POC Propel Sunglasses review: Great visuals, and some free watts too
When Will Jones wrote about the best cycling sunglasses, he started by talking about how important the fashion aspect is. It's a sentiment I couldn't agree with more. The right glasses tie your whole look together. Keep reading though and Will also talked about how the best glasses have to be more; honestly, that last part is something I've struggled with a bit.
Tech Specs: POC Propel Sunglasses
Price: €249 / $250
Weight: 29g total, 11g for frame only
Colour options: Frame options are Uranium Black w/Violet Silver Mirror CAT 3, Hydrogen White w/Violet Silver Mirror CAT 3, Purple Quartz Translucent w/Violet Silver Mirror CAT 3, Fluorescent Orange Translucent w/Violet Gold Mirror CAT 3, Fluorescent Pink Uranium Black Translucent w/Violet Gold Mirror CAT 3, Grey Translucent w/Violet Silver Mirror CAT 3
It's not that I disagree with the idea that great cycling sunglasses are more than pure fashion, it's that there are so many fantastic choices. Oakley, Scicon, 100%, Bolle, POC, and even less expected brands like Rapha all have sunglasses that are incredible. The base level of performance is so high that it's easy to forget to even think about quality when testing. The flip side of that is that it's also hard to differentiate one brand of glasses from another. Everyone makes claims about performance and they are all true enough that it feels like noise.
This year POC is looking to cut through all that noise. The POC Propel sunglasses are completely unique on the market as the only sunglasses sold today that claim to make you faster through aero optimisation. It's the kind of claim I love and I have to admit I felt myself drawn like a moth to a flame. Still, despite my predilection for ridiculous aero claims, I've put the POC Propel sunglasses to the test. I've covered hundreds of miles and lots of hours and now I'm ready to talk about the details. If you are looking for a new pair of sunglasses for the summer riding season, keep reading to see if the POC Propel is going to be the right choice for you.
Design and aesthetics
It only makes sense to dive right into the aero claims around the POC Propel sunglasses. Those claims are the headline and the differentiator and the idea is something that makes theoretical sense. TT helmets use face shields and ear covers to smooth the air as it travels around the upper portion of a rider's head. Most people don't wear TT helmets on most rides though and more and more brands seem to be looking for ways to make the best aero helmets and sunglasses as good as a TT helmet.
With that in mind, sunglasses with huge shield designs seem to do a better and better job sealing at the top against certain helmets. Sweet Protection even goes so far as to mention the Falconer 2Vi MIPS helmet integration with the brand's sunglasses as a design consideration. Still, despite these trends, POC is the first to specifically run a new sunglasses design through CFD to try and make them faster. The Propel is what came of that CFD analysis and for all the trouble, POC says you can expect low single digit watt savings at 40kph. Obviously this isn't a big saving but it is measurable. It's also interesting to see the effect on the visual language.
Simply said, the Propel glasses look different than you might have guessed. CFD seems to have dictated a rather modest vertical height. Not only are they narrower vertically than recent design trends but the increase through the centre is pretty modest as well. There's a bulge but it's not big and the upper edge is, as expected, pretty straight across so that it seals quite effectively with most helmets.
Image 1 of 2
Image 2 of 2
Instead of a big vertical surface, the Propel glasses use a dramatic curve and long edges. The curve is so dramatic that if you measure inside edge to inside edge where the arms start to head back it's around a centimetre narrower compared to every other pair of glasses I measured. These are narrow glasses but they also extend farther back with a 1cm fairing on either side of your face.
Once the front facing shield does finally end, you'll find a chunky temple design with a logo on it. That chunky temple isn't just visual, or maybe aero, consideration though. It's like that to make room for a friction based adjustment mechanism for the arm length. The ends of the arms aren't straight so you'll want to match the length of your face to the length of the arms for the best retention. The arms aren't the only piece that's adjustable either. In the box you'll find three different nose pads to further customise the fit to your face.
I didn't get into the colour and lens options in the design section because it turns out there's a bigger implication to your choices than usual. I'm not one to pay attention to racing too much but I'm a fan of Education First. I love the outrageous pink kits and the Giro switchouts they bring each year, I was a fan of Taylor Phinney and I'm a fan of Lachlan Morton. Given that, I of course wanted to test the black and pink model of the POC Propel glasses. I want to dissuade you from making that same mistake even if you are also a fan.
The narrow height of the Propel design means you can easily see the bottom rim of the frame while riding. The pink is super noticeable. Orange, purple, and white all seem like they’d be noticeable as well but I suspect the pink is worse. All the other brighter colours use a single colour that I suspect will fade to the back of your vision more. If I was choosing a second time, I’d go with black.
The other thing you will want to keep in mind when choosing your frame colour is the lens it comes with. Each frame option comes packaged with a clear secondary lens and a Category 3 summer lens, but you can't choose any lens with any frame. The pink and black frames, as well as the orange, come with a gold mirrored lens that is 3% lighter than the silver mirrored lens the other frame colours get.
Regardless of the exterior colour of the lens though, both options are the same to look through aside from the small VLT difference. The POC Clarity technology doesn't use a warm, or cool, lens temperature and is instead slightly purple. This is one of the best features of the Propel sunglasses as POC clarity lenses are outstanding when it comes to visual acuity. The purple seems to boost contrast and even when the light starts to fade, these are excellent help seeing details.
The lenses are also amazing at protecting your eyes, and generally staying clear. Full UVA/UVB protection is a given, but even on the fastest descents there's no need to worry about the narrow height of the lenses, something that was a real drawback with the Oakley Kato. A space between the lens and the frame helps air move across the actual lens, keeping fog down, but air is never channelled into your eye. When it's time to climb, that same slit allows any sweat you drop onto the lens to run off without pooling and the "Ri-Pel" coating is one of the best at keeping streaks from forming and blocking your vision.
I do wonder if adding a similar design, utilising slits between the frame and the lens, would be a helpful addition up top. Right now there's no upper frame and, while it's not drastic, it's occasionally possible to catch some internal reflection as light hits the back of the frame. It's particularly noticeable given I'd been testing the Scicon Aerowatt before these and those glasses lean so heavily on their ability to stop internal reflections.
Image 1 of 3
Image 2 of 3
Image 3 of 3
When it’s time to change the lens, it’s a mostly unremarkable affair. There’s a series of indents around the edges of the frame with corresponding attachment points in the frame. The upper corner of each side are the only spots that require some force to get out of the lens. Once those two spots are free the rest of the frame will come out with only gentle guidance.
Lenses aside, I'm also a big fan of the customizable arm length. I've never had that option before on a pair of glasses and I love it. It allows you to not only have extra secure fit but the curved arms mean that there's never any concern about interaction with a helmet. Keeping that curve close to the ear means that even the Shokz headphones I always ride with are able to play nice with the glasses. There's really no downside to this design choice.
Image 1 of 3
Image 2 of 3
Image 3 of 3
I specifically wanted to test the POC Propel sunglasses alongside all the other aero pieces I was testing while riding through California on the FSA K-Force WE 12s groupset. I expected that ride to be a slog through heavy headwinds and I wasn't disappointed on that front. POC isn't claiming huge aero gains but it is claiming aero gains nonetheless, and every little bit adds up. I can't actually tell you that they made me faster on that ride but I'll take every watt I can get.
What is more important is that I love the style and the rest of the performance. Style wise, these are as loud and brash as a full aero kit, any aero helmet on the market, and whatever new pair of neon pink socks I end up using. The style doesn't have any drawback either as, aside from an occasional internal reflection, you get amazing lenses and adjustable frames.
My suggestion is to pick black frames, but otherwise my biggest bone to pick with the POC Propel glasses are the case that comes with it. There's room for the second lens, and the other nose pieces, but you are going to need somewhere else to actually store those pieces. The nose pieces constantly fall out and placement of the extra lens seems like an invitation to constantly test just scratch resistant the main lens is. This might strike you as an odd thing to complain about but it's noticeable given how well thought out the other details are.
Image 1 of 2
Image 2 of 2