Cycling for those with poor eyesight



I invited London Cyclist reader Spencer to share his experience finding a solution to riding with poor eyesight. Judging by previous posts on a similar topic, this is something a number of readers have experienced.

My eyesight is so poor not only would it be dangerous to ride without glasses, but it also causes headaches when I concentrate too hard on what is around me.

To solve this, I basically had three options:

  1. Contact lenses. Many people are perfectly happy with contact lenses, though in my case I cannot get a prescription close enough to my requirements.
  2. Corrective surgery. Again a valid option though doing this can have an adverse affect on your night vision (which can affect your driving license in some countries) plus some people can suffer side effects (dry eye, not 100% correction requiring a further prescription). I am very squeamish about anything like this, so it is not an option for me.
  3. Normal corrective glasses.

Normal corrective glasses present their own set of problems:

  1. When I get hot my normal glasses had a tendency to slide down my nose which was annoying.
  2. The way you ride your bicycle impacts your viewing angle and normal glasses may not always be suitable. I had to hold my head at an acute angle to compensate which resulted in a bit of neck and back pain.
  3. Impacts from road debris. So far I have not been hit by road debris but has seen a few horror stories of people who have. If it happened I doubt very much my normal glasses would survive which could result in a nasty injury or even blindness. Polycarbonate cycling glasses provide a much better level of protection against such threats.

Having dropped an email to Andreas for advise he pointed myself to a previous London Cyclist blog post where the followers had posted their experiences on eyesight correction whilst cycling. After reading this I decided to drop the mentioned Optilabs opticians a line.

A few observations around Optilabs:

  1. They are based in Croydon
  2. Entering their postcode into Google Maps pulled up a residential address, NOT their actual location! For reference their actual location is almost next door to the petrol station at the foot of their road.
  3. There did not appear to be anywhere you could safely secure a bicycle. There was a bit of off road parking outside the lab but the only options for securing a bicycle would have been the usual street signs and lights.
  4. On a Saturday they close at 13:00 so if you do go there then make sure you leave plenty of time to be dealt with. There were plenty of customers there so I wouldn’t exactly call them quiet.
  5. The receptionist showed me to their display shelves for cycling glasses and to be honest I seemed to be spoilt for choice! The sheer number of pairs on display initially daunted me (around 20 pairs) but there was no hard sell or pressure to hurry up so I took this at my own, slow pace. Eventually choosing three different pairs that felt reasonably comfortable, didn’t look too bad (to my eye) and seemed to have reasonable side vision.

It was at this point the receptionist pointed me towards Tony Kerr who came across as a very relaxed, honest and erudite man willing to help even if that resulted in your leaving the premises empty handed! Having worn glasses much of my life this was a pleasant change from the usual pressure to hurry up, make your choices then leave.

Tony discussed my requirements, examined my existing prescription then advised that none of my choices would be suitable (something to do with being unable to completely remap my prescription to the wider field of vision required for my chosen frames). Having severe astigmatism I could understand this difficulty.

He selected another pair he felt would be suitable, this pair being one I had earlier chosen but discarded due to having less peripheral vision than my final choices.

We then discussed the different lens finishes followed by Tony measuring my pupil distance.

At which point he then told me what the final cost would be and would I be happy with this? Have to say I was perfectly happy, agreeing to the price and handing over my card details. Tony advised no payment would be taken until the glasses were ready to be dispatched and sure enough the charge did not appear on my bill until the week they were actually dispatched through the post.

Have now been wearing these glasses whilst cycling for several months and have I had any problems with them? A few, mainly annoyances:

  1. The glasses arrived via the normal postal service. Not recorded or insured. Thankfully they arrived intact.
  2. I do find the side vision a bit restrictive. Having only recently come back to cycling I initially found having to move my head so far to the sides to see what was approaching distracting and a bit dangerous, inadvertently weaving to the side as I did so. This has now become less of an issue as I have slowly gained a sixth sense.
  3. My glasses are quite close fitting to my face. This means I have sometimes steamed up whilst sitting waiting for lights to change. Once I start moving again they demist but during the interim my vision isn’t all it could be.
  4. Never realised how distracting glasses can be in the wet! Lights star which obscures vision often requiring wiping clear though in heavy rain that barely lasts.

Would I go back to Optilabs again? Yes no doubts, the overall experience was superb, just a shame my prescription is so extreme otherwise I could have had a pair of glasses with a wider field of vision.

Other than being a satisfied customer I have no other affiliations with Optilabs.

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15 Responses to Cycling for those with poor eyesight

  1. Vincent 22/04/2014 at 10:56 pm #

    > My glasses are quite close fitting to my face. This means I have sometimes steamed up whilst sitting waiting for lights to change.

    What about antifog spray?

    > Never realised how distracting glasses can be in the wet! Lights star which obscures vision often requiring wiping clear though in heavy rain that barely lasts.

    Try wearing a cap.

    • Rob W 25/04/2014 at 10:18 am #

      Agree on the cap. I wear one most days now, and it keeps the majority of rain off your glasses without restricting your vision if you’re using drop handlebars.

  2. Caroline 23/04/2014 at 12:24 am #

    Spencer I also had extreme astigmatism and could not have prescription cycling glasses (they would have been up to 9mm thick at the outside corners). I was brave enough to have laser surgery on both eyes (at the same time). My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner (Iwas 47). I can wear standard cycling glasses and sunglasses, and I can choose any style I like for my reading glasses. I did need a follow up procedure after the initial surgery which I didn’t pay extra for, and I have a residual astigmatism of 0.5 in each eye – which doesn’t bother me at all. If you can afford laser do it! It is life changing.

    • Sharon 23/04/2014 at 9:01 am #

      Hi Caroline, Please let me know where you had your surgery? I know some people who have not had a good experience and now have ‘dry eyes’, yet I’m very keen to have the procedure done through a recommended specialist.

  3. anon 23/04/2014 at 9:23 pm #

    Another option is Orthokeratology.

  4. Caroline 24/04/2014 at 12:26 am #

    Hi Sharon, I had my laser surgery done at the Adelaide Eye and Laser Centre in South Australia. But I would think you should be able to find a good clinic there if you do some research online.

  5. Elizabeth 25/04/2014 at 10:35 am #


    If it is any help, my eyes were -7 and -8 (shortsighted) with an added benefit (!) of astigmatism in both. I had them lasered back in December and it is honestly one of the best things I have done. My day vision is fine with no problems at all – same standard of vision as I had with my glasses and no dry eyes.

    My night vision has always been poor because of the short sightedness and I have never been wholly happy driving at night. It is fair to say that since the surgery, my night vision is poorer. However, I will still drive at night – albeit with some even greater degree of reluctance.

    The place I got my eyes done (Advance Vision Care, Harley St) is not cheap, but I went there on the personal recommendation of 2 friends and was impressed by their stats.

    I guess I can’t really say more than given everything I know now, including the poorer night vision, I would not hesitate to have it done again.

    I used to hate cycling in too hot/too wet weather mainly because of vision problems (as with the article, glasses would either slide off or fog up or get covering in rain water or a combination of the above!) and contacts for me were not an option as they were too uncomfortable. Now, I am far less of a fair weather cyclist and it is nice to be able to cycle in without being worried about what the weather might be in terms of plans to cycle back

    • Sharon 08/10/2014 at 9:06 pm #

      Thanks for the info posted here 🙂 I also have astigmatism, to add to that I am near and far sighted. Every time I wear glasses while while cycling in winter they steam up badly, making me a danger to myself and others :/

  6. Tony 25/04/2014 at 11:34 am #

    My prescription is also one that doesn’t suit many of the close fitting “curved” sports glasses, although I can wear the “normal” Oakley frames of the style that Cavendish wears. My way of providing some protection is to wear a helmet with a visor. I have both a Casco helmet and the Giro Air Attack, both with visors. I can wear both my Oakleys and also Ray Ban aviators (which have my prescription in them) comfortably under the visors. So I have the advantage of wearing my normal prescription glasses under the full full protection of a visor. I find this works brilliantly no matter what the weather conditions, and only very rarely do I get any slight fogging. So for me specs + visor = happiness!

    • Tony 25/04/2014 at 11:41 am #

      Just as a follow -up I recently purchased a pair of prescription Oakleys from
      The service was superb, and whilst I was concerned about ordering a prescription pair of glasses over the internet, this was totally unfounded as the finished glasses were first class, and at a price about 50% of what I would ave had to pay in the high street. Well worth giving them a try!

  7. Fern 25/04/2014 at 5:51 pm #

    I have discovered that there are limitations to how much magnification they can put in a curved lense or they get incredibly thick at the edge and this is the reason they try to put us in less wrap around styles.
    I also ordered a pair of Oakley over the internet and was happy with the result.

  8. Pete 25/04/2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Different problem for me. I can see fine where I’m going but the Garmin or iPhone on the handlebars? Can’t see a thing! Any tips for the long sighted?

  9. Alan Southern 06/05/2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I wear my varifocal specs for cycling. Didn’t know one could get wrap-around prescription specs for cycling. Might consider these as I suffer from tears in my eyes when cycling into wind and especially when the air is cold. As regards road debris, about 3 1/2 years ago in October one evening a car passenger threw an egg (it was still in its shell and fortunately uncooked!) at me. One of the lenses was damaged and a piece of it was left at the roadside (didn’t realise this until I examined them later) so specs can survive some road debris. Despite me getting the car registration number and reporting it to the police I doubt they did anything about it – I am after all only a cyclist.

  10. Tony 07/10/2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Have a look at the “Willey” range – see an example here

    Most of their range can be fitted with prescriptions from -6.50 to +6.00
    They are a great wraparound, extremely good for cycling. are one of the stockists.

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