Julbo Contest Sunglasses $130-$160, julbousa.com
The Good: Stellar optics, vise-like hold on the rockiest of descents, build quality.
The Bad: Fit and styling are quite subjective.
The Ugly: Well, just look at ’em.
Ever since I took a bumblebee to the cornea on a high speed road descent in the late 80’s I’ve been a devout champion of eye protection while cycling, and I’ve been searching for a better mousetrap, beginning with some Oakley Eyeshades (thanks Andy Hampsten) following through the gamut of Bolle, Smith Sliders, Oakley M Frames, Spy Scoops, Arnettes, and Specialized models. All of these had good and bad attributes; too little protection, too dark, fog too easy, fall off the face, too fragile, uglier than homemade soap, etc. A relatively unknown brand in my neck of the woods, the Contest glasses from Julbo may be my optical Goldilocks…damn near perfect porridge, if you will.
When I first pulled them out of their case I noticed two things; one, they are stout in a good way. Not really heavy per se, they feel as though smooching a pine tree or hastily stuffing them in a hydration pack won’t faze them. Two, they are made in France, and while I’m about as far from a jingoistic flag waver as you’ll find, it is nice to see something made in the Old World. In short, construction is probably the best I’ve encountered in a sunglass to date.
They fit my medium size noggin quite well, with a snug hold that never became obtrusive, even during some downhill shuttle runs with two to three foot log drops. Surprisingly, the Contests never pinched too hard anywhere on my head (a problem I’ve encountered with many otherwise fine glasses) despite wearing them for some six plus hour rides.
So, structurally they’re great, but how ’bout the optics? In a word, amazing. The pair I tested came with the optional Zebra NXT lens which is a tough as nails photochromic polycarbonate that, in as little as 22 seconds, can go from 42% light transmission to 7% transmission. Being a “freeride” model the lenses are on the light side, which I found perfect for the rapid light/dark transitions encountered in the woods. In fact, I used the Contests to commute home in the dark with a night light and had no problem. Logic would imply that these glasses would blind the user on a wide open sunny road bike ride, but somehow they worked really well for that application as well. Like I said, perfect porridge.
The only knock I have against them is entirely subjective, and that would be their aesthetics. They’re a bit sporty-spice for my taste, though I got more than a few compliments on how well they looked with my helmet. So, I suppose it’s like the old adage about bike clothing looking good as a relative inverse to your distance from the bike.
Again, not really a knock against these fine Julbo glasses…I know which shades I’ll be wearing for many rides to come.
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