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Why are sports sunglasses so big?

Dec. 06, 2023
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Perhaps influenced by the increasing proliferation of PPE in our everyday lives, the adoption of enormous goggle-like sunglasses by most riders in this year’s Tour de France is one of the least subtle tech trends on show at this year’s race.

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Though we’re not talking Sagan-like podium-goggle antics (I will stop watching bicycle racing if anyone dons a pair of these in a road race), newly-released sunglasses from the likes of Koo, 100%, Scicon and these limited-edition shades from Oakley are all uncompromising in their pursuit of ultimate bigness.

Worn alongside mandatory post-race face masks, the combination of large sunglasses and next-to-no skin on show has given the 2020 peloton an odd robot-like look that has been noticed by more than a few. Here’s a brief history of oversized sunglasses in pro cycling, who’s riding what this year, and why riders wear them in the first place.

Marco Bertorello/Getty Images

A brief history of big cycling sunglasses

Truly big sunnies were first popularised by Greg LeMond when he donned the now-legendary Oakley Eyeshade for the 1984 edition of the Tour. Soon, half of the peloton were seen in them and the oversized sunglasses arms-race kicked off in earnest. 

The early nineties rolled around with a barrage of similarly oversized designs – think the Bolle Edge II – with things eventually becoming increasingly weird, small and insect-inspired as the decade progressed. 

The Oakley M-Frame and its many imitators then dominated the Lance-era and shades remained roughly the same size until 2015 when the then-revolutionary Oakley Jawbreaker – popularised by Mark Cavendish – was released. 

Every brand and their dog has followed suit, culminating in this year’s big-shade-energy-dominated race. 

Who’s riding what? Oversized sunglasses at the 2020 Tour

NNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Steele/Getty Images

Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Marco Bertorello/Getty Images

Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Marco Bertorello/Getty Images

Kenzo Tribouillard/Getty Images

Why do cyclists wear big sunglasses anyway?

Marco Bertorello/Getty Images

I have long been a strong proponent of oversized sunglasses.

Perhaps the fact I’m the son of a cabinet maker and grew up around scary spinning blades has given me a stronger aversion than most to the idea of things going in my eyes.

Large sunglasses give greater protection to your eyes and the soft tissue around them.

Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Goodness forbid should you crash, larger frames may also be less likely to impact the soft tissue around your eyes.

By virtue of their size, they also tend to obscure your peripheral vision less than smaller frames. In my experience, anyway, they can also be less prone to fogging up.

I am not alone in my love for the large life – BikeRadar technical editor Alex Evans summed up his feels on the trend as “make sunglasses bigger – better optics, fewer flies, and increase mirrored finishes while you’re at it”.

Jeff Pachoud/Getty Images

Marco Bertorello/Getty Images

Technical writer Simon Bromley and editor George Scott also simply said of the trend, “cool”, and that’s an assessment I stand by.

On that last point, there’s no point in denying that in the midst of a several-hundred-rider strong peloton, comically oversized sunglasses are more likely to stand out on the sweaty billboard that is professional road racing.

VINCENT AMALVY/AFP via Getty Images

Call me a cynic if you like, but, if standing out wasn’t the end goal with cycling sunglasses, why were designs such as the Oakley Over The Top, Assos Zegho or Briko Raider 2 ever allowed out into the wild?

Alongside the aforementioned new releases, an as-of-yet unreleased pair of Oakley sunglasses – which are rumoured to be the Oakley Sutro Lite – have also been spotted this season. Classics such as the POC Do Blade have also made an appearance.

Sara Cavallini/Getty Images

Big sunglasses are clearly here to stay, and I’m all for it – we all look silly enough as it is in cycling kit, so why not take it to the extreme? If the world of high fashion can make them work, so can we.

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But what do you think of large cycling sunglasses? Are you a fan or are they simply a passing fashion fad? Vote in the poll below of let us know what you think in the comments.

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