MELON OPTICS KINGPIN PHOTOCHROMIC GLASSES REVIEW
Words by Robert Johnston | Photos by Finlay Anderson
Mountain biking in the UK generally comes with a healthy serving of mud, but also some unpredictable weather conditions. One second you can be dealing with low-flying sun hitting you in the face, and the next thick clouds will roll in, reducing light levels in the trees to next to zero. Unless you’re carrying around multiple choices for glasses lenses, you’re left struggling with your vision at one end of the extreme. Thankfully Photochromic lenses are there to react to the light levels and tailor the tint of your glasses accordingly. I hadn’t been a huge fan of a photochromic lens in the past, but the Melon Optics Kingpin Photochromic glasses have quickly changed that, and have firmly placed themselves at the top of my pile for mountain bike eyewear.
The Kingpin is the second glasses model by Melon Optics, following on from their successful Alleycat. This time around Melon has opted to go for the full frame route, giving a different style to the glasses, but kept most other elements very similar. There’s still a TR90 Hyperflex frame that’s tough and flexible, which is equipped with rubberised Hypergrip nose and ear tips to aid in keeping them in place. In typical Melon Optics style, the lenses, frame, nose piece and logo can be customized between multiple different color options to get the desired style.
Most of the lenses are produced by ZEISS to offer enhanced clarity, for trail or road scenarios depending on the choice. Trail lenses reduce the transmission of green and orange tints, which should enhance details in the trail. Customers can select between a choice of four chrome trail lenses with various tints; an amber or smoke trail lens; four road lenses, a low-light lens (optional extra); or their non-ZEISS Photochromic lens tested here. The lenses are quickly changed in typical goggles fashion, by flexing the frame away from the lens to release the tabs. The Photochromic lens adjusts the tint of the lens to the ambient light conditions, increasing the tint when it’s brighter to offer protection to your eyes. Unlike many Photochromic lenses, the Melon Optics lens goes down to a category 0, or essentially clear (85% VLT), and up to a category 2 with 18% VLT, covering the majority of riding scenarios. Regardless of the lens selected, UV400 protection is standard, and there’s a Ripel coating to keep them cleaner and clearer for longer.
As standard the Melon Optics Kingpin sunglasses come in a hard case with a microfiber glasses bag. Standard lens options come in at £120/$145, or the Photochromic lens can be had for £145/$175. Replacement lenses cost £50-75 ($60-90) depending on the choice. The optional low-light lens can be added for £20/$24 at the time of purchase, to add options to cover all conditions.
Riding in the Tweed Valley, you regularly dive from open hillside into the murky depths of the dense trees and vice-versa, meaning you typically accept the blinding brightness as a necessary evil on a rare sunny day by riding with a clear lens. The photochromic lenses I’ve tried out previously have always maintained a category 1 tint at minimum, meaning that regardless of the speed that they brighten, it’s always too dark to ride with them in the trees on anything but the brightest of days. The Melon Photochromic lens goes down to as good as clear, so it was game on for riding my home trails throughout this winter, and what a pleasure it has been. The optics are great for my eyes, giving no distortion and a relatively true-to-life color regardless of the level of tint. The transition between levels of tint was relatively quick, making it easy to forget you were wearing a photochromic lens for all but the most abrupt bright-to-dark swaps. These have been a game changer for my riding this winter, taking the stress off of my vision without any detriment whatsoever.
I opted for a relatively subdued colorway for my Kingpins, with the paint splatter effect adding a touch of style to the otherwise black glasses. Retained from the Alleycat glasses are the durable frame, comfortable fit and stellar fogging resistance. The Kingpins stayed put firmly in place for the vast majority of riding with most of the helmets they were tested with, however the back of the legs did foul with the low-profile Bluegrass Rogue Core helmet at times, likely due to the slightly flared portion at their ends. In other helmets this wasn’t an issue. I’d be tempted to trim off 10mm or so from the end of the legs to prevent this causing an issue if I was regularly riding in an offending helmet.
The Kingpin held up very well throughout the duration of testing, with the lens resisting scratches well from rubbing off mud and the occasional brush through foliage and only showing a couple of minor marks. The only minor issue faced was with one of the rubber grip portions on the end of the leg. These have a slight edge to them, which would catch on the MIPS liner of the Bluegrass helmet when stowed below the peak, and eventually pulled the rubber free from the leg. I glued it back in place and it’s been fine since. Otherwise, they’ve been trouble free and an absolute pleasure. They’re not cheap, but the quality is high to match, as well as the performance.
The Wolf’s Last Word
If you’re in the market for an excellent set of riding glasses, then the Melon Optics Kingpin (and Alleycat) should be high on your list. For riders regularly frequenting trails with a large contrast in light conditions, the Photochromic lens performs excellently, making the Kingpin glasses a set and forget item to cover your eyes for the duration of your rides.
Price: $175 /£145 (as tested)