For most any performance optic, the idea is to increase peripheral view, hence all the frameless designs that allow you a greater viewing area. It’s why Lance always preferred the M-Frame, and why triathletes like the Half Jacket and Radar from Oakley, or frame-free designs from other brands.
Well, Lance ain’t wearing the M-Frame anymore, and guys like Chris Lieto are racing Ironmans in the new Jawbone. Why? Wouldn’t that be counterintuitive? We got a chance to test it, and find out why the Jawbone takes the conventional wisdom of frameless design and tosses it aside.
I recall meeting up with Oakley product manager Steve Blick at the Tour de France last year, and the world got its first look at these glasses, as Thor Hushovd and George Hincapie debuted them in Brest. I couldn’t believe how rad they looked. Then Chris Lieto wore them out front of the bike at the Hawaii Ironman, wearing a black and yellow LiveStrong version. After Kona I visited the Oakley factory in Foothill Ranch and it was the first question out of my mouth for Blick and Greg Welch: when are they coming to market?” “Soon” was as much as I could get out of them.
At the Tour of California Solvang time trial last week, Triathlete was invited to the official press launch of Jawbone. And yes, they have a release date.
The big selling point with this glass is SwitchLock: the lens is fully contained by the frame, which opens to allow lens swaps. The design is ingenious: the rubbery nosepad is a hinged pivot that can turn up, releasing a clasp on the lower “jaw” of the frame. The frame swings out of the way allowing for removal and swap of lenses, fingerprint-free. When the skies go dark, change ‘em out for lighter lenses, or clear. Voila.
But there’s a lot going on in the interior. Like the fact that the lens, while nestled in the frame alcove, is suspended off the frame, isolated from the flex of the frame. We noticed on our test pair a thin foam buffer on the inside of alcove that contains the lens edge. When you install the lens, it rests upon it instead of the plastic of the frame itself— and is isolated from the frame. “This way, all the compressive stresses have been removed from the lens orbital,” Blick says. What that means is that regardless of the size of your head, or the width of your helmet’s retention device upon which the frame temple sits, the flex of the frame won’t screw up the frame curvature, and thus distort your optical view. Since fully-optimized optic viewing is a hallmark of Oakley, it was an impressive detail that ought not be overlooked— and one that not to many other brands would even consider.
While SwitchLock is the hook, for us one of biggest thing is the smallest; the Jawbone sports thin little folding armpieces. I’ve been training and racing in Oakley’s Radar since they came out, and have loved, like all of us, the absence of a frame on the sides and bottom. But they have a thick armpiece that can be a hassle getting around helmet retention devices. Like all glasses, I had to place them over my road helmet’s retention device, rather than under (because putting them under creates a tension focus behind my ear, which gets painfully uncomfortable, especially on long rides. But the stiffness of the burlier temples still put some focal pressure on my temple.
Oakley countered it on the Jawbone with a thin, slightly flexy armpiece. And that would be my biggest question with Jawbone: would they hurt my head? Answer? Nope. The thin arms are meant to flex naturally over the The armpieces went under over retention device, and being so thin, flexed nicely, eliminating any painful stress points. It was awesome. “
Coming home, I tried it again with my aero helmet, another litmus test. Again, it worked, sliding into the tiny temple slots easier than any glass had heretofore. It was, again, awesome.
OK, so why so great for triathlon? Well, for the above reason is one. But the frame design is another.
That size, parlayed with your head position when in the aerobars (or on your hoods when on your road bike) put your eye level at about the top third of the frame. Meaning there’s plenty of view coverage below, and nothing obscured. But it’s the top where we care; we’re looking straight up the road, and the frame (and our helmet) are always in the way. “We worked with all the leading helmet manufacturers—some of who are our competitors—cooperating so that we can deliver the best experience for the consumer.”
The Jawbone’s upper frame is thin, butting up against your helmet to give you just that bit more viewing when you’ve got your head tucked. “Testing with Davis and Taylor Phinney and Brian Lopes and George Hincapie, we found we needed a larger field of view off the stem,” Blick said. “When your head is down, we minimized the obstruction at the top of the orbital as much as possible. So when they’re on, you’re not looking at the top of the frame, you’re actually getting a clear field of view.”
Other minutae about Jawbone:
• Each set of glasses sold will come with an extra nosepiece; the hinge of the nosepiece can be popped off, and replaced. Further, those nosepads have a bit of rise to them, which will help fit better with athletes with smaller, lower nose bridges, letting it sit off the face better. “Those bigger nosepieces really worked well for Hincapie and Cavendish on the wet climbs, helping keep air flowing through the glasses and keeping them from fogging up.
• Speaking of fog, Jawbone has option of standard or vented lenses, the latter being designed for greater air flow, warding off fog.
• Each set of glasses sold will also come with a spare set of glasses.
• It will come in eight colors options (I'd show them all, but the conversion to jpg ain't working so well, and the colors are all off) but the basics including an all-white frame, an all black frame are complimented by the neon orange Retina Burn top/black bottom that Lieto ran at Ironman Arizona, as well as a variety of lens options including photochromic, clear, vented and non-vented. Prescription option will be available as well.
• OK, so when will we all be able to get ‘em? Oakley promised a release in May. Pricing will vary, based on lens selection. Non-Iridium glasses will price around $190 Blick says, up to $250 for Transitions or polarized lenses.
Oakley was clearly proud of their product. There were easily 100 people who had a hand in the design of this optic,” Blick said. “It took us three years to create Jawbone, but we already working on something else—we’re not done yet. But this one’s ready to go.”