When it comes to cycling eyewear, Oakley has been the first word on both style and function for more than 20 years. There aren’t many markets in which a manufacturer can claim such unchallenged supremacy. Porsche has Ferrari, Coke has Pepsi and even Lance Armstrong had Jan Ullrich.
But Oakley? When was the last time another eyewear manufacturer posed serious competition for Oakley? Giro is making serious inroads, but they don’t have the market share yet. Specialized? As good as their stuff is, they don’t yet pose much of a threat. What about Smith or Dragon? Ha. Briko? They are the preferred eyewear only to the Lion King’s tifosi. No, Sherman, we’ll have to get in the Way-Back Machine and visit 1989 when the 7-Eleven team was sponsored by Bollé to find eyewear that gave Oakley a run for their money.
A textbook could be written on the paths of both companies since then. Oakley would be the case study on how to expand credibly into new segments while Bollé would be the case study on how to throw away market share and utterly slink out of a category. Bollé still has a presence in North America, but honestly, it might be easier to find a ninja at night than to locate a cyclist wearing their shades.
Thinking back on memorable images of cyclists wearing Oakleys over the years and the product line is well represented. There’s Andy Hampsten on the Gavia wearing his Factory Pilots. Don’t forget Greg LeMond time trialing down the Champs Elysees in his Razor Blades. What about Lance Armstrong’s first Tour win in his M Frames?
Even Oakley’s more capable competitors over the years (think Rudy Project and Briko) are known for designs that are more responses to Oakley than innovative looks.
The Jawbone is a new design that takes some of the design cues familiar to the Racing Jacket and updates them for the 21st century. It’s a distinctive look for sure. Gone are the frame vents, replaced by lens vents while the frame flairs that blended the Racing Jacket’s frame to the eye sockets have been toned down.
Looks aside, the Jawbone has some very cutting-edge technology. The first, most obvious new feature is the Switchlock technology, a hinged mechanism that allows you to change lenses without having to overcome any frame tension. Flip the nosebridge up, swing the lower half of the lens (the namesake jawbone) outward and the lens slides right out. This is a quantum improvement over the broken M Frames that thousands experienced in trying to change lenses. The Switchlock technology does have one glaring problem, but I’ll get to that.
The lenses receive Oakley’s Hydrophobic coating which helps prevent water and sweat from leaving streaks and sheens. It definitely makes a difference and the lens vents eliminate fogging while in motion. When stopped at a light on a cool morning, not so much. In fact, when stopped, they seem to fog even faster than my Radars and my M Frames.
The Jawbones are part of a new generation of Oakelys that bring polarization to performance eyewear, and while the feature definitely rates a premium, the added clarity is terrific for morning and evening riding when glare is especially likely.
I’ve been an Oakley customer for more than 20 years. For me, it has come down to two reasons: lens clarity and styling. As much as I want a pair of shades to look PRO, their looks wouldn’t matter if the lens didn’t offer the clarity I’ve come to expect and that may be the secret to Oakley’s success. Even if you dismiss the other features of Oakley glasses—the incredible array of lens tints, impact protection and UV protection—they have raised the bar so high on distortion-free, clear optics that most other brands simply don’t compare.
I’ve been wearing the Jawbone for several months now and I really like them. However, they pose a problem any time I’m in traffic. The outside edge of the frame and especially the hinge swivel for the Switchlock obscures some of the peripheral vision I need when I’m checking traffic. Now if I was logging my miles on race courses, this wouldn’t be an issue; however, in getting to and from my group rides, I look back—a lot. I’ve learned to sit up a bit more and twist a touch more, but because I switch between glasses, I don’t ever seem to do this on my first look back of the day. If you purchase a pair of these to be your sole eyewear, you’ll probably adapt more quickly than I did.
The standard Jawbone goes for $195 at retail. It is available in a Transitions lens ($245) or Polarized ($250).