There are two types of people in the world: those under 50 and those over 50. By the time you read these lines, I will have passed into this last cohort. And during the last year of my 40s, I had to deal with a constant deterioration in visual performance … namely, an inability to clearly see things nearby, also known as hyperopia.
It happens with age. But for someone who has always had perfect vision, it can come as a shock. It starts with small adaptations like keeping reading materials away from my eyes. And that ultimately leads to eyeglasses. However, if you are nearing 50 and leading an active lifestyle – if you are a cyclist, runner, skier, climber, golfer, triathlete – let me share my story of visual discovery.
This deterioration in eyesight can be so slow that at first you get used to a certain blur. You don’t even realize the words are hazy until you finally surrender and buy some reading glasses. Of course, you don’t need a prescription for these. I guessed 1.5 times magnification and bought five pairs of basic reading glasses on Amazon for $ 15. The first time I put them on it was revealing. The words were so crisp and clear. I could spot the difference between serif and sans serif fonts. My eyes could relax. So I hid a pair of these inexpensive e-readers wherever I needed them: my office, the kitchen, the car, the workshop, my travel backpack. I only wore them when I needed them and rarely had to carry them. My kids would laugh at me, of course, saying I looked like an old man. And that was definitely not good for Zoom calls.
After a few months of this, I noticed that my condition was getting worse. It seemed my eyes were giving up. I have become completely dependent on magnification to read my phone and computer screens. At this point, my wife convinced me to have my eyes checked, which led to a prescription for progressive lenses, i.e. the lower part of the lens is enlarged for reading, but not the top. because I still have 20/20 vision. I let my wife choose the frames. A week and about $ 700 later, I walked out of the optometrist’s office wearing fancy glasses with David Beckham’s name on them.
The lenses were okay, but the frames were a complete failure. They just didn’t want to stay on my head. I was constantly pushing them up my nose, especially if I was sweating. I was bending over while working on a bicycle and they would fly off my face. When I was mountain biking I had to trade in Oakleys or Smiths without a prescription. These worked as they always did for distance vision, but it was getting harder and harder to read my bike computer. Also, David Beckhams did not work for my computer setup. Since I am using two 27 inch monitors, I still had to carry the Amazon readers. In other words, I still looked like an old man on Zoom calls.
I knew there had to be a better way. I assumed someone had fixed these issues, and it was just a matter of finding the company.
I had heard about ROKA glasses on Lance Armstrong’s “TheMove” podcast during the 2021 Tour de France. We’re about the same age and he seemed legitimately excited about the product. When I checked the website, it was immediately obvious that I had found the solution to my problems. As an entrepreneur, however, I wanted to learn more about the history of ROKA. So I reached out to co-founders Rob Canales (CEO) and Kurt Spenser (Chief Creative Officer) to better understand how they found so much white space in a market that apparently didn’t have any.
Canales and Spenser founded ROKA in a garage in Austin, Texas. As former Stanford All-American swimmers, they were on a mission to redefine the standard for performance design. It was in 2013 and the first product they developed was actually a wetsuit. As big as triathlons became, no one designed wetsuits specifically for swimming. They were mainly intended for surfing, diving and other water sports. They were not optimized for a swimmer’s efficiency or range of motion. The ROKA suit was an instant hit. And while this was only aimed at a niche market, it created a process for how Canales and Spenser would continue to explore, innovate, and solve problems for athletes and sportspeople.
The next design challenge they took on was the swim goggles. Since typical goggles were designed for lane swimming in a pool, the optics favored side visibility as opposed to vision in front of you. But in open water, it’s about seeing what lies ahead. This has led to innovations in dyeing and a whole range of eyewear for different environments. He also built a bridge between triathlons and the wider eyewear market.
As a result of an extensive R&D process that examined unmet needs in the running, cycling, swimming, cross-training and fitness categories, Canales and Spenser realized in 2015 that the performance eyewear market had grown into complacent. He had not kept up with the changing needs of athletes and those pursuing an active lifestyle, especially those of us approaching half a century of life. Additionally, Warby Parker, the otherwise disruptive direct-to-consumer eyewear game, was not chasing the performance market.
ROKA’s first eyewear inspiration came from Jesse Thomas, the triathlete champion from Bend, Oregon, who forgot his sunglasses and won the Wildflower Triathlon using a pair of gas station aviators at $ 10. So Canales and Spenser wondered why the classic aviator design couldn’t perform so well? Sadly, the aviator-inspired Phantom became ROKA’s first model and now comes in a range of different frame colors, materials, sizes and lens types … including prescriptions.
My personal ROKA journey started with the extensive Progressive section on the company website. First of all, I chose the Barton frame design as the right one for me. ROKA offers a home trial program, as well as a virtual trial program with a ROKA representative via the Zoom call, but I knew enough about my favorite style and face shape to make this decision quickly .
Choosing a frame style and color is actually the easiest part. Next, you have to choose from three types of progressive lenses — standard, ultimate, and computer-specific — and three lens materials — polycarbonate, trivex, and high index — and three colors — clear, photochromic, and blue light shielding. There are a range of different benefits for each choice, which are explained in detail on the website. Finally, you download your prescription and place your order.
This process may seem overwhelming, but it’s really about offering different features, technologies, and prices. For example, the Barton can go from $ 195 to almost $ 700 with all premium upgrades. Again, the Virtual Trial Program can be very helpful in navigating the world of ROKA’s high performance prescription eyewear options.
I initially ordered two pairs of fairly standard progressive Bartons: a pair of clear glasses and a pair of sunglasses. I immediately realized, however, that I couldn’t use progressive lenses on my computer, so I returned to Amazon readers. This meant I had at least three pairs of glasses to deal with on a daily basis, and potentially other types of alternative brand performance for cycling. So for my next two sets of Bartons, I chose one set with photochromic lenses and another set with fixed magnification lenses and blue light shield exclusively for computer use. It turned out to be all I needed.
ROKA has developed its own proprietary photochromic technology, which darkens glass in sunny weather. It turns clear lenses into sunglasses and vice versa. The first time this happened, the transition was so smooth that I didn’t notice it until I took a selfie. Wow ! The clear glasses were completely dark. They may take a second to clear when you return inside, so this is where the transition is noticeable. But the range from crystal clear to dark is very impressive. In fact, I also find the visual clarity of the photochromic lens to be superior to the standard clear lens.
One of the key features of all ROKA goggles is the hydrophilic GEKO ™ grip on the temples and nose pads. If you have worn high performance glasses for cycling etc. then you are familiar with this feature. They literally stick to your face. But ROKA has developed its own technology and it works perfectly. It’s one of those characteristics that makes you wonder why every spectacle frame, whatever its intention, doesn’t have it.
The biggest plus for me, personally, is that the Barton frame with photochromic lenses is now my all-rounder. I transition smoothly from driving, to road riding and mountain biking, in sunny or overcast weather, to biking and going out to dinner. I even wear them on my indoor trainer. I no longer need separate pairs of high performance cycling sunglasses, although I will wear the Matador occasionally if I want a shield design with more coverage. And when I’m skiing or snowboarding, I stow the Bartons in my jacket chest pocket when wearing non-prescription glasses and access them easily when needed.
Of course, I still have to swap the Barton computer glasses in my office, and I’ve already received compliments from colleagues on the other end of my Zoom calls. Because I might have crossed the 50th mark, but I certainly don’t need to advertise it.