Rudy Project and Tifosi Photochromic Eyewear
By James Sharp
Sunglasses are rare animals here in the Pacific Northwest from about mid October to... well that depends -- some years it seems that the rain will never end, and other years we see bits of sun in January. It isnít easy to plan for overcast days in the saddle when blue sky might peek out of the clouds rendering those nice yellow lenses worse than worthless. Sure, you can pull over, swap out the lenses and then be on your way, but wouldnít it be easier if the lenses just adjusted themselves? This isnít a new concept, but there are a couple of new players in this game. One with a new lens material that sets it apart and another that brings a new low to the price of color changing, or photochromic lenses. Rudy Project introduced their line of ImpactX lenses at Interbike last year. These lenses are made of a polyurethane optical polymer called NXT. Tifosi has been carving a niche for itself for the last few years as a brand that provides a good pair of eyewear for price thatís easy to swallow. Weíve got the Kalyos from Rudy Project and the Q3 from Tifosi.
Tifosi Q3 Fototec
Tifosiís entry in this review, the Q3, has many of the features youíd look for in glasses costing twice -- or more -- than the $60 the Q3 retails for. Features like polycarbonate lenses, decentered optics to eliminate any distortion or other aberrations, Grilamid frames, hydrophilic nose and temples to keep the eyewear in place even during profuse sweating and vented lenses. Once you look past the price, these glasses hold their own in almost any company.
We received two sets of the Q3, one with the Backcountry Orange Fototec lens -- Tifosiís name for photochromic lenses -- and one with the High Speed Red Fototec lens. These lenses arenít meant to be removed from the frames.
The Backcountry Orange is a good choice for overcast days. It isnít light enough for really dark times, but it does darken noticeably in sunny weather. The color wouldnít be my first choice for really sunny days, but it works well for most other conditions. The lens goes from 45% to 15% light transmission. The orange color increases color contrast over brown or gray tinted lenses. They worked fine off road and worked really well on the road.
The High Speed Red lens has a slightly smaller range of light transmission -- 35% to 12%. This means that they start out darker, and end up darker, than the Backcountry Orange. Initially, it seemed that the lenses wouldnít be dark enough for sunny days because the lenses darken gradually. It almost seems -- and this is true for all the photochromic lenses -- that they arenít changing. However, if you take them off youíll see that the lenses are very much darker. Even though they arenít as dark as some tints out there, when dark they are comfortable even on sunny days.
We found the frames to be very comfortable and the glasses stayed put even during vigorous exercise. The venting in the lenses helped keep the glasses from fogging. When I stopped at stoplights in cool weather the lenses fogged up fairly quickly. However, once I got moving again they cleared themselves in short order. They never fogged up while I was moving; the vents really do their job.
The full frame design has some benefits and one real drawback. The benefits are that the glasses are easier to handle, the block wind flow very well and are more fashionable -- in my opinion -- off the bike. The drawback? That frame does block your view when checking over your shoulder for traffic or your buddy starting to sprint by you. Itís minor, really, but itís there.
Rudy Project Kalyos ImpactX
They Kalyos isnít a new addition to Rudyís line up, but the lenses are -- as is the $20 premium to get them, raising the price to $135. Introduced in the fall of 2005, the ImpactX lenses are made of NXT, a polyurethane material that was developed for the military -- as a bullet proof window for helicopters among other uses. According to the manufacturer of the material, "NXTģ is a patented family of polyurethane optical polymers, transparent and unbreakable, originally developed for the military to provide superior protection and performance."
There are some interesting characteristics that make it a good choice for performance eyewear. First, it is a cast material with very low residual stresses. The means that it can be easily shaped, drilled carved, punched, sheared... you name it. The lens wonít crack unexpectedly. In fact you can fold the lens in half and it wonít crack, either. From a manufacturing standpoint, this makes it easier on the sunglass companies to have more complex shapes of lenses, drill venting holes, and make the lenses easier to remove for interchangeability. The material is about 10% lighter than polycarbonate. NXT has higher impact resistance than polycarbonate. The lenses are guaranteed unbreakable for life. Rudy Project also gives them an antistatic coating to resist attracting dust and a scratch resistant coating to help eliminate scratches. Our test eyewear has suffered no scratches and neither has the demonstration lens that Rudy gave us. The demonstration lens has been folded inside out, folded in half, tossed around, dropped, stepped on -- basically everything you wouldnít do to normal lenses -- all without any mark. This is tough stuff!
The Kalyos frame is made of Grilamid for good strength and comfort. The nosepieces are adjustable, though the temples are not. The frames are pretty flexible and I found them to be very comfortable because of that. The lenses are connected at the nose bridge at a little way along the top, but not much. The lenses stayed in at all times during this review, and I doubt theyíll ever fall out on their own. They are easily removable if you want to remove them, however.
We received the Photochromic red lens, which adjusts from 50% transmittance to 21% transmittance. At 50% transmittance, the lens is very much red, but at 21% transmittance, the lens is more of a deep purple. This makes and excellent lens in situations where contrast is important and as an added bonus, the near purple color really heightens blues and greens making they sky a deeper blue and the trees a more vibrant green. The lens isnít quite dark enough for very sunny days, but is nice everywhere else.
There is one unfortunate side effect of flexible frames attached to lenses that you can fold in half, they tend to fold and flex when you try and put them on one handed. It can be done, but takes some practice. Normally this isnít an issue, but when you are riding and need to remove and replace your glasses, two hands arenít always available. I doubt that other Rudy frame designs, even with the ImpactX lenses, would have the same problem that the Kalyos does, but if you are in the market for the urethane photochromic lenses you might want to try them out first to see if it is something that would bother you. Frankly, it doesnít bother me enough to not use the glasses itís just more of a little annoyance.
Here weíve got very different prices -- Tifosi on the one hand at $60 and Rudy Project on the other for $135. Both darken in sunlight but the Kalyos uses cutting edge lens technology. The price difference gets you slightly lighter glasses, arguably better lenses (though youíd have to be more sensitive that I to notice) and that incredible lens material. If all of that doesnít mean much to you, then the Q3 are a great option. They are comfortable, good-looking and have quality lenses at a price that wonít make you cringe when you drop them. On the other hand, the Kalyos wonít break if you wad them up, including the lenses. Both Tifosi and Rudy Project have various tints available for their photochromic lenses, and Rudy Project has a polarized photochromic as well. Both are nice, but if you are looking for the ultimate, head on over to your Rudy Project dealer and have him dish you a pair with the ImpactX lenses.
James Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com; more of his ramblings and a look at upcoming reviews can be found at his blog -- Lactic Acid Threshold.
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