Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a selection of cycling's sunglasses and weirdness

Was there ever a more strange and ubiquitous item than the frames of eye glasses? They range from the minimal wires that hold the lenses where they need to be, to the extravagant eye-enlarging shades of the seventies and recent revivals. Fashion clearly has a lot to answer for. Some of my favourites are the sunglasses sported by cyclists since the 1980s. These are amongst the most ostentatious designs. Why would that be? Surely in the case of athletic eye wear function must take precedence over fashion?

Fortunately not. Whilst function may originally dictate the form, this becomes the fashion and from there the designers seem keen to push things to extremes, especially the Italians. Thank goodness for the Italians! Certainly there are an abundance of sleek visor-styled lenses that protect the wearer from glare and dust whilst smoothing the airflow over the eyes. But these are often so dull. The best designs make a statement that, despite (or perhaps because of) their weirdness, represent an era. These are to me the most interesting.

At the start of fast mechanised transport motorists, motorcyclists and aviators were certainly in need of eye protection. Tour de France cyclists' goggles resembled these in style. Of course when riding a bike things tend to fog up a bit. How long would it be before specialist eye wear was designed for this activity?

I guess it was somewhere in the early 80s that I first saw a pair of cycling specific sunnies — on the eyes, actually on the face, of Phil Anderson. At first glance these looked quite bizarre. But there was no discouraging a teenager mad keen to emulate Anderson. The wide field of view, the sweat band across the top, the large single lens, and the fact that Skippy himself was wearing a pair, all made these highly desirable. As far as I know, from these Oakleys springs the weird world of cycling specific sunnies.

There were various forms of these glasses and lots of imitations for the next few years. I know. I could only afford the cheap imitations :-(

As far as I am concerned it was the Italian Briko manufacturer that next defined an era... the 90s. Cipollini and Pantani, two of the most colourful members of the peloton at the time were both seen sporting Briko Stingers and Jumpers. The Stingers remain my favourite glasses of all time for both their visual appeal and functionality. Stingers transformed the clunkiness of the 80s into a very Euro-cool but equally bizarre, alienesque face for the times.

At one stage or another Pantani sported a pair of Briko Zen specs which are reminiscent of the earliest goggles, only with a much wider wrap-around lens. These were not as iconic as the Stinger but distinctive nonetheless.

And then nothing much happened for nearly 10 years. Various companies experimented with snap-in lenses, including many from Taiwan, but none was a notable or particularly distinctive design.

Maybe the last couple of years have seen the introduction of the next classic: the Oakley Jawbone. They are competing against Oakley's other popular design, the Radar which I feel lacks any innovative features over and above those offered by the myriad of other blade-style lenses. They just aren't wacky enough to make an impression.

The Jawbones also feature interchangeable lenses, but more importantly, the bizarre frame form with multiple components whose colours may be mismatched as garishly as desired might be just what is needed to define the next classic. Peripheral visibility is not nearly as good as the old Stingers. The lens quality is great though and they hug the face to keep out dust and debris. Slots around the side of some lens models allow for a little ventilation in steamy conditions, hopefully to keep the fog at bay. Will these define the era?

If the 2010 road race world champ sports the Infrared Jawbones... will they help the rest of us ride faster? No. But we can all look just as silly ^h^h^h cool!

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