I have to admit, I’m on gadget overload these days. Everything needs to be plugged in after a ride for charging, so I didn’t relish the idea of having to plug in my sunglasses. But I’m glad I did: Oakley’s Radar Pace glasses click the puzzle pieces in the right places by replacing the imperfect (and somewhat dangerous) head’s-up display idea and sticking it in your ear — literally.
These glasses offer real-time coaching via a noise-canceling earpiece (or two, if you’re bold enough to ride with your hearing blocked to the outside world, which I am not). That means you can get all the data you need on your ride without having your vision compromised by heads-up displays, head units on your stem, or anything else visually distracting.
But your hearing will be compromised, so be careful. Even when the in-ear coaching voice isn’t talking to you, the earpiece cuts out most of the background noise around you, so you won’t hear that car if you have both earpieces in. The coaching voice is a bit fainter with just one earpiece, especially at high speeds when the wind is rushing past, but it was a concession I was willing to make for peace of mind.
So, about that voice: What’s it saying to you? Among other things, it gives periodic updates about vital ride info, like your speed, cadence, and power. It also tells you if you need to adjust your cadence to maintain your peak performance. If you’re prepared, you can set a training program in the Oakley outlet app, and the voice will give you notifications when it’s time to pick up the pace, slow down, or make other adjustments. Built-in gyroscopes, accelerometers, and gauges for pressure and humidity all help offer realtime data. The unit can pair to your external sensors too.
You’re not limited to waiting for the voice to cycle through the information, either. If you want to know your current speed, for example, you can say, “Okay Radar,” and follow it up with your request (for example, “Okay Radar, what’s my current speed?”). The voice will then give you the info you request. There are several useful commands that you’ll get used to shouting at your sunglasses to get info, even if you do sound like a crazy person to your riding buddies.
It doesn’t always work seamlessly — I had trouble getting the glasses to recognize my voice at high speeds with the wind rushing past, or when I was really gassed and breathing hard — but it was reliable enough that I got the info I wanted within a reasonable timeframe. There were only one or two moments when I felt like I was on one of those automated phone calls, trying to reach a real live operator. (What’s worse than shouting at your replica sunglasses? Repeatedly shouting at your sunglasses.) In my completely un-scientific estimation, I’d say the voice recognition was 90 percent reliable, which is pretty high.
In conjunction with the app — which is quite good, with a logical, clean layout — the Radar glasses will customize your future rides based on what you’ve already accomplished, so you get a tailored training plan. It will even adjust your plans if you miss a training session.
If you’re sick of listening to the voice or the wind rushing past on your rides, you can sync the glasses to your phone and listen to music. There’s a touch pad on the left arm of the glasses to control volume and pause/play the music, which also worked most of the time. If you’re wearing full-finger gloves you’ll have a bit more trouble with reliability, but I had no problems with bare fingertips. A forward swipe turns the volume up, a backward swipe turns it down, a tap pauses or plays. Easy as pie.
The hardware is typical Oakley: comfortable, good coverage, and Prizm lenses that offer increased contrast for clearer vision on the road. These glasses are definitely heavier (56 grams with both earpieces) than your typical shades due to the electronics in the arms, but they weren’t so heavy as to become cumbersome. Usually, with heavy glasses, I feel it on the bridge of my nose by the end of the ride. And I certainly did feel it with these, but I also rode several hours before I noticed any extra weight. For training rides, that’s about what you can expect from any smart glasses, and these actually felt lighter than most of the heads-up display units I’ve tested.
One downside: The periodic updates definitely got repetitive and sort of maddening over the course of longer rides. Without fail, at some point during all my training rides, I got to a point when I wanted to pull the earpiece out. I imagine that’s what pros feel like when they pull their earpieces out and go for that breakaway stage win. Luckily, it’s easy enough to pull out the earpiece and stow it in your jersey pocket, though I never quite reached that level of irritation. The information is useful, after all.
I like the Radar Pace as a training tool, and as a wearable that adds valuable data without obscuring my vision. If Oakley can find a way to add Strava Live Segments, I can imagine leaving my Garmin at home. You’re limited, of course, to cheap Oakley glasses, so if you’re not familiar with the fit and feel of Oakley frames and lenses, be sure to try these on first. Bottom line, these are the first smart sunglasses I’ve been consistently excited to wear.