ROKA Announces Progressive Lenses

If you’re on the same mailing list I’m on, you got the note yesterday that ROKA is offering progressive lenses in its eyewear. This is a big deal, at least for me. We have a fairly “seasoned” demographic here at Slowtwitch, and if progressives don’t matter to you now, good! But... let’s talk in a few years! Let me tell you what progressive lenses are, and for which of my activities they are indispensible. Then we'll discuss whether ROKA's announcement is compelling as a value proposition.

First, what are progressive lenses? Imagine bifocals, but with a soft transition between reading and distance prescriptions. In fact, typically these days there are 3 prescriptions built into 1 lens. Sounds great! I only need 1 glass for everything!

Not so fast! I still need reading glasses, because progressive lenses do not offer the width-of-vision for a particular prescription that you get with a single-prescription lens. If you (well, if I) try to read a book with my progressive lenses, it’s a little nerve-wracking. However, I have also switched over to ROKAs for single-prescription reading glasses and I’ll get to that in a moment.

Why do I need progressive lenses? I use them all the time, in particular for 3 activities. First, driving. I have both tinted lenses (sunglasses) and clear lenses in a progressive lens, for both day and night driving. I need to see down the road (distance prescription) and I need to see the dashboard and/or my phone (near prescription). There is just no way in heck I can read the navigation map in an iPhone unless I have that near prescription.

Then there’s outdoor cycling. I often ride with no eyewear at all. However, if I ride with a head unit and I want to see it without straining, I need a reading prescription. But I can’t just use reading glasses, because that will really fudge up the distance view. So, progressives are the only solution for me.

Then there’s indoor cycling and running. If I’m Zwifting, and I want to see both the big screen in front of me, and I want to read what’s going on in the Companion App (on my iPhone), that requires a progressive lens.

So, I have all these glasses, including ROKA Halseys and Konas with progressive lenses, and you may wonder how I have them since ROKA just announced this feature. Do I have special access? Was I a beta tester? No. I bought the frames from ROKA well over a year ago, took them to Costco to have progressive lenses installed, but Costco returned them to me as “not possible.” That’s because Costco uses only very generic labs. I then took my ROKA frames to a boutique optician I know, and he sent my ROKA frames to a specialty lab, where progressive lenses were successfully installed (the tinted Kona just below is fruit of this process).

Yes. This cost me. However, seeing is important to me. And all snark aside, seeing is important when doing the things that are important to me. Yes, I could have gotten (and did previously get) typical frames from Costco that have progressive lenses installed in them. But I got pretty tired of them falling off my face when I looked down, and that seemed to happen within a couple of months of every pair I got. And, running? Are you kidding me? In a Costco frame? Cycling? Not a chance.

What eventually happened is that I got used to ROKA glasses just never falling of my face. Never bouncing when I run. The frames last, literally, years without losing their shape, and by "last" I mean the connection to your head when you’re engaged in endurance activities remains solid for years. So, I started getting ROKAs for my single-lens work, and I’m wearing a set of Bartons right now, as I’m typing this, with my “computer” prescription. (Jordan Rapp made the same discovery on his own, and below is one of his "desk job" ROKAs.)

As to ROKAs in general for prescription glasses, I have only one piece of advice: The process of ordering sometimes requires a bit more massaging than when I do business face-to-face with my optician. It has not always gone smooth explaining to the (very friendly, very helpful) eyewear folks at ROKA that what I want is something in between my distance and reading prescriptions for computer work. There is a communication gap that needs bridging between my optometrist (who identifies my ocular prescription) and the optician (who is in charge of getting me the eyewear that matches my prescription and the use of the particular eyewear). But all that is solvable. They always are very helpful and if I have a complaint they just say, “Send them back, we’ll fix them.”

So, now progressives. This is a biggie for me, because I don’t have to go through the process described above. One stop shopping!

Well, not so fast. One thing about progressives, there are additional measurements. The optician has you wear the frame, and then lines with a felt tip pen are drawn on the lens to indicate where the transitions occur from one prescription to another. My understanding is this: ROKA will send you the frame you want, with a dummy lens, you’ll take a selfie wearing the frame, you’ll send the frame back, you’ll upload the selfie pic when placing your online order, and ROKA now knows how to make your eyewear. So, not quite as easy as pie, but not too bad.

I have just one mild whinge about the progressive lens announcement. It’s a $200 upcharge over the standard single-lens price. So, a Barton that might cost me $200 with a single prescription is $400 with progressives. This isn’t a bad price, but it’s not a screamin' price. This up-charge is in line with what you'd pay at, say, Warby Parker. My optician charged me $614 for the 3 ROKA frames into which I had progressive lenses installed, so, it’s about the same.

I must bear in mind of course the extra pair of shipping costs ROKA absorbs here, because of the process I just described. Now, in my case, I might not have to do all of that if I’m reordering the same frame, because I already have that frame. All I have to do is take a selfie wearing it. And, of course, whatever process I go through, once ROKA has successfully made a progressive lens glass for me, they have all that data for successive purchases of mine.

When I think of the brands upon which I rely on a daily basis, it’s AT&T (I don’t love them, but I do rely on them); Apple, HOKA, and so forth, and ROKA is right up there, because ROKA is the only eyewear that remains on my face during all my activities. I’m very happy about this progressive lens announcement. It would not be unwelcome to see $200 for the first pair but a lighter price for subsequent pairs using the same frame.

As you see, I’m a confirmed ROKA guy and what you see here are Halsey, Kona and Barton frames. They all have prescription lenses. You might like the SL series frames, or you might be an Aviatior like Jesse Thomas, but I was a Vuarnet guy in my youth, and felt the world just looked better through a Vuarnet lens. If you Google Vuarnet you’ll see why I get the ROKA frames I do. I am, by the way, ROKA all the way in the pool as well but, again, not with the fanciest styles. I’m F1/Dark Amber.

If you look at the image of my collection o’ ROKAs, the 2 in the foreground, that’s the Kona, and if I’m leading a Zwift ride or run that Kona/clear is what I’m wearing. Both the Konas and the Halsey are those I had converted to progressives. The two Bartons are identical, they’re my computer prescription, and I’m wearing one of these as I’m typing. When I’m farting around in the workshop, putting different tires on wheels, or building up a frameset, these are what I’m wearing and there’s a lot of bending over and looking down at the thing I just dropped on the floor and I just got tired of glasses falling off.

We poll just about everything at Slowtwitch, including this, and more than 9 in 10 of you cycle with some form of eyewear. For two-thirds of you, your glass has no prescription. Only 1 in 10 of you cycle with a glass that has either bifocals or progressive lenses. But I think that percentage is going to go up, as it is now becoming easier to get progressives in a performance frame.