Dec 11 2010

No Grit, Sherlock! Keeping Crud Out of Your Eyes

Earlier this week the never-ending December rains chilled out, and snow has been falling ever since. This is good news if you like to ski or snowshoe, but it’s not so great if you choose to travel by bike. To be sure, the highway crews do what they can to keep the roads passable, sending the plow trucks and sanders out again and again. And mostly they succeed. But the salty grit that the trucks leave in their wake makes cyclists’ lives harder. Every passing car and truck is now trailed by a corrosive, abrasive plume. Bicycle drivetrains, frames, and brakes all suffer. So do cyclists’ eyes.

True Grit

It’s not a threat to be taken lightly. A speeding car’s wheels can catapult sand and small stones plenty fast enough to blind an unprotected rider. The answer? Even if you have perfect vision, you’ll want to wear eyeglasses when you’re on your bike. And not just any glasses. In fact, you don’t want any “glass” in your glasses at all. Polycarbonate is the material of choice. Maybe you don’t think that glasses look cool. Well, that’s your call, of course. But before you consign protective eyewear to the nerd bin — along with other icons of uncool, like helmets and Lycra shorts — consider just how uncool it is to lose the sight in an eye. Farwell can say something on that subject. He still has the pair of polycarbonate specs he was wearing when he went over the bars at 20 mph. He landed on the right side of his face. The impact tore off a pretty good chunk of meat and broke a few teeth, but the polycarbonate lens in his specs saved his right eye from permanent damage. Which was a very good thing, because that eye is his only window on the world. The polycarbonate lens bore several deep gouges from its slide along the asphalt, but it was easy to replace. There’s no way to replace a ruined eye.

All of which taught Farwell (and me) a couple of valuable lessons: (1) Protective eyewear isn’t an optional extra. We never leave home without them — at any season of the year. And (2) plain eyeglasses aren’t enough. You need something more. Farwell’s polycarbonate lens saved his eye, but his glasses’ metal frames made a neat job of slicing off the eyelid. Luckily, a skilled surgeon was able to stitch the lid back in place. Now Farwell wears UVEX frames and lenses certified to meet both ANSI Z87.1-2003 and Mil Vo specifications.


I was reminded of the importance of protective eyewear by a recent letter from Outside reader John Norris. Here’s what he had to say:

I always wear glasses when cycling (having got some road grit in my eye many years ago), and I use and recommend DeWALT safety glasses. Available in clear, smoke, blue, mirror, etc., and costing between ₤7.00 and ₤11.00 here in the UK. I also recommend these to people when I'm coaching kayak/canoe introductory courses. You'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between them and [the much more expensive] Oakleys when they are sitting on the bottom of a river.

John Norris Safety Glasses

John makes two very good points. (Those are his glasses in the photo above, by the way.) Protective eyewear isn’t just for winter grit. There are lenses and frames to suit every season of the year and every hour of the day. Wear them at night. Wear them in the rain. Wear them every time you’re on the bike. I’ve already made the case once before for protective eyewear, in “The Eyes Have It,” so I’ll cut to the chase here. Money — or the lack of it — needn’t be a barrier. As John points out, toolmaker DeWALT makes stylish protective eyewear that won’t break the bank. (DeWALT specs are available in North America, too.) And so does UVEX. (Farwell’s milspec UVEX frames cost less than USD13, including the lenses.) Bike retailers Nashbar and Performance often have cheap specs on offer, too.

So don’t gamble with your vision. You’ll never find cheaper insurance than a pair of safety specs. And that’s no grit, Sherlock!

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