When I was a boy, I had a thing for Porsche. I thought their cars were sexy in ways almost nothing other than lingerie models can achieve. I loved their engineering, their racing success, their emphasis on driver experience. At some point in high school I was confronted with a documentary that went into genetic detail on how companies like Porsche, BMW and Mercedes enriched themselves through their contracts with the Third Reich.
I found myself struggling with how I could admire a company that had prospered as a supplier to an empire that killed more than 10 million people. It had been my dream to one day buy a Porsche of some variety—a desire that has never left me—but that desire was upended with the moral dilemma that they had (perhaps unwittingly) aided and abetted the Third Reich as they did their best to exterminate all the Jews in Europe. How could I support that?
Fortunately, I’ve never had the cash at hand to force the question. I’ve told myself that more than 50 years have passed, that whatever punishment was theirs has been meted. Still, I’ve contemplated buying a used BMW wagon and the question bumped elbows with my conscience. It wasn’t comfortable.
I offer that as a prelude to the nuclear winter we are now entering following the release of USADA’s “reasoned decision.” The initial casualties were all the riders whose doping activity was detailed in the voluminous files released by USADA. They are tantamount to the initial deaths caused by a nuclear blast. Now, the fallout.
Already I’m seeing people bringing up the issue of boycotts of brands. Nike, because of their ongoing support of Lance Armstrong in the face of the allegations was coming off worst. Then, the news this morning that Nike has dumped Armstrong, at least publicly. Still, there’s the allegation reported by the NY Daily News that Kathy LeMond was told by ex-Postal mechanic Julien Devries that he heard that Nike paid $500,000 to hush up Armstrong’s 1999 positive for corticosteroids, that the money was wired not to the UCI, but to Hein Verbruggen himself.
It is the most damning allegation against Verbruggen ever, a charge that weighs like murder on the long rap sheet of an otherwise petty criminal. However, even though Mrs. LeMond testified to this under oath, she was not an eyewitness to the allegation, the way Tyler Hamilton was an eyewitness to Armstrong receiving transfusions. Put another way, her testimony qualifies as hearsay, something that is routinely stricken from testimony in court rooms. It’s not an allegation that appears to have been investigated by Novitzky or Tygart, at least, not based on the released documents.
The trouble for Nike is that the allegation comes sliding down a pile of so many other proven charges that many are willing to believe almost any bad deed claimed to have been perpetrated by Armstrong or his backers. Led by ex-pro and one-time Armstrong teammate Paul Willerton, people are mobilizing for a boycott of Nike; it remains to be seen if it will still go forward now that they’ve severed ties with the former seven-time Tour victor. Whether or not they’ve tossed Armstrong overboard, this could turn out to be the biggest PR black eye they have suffered in decades.
Also announced this morning, Armstrong has stepped down from Livestrong as its chairman. This is an obvious and understandable effort to save the charity; who knows if it will work?
As it turns out, Armstrong himself is proving to be radioactive. For better or worse, he’s poisoning everything he touched.
But the fallout doesn’t end with Livestrong. It extends to Trek. Riders are contemplating a boycott of Trek as a result of their unwavering support for Armstrong. I doubt that a boycott would be particularly visible, but I can see the possibility that some people simply won’t buy a Trek when they go to buy a bike. It might be enough to allow Specialized to finally retake that spot as the #1-selling bike brand.
The fallout also extends to George Hincapie and his company Hincapie Sportswear. People are wondering how they feel about doing business with his company, a company that wouldn’t be as big or popular without his success riding alongside Armstrong.
Then there’s Allen Lim, who Floyd Landis outed as having aided his and Levi Leipheimer’s doping efforts. Back when Landis was believed to be a lunatic running through the streets complaining that he was being chased by a purple unicorn, he was easy to dismiss, at least for those who wanted to dismiss him. Some of us didn’t dismiss him.
Lim denied Landis’ charges at the time and at that time, the weight of innocence was on his side. But USADA’s report has demonstrated that essentially everything contained in Landis’ confession was true; we have learned there were purple unicorns aplenty. It may not have proven every statement he has made was true, but I’m unaware that any of his assertions has been proven demonstrably false. And that’s the gray netherworld in which Lim’s denial resides. Nothing in the USADA documents addresses this and the affidavits by Landis and Leipheimer make not mention of Lim, so his ongoing denials are not rebutted by sworn testimony.
Conversely, people are asking questions about Chris Carmichael’s coaching company, Carmichael Training Systems, and whether or not they should support a company that was really only a cover for Armstrong. The charge is that Carmichael didn’t actually coach him. The objection here is that CTS’ greatest testimonial is built on a lie, even if it’s a lie of a different sort.
Of course, we need to consider bicycle racing’s retailer: USA Cycling. The sport’s governing body here in the U.S. has had a long and cozy history with Thom Weisel and his Champions’ Club, not to mention Tailwind Sports, the owners of the US Postal team. Indeed, two of Weisel’s cronies continue to sit on the USA Cycling board, David Helfrich and Matt Barger, who are both Development Foundation Representatives. Should they be immune?
It is likely that no company benefitted more from Armstrong’s meteoric rise to the top of the cycling heap than Trek, not Nike, not Oakley, not Powerbar, FRS or (more recently) Honey Stinger. They have the most to lose now. In a world where people vote with their dollars, they may well see a falloff in sales that registers in the fourth quarter of 2012.
But what of companies like Hincapie Sportswear and Skratch Labs? Should they take a hit? Their growth, their popularity, their products have hinged less on endorsement by Armstrong than their founders’ association with him. Should not those companies fair the storm better than Trek?
What each of these companies has in common—other than an association with Armstrong—is a product that is good by any objective measure. From good reviews to races won while using these products, not to mention the voluminous testimonials from Carmichael’s thousands of clients, each of these companies sells something that has been borne out in the market. However, there is a fundamental difference between the culpability of companies like CTS, Hincapie Sportswear and Skratch Labs (which didn’t even exist until well after Armstrong’s comeback began) and that of Nike and Trek.
In helping to build the Armstrong brand and support the US Postal team, Nike and Trek exerted considerable might. Without them, without their support, the Postal machine would have had fewer resources and may not have attained the level of success they did. In a way, what they did was help build a nuclear weapon. The more direct a participant’s knowledge of the situation, the closer they were to the blast. Those who worked for companies that benefited from Armstrong’s success are going to be in for a rough ride. And what of the riders who walked away from US Postal rather than cheat? They simply found the minimum safe distance. There are no winners in nuclear war, only losers.
Some things in this world are inevitable. Baby-kissing politicians, people going “aw” at pictures of baby animals and Assos introducing its own line of ultra-premium (and expensive) eyewear. How could they not? Whether you like the Swiss company’s style or not, theirs is a unique statement, a flair as impossible to reproduce as it is to anticipate.
I’ll be honest and say that at first blush, my initial viewing of them at Interbike, I briefly flashed on the idea, “My God, this time they’ve gone too far.” It’s the same thought I had when Oakley introduced the first M frames, the initial Zeros and, come to think of it, countless other models. Eventually I got used to seeing strange stuff from Oakley and I was no longer surprised. But the Zegho was something new, more alien than fresh, more Beverly Hills than Boston.
If you’ve ever been wowed by packaging, be prepared to be wowed by this presentation. The box folds open to reveal a number of shots that depict the construction of a set, from unmelted beads all the way to final assembly. Natrually, they come with a first-rate case
As cool as the packaging was, I couldn’t stop looking at the glasses.
The cascade of details that makes them distinct is hard to take in all at once. The first thing I tried to take in were the lenses. They are huge; not quite diving mask huge, but seemingly Oakley Factory Pilot huge. Where’s Davis Phinney when you need him?
When you pick them up you can’t help but notice how light they are. Were they helium-infused? Most bottle cages weigh more than the 27g these come in at. And as you’re trying to process just how light they are you notice how that they are as flexible as a yoga instructor. Then there’s the frameless design, making them ideal for head-down efforts at the front so that you can look straight up your brow to the road ahead.
When I put them on I expected to look in a mirror and see something ridiculous, like when my son wears my wife’s sunglasses upside down, or when my cat plays Jack Johnson songs on the bongos. That first look in the mirror? No gasp. It was different, but not heart-stopping. I’ll admit that I joked how I wanted to get a pricey golf shirt, my best wool slacks and Cole Haan loafers and just walk around Rodeo Drive. I figured it was my best shot at being mugged by people who make enough to buy and/or sell me.
Back to the actual details. The Zeghos are available in three models. There’s the Werksmannschaft (factory team) which features predominantly white temples with Assos-green details. The lenses are a charcoal gray gradient. Next up is the Amplify which features black temples, the same Assos-green details and a high-visibility yellow lens perfect for riding in lower-light conditions. Finally, there’s the Noire which features the same black temples as the Amplify paired with the charcoal gray (Assos calls it black) gradient lens of the Werksmannschaft. I’ve been riding with the Noire.
I live in a locale that is exact opposite of Boulder, Colorado, based on available light. By the time the sun comes out in the South Bay, my ride is over and I’m doing something else. So I was curious if on ordinarily overcast days there would be enough light for me to see. I don’t mind saying I was pleasantly surprised the first time I wore them on one of the early weekday rides and the gradient gave me more than enough visibility. I was surprised; I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be able to wear the Noires that early in the day except around the time of the summer solstice when the sun rises, well it rises too damn early at the end of June.
Part of the visibility puzzle is solved with a really key piece of information. The lens is made by Zeiss. If that doesn’t ring a bell tolling “ultra-high quality”, this one will: Nikon. Zeiss makes the elements in Nikon lenses. In general, lenses are much better than they were a dozen years ago, but these are exquisite; I’m accustomed to noticing a gradient and with these I can’t tell just when they start they are so gradual. Assos materials tell how this eyewear is less an Assos project than a collaboration with Carl Zeiss. What that means is that they made full use of Zeiss’ considerable knowledge, and it shows.
The Zeghos have an unusual degree of wrap to them. Assos touts how they offer a true 180-degree field of vision. I haven’t measured, but I can say they offer the most complete and unobstructed view of any eyewear I’ve ever worn. They call the fit ClickFace, which refers to their claim that once on the glasses don’t move even if you look straight down as your tongue lolls on your bike’s top tube. That’s certainly my experience (not the tongue thing but the glasses not moving bit). The optics have been certified as Class 1, top-of-the-line and distortion-free.
All the best eyewear that I use these days also feature lenses with hydrophobic coatings. I wore the Zeghos on Levi’s Gran Fondo (more about that in a sec) and when the day turned foggy and occasionally misty I was impressed at how well the lens remained clear. On the often dark descents out at the far end of King Ridge Road the gradient treatment really allowed me excellent vision. Part of the reason I chose to wear the Zeghos was also to see if other riders would look at me and ask, “Did you lose a bet?” “What’s that on your face?” “Dude, do you know you look like Elton John’s deranged nephew?”
I can’t tell you how many people saw them on me that day, but it was easily in the hundreds and no one said a thing against them. I did get a few inquiries from folks who wondered, “What are those cool glasses?” Not a lot, to be fair, but there were some.
Because of their unusual shape one concern I had was whether they would rise high enough above my eyebrows to bang into my helmet. It’s a problem I’ve had with Bell Helmets and all eyewear I own. I hate that that happens with Bell helmets; I love their designs. I’ve worn the Zeghos with three different helmets from Giro (including the Aeon) plus two from Specialized (including the Prevail) and didn’t have that problem with any of them. I was also able to find a good way to tuck them into both the Aeon and the Prevail.
You may recall that I mentioned just how flexible these are. That little feature became a serious selling point any time I wanted to pull them from my helmet and then get them on my face without getting the temples caught in my helmet straps. They are so flexible I can simply hook a temple over one ear and pull them across. Don’t try that with your Jawbones.
I can feel some of you queueing up to report your disdain for the styling. I respect not everyone will like them. Better yet, Assos knows some people won’t like their stuff and they are more than okay with that. They don’t want to be the ubiquitous clothing line out there. That may tell you a bit about why their stuff features what seems to be the most expensive materials they can find and why their products can carry prices that would make Vera Wang blush. Which brings us to the damage, chief. The entry point for the Zeghos is the Amplify at $399. The Werksmannschaft goes for $429. The Noire I recently found out are limited production and go for an unflinching $469.
Giro and Specialized both pulled out of the eyewear market because Oakley is less an 800-lb. gorilla than an 8000-lb. one. To have two fabled companies pull out of the market tells you something about the uphill battle it is to go head-to-head with Oakley, but to enter the cycling eyewear market is to do exactly that. You really don’t have any choice. Assos is taking an approach that isn’t unusual for them, but really hasn’t been tried by anyone else. Rather than try to compete at the same or a lesser price point, they are going above. I’ve got a few buddies who will buy some because that math makes perfect sense to them.
Are they perfect? No, but they sure do aspire to it. What could be better? Other than the price, I’m not sure. Are they worth it? Given what we pay for some of their competitors, without a doubt.
I got quite the shock this past summer when I noticed during a visit to Giro’s web site that all the eyewear was gone, save a few pair of goggles. Specialized dittoed around the same time. Instantly, two of my three favorite eyewear lines had gone the route of the Dodo. Naturally, the other of my favorites, Oakley, isn’t going anywhere, but they are precisely why Giro and Specialized are out of the eyewear market. They won’t say so specifically, but that’s always the problem when you enter a market and there’s one gorilla and it weighs 12,000 pounds.
As much as I love Oakley, Giro and Specialized had become favorites because they were offering some killer lens tints that were just a bit better suited to where I live than anywhere else. The issue is that I’m on the bike early and our climate frequently includes low cloud cover, what gets referred to around here as marine layer. My taste runs to relatively light-tinted lenses, and though they let lots of light through (though not as much as a high visibility yellow or orange), they still feature a light mirror coating to keep them from looking, well, boring.
Giro did a great job with its rose silver tint. I was hyperventilating when I thought I’d never find a pair of shades with such a great lens tint again.
Enter the Spy Alpha and its rose with blue mirror tint. I like eyewear that looks like it means business, and while I like the Oakley Jawbone, it seems that’s the one shade everyone is wearing, so the Alpha is a refreshing switch for me. They are lightweight, don’t feel brittle to the touch and feature grippers that keep the shades in place without getting grabby, which is how I’ve described some glasses that have overly developed nose and ear grippers. The frames are constructed from a material called Grilamid, which I’m told is virtually indestructible.
The lenses benefit from both hydrophobic and oleophobic coatings. They hydrophobic coating repels water and helps in fog, mist and light rain, but the oleophobic coating repels oils and dust and is the one that makes rinsing sweat off of the lenses a real snap.
The Alpha also provides another really respectable service: It helps ratchet down the arms battle of eyewear pricing. It seems like the first thing to go in a crash are the glasses; I’ve seen people escape without a nick on their helmet, only to notice their lenses are scratched beyond use. At only $119, should something happen to yours, the impact isn’t quite so dear.
One aspect of Spy’s marketing materials is that they make clear just how much wrap each model gives. That is, traditional fashion eyewear doesn’t feature a wraparound look, while performance models need that in large doses in order to offer an unobstructed but protected view. Spy offers four different grades of wrap. Their fashion stuff gets a 4. In-between stuff gets a 6. Performance models come in at 8 and 9. The Alphas are an 8, very much in line with other typical performance eyewear, like the Oakley Radars.
The Alphas also feature temple vents and unlike the vents in some glasses I’ve tried over the years, the vents in the Alphas actually work. As long as I’m moving they don’t fog over, even if I’m moving slowly. I’ve worn glasses from some manufacturers that would fog during a slow roll at a stop sign.
It used to be that keeping your expensive eyewear safe was harder than trying to get through the airport with an undamaged lithograph (I know a thing or two about this). Spy offers the Commando Kit, which includes a case, three lens tints, and a carry/wipe bag. That package is a little pricier, of course, going for $159.
Spy has a dozen more technologies that I could use to try to convince you these are great glasses, but I’ve got a better way to recommend them. If you’re ready for a fresh look and a great value, check these out.
In the last year the MBAs on Wall Street have fed us a number of interesting stories followed by dire predictions for increased disaster should we insist on continuing our wayward course. They have also stuck to the old hymnbook with the chorus that goes:
Competition begets innovation
Innovation begets revelation …
That might not have been a direct quote. Don’t hold me to that. Regardless, the MBAs are right that free-market competition is good for innovation. Witness the X Games.
Or consider Giro and Oakley. You’ve seen Lance Armstrong in his Jawbones and probably a fair chunk of your local peloton as well. The Jawbones made big noise for being the first Oakleys to use a unique lock and hinge system to make lens replacement a, um, snap.
But Giro actually beat them to the punch. The Filter debuted nearly nine months earlier and uses an even simpler lens changing system called Pop Top™ (not to be confused with an antique soda can) to allow the user to change lens without risk of breaking the frame thanks to too firm an effort. I’ve switched lenses on a number of occasions and I can attest to making the switch and being fear-free while doing it. The switch takes all of two minutes including putting away the recently removed lenses. If you’re a race mechanic, you’ll still have time to change a wheel and make a martini.
The Filter uses a half-entrapped frame so that the lower portion of the lens is frame-free for minimally interrupted vision. A lever at the temple unlocks a cam that holds the lens in place; a simple twist releases the lens, making tint choice on the morning of a ride a realistic option.
While I’ve tried the Filter with only one helmet so far (Specialized) I did find them to fit nicely in the vent holes on the few occasions I decided to take them off. The nose bridge and ear pieces are sufficiently grippy to keep the glasses in place even when you look straight down. However, I do have one minor issue with the ear pieces; as you can see from the photo above, they angle inward slightly. While I don’t have an issue on shorter rides, if I’m out for four or five hours, they do pinch me just a bit behind the ears, and I’ll notice a bit of irritation.
On fast descents the Filter does a great job of directing wind down my face without eddying up under the lens to make my eyes tear. In my experience, that is a rare quality for a lens this small.
The Filter I tried included two different sets of lenses, rose silver as well as orange selector. The orange selector was excellent for early mornings when the sun was not sufficiently up to require the rose silver lens. Under changeable and brighter conditions I found the rose silver to be one of the single most versatile lens colors I’ve ever used. I wore the Filter when I did Levi’s King Ridge Gran Fondo this fall and several people told me that my lenses were much too dark to be able to ride from sunlight into the forest-shaded areas. They were convinced I wouldn’t be able to see and would wind up some unfortunate statistic of the ride. On the contrary, I was able to see sufficiently in lower light situations and didn’t have to squint in mid-day sunlight. It’s too dark for rolling out at dawn, but once the sun is any kind of up, the tint is terrific.
I also got to try the clear silver lens which has a flash mirror coating which adds a hint of yellow mirror. They were good on really overcast days or on the occasional ride that started much too early and ended before the sun was fully up. They are fairly limited in their use but their ability to increase contrast in low-light situations can be very helpful.
Giro sells the Filter in several configurations. Glasses start at $160. As reviewed with the rose silver and orange selector lenses plus a cotton bag and hard travel case, the ensemble goes for $220. Additional lenses run from $30 to $50; those lenses with the flash mirror coatings are at the upper end of that pricing.
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).