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I’ll freely admit to being a bit of a snob when it comes to cycling eyewear, but having tried the vast majority of brands out there — and seen objective test results covering a wide range of the market — I promise there have been legitimate differences that separate the wheat from the chaff. Even when they looked the part, sunglasses from less prestigious brands often just weren’t as good: tints that make the world look flat and lifeless, poor coverage, distortion that’s sometimes been so bad that it’s given me headaches, cheap fit and finish, and so on.
Something in recent years has changed, however (and I think I know what it is, but I’ll save that discussion for another day). Case in point is these new Rail sunglasses from Tifosi, which cost just US$80 / AU$150 / £110 / €120, including a semi-rigid case and soft carry bag. Tifosi has always been a bargain brand, but I’ve been disappointed in earlier models I’ve tried from the brand before. Not to be crude, but the simple fact of the matter is that you got what you paid for.
But the lens on the Rail is honestly indistinguishable (at least to my eyes) from more premium brands in terms of the things that really matter in eyewear. The lens is sharp and clear, and there’s no noticeable distortion or weird artifacts (like internal reflections that I’ve noticed on occasion, even from premium brands). And the coverage is so generous that it’s easy to forget you have these on. You can’t see the edges of the lens (unless you’re really trying to), and the rimless format leaves no big chunks of opaque plastic in your line of sight.
Tifosi has nailed the fundamentals, too.
The lens is made of polycarbonate for seemingly reliable impact protection (no, I didn’t test it) and has a water-repellent coating on the outer surface, the other bits are made of the same Grilamid TR-90 plastic you see in more premium brands, and the hydrophilic nose- and earpieces stay reliable stuck to your head when you start getting sweaty.
Those nose- and earpieces also have bendable metal cores if you want a more personalized fit, and they’re also handy if you want to eliminate some interference with various helmet retention systems. Despite Tifosi billing these as being for “medium to large faces” — and don’t get me wrong, they’re quite big — the Rail was just fine on my narrow mug.
The only area where I wished for a little more is the lens tint.
Tifosi offers the Rail in four color combos, and I went for the “Clarion Red Fototec” photochromic lens option for my test sample. Tifosi doesn’t publish the total light transmission range for this lens, but subjectively speaking, I found it to work well all the way from early morning and late dusk to just shy of full mid-day Colorado sunshine. It doesn’t adjust quickly enough for situations like quickly switching between bright sunlight and heavy tree cover (and I’d imagine the same for tunnels), but that’s typical for traditional photochromics.
The bigger issue was the lack of contrast.
Tifosi uses a grey base tint for the Fototec Red lens, which is popular for its neutral color spectrum. But having used ultra-high-contrast lenses like Oakley’s Prizm and Smith Optics’ Chromapop, it’s hard to go back; these just seem a bit flat.
Lenses are interchangeable, though, and replacements are refreshingly inexpensive at just US$15-25 for standard tints.
In hindsight, though, I would just skip the photochromic lens option altogether and get one of the other combos, which come with three lenses — smoke grey, high-contrast red, and clear — instead of one, and for the same price, too.
Well done, Tifosi. Well done.
Price: US$80 / AU$150 / £110 / €120
Weight: 33 g
More information: www.tifosi.com
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