Which Oakley glasses work best for triathlon?
[I originally wrote this article for my old website back in 2015, but as it was one of the most popular pages I chose to update it and bring it across. Updated May 2018]
There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to selecting the right pair of sunglasses for the rigors of triathlon. Oakley alone makes more than 10 different models (and the rest…!) that could be used. To help you narrow down the selection, this article looks at the relative merits of four different Oakley models that you’ll likely see at your next race: the Flak Jackets (we’ll also cover the newer Flak 2.0 and XLJ at the same time), Jawbreaker, Radar EV, EV Zero and the all-new Flight Jacket.
We’ll try to cover off as much as possible, including fit, price, vision and lens options.
Flak Jackets / XLJ
The Flaks have been around for quite a while now. From what I can tell, the updated models are slightly lighter and then lens shape is very slightly different. But, having tested both, what follows is good for both models.
A basic (non-custom) set of frames with polarized lenses (we’ll discuss the merits of different lenses later) costs around £150, although as the Flaks have been around a while there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find a discounted/sale pair for less.
Let’s face it, triathletes can be show offs. So why wouldn’t you want to customize your frames to match your trisuit (or maybe to clash with it?!)? On the Flaks, this means changing lenses (if you can’t stomach the cost of Oakley OEM lenses, companies like Revant Optics do great replacements for a lot less money), the rubber ‘ear socks’ and nose pieces (again, Revant also does these cheapler than Oakley originals). If you’re specifying a pair of Flaks from new, you can change the icon/logo as well, but only once.
On the swim
Don’t be silly!
On the bike
The relatively slim profile of the Flaks should mean they fit pretty well with more or less any type of helmet, including aero lids which cover the ears. With head down, you can definitely see the brow piece of the glasses, so vision can be somewhat restricted if you like facing down and looking forward past your eyebrows. Of the glasses on test, the lens are the most shallow, although the XLJ version (similar on the 2.0 model) wraps around the corners of the eyes pretty well.
The Flaks stay in place reasonably well, although you’ll want to keep the nose piece clean so that it doesn’t get slippery over time.
On the run
Flak Jackets used to be my favourite Oakley frames to run in. They’re light and comfortable and stay in place well (unless you like looking down on the run!). I do find that sweat (bear in mind I sweat A LOT!) does tend to get onto the inside of the lenses pretty easily, which obviously degrades vision.
First seen on Mark Cavendish at 2014’s Tour de France (although hardly anyone noticed thanks to his very early exit!), these were touted as the ‘ultimate cycling sunglasses’ designed with input from Cavendish himself. Four years later and they still look good if not quite as ‘out there’ as the 100% Speedtrap and new Oakley Flight Path.
The Jawbreaker has come down in price to around £165 for a standard pair, with custom options racking up the price to close to £200 (Prizm lenses etc.).
Initially there were no custom options, but these are now fully available and there are a LOT of options. You can configure them through the Oakley website or in-store at an authorized custom dealer. You can quite easily match your race suit or favourite cycling kit.
On the bike
No surprise that the Jawbreakers are superb on the bike, by far my favourite current cycling glasses (although they might be about to lose that crown, see below). Despite them being full-framed, the visibility is superb and the fit is excellent thanks to the adjustable arms. You will still see a little bit of frame in your vision if you’re down in an aggressive TT position, but it is a lot better than the Flaks. One of the things that has impressed me most is the way the glasses stay put on long rides with no need for adjustment. Although they are quite wide, the adjustable arms should make wearing the Jawbreaker under an aero lid pretty easy.
On the run
Jawbreakers on the run are going to be somewhat Marmite, I think. Some will love the slightly retro look, not too dissimilar to the visor-like glasses favoured by Mark Allen and Dave Scott back in the day… [2018 edit: and now replicated by Oakley’s Wind Jacket, not reviewed here]. Others will think they look a bit ridiculous. And both camps are right – it just depends how outrageous you want to be! In use, they’re very good. Heavier than the Flaks and perhaps not quite as secure when running as when on the bike, they are nevertheless perfectly serviceable as running goggles. If you can live with the looks…
The Oakley Radar has been a triathlon stalwart for donkey’s years, and with good reason. The updated Radar EV (EV stands for Extra Vision) boasts a taller lens with more visibility in the upper field of view – which obviously has some benefits on the bike, especially when in an aero tuck. The EV lenses are also vented as standard, to help keep lenses clear.
Expect to pay £150 upwards.
Like the Jawbreaker, there’s a full customization service available, giving lots of options to build your very own ideal pair. Custom options include lenses, frames and ear socks / nose piece.
On the bike
Using the Pitch lens (there’s also a ‘Path’ lens available), which is the taller of the two, forward vision on a road bike is superb. The lens quality is excellent as always and the frame is barely noticeable. Move down into an aero tuck and the frame may become a problem for some, depending on how aggressive your position is. The frame arms are pretty slender, so should work find under an aero helmet.
On the run
The Radar EV is noticeably lighter than the Jawbreaker on the run and probably marginally more secure as well. With the Pitch lens (I haven’t tested the Path), the visibility is very good and you feel like you’re wearing a visor rather than a pair of sunnies (which I mean as a compliment). The wrap around lenses really do keep the sun out although if you sweat a lot (like me) you will still get some sweat splashing onto the inside of the lenses.
EV Zero / Stride
The EV Zero first came to my attention in 2016. I have to admit that I bought a pair on a whim but fairly quickly decided I wasn’t a fan of the styling (the lens itself is very good) on the Path version. Then Oakley introduced a Stride version, which I like more. They are super-light, effectively just being a lens with a nose bridge and two spiny arms. No frame to speak of.
There’s not much to customize! Go with one of the standard pairs, there’s now a wide choice of lens shapes.
Prices seem to start around £140.
On the bike
These aren’t my favourite glasses, but they work well on the bike with a good field of view and the lack of frame means that you almost forget you’re wearing them. Despite their flimsy appearance, they fit securely and fit with most helmets. Visibility is still good down on the drops or the TT bars.
On the run
My concerns about the styling aside, these are pretty darn good run sunglasses. Light enough to forget they’re there and offering good eye protection thanks to the over-sized lens. They’ll be too big for some, like the Jawbreaker. But those wearing them will be happy.
So, I’ve left the newest to the last. I’ve done a separate 2018 review on the Flight Jacket and it’s safe to say I like it, a lot. I like the styling, I like how it performs.
None available as of May 2018 (won’t be long) and I have been slightly critical of the early pre-configured combinations.
Upwards of £175 depending on what lens you choose.
On the bike
Think Jawbreaker+1. You can of course see the lower part of the frame in your peripheral vision, but the lack of frame at the top is really noticeable. Or rather, it’s not, as there’s nothing to interrupt your view. Top marks. I’ve not needed to use the angled nose-bridge (supposedly to increase air flow and reducing fogging) as I’ve yet to experience any fogging at all (more than I can say for any of the others).
On the run
Like the Jawbreaker, the Flight Jacket is an out-and-out cycling sunglass. That said, of course you can run wearing it. You’ll just look silly (my professional opinion) unless you wear a visor or cap (I tried it with a cap, still looked silly, haven’t tried the visor yet).
Okay, so that’s not quite an exhaustive test of all the options of offer from Oakley (I haven’t tested the M2 or the Wind Jacket, for example), let alone any other brands, but hopefully it gives you some food for thought. For me, I’d rank the glasses tested in the following ascending order:
5. Flight Jacket – they are really challenging the Jawbreaker as my favourite cycling sunglasses, but I’m not sure the shape or overall design works so well on the run, so that marks them down.
4. Jawbreaker – I love these glasses, but primarily for cycling. Unless you love to look like an 80s throwback on the run, they’re are just a bit too big. Narrowly better than the Flight Jacket.
3. Flak 2.0s – not as good on the bike as the Jawbreaker or Flight Jacket, but probably the better all-rounder for triathlon thanks to light weight and compact size
2. EV Zero – not my favourite style, but in terms of performance on the bike AND on the run, you can’t argue with them. If you’ve got to wear just one pair of sunglasses for eight-plus hours, it could be these.
1. Radar EV – like the earlier Radars, these are going to be the sunnies-of-choice for many triathletes. Pretty damned good on the bike and near-faultless on the run. I used to favour the Flaks for pure running, but lately I’ve been wearing the Radar EV in preference. And I’ve never had an issue with them on the bike, even if they’re not quite as cycling-focused as the Jawbreaker or Flight Jacket. For me, they are the overall winner based on the combination of all-round versatility, comfort and style.