Note: these sunglasses were generously supplied to me by Vallon.
At a Glance
- Strengths: Great fitting, stylish, amazing frame durability, great lens clarity, company sustainability causes
- Weaknesses: no polarized option, front and center logo
- Interesting To: Road and gravel cyclists that are riding across town to the cafe or bikpackers racing across the country on the Tour Divide
- Price: $156
- Purchase: Vallon
The Watchtowers are Vallon’s entry into cycling sunglasses, which they’ve specifically designed for gravel/adventure-type riding – which is why they tapped me to give them some test rides and see what I think of them.
I took these shades on what I thought were the three most important tasks for the Watchtowers: an overnight bikepacking trip, a gravel race, and some time hanging out at the local coffee shop telling eeeveryone about well: my bikepacking trip and upcoming gravel race!
Comfort & Fit
Good fitting sunglasses are a make or break condition: no one is going to wear a pair of sunnies that slide off your face.
The frames of the Watchtowers are made of a tough and flexible nylon material that easily adjusted to my face and will most likely accommodate most adults. I measured the width from temple to temple at 130mm – fairly typical. Measure a current pair of shades and see if this is +/- 5mm from 130. If it is, these should be the correct width for you. I wear a “medium” helmet size to give you an idea on the size of my own head.
The Watchtowers feature a replaceable nose piece and comes with a total of three, all of varying widths to help you dial in what you prefer. Being well-endowed in the olfactory system, I switched out the middle of the ground nose piece with the thickest one, and found that worked well for me. If you have a small nose, you may want to opt for the thinner one. These are gender-neutral glasses and I appreciate this design detail to make sure the glasses work for many different face profiles.
Finally, the temples are very thin, which adds to their flexibility. They also are out of the way and don’t interfere between your tender ears and the bottom of your helmet.
For my bikepacking trip and race, I think the best compliment to give them is that I didn’t have to think about them that hard – they worked seamlessly with my ride and did their job, while keeping me looking good.
Sunglasses come in a variety of tint darkness and the Watchtowers fall into a Category 3. Category 2 would be a lighter shade you’d find in more fashion-oriented lenses and a Category 4 are found in snow sports/mountaineering glasses. Category 3 probably works well in most sun conditions outside of high altitude snow, so anticipate being able to wear these from sun up to sun down without having to change out lenses or stow these away.
The Watchtowers come in two different lenses: grey and brown with the grey being slightly darker. I decided to demo the brown/amber color because I believe this color works best for variable conditions. This color helps improve contrast for the type of terrain you’re usually riding in: green landscapes and blue skies. They’ll filter out blue light, which can help reduce strain. They’ll also aid in depth perception which is important in cycling, where you’re trying to calculate objects in the distance, be it a pothole, a car, another rider.
The shape of lens covers a very wide field of view, especially when glancing to to your side. As a cyclist, I’m constantly looking in back of me for cars or other riders, so if I can simply glance over rather than having to turn my head, the faster it is to put my attention back to in front of me.
The Watchtower’s lens aren’t polarized, which does comes with advantages and disadvantages. better for low light contrast, furthering making these shades work in a variety of conditions. Lack of polarization also decreases sometimes annoying visual distortion in your field of view, as well as preventing the partial of full blockage of viewing polarized screens you may find on your phone, your bike computer, or your camera. I’ve punked myself many times thinking my own camera is off when it’s just my sunglasses blocking the display while doing my own product testing and review work!
Polarized shades can reduce glare and reflection and are really useful in very intense light, like being above treeline with snow around you. The Watchtowers aren’t the pair of sunnies I would use if I was to go out fishing.
The lens of the Watchtowers are oleophobic and hydrophobic (repels oil/water) which can keep them cleaner and reduce the accumulation of grit – and that can reduce the chance of scratching. Cleaning the lens is easy too, and the included velvety pouch can be used to dry and polish them while out on a ride. The lens resisted fogging up, which I did experience at all.
The one detriment of an almost goggle-sized pair of sunglasses is that it’s easy to put your fingers on the lens itself, causing fingerprints. Not a big deal, but something I noticed having extra large hands!
Durability is excellent. The flexible nylon frames do an excellent job keeping the frames from cracking when wrangled by my own hands, or when stuffed inside a bike bag or backpack. The temples easily bend to be easily accepted into the vent holes of my helmet, allowing me to wear them, rather than having to find a place to stow them.
The lens themselves don’t show a scratch after my testing period, even though the gravel race I participated in – the Old Man Winter Bike Rally – featured riding through muddy gravel roads after a surprise and messy winter storm!
The Vallon Watchtowersare back by a Lifetime guarantee to manufacturer’s warranty. Spare parts aren’t available to purchase on the manufacturer’s website, but I hope to see that in the future myself.
The Watchtowers‘ frames are actually made of nylon produced with 85% recycled fishing nets. This nylon does itself have the potential to also be recycled once your sunnies are finally exhausted. Packaging is also plastic free – my pair came in a quite handsome cardboard box.
Though not directly tied to these sunglasses directly, I was happy to see that Vallon has put their plastic cleanup and sustainability front and center on their website. A portion of the profits go into these projects. I really appreciate companies taking such issues seriously. Vallon remains an independent and family-owned company, rather than being swallowed up by an unnamed 500lb gorilla.
One of the most subjective qualities to try to grade, but long story short the Watchtowers looked great on me, confirmed by the many unsolicited compliments by family and friends.
Oversized, extra-large frames are certainly having their moment, but it’s not without reason: they functionally work great for sports like cycling where having an unimpeded view of the landscape around you is preferred. I also appreciate the amount of coverage of my face they gave me, as I have very fare skin.
Utility aside and fashion in the forefront, the Watchtowers work well with my own face, which has many rounded features like my extra large eyes, brows, and well: nose. The Watchtowers also complement and provide a contrast to my chiseled jaw line and high cheek bones. I decided to gift myself a mustache to complete the gravel cyclist look for my last race.