate), Ryders has shifted into the higher-price performance space.
At last year’s Eurobike trade show, tech writer David Rome was inundated with heady claims at the Ryders booth. While many brands say their lenses offer photochromic tint adjustment, various fog/sweat/water-resistant coatings, enhanced contrast, and impact resistance, Ryders claim the top-tier Fyre lens includes all of those.
Instead of calling bullshit and walking away, he asked for a sample.
Fyre lens technology
It wasn’t long ago that polycarbonate was the preferred material for sunglass lenses, thanks to its outstanding clarity, excellent impact resistance, and ease of tinting. But like a growing number of other eyewear brands, Ryders decided to instead make the new Fyre lens from Essilor’s “Sun Solution proprietary performance polymer” – better known as NXT – which has long been used in the military for fighter jet canopies and helicopter windshields due to its superior toughness and even-better optical properties relative to polycarbonate, plus built-in 100% UV400 protection.
There are three tints/colours of the Fyre lens available, each with matching arms provided. I tested the mirror-coated Light Grey – Grey with Blue MLV photochromic lens, which features a 17-77% light transmission and a neutral grey base.
For those who want more visual enhancement, Ryders also offer their Varia photochromic lenses yellow to brown and pink to purple versions, each of which claim to enhance colour and definition by as much as 20% while still automatically lightening and darkening depending on ambient conditions.
The MLV mirror coating is a patented technology, and one that Ryders say doesn’t hinder the sensitivity of the photochromic technology. In the case of the grey lenses tested, the mirroring is subtle.
Further coatings are provided in order to repel water, dirt, and grease. This hydrophobic and oleophobic coating sees water bead straight off it, while making dirt and grease less likely to stick. However, such a coating is only given to the front side of the lens.
Likewise, the front side of the lens is given a scratch-resistant coating, making the surface “considerably harder than the base lens material”. Ryders claim this isn’t a scratch-proof coating, and while I didn’t have any issue with markings, care should still be taken.
All of those treatments have been used in eyewear before, but what I found especially impressive is the permanent anti-fog coating Ryder use on the Fyre. I’ve had plenty of sunglasses that claim to be fog-free over the years, but the Fyre lens is the first I’ve used to actually come close to matching its claim. It even resisted fogging while being held directly above a steaming kettle, and the condensation that did stick cleared within seconds.
“Your vision is affected by fog because the micro droplets of water cause a prismatic effect on the surface of the lens reducing the optics,” explained Roy Williams, director of product design and development at Ryders Eyewear. “The hydrophilic surface absorbs the droplets and stops the prismatic effect from occurring.”
That surface is harder to keep clean (Ryders suggest warm water and air drying), but it’s a fair trade-off for the benefit, especially for anyone living in humid climates.
Unique and effective frame design
All the lens technology in the world is useless without a comfortable fitting frame to hold it, and here, Ryders have been equally innovative.
Out of the box, the Roam frame is a reversed design to what’s typically found in cycling eyewear. Here, the top of the generously sized lens is kept completely unhindered, with the frame only found on the bottom half of the lens. And what’s even more unique, the use of this lower frame is optional.
Adding just 3g of weight, the lower frame adds a little rigidity, protection, and wind blocking, and so Ryders suggest using it mostly for mountain biking. Ryders claim its design also leaves the top of the glass open to expel moisture that typically turns to fog. Without the add-on frame, the Roam looks similar to the Oakley EVZero or the Smith Optics Attack, and weighs just 29g.
Swapping between the half-frame and frameless setups is as easy as replacing a lens in other glasses: you simply unclip the frame, and with a little bending, pop it free from the lens. A second nose piece is supplied to clip back into the lens if you wish to go without the lower frame. However, the arms are factory fitted to the lens, so you’ll need a second pair of eyewear if the photochromic lens isn’t enough to suit the conditions.
The frame, including the arms, are made from Grilamid TR90 thermoplastic, a Swiss material that is highly flexible, durable, and lightweight.
Both the nose piece and arms are made of hydrophilic rubber, meaning they get grippier with moisture (sweat). Malleable metal cores allow for customisation of the fit, too, to help accommodate a wide variety of head and nose shapes (including asymmetry).
There’s no denying the sheer amount of tech put into the one lens, and for me, the anti-fog was the standout element compared to the competition. Add in that the lens doesn’t seem to give up in other areas, and Ryders have done an impressive job with the Fyre.
The tint transitioning photochromic element works as claimed, smoothly and reliably changing to suit the conditions. It’s not the fastest to change, and certainly it performs better on a road bike than it does switching between open and tree-covered singletrack on a mountain bike. But in fairness to Ryders, only lenses that use e-tint technology have been able to adjust tint that quickly.
The general clarity of the Fyre lens is superb, and while the neutral grey model maintains a natural view of the world, high-contrast lenses like Oakley’s Prizm still do a better job of making things look more spectacular and vivid. I’m unsure on how well the more colour-focused Fyre lenses perform in this regard, but it seems that Ryders’ literature is often true. And do keep in mind, the Fyre lens offer a long list of features missing from the Prizm lens.
The hydrophobic and oleophobic coatings do a fine job of keeping the front of the lens clear, but the anti-fog coating on the inside is susceptible to smudging, and it’s certainly a fiddle to get clean again. Making matters worse is the open top design, which does little to divert sweat. Add in the wrong helmet choice, and you’ll likely want to just take the glasses off your face completely.
The frame design is well thought out. I’m not the biggest fan of the lower frame for road cycling, mostly due to its unusual aesthetic (hey, at least you don’t have to look at it while riding), but also because it hinders peripheral vision when riding in traffic. However, the ability to remove it makes this point rather moot, and from there you’re free to enjoy the Fyre lens.
The lens is large enough to provide comfortable coverage and reliable protection on its own, and the adjustable nose bridge lets you fine-tune where the shield sits in relation to your face, both in terms of distance and height. Whether you prefer a breezy feel or a close and shielded view, the Roam Fyre can accommodate.
However, forgoing the lower frame does make the eyewear noticeably more flexible, to the point where I had to adjust the mouldable temple tips and nose piece to compensate. And even after snugging up the fit, it’s still somewhat loose. By comparison, Oakley Radars grip your head with more surface area, and offer a noticeably tighter, and more secure hold as a result.
While I preferred the Roam Fyre without the lower frame, it does serve a purpose. At high speeds (over 60km/h), my eyes were noticeably more shielded with the frame installed. Likewise, the added protection for the lens itself was comforting from a long-term durability perspective.
In theory, the adjustable nose pads and temple grippers should make this eyewear comfortable for the masses. However, the Roam Fyre runs somewhat narrow, and I’ve seen complaints from larger-headed users that the fit is just too tight.
Speaking of the arms and temple grippers, the length is similar to that of Oakley Radars, which means fitment with some helmet retention systems is sometimes compromised. The tips are slimmer than those found on Radars, and so slipping them beneath, or bending them over problematic helmets is certainly easier. Regardless, users experienced with Kask helmets and Oakley sunglasses will find similar frustrations here.
Lastly, there’s the matter of price. At a retail of AU$299 / US$239, the Roam Fyre is certainly a high-end product, but it’s reasonably high on value, too. The quality and sheer number of features offered easily put this against any top-tier offering. No doubt Ryders are trying to play in a tough market, but the performance seems sufficient to justify a place at the table.