Review: Smith Pivlock Arena Sunglasses

New performance-oriented shades provide exceptional fit

Apparel
Hallmark of these new shades is a tighter wrap, shorter temple arms, and the addition of special skin-gripping material.

Hallmarks of these new shades are a tighter wrap, shorter temple arms, and the addition of special skin-gripping material.

Why You Want

You’re a fan of the look and performance of Smith’s lightweight frameless sunglasses with interchangeable lenses, and are not bothered by the $159 price tag or the lack of a photochromic lens option.

Pros

You’d be amazed how many new products are really just a rehash of an older model jazzed up with new colors and maybe a new name. That’s why we’re always excited to see real tangible improvement. Count Smith Optics’s new-for-2014 Pivlock Arena sunglasses in this later category. Building on design concepts seen in the Pivlock V2 Max shades we reviewed a year ago, the Arena features a more secure fit and less helmet interference.

Fit security is improved thanks to a tighter frame wrap. Take a look at the photo below and the difference is evident. The Arena’s shape is more rounded than the Pivlock V2 Max. On the bike, the Arena’s held tight even under the duress of cyclocross racing, where jumping, running, and occasionally crashing were part of the test regimen. Temple arms are also shorter, which reduces helmet interference. Using a variety of brain protectors (including Smith’s new Overtake and Bontrager’s Velocis seen in the race shot below) we had no issue with the temple arms jamming or bumping against the helmet.

The Arena (left) has a more rounded frame shape than its predecessor, the Pivlock V2.

The Arena (left) has a more rounded frame shape than its predecessor, the Pivlock V2.

Security is further enhanced by the use of megol, a grippy material used on the nosepiece and temple arms that helps keep the shades in place even when you’re soaked in sweat. I actually had a few instances when the nosepiece stuck to my skin. Not in bad way. But you could tell these shades weren’t going to slip off your face.

The frameless design carries over from prior models, keeping weight low and providing an uninterrupted field of vision, which is ideal for racing or riding. Lens optics as clear and sharp as any sunglasses we’ve worn. And there are a dozen frame/lens combinations to choose from, including the Matte Cement with Blue Sol X-Mirror lens we’ve been testing. The lenses have a hydroleophobic coating that’s claimed to repel water, dirt, and grease, and provides 100 percent UV protection. Each pair also comes with two spare lenses, rose-tinted Ignitor and clear. Changing lenses is a simple process that takes about a minute.

The Arena are designed for medium fit/medium coverage, with a lens width of 125mm. You can also choose the Arena Max (same price), which offer larger coverage and have a 130mm lens width. For women, Smith launched the Asana, which utilizes all the same technology, except there is no megol material on the temple arms, which helps reduce hair snagging.

They've stayed firmly in place during a number of cyclocross races.

The Arena shades have stayed firmly in place during a number of cyclocross races.

As with Smith’s entire Pivlock collection, the Arena’s are compatible with the ODS-2 RX adaptor, which is a prescription insert that snaps into the nose piece. The lens curve is too pronounced to put the prescription directly onto the lens, which would cause distortion.

Cons

The No. 1 knock on any type of performance-oriented sunglasses is the look. The Smith Arena are functionally stylish when combined with a helmet. But these are definitely tools for a job, not something you’ll want to lounge around in on the coffee shop patio after your ride. At least that’s our feeling. Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder.

We also can’t endorse the lens’ ability to repel water, grease, etc. The special coating may well make a difference on some microscopic level, but when we start to sweat and sweat drips on the lens it stays on the lens until we wipe it off. Same goes for mud splatter, finger grease, and the occasional wayward glob of GU. Of course, we’ve never met a pair of shades that could magically make grit and grime vanish, so our issue here is more with marketing copy rather than actual product performance.

The look is decidedly performance oriented. These are not coffee shop-casual shades.

The look is decidedly performance oriented. These are not coffee shop-casual eyewear.

Likewise, the adjustable nosepiece felt a little overstated. Yes, it slides up and down, but the range is all of a couple millimeters, which didn’t make much difference in our user experience. Here was one place where we feel Smith has taken a step backwards, as the nosepiece on the Pivlock V2’s we tested in 2013 had four positions of adjustability on each side.

Finally, we lament the lack of photochromic lens option, which automatically adjusts to varying light levels. This isn’t such a big deal for road cyclists. But for mountain biking, we’ve become huge fans. If you’ve ever done a ride that dips in and out of dark, shaded forest you know why.

For $159, you get three lenses and a carrying case.

For $159, you get three lenses and a carrying case.

Bottom Line

Rating: 4 out of 5
Price: $159, includes three lenses and carrying case
More Info: smithoptics.com

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.


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  • Robert Murpny says:

    Surprised that the durability of lenses coating was not mentioned as a con. Having worn glasses my entire life and finally having the ability to wear sunglasses that work, only to find that they scratch just looking at them. I figured for 159.00 bucks they would last longer than 2 days of normal wear. Don’t know how you removed mud and salty sweat from them without scratching the daylights out of the lenses.

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