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Review: cycling in new Maui Jim Switchbacks sunglasses

Alia Parker's picture
Maui Jim Switchback sunglasses for sports. Cycle Traveller

One thing I really don't like cycling without is a decent pair of sunglasses. I find the moment I take my sunnies off something irritates my eyes, whether it be glare, wind, insects or rain. And given I pretty much spend my entire time on the bike behind these little shields, I like to have a pair of sunnies I enjoy wearing. One pair I've just had the pleasure of testing are the new Maui Jim Switchbacks – a sports shade with interchangeable lenses. These are one fancy pair of sports sunnies and now my eyes have been spoilt, I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to average non-polarised sunglasses again.

Colour

The first thing I notice about the Switchbacks is that colours appear really vibrant. This earns a big tick in my book because one of my dislikes about previous sunglasses I have owned is that colours appear dull, especially greens, which often look brown. There have been times when wearing my old sunnies that I thought I was cycling through drought affected areas only to take them off and realise I was amongst rather lush green fields.

Clarity

The second thing that grabs my attention is that my vision appears clearer. I know the Switchbacks aren't prescription lenses, but it really does feel like my vision has improved the moment I put them on. A little reading explains that this is because of their PolarizedPlus2 lens technology, which removes 99.9% of glare and improves contrast, resulting in a crisper image. One criticism of polarised lenses has been that the process of removing glare can distort vision ever so slightly (that is, the position of objects through the lens is slightly off from where they are in real life), so I pay particular attention to whether I can notice any distortion between my vision through and around the lens. However, Maui Jim says their lenses are optically correct and distortion free and no matter how I twist my head around I can't prove them wrong.

The polarised lens definitely helps reduce eye fatigue and I find I don't need to squint at all while wearing them. The only strange thing I notice due to the polarisation is that when I look at my smartphone screen, I feel like I'm wearing 3D glasses, which is rather amusing for a little while. So Maui Jim PolarizedPlus2 technology also get a tick from me.

Maui Jim Switchback lenses. Product review. Cycle TravellerProtection

UV protection in any pair of sunnies I wear is non negotiable, especially because I have a small mole in my eye (yes, apparently it's possible), and the Switchback lenses filter out 100% of harmful UV rays, so that's a third tick.

Interchangeable lenses

But what really separates the Switchbacks from other products on the market – and the feature that gives them their name – is the ability to switch lenses to suit whatever light conditions you may face. I'm testing the HCL Bronze lens – designed to provide the best vision in all light conditions, including sun and clouds – as well as the anti-reflective clear lens (which comes with each pair of Switchbacks). A range of other lenses, including dark grey for full sun, rose for low-light and action, and high transmission lenses for distance, are also available. I particularly like the HCL Bronze lens for touring because of the range of light conditions encountered during the day and I find they perform well in both bright sun and overcast conditions. I really like the ability to switch the lenses to clear. In the past when riding in the early morning or late evening, I've had to remove my sunnies because of poor visibility. Inevitably, as insects are most prevalent at dawn and dusk, I end up with bugs in my eyes. The clear lens solves this problem brilliantly.

There are a number of sunglasses on the market that have the ability to swap lenses, with most requiring you to swap each eye out separately. The Switchbacks make the swapping process easier by having designed one lens shield instead of two separate eye pieces. They're not the only eyewear manufacturer to do this – Oakley has quite a popular offering – however, having played with both, the Switchbacks are definitely easier to swap out. A little button at the top of the sunnies releases the lock which keeps the shield in place. The shield can then be pulled down and out of the frame, clipping out of the sides. The replacement lens then just clicks back into place and locks in with the push of a button. I'm cautious the first time I switch the lenses, worried that I may break them, but this concern dissipates after a few tries and I get the action down to a few seconds. The lenses themselves are very strong, made of scratch and impact resistant polycarbonate material.

Final word

Importantly, the Switchbacks are comfortable, don't slip around my face – even when I get sweaty – and provide a clear line of sight due to the bottom of the sunglasses being rimless.

Designed with a bright Hawaiian outdoor lifestyle in mind and made in Italy, Maui Jim Switchbacks offer a nice combination of sports performance and style, keeping to classic colours rather than the bright fluro bug-eye designs of the key race brands.

By all accounts, they are a nice pair of sunglasses to wear cycling. But lightweight, polarised, scratch and impact resistant Italian-made sunglasses don't come cheaply, setting you back about AUD$375. These are a premium product, but factor in that you get two different lenses for that price, making them more useful than a single pair of sunnies. Their durability and scratch-resistance should also see them last longer as well.

Image from top: 1. Maui Jim Switchback in Matte Rootbeer colour with HCL Bronze lens. 2. A few of the alternative lenses available, including clear, full sun and high transmission.

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