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Review: Smith Pivlock V90 sunglasses

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When I first saw Smith’s Pivlock V90 sunglasses advertised, I’ll admit to being pretty dismissive of their main selling point.  After all, the bike industry is awash in hyperbole, and the ability to easily remove the temples from eyewear has never been high on my list.  Besides, the look was a bit too techno bike /run geek for my tastes (and that’s saying something).  Sure enough, one of my fashion forward riding buddies- owner of a bike shop that doesn’t even sell Smith sunglasses- eventually showed up at a ride sporting a pair.  His enthusiasm about the Pivlocks’ light weight and great fit spread and sure enough, some of the more aesthetically conservative riders in our group started wearing them.  Waiting for the missus to emerge from a changing room one afternoon, I asked the clerk to let me try a pair on- and promptly joined the club.  Click ‘more’ to find out if my indifference turned lust has grown into to love…

smith-pivlock-technologySo what is so unique about Smith’s Pivlock system?  At the heart of things is an interface that allows the arms to be detached by rotating them 90 degrees relative to the lenses.  This attachment, along with a detachable nosepiece, means that the glasses have no need for a frame, providing a near-uninterrupted field of vision. Nothing new there- my mid-1990s Cebe glasses were similar in that respect- but what is new is the ability to exchange lenses, and the quality of the lenses themselves.  Also, relying on the lens for much of the glasses’ structure means that the Pivlocks are very light.  So light, in fact, that they can only be described as the lightest performance interchangable, rimless sport style [eyewear] in the world today.  Beat that. Though Smith have declared themselves king of a very small country with that statement, the V90s are certainly the lightest weight cycling glasses I’ve worn in some time.

As is common with Smith sunglasses, the Pivlock V90s are available packaged with single lenses ($120) or a with a set of lenses in three different tints ($140).  As the lovely Ice Blue frames are only available with Blue Mirror lenses, I settled on on translucent Smoke frames, which come packaged with Platinum Mirror, Ignitor, and Clear Mirror lenses. Additional lenses are available for $20-40 each, making the prepackaged selections a good deal.

Though they could be a bit darker, Smith’s Ignitor lenses really are great for cycling.  Despite doing most of my riding in the harsh desert sun, I remain a big fan of red lens tints.  The added contrast is useful on road and off and allows me to pick things out of the shadows that I have trouble seeing with darker gray lenses.  smith-pivlock-v90-glasses-2The red-tinted Ignitors transmit 38% of visual light (and, like all of Smith’s lenses, 0% of UVA, B, and C wavelengths), which is more than twice that of the included Platinum Mirror lenses and should be hugely popular in wooded areas.  The clear mirror lenses let through about 70% of visual light- not ideal for night riding, but not so dark that they will cause problems with today’s high-powered lighting systems.  Unfortunately, truly clear lenses are unavailable for either the Pivlock V90s or the larger V90 Max.

Especially on the road bike, I’ve long been a fan of half-frame glasses.  The ability to look over a shoulder without a frame-induced blind spot is extremely valuable.  Similarly, on the trail, it’s nice to be able to keep an eye on the trail not only ahead but below as well.  The Pivlock V90s take this one step further- when wearing the Smiths, it takes looking pretty far to one side or another to really see any of the temples at all.  The nosepiece  is relatively low profile as well and doesn’t seem to block my view any more than my nose itself.  As nice as this unrestricted field of vision is on the trail, it’s even better on the road.  The lack of a frame at the top of the lenses does make a difference, especially when down in the drops.

The light weight and head-following shape have meant that I have never noticed needing to readjust these glasses while riding unless they are accidentally bumped.  Their stability is better on my medium-sized head than glasses with formable metal-core arms.  Perhaps because the Pivlock V90s cover my naturally bushy eyebrows, it seems as though they fog up a bit more quickly than some glasses I’ve owned, but they are by no means the worst in that respect- and our riding doesn’t tend to be particularly humid.

My biggest complaint about the Pivlocks so far has been the size and shape of the nosepiece.  I don’t think of my nose as particularly large (please, no comments), but the V90s do sit a bit higher than I’d like.  As a result, I can see the edge of the lens at the bottom of my field of vision and I’ve had more mud and rain fly up behind the lenses than with my previous glasses (which had an adjustable metal nosepiece).  It’s not terrible, but is something to be aware of.  Also, the lack of a frame means that sunrise and sunset rides can be a bit squinty- I used to be able to seal the aforementioned bushy eyebrows against my glasses’ frames as an impromptu visor.  The V90s’ traditional-length arms do have the potential to interfere with some helmets’ retention systems.  smith-pivlock-v90-logo-detalkThey are fine with my Lazer Genesis but do interfere somewhat (it is manageable) with my Giro Saros / Athlon.  If you have a small or medium head, it might be wise to bring your helmet to the store…

Now Smith also claim that, as both the temples and the nosepiece remove easilly… the task of swapping out lenses [is] easier than ever. I’m going to have to take them to task on that claim.  When the arms and nosepiece are removed, the user is left to juggle five separate pieces (including the second lens) rather than the usual three.  This means that dusk lens swaps have the very strong potential of becoming dusk searches-for-glasses-pieces-in-the-dirt.  Also, the provided case is far larger than it needs to be, holding the glasses with their arms straight out.  Glasses have hinges for a reason, and the silly size of the case is one reason that I’ve never taken my V90s’ spare lenses along on a ride.

All in all, I really like the Pivlock V90s.  If a low-profile nosepiece were available, I think that it would be love.  Altogether, they are my favorite glasses- they unrestricted field of vision is fantastic and the fact that they stay put is huge.  The price, while not cheap, is backed by Smith’s typically generous lifetime warranty against defects and is on par with cycling-specific alternatives.  There is a reason that I’m seeing more and more Pivlocks on the road and trail- they’re an excellent choice for either.



photos (except from those borrowed from Smith) courtesy of Kip Malone, Photographer

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