Thursday, May 22, 2008

Redefining High Performance Sports Optics: Oakley Flak Jacket

I've been riding in Oakley sunglasses for as long as I've been riding mountain bikes. In fact, I purchased one of the first pairs of Oakley Mumbos (later called the M-Frame) to hit Lincoln back in early 1990, within a week of buying my first mountain bike. And for almost all of the past 18 years, I'd been faithful to the big O. That is, until about two seasons ago, when a tight budget forced me to look ahem down-market at some other brands' products for my cycling optics.

Ironically, without much hesitation, I paid full retail price for a pair of Oakley Square Wires for my casual wear, but ended up using them on the bike quite a bit due to the optical shortcomings I found in the other glasses I was using. Though the metal frames were heavier, the optics of the Oakley lenses were noticeably superior in every situation. No glare, much better, more even light transmission -- it sounds so cliche, but it was like a night and day difference. My preference was set.

So when my good buddy Rob Versteegth from Oakley asked if I'd be interested in trying out their new Flak Jacket sport performance sunglasses, I enthusiastically said "YES," and just a few days later, Brown Santa arrived with a package. Inside was a new set of Flak Jackets -- the XLJ version with the larger lens and a sparkly red frame that looks killer with my red Salsa El Mariachi. Sweet...

The Flak Jacket design is Oakley's two-lens sport/performance design, as opposed to the Radar, which is the evolution of the single-lens M-frame sunglass design. I tried the Radar on, after having been an M-Frame user for 15 years, but I ended up liking the way the Flak Jackets looked on my face just a little better. From a performance standpoint, I think it's probably six of one, half-dozen of the other, because most of the features are very similar other than the one/two lens setup.

Oakley packs some heavy duty technology into the Flak Jackets. A permanent Hydrophobic lens coating prevents sweat or water from creating streaks on lenses, or fingers from leaving fingerprints. It's amazing how clean the lenses stay on these glasses, and how easy the lenses are to clean when they need it. Radical! Plus, the lenses are replaceable, and available in a wide variety of tints, from clear for night riding, to a variety of Iridium lens tints that allow just 10-percent light transmission. Depending on conditions, you can optimize light transmission with different colors of lens color and/or Iridium coating.

I'm going to digress here for a moment, and mention that lens fit in the frames, and overall precision of the lens/frame interface is one area I've found where Oakley's product is vastly superior to other brands of replaceable lens sunglasses I've owned. The Flak Jackets have a tight, precision feel to them when you work with them that exudes quality. Clearly this is an area where you get what you pay for, and while it's true that you may pay a bit more for Oakley's product, you certainly get a higher quality product in return. It's a fair trade, in my estimation.

My personal favorite lenses for mountain biking in the trees, the VR28 Black Iridium (the lenses I'm using now) and VR50 lenses, fall somewhere in the middle of the light transmission spectrum. As the names indicate, the VR28 B.I. lenses offer 28-percent light transmission, while the VR50 lenses give 50-percent light transmission. Both are ideal for the flat light conditions common when you're mountain biking in the trees. Oakley has recently introduced VR50 Photocromic/Transitions lenses, which automatically adjust from 10-50 percent light transmission based on the light conditions. They might be the perfect one-lens-for-everything option, and will likely be the next set of lenses I buy. I'll let you know how they work out.

Fit is another area where the Flak Jackets excel. Two nosepiece sizes are available, and Oakley's synthetic Unobtanium rubber nosepieces and earstem sleeves actually get grippier as you sweat more. These glasses don't move when the action heats up, and that's something that I very much appreciate during races, or on technical trails. Also, since there are no ear hooks, the Flak Jackets integrate seamlessly with just about any helmet, either above or below the straps, without pressure points. Perfect...

Bottom line, the Oakley Flak Jacket sunglasses have the performance, fit and optical clarity I'm looking for. They come with a boatload of available lens tints, so you can set 'em up for virtually any light conditions imaginable, and they have style for miles. Good vision is something you can't really put a price on the value of having -- it's a necessity. My experiment with cheap sunglasses proved to me that it's not worth saving a few dollars if the tradeoff is reduced vision on the trail. You can't fly if you can't see, and for me, that's just not worth it. So now I'm back in Oakleys and lovin' life.

Thanks Rob!

Learn more about the Flak Jacket sunglasses, or any of Oakley's other fine products, on their Website.

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