“Those are serious glasses.” Non-cyclists seem to have a strong reaction to the Oakley Jawbones. We can see what they’re talking about. The spoiler-type flanges sticking out below the frames, the cutouts in the lenses, the matte-aluminum hinge all scream TECHNICAL.
There’s no real reply to the first comment, other than “yes.” Oakley prides itself for making “serious glasses.” And the Jawbones do have lots of little features that make it an eye-catching sport spec that meets up with today’s fashion, though it might be more of a fashion statement that does double-duty as a sport sunglass. “Serious” and something we’re passionate about shouldn’t go together, passion is neither serious nor light-hearted. It’s obsessive.
Obsessive might be a fair way to describe those who yen for these glasses. When they debuted at the 2008 Tour, there was some chatter, but they weren’t released to the public. We noticed them immediately and had to know more. Two of the most visible H’s in the peloton, Hincapie and Hushovd were riding them, but both had shown a flair for glasses — they were regular users of Oakley’s love ’em or hate ’em Racing Jackets. We were partial to the yellow-and-black tiger-striped version; if you’re going to be ostentatious, go the whole way, whole-assed rather than half-assed. But the Jackets, for their super-cool intake scoops and cut-out lenses, had some drawbacks, arms that didn’t fold and lenses that couldn’t be changed.
Lens-changing is one of the great features of sport sunglasses, if not the defining feature. At the same time, even for those who like the concept, it can be a hassle. If it only takes a minute to do the swap, there is still the time and practice to get the confidence that you’re not breaking the lens or the frame as you unclick the lens, dig the toe of the new lens into the frame and snap the new lens into place. We’ve been doing this operation for years, and yet we broke a frame minutes before a race with two 10-mile descents and a 20-mile drop after the finish. We were hating life and cursing ourselves. Our current habit is to have three different glasses set up for three different light conditions, one for sunny days, one for overcast days, one for rain and low-light conditions. That way, no muss, no fuss, no confusion as we are rushing to get out the door. We have a fourth set up with a photochromatic lens and we use this for racing. It’s an expensive setup, though one that took years to assemble. It also takes up too much space.
While Oakley spends most of their time boasting about the lens quality of the Jawbone, the easy lens-swapping was the feature that most interested us. The moment we got them, we pulled up the nose pieces, swung down the bottoms of the frame and dropped out the lenses. Lens swapping is, if anything, even easier than advertised.
These Matte Black Jawbones come with two extremes of lenses, a Black Iridium for sunny days and a yellow lens for rain/low light conditions. The case has room for two sets of spare lenses. We wish they’d come with that third set, a rose lens for overcast or variable days, but that will have to purchased separately. They’re still behind value-oriented glasses like the Giro Havik on this, but fewer lenses are one of the things that makes the high end so special.
Another swappable component of the glasses are the nose pieces. There are two different thicknesses. They are designed to rotate on the hinge in the glasses. You push them out by first opening up the jaw then returning the nose piece to the spot it was locked into the jaw. From there you push down and it pops out. If you’re uncertain, just look at the spare nose pieces that come with the glasses and you’ll figure it out. We couldn’t find a rationale for the design of either set, but tried them both and found the thicker ones seemed to stay on our schnoz better.
To the second question, regarding having a frame below the bottom edge of the glasses, we did notice it at the start and our visual recognition of it was a bit annoying. But we got used to it over the course of a few rides. After a while, it was just there. From behind the lenses it doesn’t matter. But if you want something that could stand out equally on and off the bike and seem right in both places, full frames are the way to go.
A funny thing about the frame: while it looks chunky compared to Oakley’s Radar, the Jawbones are lighter. Ours weighed in at 28g, compared to 30g of our Radar. The reason for this could be that will the full frame, they don’t need quite as much material to make the frame stiff.
There was also a surprising stiffening element in the glasses. Somehow, Oakley built in some manner of plastic spring hinge into the arms. While the arms don’t pop open after moved beyond a certain point, they do seem to lock in place. We’re not sure why they did this, but as someone speculated to us, it can make it easier to put them on quickly, like when moving them from your helmet to your face, if the arms can’t start folding shut without any pressure holding them open.
All of the above is fine when you’re standing still. But they have to perform on the road to be worthwhile. These definitely work on the road. The optics is supposed to be Oakley’s best yet. We might not be the most observant of lens quality, but we didn’t notice a difference between the optics of the Radars and the Jawbones, or the Giro Havik for that matter. At the time we tested the Haviks, we thought their lens to be superior. But between the three, it’s hard to pick a winner. How much difference is there between very little distortion and almost no distortion? We don’t know and weren’t able to learn over the course of weeks with the ‘Bones.
Another issue with glasses is fit. We’ve had trouble with large glasses in the past, save our first-gen Oakley Factory Pilots. Beyond a certain size, the top of the frame seems to create a seal over our eyebrows and create a rain forest inside the lenses because not enough air runs though. We don’t know if it’s Oakley perfecting the geometry for our face dimensions or the vents built into the lenses, but we didn’t have a fogging problem climbing on the rivet during hot and humid days. We did have a little partial fogging on warm rainy days, but only a little. The cutouts we noticed, but just barely when we were focusing on finding them.
A secondary fit issue is arm length. These arms feel much shorter than the arms on the Radars, though longer than the Haviks. The shorter length didn’t lessen the hold of the arms on our face, though they didn’t feel as secure when we first put them on. Maybe their Unobtanium rubber really is different.
A final issue is fashion. If we’re going to go the Jawbone route, we think a color that stands out more than black is better. The matte black is subtler than we assumed, though they still are noticeably different.
But back to the non-cyclist’s observation. Serious glasses. They are, whatever that means. Lots to look at, lots going on. But the wearing is what matters and these wear fine enough that we could consider ditching the bevy of glasses we use. With fifteen minutes to go before a start, we’re not going to break these glasses while switching lenses. A third set of lenses and we’ll be ready for everything.