The R&D boffins at Oakley have been busy these last few months (years?!) with a raft of new designs either just released (Sutro Lite, Plazma) or upcoming (Kato).
Just beginning to appear on the faces of pro cyclists and amateurs alike is the new Oakley Encoder, a purpose-built cycling visor-style sunglass with some unique features, including a protruding molded nose bridge and brow.
Oakley (in the UK at least) has been releasing different colourways for about a month now, finally bringing the gold '24k' lens version to market, which is the model I'll be reviewing today. Other colour options include black/red, white/blue, black/black.
First impressions on opening the standard Oakley hard case are that the Oakley Encoder, despite being essentially a lens with two arms stuck to it, feels pretty sturdy. I own a couple of pairs of EV Zero glasses which feel much lighter and less robust.
The Encoder comes with three rubber nose pieces that sit inside the lens and allow you to tailor the fit on your face. I tried all three and (for now) settled on the standard mid-sized option. I might play a bit more though.
Putting the Encoder on, there's no surprise that the lens is clear and sharp. The gold lens seems to have a grey base, which has worked well in both direct sunlight and shade (probably a little too dark for really overcast days). In terms of vision / lens coverage, they feel quite similar to something like an Oakley Radar EV, but the sizeable rubber nose padding is definitely more noticeable.
The beveled top of the lens creates a similar 'frame' to the top of the lens to the hard plastic frame you'd get on a pair of Radars.
In terms of lens shape, the Encoder has a curved brow that sits higher in the middle of the face and then drops either side. This looks really smart, but it does mean that these glasses won't work with every cycling helmet out there. I feel that they work pretty well with something like a Kask Protone, but less well with a Kask Utopia, for example.
On a road bike, the vision is good (accepting the points above). However, if you are riding on tri bars or aggressively down on the drops, you might find that the brow obscures your forward vision (riding my Giant Trinity, I could not get my head all the way down into its normal aero position as the brow blocked and distorted a little too much of the road ahead for my liking). If you are TT racer or triathlete, I think this is an important limitation to be aware of - I would NOT recommend these sunglasses for TT or tri races if you have an aggressively low head position (you're probably already wearing a helmet with a visor, anyway).
Verdict: Oakley Encoder
So what are the scores on the early doors?
Looks: Subjective, of course, but I think they look damned cool. Kinda like those firefighter helmet visors you see in the UK or at F1 races. That can't be a bad thing! They're not quite as big as Sutros or Jawbreakers, so if your face is a little more petite, they might well suit you better.
Vision: The lens is excellent, but be aware of the intrusion of the nose bridge and the fact that if you ride 'head down' that brow isn't as transparent as it appears from the front.
In Use: I think these have the makings of a great cycling sunglass. Maybe not as revolutionary as something like the Jawbreaker, but they look (and perform) great in the right circumstances.
Conclusion: I'm a Jawbreaker man, and suspect I will be for some time to come. But I think the Encoder has a lot going for it and I'll definitely be wearing it often. The gold lens probably means I'll need to be careful how I match it with kit, but with the right kit and helmet it looks fantastic!