Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Which Oakleys are best for triathlon?

There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to selecting the right pair of sunglasses for the rigors of triathlon.  Oakley alone makes more than 10 different models (and the rest…!) that could be used.  To help you narrow down the selection, this article looks at the relative merits of four different Oakley models that you’ll likely see at your next race: the Flak Jackets (we’ll also cover the new Flak 2.0 at the same time), Racing Jackets, Jawbreakers and the new Radar EV.

We’ll try to cover off as much as possible, including fit, price, vision and lens options.

Flak Jackets

Flak JacketsThe Flaks have been around for quite a while now, with the revised 2.0 version launched earlier this year.  From what I can tell, the updated models are slightly lighter and then lens shape is very slightly different.  But, having tested both, what follows is good for both models.

Price

A basic (non-custom) set of frames with polarized lenses (we’ll discuss the merits of different lenses later) costs around £150, although as the Flaks have been around a while there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find a discounted/sale pair for less.

Customization options

Let’s face it, triathletes can be show offs. So why wouldn’t you want to customize your frames to match your trisuit (or maybe to clash with it?!)?  On the Flaks, this means changing lenses (if you can’t stomach the cost of Oakley OEM lenses, companies like Revant Optics do great replacements for a lot less money), the rubber ‘ear socks’ and nose pieces (again, Revant also does these more cheaply than Oakley). If you’re speccing a pair of Flaks from new, you can change the icon/logo as well, but only once.

On the swim

Don’t be silly!

On the bike

The relatively slim profile of the Flaks should mean they fit pretty well with more or less any type of helmet, including aero lids which cover the ears.  With head down, you can definitely see the brow piece of the glasses, so vision can be somewhat restricted if you like facing down and looking forward past your eyebrows.   Of the glasses on test, the lens are the most shallow, although the XLJ version (similar on the 2.0 model) wraps around the corners of the eyes pretty well.

The Flaks stay in place reasonably well, although you’ll want to keep the nose piece clean so that it doesn’t get slippery over time.

On the run

Flak Jackets are usually my favourite Oakley frames to run in.  They’re light and comfortable and stay in place well (unless you like looking down on the run!).  I do find that sweat (bear in mind I sweat A LOT!) does tend to get onto the inside of the lenses pretty easily, which obviously degrades vision.

Racing Jackets

racingjkacketSimilar to the Flaks, the Racing Jackets have been around quite a while (you still see a few pro cyclists wearing them) and are one of the most popular frames for customization.  There’s lots of lens options, making it easy to adjust to different weather conditions.

Price

It inevitably costs a little more to build a custom pair from scratch, or you can always take an off-the-shelf pair and modify them.  Like the original Flaks, they’ve been around a while now, so you should be able to pick up a pair at a good price if you shop around.

Customization options

Thanks to their split frame nature, there are a few more customization options for the Racing Jackets. You can choose contrasting main frames and lower-arms, and then add custom ear socks (the bits on the arms that hold them in place).  Combined with the many lens colours on offer from the likes of Oakley and Revant Optics, you can choose some pretty cool (or horrendous!) options.

On the bike

The Racing Jackets were designed for cyclists, so it’s hardly surprising that this is where they excel.  That said, they are far better suited to a body position on a road bike than a time trial bike (like the Flaks, they’re not great when you’re looking down, with the upper frame obstructing forward vision to some extent).  My own pair of Racing Jackets have become quite ‘slippery’ over time, which means I have to push them back up my nose pretty often when out on the bike.  Maybe a new nose piece would see them stay in place for longer.

On the run

You see plenty of people wearing Racing Jackets in triathlons, though it is pretty clear that they’re not a ‘running’ frame.  They’re noticeably heavier than the Flak Jackets, although when I’ve tried running in them they stayed in place reasonably well.

Jawbreaker

jawbreakerFirst seen on Mark Cavendish at last year’s Tour de France (although hardly anyone noticed thanks to his very early exit!), these are the ‘ultimate cycling sunglasses’ designed with input from Cavendish himself.  The single lens makes the Jawbreaker more similar to the Radar (see below) than the Flaks and Racing Jackets, which both use two lenses.

Price

Being so new the Jawebreaker is pretty expensive, but you can get a pair for around £150 if you shop around and aren’t set on the Prizm lens (which is very good, I have to say).

Customization

Oakley say that the custom Jawbreaker range will be available in September 2015.  Until then, there is a growing range of ‘standard’ colour schemes to choose from.

On the bike

No surprise that the Jawbreakers are superb on the bike, by far my favourite current cycling glasses.  Despite them being full-framed, the visibility is superb and the fit is excellent thanks to the adjustable arms.  You will still see a little bit of frame in your vision if you’re down in an aggressive TT position, but it is a lot better than the Racing Jackets or Flaks.  One of the things that has impressed me most is the way the glasses stay put on long rides with no need for adjustment.  Although they are quite wide, the adjustable arms should make wearing the Jawbreaker under an aero lid pretty easy.

On the run

Jawbreakers on the run are going to be somewhat Marmite, I think.  Some will love the slightly retro look, not too dissimilar to the visor-like glasses favoured by Mark Allen and Dave Scott back in the day…  Others will think they look a bit ridiculous.  And both camps are right – it just depends how outrageous you want to be! In use, they’re very good. Heavier than the Flaks and perhaps not quite as secure when running as when on the bike, they are nevertheless perfectly serviceable as running goggles. If you can live with the looks…

Radar EV

radarevThe Oakley Radar has been a triathlon stalwart for donkey’s years, and with good reason.  The new Radar EV (EV stands for Extra Vision) boasts a taller lens with more visibility in the upper field of view – which obviously has some benefits on the bike, especially when in an aero tuck.  The new EV lenses are also vented as standard, to help keep lenses clear.

Price

Again, they’re new, so bargains might be difficult to come by. Expect to pay £150 upwards.

Customization

Although they are as new as the Jawbreaker, the full customization service is already available, giving lots of options to build your very own ideal pair.  Custom options include lenses, frames and ear socks / nose piece.

On the bike

Using the Pitch lens (there’s also a ‘Path’ lens available), which is the taller of the two, forward vision on a road bike is superb. The lens quality is excellent as always and the frame is barely noticeable.  Move down into an aero tuck and the frame may become a problem for some, depending on how aggressive your position is.  The frame arms are pretty slender, so should work find under an aero helmet.

On the run

The Radars are noticeably lighter than the Jawbreaker on the run and probably marginally more secure as well.  With the Pitch lens (I haven’t tested the Path), the visibility is very good and you feel like you’re wearing a visor rather than a pair of sunnies (which I mean as a compliment).  The wrap around lenses really do keep the sun out although if you sweat a lot (like me) you will still get some sweat splashing onto the inside of the lenses.

Conclusions

Okay, so that’s not quite an exhaustive test of all the options of offer from Oakley (I haven’t tested the M2, for example), let alone any other brands, but hopefully it gives you some food for thought.  For me, I’d rank the glasses tested in the following ascending order:

4. Racing Jackets – once the last word in cycling glasses, these are now showing their age compared to the newer designs.

3. Jawbreaker – I love these glasses, but primarily for cycling. Unless you love to look like an 80s throwback on the run, these are just a bit too big.

2. Flak 2.0s – not as good on the bike as the Jawbreaker, but probably the better all-rounder for triathlon thanks to light weight and compact size

1. Radar EV – like the earlier Radars, these are going to be the sunnies-of-choice for many triathletes. Pretty damned good on the bike and near-faultless on the run.  Not the best at either (Jawbreaker wins bike, Flaks win run) but the best compromise. 

Hope that helps!