No-frills performance-focused cycling sunglasses
Tailorable and secure fit
Field of view
Value for money
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Despite losing its crown to the new Cutline model as the brand's best cycling glasses, the Rudy Project Defender sunglasses are still a popular choice among competitive cyclists. As the official eyewear supplier to the then Bahrain-Merida WorldTour team, the Defender model was popularised by riders such as Vincenzo Nibali, Domenico Pozzovivo and Rohan Dennis.
The Defender sunglasses will still be used by Bahrain McLaren for the duration of the season and beyond where they will form part of a two-prong product offering together with the Cutline.
Having spent the past two months testing the Defenders in what's been purported as the UK's hottest spring in over a century, we set out to establish how it stacks up against its rivals.
Design and aesthetics
The Defenders are a classy-looking package, no question. While it's available in seven different colour options, our test pair is kitted out in a refined and complementing bronze-fade-to-black colour scheme.
Inspired by the 1990s Aggressor model the Rudy Project Defender's lens is fairly sizeable but not as goggle-like as some of the models that dominate the segment. As a result, they take on a more traditional appearance yet still offer enough coverage and visual clout to keep them relevant and appealing.
Closer inspection reveals a series of tasteful design details such as the chrome Rudy Project logo on the upper frame and the cutouts in the arms and lower bumpers.
Like most of the players in this highly competitive space, the lens is interchangeable. While our test pair came standard with an RP Optics smoke-black lens, we also managed to get our hands on the ImpactX2 photochromic lens - an aftermarket option. It's naturally the more superior of the two owing to its ability to stave off ultraviolet radiation completely up to 400 nanometers (UV 400 protection).
For those, however, who prefer flashier colour combinations, the Defenders can be customised by way of swapping out the interchangeable bumpers, of which there are six different colour options.
At 34g they're just one gram lighter than the Cutlines but offer more protection around the glass and substantially better ventilation. Four ports span the entire top section of the lens - this helps minimise fogging caused by heat and sweat, together with strategically positioned cutouts in the lower bumper.
Removing the lens and bumpers is a fairly straightforward exercise requiring a deliberate pull to unclick it from each side of the frame before pulling down gently to release it.
I've found myself reaching for the Rudy Project Defender sunglasses more than any of the pairs I have in for testing based purely on how well they fit. There's little to no movement when secured to the face thanks to the manipulatable nosepad and arm tips - a trademark feature on many of Rudy Project's products. You'll need to spend some time setting them up to match the contours of your nose and head but once you've found what works for you they shouldn't bounce or move around.
Like its Cutline sibling, the Defenders work seamlessly with most helmet makes thanks to the zig-zag, tapered arm design. The arms have been designed to shape away from the helmet flanks minimising any interference with the retention system. Ventilation is also up there with the very best. I'm yet to experience any fogging or misting to date, even at full-bore, out-the-saddle interval sessions thanks to the 'PowerFlow' ventilation system. Sure, the lower bumpers can be seen just out of shot but they can be removed if that is an annoyance.
In terms of performance, the lens supplies an unobstructed and commanding view of the road ahead. Of the two supplied lens options it's the ImpactX2 photochromic laser black glass that I find myself using the most - based purely on its clarity and the way it transitions from low- to high-frequency light. The standard RP Optics smoke-black lens, on the other hand, is perfect for cloudless, sunny days.
As far as eye protection, field of view and fit are concerned the Rudy Project Defender cycling sunglasses are difficult to fault. While it's not as flashy as its rivals, it still possesses a large enough lens - not to mention customisable frame options - to pique the interest of the contemporary cyclist, be it the coffee rider or competitive racer.
What the Defenders possess in spades, however, is functionality - as far as on-the-bike performance is concerned there aren't many options out there that can match it, particularly when it comes to retention.
The kicker here, however, is the price: at £121.99 (static RP Optic lens), the Defenders are not only a fair whack cheaper than when they first dropped last year but they're also significantly cheaper than Rudy Project's halo model, the Cutline.
Tech spec: Rudy Project Defender sunglasses
- RRP: £121.99 / US$184.99 / AU$264
- Weight: 34g (actual)
- Lens technology: ImpactX 2 Photochromic Black
- Frame type: Full frame, with interchangeable bumpers
- Lens options: 2 (ImpactX or RP Optics)
- Frame colours: 7
- UV protection: Yes
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Aaron was the Tech Editor Cyclingnews between July 2019 and June 2022. He was born and raised in South Africa, where he completed his BA honours at the University of Cape Town before embarking on a career in journalism. Throughout this career, Aaron has spent almost two decades writing about bikes, cars, and anything else with wheels. Prior to joining the Cyclingnews team, his experience spanned a stint as Gear & Digital editor of Bicycling magazine, as well as a time at TopCar as Associate Editor.
Now based in the UK's Surrey Hills, Aaron's life revolves around bikes. He's a competitive racer, Stravaholic, and Zwift enthusiast. He’s twice ridden the Cape Epic, completed the Haute Route Alps, and represented South Africa in the 2022 Zwift eSports World Championships.
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