We have been championing Oakley sunglasses for the best part of 30 years.
I admit that when Oakleys first arrived at the bike co-op I remembered thinking, who would want to spend around half a shop worker’s weekly wage on a pair of sunglasses?
Then I tried on a pair, looked out on a bright day, and understood. The world really does look a better place when you see it through a pair of Oakley lenses.
After I saved up for my own pair, I discovered that Oakleys weren’t just about blocking excessive sunlight and improving visual perception.
The curved shape of the Oakley lens meant farewell to squinting, whatever the direction of the sun. Simultaneously, the wrap-around shape shielded my eyes from midges and similar airborne matter that can reduce the most manly cyclist to tears.
Even when I stupidly sat on my first pair of Oakley Blades it wasn’t a drama. The lens stayed in place in the frame, totally undamaged. The legs did come off but I then discovered they were designed to do that. The lack of conventional hinges meant you could pop the legs back into place – no damage done.
Like a fair few world-famous brands (think Specialized or Apple) Oakley sprang from post-hippy 1970’s California.
Oakley’s founder Jim Jannard came from a pharmaceutical background. However, unlike his father, uncle and so on, Jim was refused admission to pharmacy college on the grounds that his hair was too long.
This setback didn’t suppress Jim’s inquiring nature. His science background intact, Jim loved to question everything. With some people, this trait can be a pain in the ass. For Jim, questioning everything was the motivational tool that inspired elegant solutions.
Get A Grip
Jim loved motorcycling except for one detail. Every bike he ever tried came with uncomfortable handlebar grips. Jim’s response was to go back to his garage lab and create a better grip. He designed and manufactured this grip in a special rubber that conformed more comfortably to the rider’s grip. Better still, rather than getting slippery, Jim’s handlebar grips became more tacky when wet.
The fact that these grips looked like nothing anyone had ever seen before on a bike gave early notice of Jim’s design flair. The grips’ nice packaging displayed Jim’s determination to get every detail right.
Jim’s marketing nous was similarly evident when he gave his special grip rubber a memorable name – Unobtanium.
The Oakley brand was therefore born with a simple innovation that made riding simultaneously safer and more comfortable. Plus ça change.
Oakley are, of course, best known for their sunglasses.
Jim Jannard’s most significant design innovation was inspired on a drive north from San Diego to LA. The big Californian sun was setting in the west. Jim’s posh Carrera Porsche sunglasses did little to block the blinding sunlight coming in at the side. The sunglasses’ metal nosepiece was, literally, a pain.
He couldn’t believe such an expensive pair of sunglasses with such a prestigious name didn’t do its intended job.
This inspired him to design a pair of sunglasses that was better in every detail. The result was Oakley’s original Eyeshades.
Mindful of the discomfort Jim experienced on that drive to LA, his Oakley Eyeshades boasted more peripheral coverage than any other sunglasses on the market.
What’s more, Eyeshade lenses were designed to be interchangeable, with spare lenses available in the widest spectrum of tints. This feature enables the user to optimise their sunglasses for every light conditions.
The Eyeshade’s lens were mounted into a nylon frame that was so tough, you could run a truck tyre over it and it would come out unimpaired. Same for its adjustable pop-on ear stems.
Jim even found a place for his first innovation on his latest creation in the shape of the soft rubber Unobtanium nosepiece that kept the Eyeshades in place, even when soaked with sweat on a long climb.
However, the factor that set Oakley over and above all other sunglasses manufacturers was their unswerving commitment to create the absolute standard in high definition optics.
XYZ High Definition Optics
Oakley’s unique XYZ lenses are designed to correct the prism distortion that can inevitably result when you look through a curved lens. Eradicating this distortion creates the most optically clear lenses made.
- Every XYZ lens is manufactured from the highest optical grade polycarbonate.
- Oakley calls their proprietary impurity-free polycarbonate material, Plutonite.
- Distortion is nullified by moulding the lens (and not bending it as is the case with lesser eyewear) so it is thicker in the middle and thinner at the sides.
- The lens of every pair of Oakley sunglasses exceeds ANSI Z87.1.
- ANSI Z87.1 industrial standard is the world’s most stringent eyewear standard for impact and UV protection.
- Oakley’s Plutonite lenses filter out 100% of all UVA rays – the ‘A’ here stands for the UV rays that cause ageing.
- They also filter out all UVB rays – the ‘B’ here stands for the UV rays that cause burning.
- Plutonite lenses also filter out all UVC rays – the ‘C’ here stands for the UV rays that cause cancer.
- The lens also filters out 100% harmful blue light.
- This UV filtering power is built into the lens material itself – it is not a surface coating that can scratch off and leave your dilated pupils exposed to a UV leak.
- Oakley employ industry standard laser testing to confirm their lenses are immune to prismatic imbalance.
- They also employ industry standard scope testing to confirm Plutonite lenses’ high-definition distortion-free clarity.
- As for impact protection, Oakley employ The Bulletproof Test.
- Oakley Plutonite lenses are tested to withstand being shot by a quarter inch ball bearing at 102 miles per hour from close up (thus simulating what happens when gravel flies up, say, when you are mountain biking).
- This is backed with Oakley’s High Mass Test – Oakley Plutonite lenses are tested to withstand a 500g weight being dropped onto them from a height of 150cm. This simulates the effect of the lens being hit by a baseball bat or an airbag.
- Through all this testing, Oakley guarantee that the lens won’t break or shatter on impact, nor will it pop out of its frame.
- To guarantee you get the most benefit from your High Definition Optics, Oakley lenses are mounted into equally carefully engineered (usually O Matter) tough, lightweight frames to ensure they are the optimal distance from your eyes.
It is clear then that even by the 1980s, Oakley had perfected the ultimate sports sunglasses when they were eagerly adopted by the top cyclists of that decade, including Greg Lemond and John Tomac.
Over the ensuing 30 years, Oakley have continued to refine their craft with innovations such as Switchlock Technology. This cunning quick release mechanism locks the lens precisely in place in its O Matter frame, yet enables quicker and easier lens swapping than any other system on the market.
The fact that 7 out of the 10 top riders in the 2012 Tour de France wore Oakleys proves that they remain at the top of their game.
For all these developments, the key thing about Oakley sunglasses is that whether you opt for a no-compromise interchangeable-lens Sports model, such as the Radar, or the more casual look of one of their Active Lifestyle lines, such as Frogskins, you can be confident that Oakley will never compromise on the quality of their XYZ High Definition Optics.’
You can be sure that the most important component of every set of Oakley sunglasses – the Oakley Plutonite lens – was built to withstand the punishment of professional sport – and everyday life.
Specifying XYZ lenses on every set of sunglasses proves that however fashionable Oakley have been (and remain) they are much more that a fashion brand.
There is real substance behind everything Oakley produce. Even if the substance carries an otherworldly name such as Plutonite or Unobtanium.
Posted by Ged – Bike Co-op member and Oakley aficionado since the 1980s.