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Ask BikePortland: How do I see clearly in the rain?

Posted by on February 23rd, 2010 at 12:42 pm

BTA New Year's Day Ride-23

Any advice for someone who’d like
to see more clearly in the rain?
(Photo © J. Maus)

Today’s question comes from Matthew Bowers:

“I commute about 3 miles to work (and back, obviously) 5-6 days a week, and I wear glasses. This becomes an issue when it’s raining, and was wondering what other glasses-wearing riders do about it. I asked the gentleman at my local bike shop, and he didn’t really have any useful suggestions — so I turn to you!

I know they have prescription goggles, but I was really hoping for a slightly less expensive alternative — something I can wear over my glasses, perhaps? Please help!”

I don’t wear glasses (yet), so hopefully some of you have suggestions for Matthew.

— Learn more in the Ask BikePortland archives and submit your burning bike question to jonathan[at]bikeportland[dot]org.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Tyler February 23, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I wear glasses now and then when I ride and I find that wearing something similar to a running hat (thin so it fits under a helmet) works great. The brim (could be called something else) helps keep rain droplets from hitting the glasses. Sure you get some droplets on the glasses from splash up during the ride, but you’ll be able to see for the whole ride.

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  • Dave February 23, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I don’t wear glasses, but I’ve heard from folks that do, that rubbing a very little bit of light oil (like cooking oil) on them will cause the water to just run right off of them. Has to be refreshed, of course, as the oil will wash off eventually, but seems like a pretty simple solution.

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  • jwwz February 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Oil sounds cool. I usually just wear a decently brimmed hat (baseball hat or the like). It keeps most of the rain off.

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  • h February 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    I just wipe off my glasses with my gloves or hand. I will try veggie oil on mine. ^00^

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  • craig February 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I wear polarized shades, non-corrective, during all my daytime riding. Fogging is a problem in cooler weather because the brim of my helmet or hat prevents the vapor in my breath from escaping when I come to a stop. But the brim does help prevent raindrops from blinding me.

    I don’t know about using oil (I’d expect smearing). However…

    Two surefire tips for fog prevention–one from divers, and the other from skiers:

    1) DIVER TRICK; Spit on the lenses and rub them dry. In a pinch, prevents fogging for a little while.

    2) SKIER TRICK: No-fog cloths for wiping your lenses are sold in ski shops, but they’re basically just soaked with mild soap, so make your own with a handkerchief dampened with any old hand soap diluted in water. Totally works, and lasts longer than saliva. I do this to my bathroom mirror so I can make use it following a shower, in an otherwise steam-filled room.

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  • Russel Haynes February 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    It might help to mention what bothers Matthew about wearing glasses while riding in the rain.

    I’ve been looking for elegant solutions as well and haven’t come up with anything amazing. For the drops of water, I just run a gloved finger over the outside of the lens every so often.

    I found that the sportrx brand glasses at bicyclerx.com are pretty cheap for a pair of wraparound prescription glasses. I got transitions lenses and the whole thing didn’t cost much more than $100.

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  • Faux Porteur February 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    For keeping rain off, a brim is definitely the way to to.

    Riding in the rain with a brimmed at (pulled low) with glasses on is, IMHO, vastly superior to riding in the rain without glasses and a brimmed hat.

    As for fog, there’s a dandy product called CatCrap that cleans lenses and helps to reduce fogging. Hot breath+cold lenses will always add up to fog though. Usually its only bad when you stop cycling and walk inside a warm/humid room.

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  • resopmok February 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    I’m not really sure there is much of a solution other than contacts. I think I’ve just gotten used to looking through my glasses when they have water on them. The bigger problem is when it is a little cool, like today, and your body heat causes them to fog up when you come to a stop. That’s when you really can’t see anything, and they end up wet anyway. As for hat brims, it helps during about the first ten minutes of your ride, but after that they will get wet, because you had to look up, or around, or the wind just blew that way or whatever.

    I guess I don’t have any solutions, sorry, except to learn how to deal with it. The cooking oil thing might work, never tried it, but it will no doubt make things look kind of distorted through the lens as well. Also, you will need soap to remove it fully which can potentially harm a lot of type of modern plastic lenses. I’m interested to know too though, if there are any real solutions!

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  • Andrew Holtz February 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    For raindrops, I just carry a small hand towel to wipe my glasses. (and I have a brim on my helmet… though it doesn’t help much when going down hills.)

    For fog, I smear a tiny bit of dish soap with glycerin on the lenses and rub dry with a soft cloth. Not perfect but it does reduce fogging.

    I do have prescription sports glasses… mostly because I want to be sure that if I crash or get hit by a pebble from a car that glass won’t shatter into my eye.

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  • April February 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I have this problem as well. What I wouldn’t give to be able to wear contacts…I’ve tried. My corneas are apparently a weird shape. I can’t wear soft or hard lenses and have my vision corrected enough.

    So, alas, raindrops on glasses. Brimmed hats do help a great deal. CatCrap (a waxy stuff used by skiers on their goggles) keeps them from fogging but does nothing for rain drops.

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  • Glazier February 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    RainX if you want to keep applying it every so often. Aquapel(harder to find) if you want to do it once a year. I’d try it on a pair of dollar store glasses before applying it to prescriptions. Ask your optometrist first. But darn I never have to turn on my wipers in heavy downpours. To remove, you have to use a paste sold in glass shops to scrub off residue. Motorcycle riders have been doing this for years, but they’re going really fast so water just flies off their visors as on a car windshield. Only apply to the outer surface, not towards your eyes.

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  • Matthew February 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks everyone! It sounds like a brimmed hat is the way to go; I have a silly amount of baseball caps I never wear collecting dust in storage, so I think I’ll grab one and see how that works. If that doesn’t do the trick, I’ll give the oil a try.

    And April, I feel your pain about not being able to wear contacts. Not so much that my corneas are a weird shape; just that I could never stick something in/on my eye. *shudder*

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  • boneshaker February 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Anyone tried RainX? This is one reason I switched to contact lenses, but I also wear a cycling cap under helmet to keep the rain out of my eyes.

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  • Jessica Roberts February 23, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I discovered this amazing thing last year called a cycling cap . No but seriously I never thought to wear one! It’s made to fit under a helmet and has a modest brim. I’m very happy with it. Doesn’t solve all of the rain-on-glasses problem, but it helps a lot.

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  • Dave February 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I can see how a cap would help – I wear a wool driving cap with a brim almost every day riding, and while I don’t have glasses, I notice a huge difference as to how much water is getting in my eyes depending on whether I’m wearing the hat or not.

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  • Yokota Fritz February 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Brimmed hat (or helmet), and I also carry a hand towel with me within easy reach to wipe my glasses of when necessary.

    I’ve used RainX on eyeglasses and that works superbly. You’re not supposed to because it damages the coatings or something, but for the cheap backup pair it works just fine.

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  • April February 23, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Andrew: Most glasses aren’t glass. I don’t know of anyone who wears glass glasses anymore. They’re usually a fancy plastic. Not shatterproof though.

    It’s true that what I fear most about minor bike accidents is damage to my glasses…I can’t really function (certainly not bicycle) without mine and I can’t afford to replace them.

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  • Paul February 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I was thinking RainX as well. It works well on windscreens, so perhaps on lenses too?

    Matthew: I was terrified of touching and putting things in my eyes too. A few days of crying and cursing later and I was good to go. I love contacts.

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  • Anonymous February 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Surface tension which creates the drops can be reduced with a simple application of dish soap. Put a drop on a soft cloth and rub the lenses until clear. Reapply every few days.

    The other issue is condensation from warm air hitting cold lenses usually from your breathing or just body heat. This requires well ventilated glasses.

    Otherwise contact lenses are the way to go.

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  • Yokota Fritz February 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    @Andrew & @April – There’s plastic, but then the next step up from that is polycarbonate. This is the shatterproof plastic used in sports glasses. Single vision plastic run about $40 for a lens pair at discount places, polycarb runs about $80 per pair. Many eyecare places sell *only* poly lenses.

    Beyond poly you have the various specialty high index plastics used for stronger corrections. Since I ride everyday, all I get are poly lenses. I was hit by a car a few weeks ago that smashed my frames, but the lenses were unscathed.

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  • jeneraldisarray February 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Go into an auto supply store and pick up some windshield defogger. it usually comes in a spray bottle and it will help keep your lenses less foggy. It’s not magical, but it helps. Perhaps this “RainX” to which others are referring is something similar…

    To combat droplets on my lenses, I just make sure that I have a handkerchief or some other soft cloth stashed in a dry, accessible pocket. When I have to wait at a red light or the like, I whip out the cloth and wipe off the wet.

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  • Mike Quigley February 23, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Stay away from RainX. It’s alcohol and will damage the coatings on your glasses. I use a long-billed baseball-type hat. Normal baseball hat bills are too short.

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  • Mike Quigley February 23, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Salamander helmet visors work well with bike helmets. They attach and remove easily and will shield you face from rain AND the occasional sun. Google “Salamander helmet visor” for sources.

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  • Glazier February 23, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    This: http://www.rei.com/product/765125
    There’s a slew of different lens solutions available online and at sporting goods stores. If you have high dollar prescriptions, I wouldn’t risk it with the RainX without consultation or experimenting on an old pair of lenses.

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  • Michael M. February 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    I asked my eye doctor about this when I got new glasses a few months ago. He also bikes. He recommended a hydrophobic coating, said it worked very well, wrote it down on the prescription for me. Then I found out how much that adds to the cost of the lenses, and I realized that while both of us bike, he makes a lot more money than I do. 🙂

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  • Matt Haughey February 23, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I wear a Rapha winter cap under my helmet. It has a pretty sizable brim that keeps the water off, even in a downpour.

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  • bahueh February 23, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    cycling caps…created for this reason. they aren’t perfect, but if pulled down far enough they’re quite effective to hide under…find one that works with your glasses. may take a few different brands.

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  • maxadders February 23, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    I’ve noticed some prescription sports eyewear deals at the same places that sell glasses online. There’s a blog that talks about the various services and experiences people have had– you might find it interesting: http://glassyeyes.blogspot.com/

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  • jt February 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    The super-dorky looking baseball cap under helmet combination. Looks dumb, works great.

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  • Stig6 February 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    RGP contact lenses last at least a year making them inexpensive long-term and made cycling much more enjoyable for me. They are perfectly comfortable after you get used to them. Always wear wrap around glasses when cycling though as they’re sensitive to grit. Clear Care is the easiest stuff to clean and apply them.

    Close fitting wrap-around cycling glasses with either a visored helmet or cap work great.

    Prescription cycling glasses are available but pricey.

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  • Erik of Spokane February 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I use two items:

    A foam, crescent moon shaped, visor with a coil shaped elastic cord. This was from my local grocery store in the pretty stuff for girls section. The foam also doesn’t get mushy when wet like my old bill caps used too.(manufacturer unknown)

    Clear safety glasses keep the drops off of my prescriptions. This keeps off the road grime from car/truck spray. Plus the drops are farther away from my eyes and I can accumulate more before I need to wipe.

    Most of the time that foam visor tucked up under my helmet and just over the lenses is all I need so I don’t bother with the safety glasses.

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  • Goon February 23, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Have you tried aluminum foil?

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  • Christopher Cotrell February 23, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    I use a cap for light rain, and an umbrella in heavier rain. The umbrella thing works suprisingly well if you don’t mind riding a little bit more slowly (though not all that much) and you ride a bike with a pretty upright riding position. If you’re on a typical road or mountain bike it wouldn’t work, I imagine.

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  • jim February 23, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    baseball cap- yes
    Be carefull with rainex on plastic lenses. It might melt the plastic. I had it eat all the waythrough some car paint from a rag left sitting on a fender once. it was a new paintjob on a 66 mustang, I had to repaint the top of the fender

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  • Justin February 24, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Never tried it, but ski shops sell those crazy little squeegees that clip onto your thumb.

    Personally, I use a baseball cap and look down at my wheel too much.

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  • David Feldman February 24, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Either a helmet with a built-on visor or a cap under your helmet.

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  • Vance Longwell February 24, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Ha, a use for Vance surfaces. I quickly skimmed comments looking for a good answer, so if somebody has already mentioned this, forgive. But having glasses one can see through while riding in the rain is as simple as a trip to their Optometrist.

    There is this product, and sorry for the non-free solution, that is a little waxy stick made from a chem we’d probably just as soon not know the composition of; of an international-orange color. Anybody ever seen that stuff, it is marketed under too many names for me to remember any of them? At any rate, it’s marketed as an anti-fogging solution, but works to shed water too. There are applications for automobiles too referred to as, “Wiperless”, compound for smearing on a car window, and that stuff works good as well.

    This last sometimes has odors from the synthetics largely gleaned from plant turpenoids, so the eye-doctor one is ‘prolly better in this sense, but the over-the-counter stuff at any auto-parts store will do if you’re not squeamish about such things as toxic-chemicals.

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  • Mark February 24, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Some wrapped prescription glasses are what you need. Top them off with a hydrophobic topcoat, and it’s like having a windshield with RainX!
    Call Mark at http://www.heavyglare.com to find out more details.

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  • Vance Longwell February 24, 2010 at 10:11 am

    jim #34 – Are you sure it was the ‘rainX’ that did it? I’m not arguing with you but consider. Automobile glass, by law, is coated with a thin sheet of plastic on both sides. This is often, erroneously, referred to as ‘safety glass’. Typically, products containing Trichlorylethaline (Think ‘contact-cleaner.), the most common plastic-eating solvent, aren’t used in products intended to work on plastic.

    I’d heed your advice about being cautious applying any chemical to plastic eye-glass lenses. However, I’m fairly certain ‘rainX’ can’t be corrosive to plastic else-wise it would eat the plastic cover off of the automobile-glass upon which it was intended to be used.

    For that matter, any laundry soap lingering in a ‘rag’, even the detergent languishing from post-manufacture, is quite corrosive and will damage plastics, and plastics derivatives.

    All of which I point out only so that you might avoid setting a contaminated rag on your car again, thinking that only because it doesn’t have ‘rainX’ on it, that you are safe to do so; and not just to argue with you. Savvy? Plus too, if in fact ‘rainX’ were that corrosive, that’s remarkable, because as I said, it is intended to be applied to plastic, and you may be onto a product deficiency worth noting.

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  • Todd Boulanger February 24, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Yeaah umbrellas…with a carradice poncho slung over your Dutch handlebars. 😉

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  • RyNO Dan February 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    The prescription goggles at zenni optical cannot be considered expensive. So if that’s your desired option, just do it.

    And I hope the ABP gets back to legal issues, I’ve got a whole list of questions. Happy cycling !

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  • jim February 24, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Vance- yea it was rainex for sure. The paint was acrylic lacquer which is a simular formula as plexiglass. it ate all the way down to the primer.

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  • kevin February 24, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Unless you are extemely blind, just go without the glasses. I am farsighted so I have to have them for reading but can cycle fine without them. Oncoming cars are probably big enought that you can see them.

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  • Mark February 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Automotice safety glass is actuall two layers of glass laminated ofer an adhesive film. Plastics would never be able to stand up to the abrasion that windshields get. If you’ve ever experianced a broken one. you’d see it. The best think is a prescription lens with a hydrophobic topcoat. Zenni can’t do the wraps needed, and I doubt they’d have the hydrophobics. They do wraps all the time at http://www.heavyglare.com. They did my Oakley Jawbones with the hydro coat and it works great!

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  • DK February 24, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Just embrace it.

    I find I use windshield wipers much less than most when driving, since I’m so used to looking through spotted glass. 🙂

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  • JM February 25, 2010 at 12:30 am

    A visor is obviously the most popular and practical.

    My optometrist said not to use even regular dish soap to clean my lenses. Said that because they are so alkaline that repeated use would harm the coatings. Also I have learned from experience ($$$) to only use a lens cloth for cleaning, usually with a lens cleaning solution. A random paper towel may seem fine at first, but over time those fine line scratches really lessen clarity. I would avoid wiping your lenses while riding. Abrasive, dirty fabrics rubbing fine road debris against your lenses is never good. I would recommend starting with clean lenses and a visor and just an occasional gentle shake (at stop lights, etc…) of the glasses will probably get you to and from in most wet weather.

    Random thought – My ski goggles have a coating on the inside that you are never supposed to touch or wipe. They never fog. Curious to know if maybe there is a product (hydrophobic) that can be applied to prescription lenses without damage.

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  • Fritz February 25, 2010 at 4:26 am

    Look for Raincoat and Fogtech from Motosolutions.com
    REI sells some of their product as does Cyclegear in East PDX.
    This stuff works way better than RainX.
    Johnsons Baby Shampoo applied and wiped off of the inside of the lens with a cloth works great o cut the fog.

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  • Fritz February 25, 2010 at 4:26 am

    Look for Raincoat and Fogtech from Motosolutions.com
    REI sells some of their product as does Cyclegear in East PDX.
    This stuff works way better than RainX.
    Johnsons Baby Shampoo applied and wiped off of the inside of the lens with a cloth works great to cut the fog.

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  • Charles Kuttner February 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

    First: NOT Rain-X. Had it on my car’s windshield and couldn’t see a thing at night, as it made glare much worse, blocking my view. Plus it’s likely to kill whatever coating is on your glasses.

    Second: For those with glasses: pay a bit extra for coating that helps them shed rain. It helps a bit.

    Third: I have bought or made a series of “windshields” for my helmets. The tinted ones make me look like a state trooper, and avoid the need for sunscreen on my face. The light or clear ones get rain on them, but the drops are a couple of inches in front of my eyes, thus out of focus and really don’t interfere with my view.

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  • jim February 25, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Can you post a picture of your visor helmet?

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  • Daniel Lerch February 25, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Here’s another Yes for the cheap baseball cap under the helmet. Someone above mentioned that the brim only helps for the first 10 minutes or so, but I’ve never had this problem — just need to be sure you have a long enough brim (standard baseball cap is fine; $2 at Goodwill).

    Also, it’s easiest to do this if you have a helmet with one of those adjustable dials on the back; otherwise you’re fiddling with your straps every time the weather changes.

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  • Charles Kuttner February 25, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Alas, no picture at the moment. It was called Airo-vize, which I’m having trouble finding on the web.

    Imagine a piece of polycarbonate sheeting, attached to front of helmet with Velcro.

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  • velomann February 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    I commute year-round and am blind as a bat without my glasses. I nearly always wear some kind of cycling cap and it does help a lot with the rain, but honestly, drops on my glasses has never really bothered me too much. Fog, however, is a totally different story. I don’t care what coating you use, riding in thick fog with glasses is the scariest riding I’ve ever done. I usually kept a small hanky or cloth in my breast pocket and just wiped them off at every stoplight, or relied on the smudgy and barely effective finger swipe.

    But the best thing I ever did – at 49 years old – was get my first prescription for contacts. Holy cow, what a difference in bad weather. I wear glasses on the days I don’t ride, and contacts the rest of the time. Can’t believe i waited so long. And they’re cheaper.

    I’d be curious if anyone could confirm my other suspicion about glasses and the rain. I need a fairly strong prescription, so my glasses have been high-index, coated, and way spendy. My last couple pairs the coating began to disintegrate after the 2-year warranty, but before they were 3-years old. I suspect – but only suspect – that constant exposure to rain on my commute was partly to blame. Anyone know whether that could be true?

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  • David February 26, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Couple of things to try:
    My bike gloves have terry cloth on em which is a great wiper. You could also try a piece of sponge (that’s what I use when skiing).

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  • Marcus Griffith March 2, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I have to wear glasses to drive and to bike so this a problem I am all too familair with. I have prescription sport gogles that help a bit, if I have them with me. the goggles are a bit nerdy looking and create the fishbowl effect because of their curvature.
    Normally, the sight problem in the rain is just a problem i have to endure when caught unexpectedly in the rain.

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