I'm a big fan of good shades. Or more accurately, I'm very picky about what I'll put in front of my eyes. It annoys me to no end to look through subpar lenses, or dirty ones. I'm quite fastidious about keeping my shades clean, and I want them to perform to that same standard. Most of the time, you'll see me rocking shades made by the big O, but they're not the only ones making great eyewear. And more importantly, I think they're missing an important corner of the market that Smith is nailing with their V90: the rimless sunglasses.
For me, rimless shades are key. When riding in the aero position, if your position is sufficiently low, normal shades will obscure your vision. You'll find yourself staring at the top rim of your sunglasses instead of up the road. There are really only two ways around this: either you raise the top rim of the sunglasses, or eliminate it completely. I prefer the latter solution, because it keeps things simpler, and always works. My position is pretty aggressive, and even taller frames can get in my way. For racing, I usually stick with a helmet visor. But for any rides without an aero helmet, I really like rimless.
Enter the Smith Pivlock V90. This is a set of sunglasses built with the triathlete in mind. They're light, comfortable, beautiful, and really great to use. The optical quality is very good (with a minor quibble I'll get to), and Smith packs a LOT of features, and even more value into these shades for the price. Let's take a look at exactly what you're getting here.
Fit & Features
The Pivlock V90 is built around a single shield-type lens that's rimless all the way around. It's made of polycarbonate, so it's virtually unbreakable, and the lens blocks all UV rays. To the lens are attached the rubber nosepiece and the two temples (arm pieces) that lock into place. The system is designed to make it easy to swap lenses, and works wonderfully. However, because you have to deal with all the components separately, it takes a little more time to swap out than a lens-only swap like the Oakley Rader. But it's very easy to make the swap, and Smith includes a little diagram that makes it all a no-brainer.
Optically, the lenses are very good. I don't know that they're the best lenses I've ever looked through, but I'm perfectly happy to train and race in these guys, and that's saying a lot. The only quirk I noticed (and this is very subtle), is that the lenses have a very slight horizontal gradient - they're slightly darker in the center of the shield than on the periphery. Usually, if lenses have any gradient at all, it's vertical. But in any event, the optical quality here is solid. I've been wearing the shades for a couple months now, and I'm very pleased with them overall.
There are also two distinct lens shapes you can get - the standard V90, and the slightly taller V90 MAX, which provides a little more coverage up top. Because the tops are rimless, either version will work no matter how aggressive your position is, because if you run out of coverage, you can always just look over the shades. But the taller MAX version will be nice for those with really low positions, so you don't have to resort to that. I ended up picking up a regular set of V90, with one spare MAX lens which I ride with most of the time.
The fit is delightfully comfortable. It feels very secure without being tight. I think the swooping shape of the arms helps in this regard, to better wrap around your skull and keep the shades in place. The nosepiece doesn't tend to slide down on my nose, as other shades can do. And the Pivlock V90 comes in a variety of snazzy colors. Naturally, I picked up the set in orange and white. Duh!
What's in the Box
Now, the big news here is the value that Smith delivers. First, let me tell you what's included. Each V90 or V90 MAX comes with THREE lenses - these can change depending on which colorway you buy, but usually a platinum mirror, a rose-tinted lens, and a clear lens. They also come with a large hard case that holds everything, and an extra nosepiece. The extra nosepiece is always black, not the color of your frames. Smith does this so that if you don't want a wild color on your nose, it will just blend into the lens. Personally, I don't care about the color issue, but it's nice to have the extra nosepiece, because then I can just leave it on my primary spare lens, and have one less thing to swap out when changing lenses. And the case is really nice to have, and keeps you organized. But the thing is huge, because it's designed so that you can keep the temples unfolded when storing them. Not really necessary, and will take a little more luggage real estate than perhaps necessary.
But again, the value is phenomenal. The MSRP is $139, but if you shop around, you can get this ENTIRE setup for south of $99. Yeah - for about the price of a single lens from some brands, you get the shades, two extra lenses, and a hard case. That's really tough to beat, especially when you take into account the excellent features and comfortable fit.
For a long time, I've had a big bias in favor of the big O. But they haven't updated their rimless shades (the Zero) since 2004, and those don't have swappable lenses. Smith has an absolute knockout product with the V90 and V90 MAX. They're great for riding in aero, super comfortable, optically excellent, and super affordable. They pretty much tick of all the right boxes. Smith has just updated these with a version 2 that has a slightly more chisled style, and adds an adjustable nosepiece. Check those out if that's your bag, but this version is lovely, and will be my default set of shades going forward.