SPEX: the final solution…

Published by Nick on September 22nd, 2012 - in FEATURES

This man sussed it, but no one noticed. Until now…

the background…

We’re obviously guilty of being totally obsessed with improving rider vision (see below for a list of links to the stuff we’ve covered). We’ll stop going on about it soon, promise: there’s only one piece to come.  It’s just that when we started looking at ways to improve riding, we were gobsmacked that the single most important component – vision – had received less general attention than pretty much any other aspect of motorcycle riding. It’s not just down to the media. You wouldn’t expect a retailer or service centre to politely inquire of a customer whether or not they’d had an eye test in the last five years, but they’ll happily advise on other aspects of maximising rider safety – the right kit, the benefits of TC/ABS on the road, and so on. The picture changes slightly if you go on a course. Both road and track based schools do refer to using your vision to improve safety and performance, but very often it’s limited to stuff like using vanishing points and looking ‘around’ bends. Which is better than nothing, but we’re talking something fundamental here. We’ve heard that the California Superbike School pay a lot of attention to visual utilisation and response, and we’ll be chatting to them about it regarding our final piece in the series (on elite sports vision). But it was the overall paucity of information that led us down the optical path in the first place. Bottom line here is that we take our sight for granted. If we ride motorcycles, we can not afford to do that year in, year out.

The only group of people who don’t take this cavalier attitude are, of course, people whose sight is compromised. If you use lenses to ride, chances are you’ll have encountered a number of associated problems. If you penchant is for an open faced lid, you’ll either have had to get prescription goggles made up – a whole new world of expense and hassle – or found a decent open face visor system, a better solution since you can retain the flexibility of spectacles. If you use a full face, you’ll find that even in 2012 not all brands easily accommodate spex. And depending on the design of the frames in question, irrespective of lid, you may well encounter the major frustration of the top of the frame bisecting your line of sight in a crouched position – a problem most familiar to lensed sportsbike riders. Contact lenses specifically prescribed for distance vision have the disadvantage of needing to be removed on a regular basis, negating some of their frame-less pulses. The ideal solution would be to find some frames guaranteed to eliminate cut off, and thin enough to be accommodated by tighter fitting lids. Here we must revert to a tale of personal experience, since my own quest led me to the grail…

the quest…

I use glasses for distance – I don’t have to, since technically my natural sight is good enough to meet the driving test standard, but as previously discussed, that standard isn’t particularly high. A small prescription made a big difference to my vision in situations where visual acuity was at a premium – like riding a motorcycle. Inevitably, I encountered some of the problems referred to, including cut off. Simply buying the largest set of frames I could find helped, but didn’t guarantee to eliminate the problem, since frames get shifted under the helmet while riding – merely opening the visor for a while can displace them enough for the problem to kick in next time you are crouched over that tank.  The other disappointment was that ordinary big frames didn’t keep out the blast when riding open face. It was naive to have expected that, but you want maximum pay off for looking like Dennis Taylor (even though on the move no one really notices your eyeware, extravagant shades excepted.). But thoughts of the Irish maestro nudged me toward the light…

I dropped in to the local Specsavers and asked if they stocked snooker frames (no pun, etc.). They did.  And said frames were remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, they were the most exclusive frames in the building since almost no one actually bought them, despite their budget price. Secondly, they had a unique characteristic: the focal plane is not fixed relative to the arms, which pivot on a vertical plane – allowing the lenses to be effectively angled to prevent cut off (see pictures) while remaining perpendicular to the line of vision, a development of the ‘upside down’ Taylor frames – originally constructed to prevent frame intrusion when lining up shots. The snooker frames answered every requirement. They were thin enough to fit snugly into a selection of helmets, and by angling the lenses marginally upward on the move, any trace of cut off was eliminated, even in an extreme head down crouch.  Remarkably, they even offered decent blast protection worn with an open face lid – by angling in the opposite direction, slightly downward. Clearly, they can’t match goggles in that particular specification, but they do a better job than ordinary frames, while the visor option remains.

If you ride and wear glasses, check ’em out – the Specsavers variety are cheap enough to invest in as a spare set, or alternatively can be lensed up as shades (with or without a prescription), and seem no less robust than more conventional spex.  I wouldn’t use anything else.

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