While the aesthetic might not be for you, the Smith Wildcats provide outstanding optical quality, never fog and keep your eyes safe from debris
- Lens quality
- Lens swaps simple and don't stress frame or lens
- Hydrophibic coating on both sides
- Not compatible with low-slung lids
- Clear lens seems less scratch resistant
For the last couple of years, the ratio of face to lens seems to be leaning in favour of the spectacles when it comes to the best cycling sunglasses, and the Smith Wildcat is the latest in the ever-growing field of oversized sunnies.
Are these just another big pair of wanna-be goggles that lack functionality, or do they stack up against other performance eyewear?
Design and aesthetics
While from the outside, they may appear frameless, from the inside the frame actually runs the circumference of the lens. Even with the 62mm height and 135mm width, the frame structure creeps into your peripherals yet doesn't obstruct your field of view. My test samples featured the 'Matte Citron' frame colourway which stands out prodigiously amid the glut of carbon-copy cycling sunglasses currently dominating the market.
Smith makes some of, if not, the best lenses on the market purely from a clarity perspective, and the cylindrical windshield on the front of the Wildcat is no exception. The impact-resistant carbonic lens sees no distortion, even at the edges, and Smith applies a hydrophobic coating to both sides of the lens, meaning rain and sunscreen-infused sweat will bead and roll-off rather than collect on the surface.
The Wildcats come with two lenses in a zippered hard case, with a standard clear lens and a tinted Chromapop lens. Chromapop is Smith's take on contrast-enhancing optics, introducing filters at the wavelengths where blue and green, and red and green cross. Smith says this helps your brain differentiate between colours and increase cognition and clarity. It's hard to say if the Chromapop lens makes the world around me sharper, and it doesn't quite have the jarring high-contrast effect of the original Prizm Trail lens but it does seem to make the colours around you pleasantly richer and more vibrant.
Lens options are great, The Black lens has a Visible Light Transmission (VLT) of 10 per cent and can be a bit dark when you head under tree-lined avenues or low-lit areas. With a rose base, the Ignitor lens allows a 36 per cent VLT and excels in these changeable conditions.
The clear lens also doesn't seem to be quite as robust as the Chromapop shield. There is no visual distortion, but it does seem to be more susceptible to scratching. As for the Black lens, I've taken branches to the face, dropped these sunnies lens down on the pavement, pressed the eyepiece of a camera directly onto the shield, and they still look as new as the day I unwrapped them.
Changing the Wildcats lenses is a painless process and doesn't require putting an uncomfortable amount of force on the frame to break the lens loose. It's not quite as nifty as the brand's Mag system for swapping tints, but it's still head and shoulders above many others - and won't loosen over time.
The frame itself is made from TPU and what Smith calls TR9, which is lightweight (32g, with lens) and flexible without feeling flimsy. These are a pair of sunnies that you can accidentally sit on, and the frame will contort and snap back without breaking (and I'm speaking from experience here). Despite their yoga-like flexibility, they provide enough tension on the sides of your head to keep them stuck to your face without inducing headaches — assisted in part by the Megol rubber stocks and nose piece.
Speaking of the nose piece, it's vertically adjustable and has two positions. It works as advertised and is entirely set and forget.
With the cylindrical-rather-than-spherical lens, the frames sit a bit further away from your face than a lot of performance sunnies, allowing for better airflow behind the lens to prevent them from getting misty. This extra space between your face and the top of the frame also seems to prevent sweat from dripping out of your helmet and into your sunnies — instead, it either rolls down your nose or just heads straight for your eyeballs.
The only fault I could find was that they don't play nicely with every helmet. Owing to their tall proportions, lower-slung lids like the Bontrager Specter and POC Octal bump into the top of the frame, sometimes tapping when things get really rough. That said, the slight curve of the arms means it works well with the retention systems on the Bontrager, Giant, Lazer, Scott, and POC helmets currently floating around the Cyclingnews AU HQ.
Sunglasses are as much a fashion statement as they are a performance item, and a pair that is lacking on either front is ultimately a letdown. The Wildcats have excelled through properly hot road rides, rainy gravel rides and plenty of mountain biking sessions, too.
The optics are some of the best money can buy, and though the aesthetic might not appeal to everyone, I think they look fantastic — though I'd probably opt for a less vibrant frame colour. Priced at $209 / £165 / $321, they are on par with other premium performance sunnies and well worth the investment.
Tech specs: Smith Wildcat sunglasses
- Price: $209 / £165 / $321
- Weight: 32g (actual)
- Lens technology: Chromapop
- Frame type: Full frame
- Lens colors: 6
- UV protection: Yes
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