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by James Huang
October 4, 2018
Photography by James Huang
Shimano has steadily been expanding its range of products far beyond just bicycle componentry, and while the brand has sold eyewear for several years now, it’s only just recently begun offering it in the United States. Even more recent than that is the debut of a flagship S-Phyre range of cycling sunglasses, intended to go head-to-head with the best from Oakley, Smith Optics, and other well-established frontrunners.
Does the new S-Phyre X model hit its mark? Sort of, says CyclingTips global tech editor James Huang.
Shimano probably isn’t the first name you think of when shopping for cycling sunglasses (or probably even the second, third, fourth, of fifth), but the latest S-Phyre X makes a solid case for that situation to change.
For a comparatively modest US$150 / AU$N/A / £TBC / €160, you get two interchangeable polycarbonate lenses, two nosepieces, two sets of colored frame accents, a soft carrying bag, and a semi-rigid carrying case – not bad. Buyers have their choice of photochromic or polarized tints as their main lens, depending on region, and a supplemental tint for low-light conditions is included.
The reasonable price includes two lenses, two sets of lower frame covers, a soft carrying bag, and a semi-rigid carrying case. At least as compared to the more established brands, it’s pretty decent value.
All of the lenses are treated with “Super Hydrophobic” coatings on both the inner and outer surfaces to help keep them clear of water and sweat, and Shimano also claims the anti-scratch treatment applied is, “3x more durable than regular coatings.”
Naturally, Shimano proudly touts its partnership with the LottoNL-Jumbo team in the development of the S-Phyre X — but sadly, the yellow frame accents are reserved solely for the team.
For this review, I opted for the “Optimal PL Red MLC” main lens, whose darker tint (16% total light transmission) and 80% polarization would be better suited for Colorado’s intense, high-altitude sunshine.
Shimano may be relatively new to the eyewear game, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell based on the S-Phyre X’s performance. Lens clarity is outstanding, and lens distortion is minimal (albeit still very slightly noticeable). Coverage is very generous, with the edges of the lens only noticeable if you’re really looking for them, and only the slightest hint of airflow careening across your eyes even on very fast descents. I especially appreciated the extended coverage up high, a trend originally started by 100% and carried forth by many other brands.
By raising the lens relative to the ear stems, the Shimano S-Phyre X sunglasses provide an expansive field of view – especially up top – and yet still minimize interference with helmets.
Despite the half-rim design, the frame is admirably rigid and offers a comfortably snug hold on my fairly narrow head, even when wet, thanks to the non-slip rubberized ear stems and nosepiece. Interchangeable or adjustable nosepieces are becoming increasingly popular (both as a way to accommodate different face shapes and as a way for riders to customize the fit overall), but Shimano’s solution is particularly clever.
The two included nosepieces can be swapped, yes, but each one can also be flipped left-to-right, meaning there are actually four different lens height options, and no worries about a pivoting or bendable nosepiece losing its adjustment over time. Even better, the nosepieces attach securely with virtually zero chance of falling off by accident — something I can’t say about some other sunglass models I’ve tried recently.
Each of the two included nosepieces can also be reversed left-to-right, thus yielding four possible fits for fine-tuning. It’s a smart system, and the nosepieces are reassuringly robust.
I have mixed feelings about the Optimal PL Red MLC lens, however. The dark tint and semi-polarization does an excellent job of toning down the sun’s rays, but the tint varies slightly from top-to-bottom, so how the world looks can differ depending on how your head it tilted.
More disconcerting, however, was how the tint also varies a bit from left-to-right, especially in terms of the polarization. Car windshields occasionally took on a weird appearance, for example, with the reflection sometimes being visible in one eye, but not the other. At times, it was almost like I was looking through one of those cheap 3D movie glasses, albeit in a much more subtle fashion.
But even though the effect was subtle, I still could have done without it.
Additional bits clip on the lower edge of the lens to provide a full-frame look, if that’s what you prefer. I found them to be distracting, though, and ultimately went without.
Shimano included an additional photochromic grey lens for the review, and, thankfully, that experience was more positive. It doesn’t get as dark as the Optimal PL Red MLC tint, but it gets the job done in most sunlight conditions, and also gets sufficiently light that I was comfortable using it during dawn and dusk hours as well. Unlike with the polarized lens, there were no issues with uneven tinting or odd reflections.
Most surprising was the Cloud Mirror spare lens, which, at 85% light transmission, is virtually clear, but with a very slight tint that blocks out the bluer end of the color spectrum. These still retained my ability to see in very low-light conditions, but rendered the bluish hues of LED headlights (mine included) in a more natural color. The effect was especially noticeable when trail riding after dark, where I found it a little easier to pick out ground texture and other features that normally get washed out in high-powered headlamps.
The shimmery black frame is impressively rigid despite the glasses weighing less than 30g. They fit snugly and stay put.
None of the lenses offered anywhere near the dramatic increase in visual contrast and acuity as Oakley’s class-leading Prizm range, though.
Aesthetically, Shimano’s eyewear department could also use a boost in its creative capabilities. The S-Phyre X glasses look just fine as is, but the overall look is arguably derivative and somewhat uninspired. With the optional lower frame pieces clipped in (they’re purely for show), one might understandably mistake the S-Phyre X for a pair of Oakley Jawbreakers. But without them, they’re a little generic.
The texture on the temples isn’t just for show; it actually seems to work.
Shimano is only just getting into the high-end eyewear game, so it’s understandable that its first effort isn’t a home run; these S-Phyre X glasses are good, but not great, and I’m not sure they live up to the lofty standards Shimano clearly aspires to with the rest of its S-Phyre collection. However, if Shimano figures out how to refine its lens tints to bring them more inline with what its more advanced competitors have to offer, and if the company’s designers start juicing up with a little more caffeine in the morning, then we might have a real contender on our hands here.
Given Shimano’s penchant for not being entirely satisfied with “OK”, my guess is that time will come sooner rather than later.
Shimano S-Phyre eyewear is currently not available in Australia. Shimano Australia offers more budget oriented eyewear models outside of the S-Phyre range. To read more about the S-Phyre X, click through to the Shimano website.