My Experience With ROKA Eyewear

What brands matter to you most? Day to day. Brands upon which you rely, whether you like the brand or not. I think about this from time to time. For me, Apple, HOKA, AT&T (I don’t love this brand, but I’m reliant on it). These brands make products for which there are no ready replacements (for me). If Starbucks goes away I still have Coffee Bean. If AT&T goes away, that’s a problem, because its the only carrier where I live that offers reception.

ROKA hasn’t been a mandatory brand for me. Great brand, for certain! But if ROKA goes away, there are replacements. Right? Previously, that’s the case. It’s not so much the case now.

I’m going to level with you. When ROKA first came out with eyewear I was not swept off my feet. But things changed over the last few years. What things? First, my eyesight worsened. Second, ROKA’s frames either improved, or I finally saw the value. And third, my habits changed. A lot of my riding and running shifted indoor, and when I did ride outdoor I started riding more often with head units, both for navigation and as a display for my Varia rear radar.

The confluence of all this created specific needs: Progressive sunglass lenses for both riding outdoor and for daytime driving; and clear progressives for night driving and for indoor cycling and running.

If you don’t know, “progressive” lenses are like bifocals, with both a distance and a near prescription, just the lens progressively, seamlessly, moves from one prescription to the other (as you look thru one or another part of the lens). I’m a Costco devotee and its eyewear center has a great selection of frames and options for both single and multiple ocular prescriptions. It will take you some days or even weeks to adapt to progressives, because your eye needs to find the sweet spot for every prescription inside the lens. And let me be “clear”: They’re still a pain in the arse to use for certain duties. I don’t like the requirement to remain in that ocular sweet spot if I'm spending hours using one prescription. When I watch the TV or go to the movies I don’t need near vision and I have glasses that only feature a distance prescription. For reading I only use my reading prescription. (I have a lot of glasses for different needs; I don’t know whether my proclivity for products for each use case is a bug or a feature.)

I’m currently talking to a small number of you. I polled you all. Six percent of you cycle outside with either a bifocal or a progressive lens. Two-thirds of you cycle with no prescription lens at all. And, you give me a lot of grief on our Forum when I say I can’t read the ELEMNT BOLT (I need a ROAM or I need a Garmin 830 or 1030). But here’s what I know for certain about you: In a recent poll I took I discovered that 100 percent of you are going to get older. What I’m writing in this article is going to be awaiting your arrival.

What I found with my Costco glasses – I can get progressive lenses in the frames it sells – is that the eyewear kept sliding down my nose, or clear off my head and to the ground. Running or cycling. If I didn’t use something to affix the glass to my head – a Croakies or Chums or something – off the glasses went. But when riding or running indoor I need to remove my eyewear for a toweling, so prefer not to fiddle with an affixing strap if I don’t have to.

When driving, I don’t need to tell you: navigation system, dashboard, handheld, all require near vision, and then distance vision for driving. I need my progressives because I ride and run a lot on Zwift, I use both the Companion App and a larger screen off in front of me.

But if you know about ROKA you know it doesn’t offer progressive lenses. And you can’t just take your ROKA frames to Costco and have progressives put in (I tried), because Costco’s ocular lab is generic. Vanilla. Basic. But what I found is that many frames built for my sport use require lens shapes that Costco can’t accommodate. Happily, almost all dispensing opticians (your local eyewear seller) has access to labs that will make such lenses, and that’s where I took my ROKA frames.

ROKA makes 3 frames I really like: Kona, Halsey and Barton. (Jesse Thomas is an aviator guy. Me? Not so much.) I had a pair of Konas and a Halsey. They’re shown here, one Kona with a clear lens and one in a tint, and a Halsey in a tint. Please excuse the odd nick in them in any of the images. These glasses aren’t new samples for media photography. My clear Konas have been worn so often the K has rubbed off on the inside of the temples. Now it reads ona. Or una. And I still use them for every stationary run on my Woodway treadmill, and they still stay on my head perfectly.

Let’s talk about cost and process. ROKA's eyewear is surprisingly (to me) affordable. If you want to buy, say, a Barton or a Halsey, they start at $95. With a single prescription lens, $195. That’s not much higher than what I’d pay at Costco and Costco is the place to go for a decent selection and a low price. But Costco frames fall off my head when I ride or run. (More below on that.) One-fourth of you ride with a prescription of some sort, and I didn’t even ask you about running. Here’s my guess: The fraction of you sharing my ocular needs is going to creep up, because you’re going to run into the same use case problems that I have.

When you send in your prescription to ROKA – it can all be done online – there’s a hitch right in the process and let me explain it to you. If I’m ordering a single prescription lens, I shoot a pic of my prescription with my iPhone and I upload it to ROKA, but written on my prescription is both my distance and my near prescription. ROKA doesn’t ask me which I want in the lens its selling me. It’s okay. Don’t lose your cookies. ROKA, at least when I went through this process, contacts every customer before the lens gets made, just to make sure they know what you need before they make the glass. You can tell them then which prescription (reading, computer, distance) you want filled.

My eyewear cost me more, because I bought the frames and then had the lenses put in by another lab. Yes, I’m about $1,000 (or north of that) into these 3 pairs of glasses. But they have outlasted by far all other eyewear I’ve had made for the purpose. Let me end with a note on why I think this is.

I have had a lot of Costco frames. And Sams Club frames. There is no purpose-driven choice made by Costco’s frame makers on materials. My ROKA eyewear is like my run shoes. Grip, abrasion resistance, and heel retention is contemplated by those who make my run shoes. Costco eyewear is the “street shoe” of eyeglass frames. ROKA's frames are made like HOKA's shoes: They each assume I'm going to run in them and they design and construct them accordingly.

I’m not picking on just Costco. Sams Club? Same experience. It’s not simply in materials but in shape and construction. The hinges and that general area mating the temple to the rim is the weak link in a sports glass, and in most cases is made without acknowledgement of that weakness. See that ROKA una (used to be Kona) next to one of my many similar Costco frames (just above). I don't have to tell you which is which. Compare the Costco to the robustness of a ROKA frame; this is why that ROKA frame still clings to my head (without squeezing it) while the temples on all my Costco frames can fit around a volleyball after 4 months of use.

What I want is a Vuarnet experience (if you remember the Vuarnet frames of 40 years ago) that works for the things I do. This is what has brought the ROKA brand up from elective to mandatory brand status in my case. You may well say – and I welcome this, in the comments below, or on our Reader Forum – that I’m simply naïve to what Oakley, Costa, Smith, Rudy and others offer me. Let fly! Tell me what I’m missing. (Because I’ve tried these brands but I’m sure I haven’t tried everything they sell.) And, complicating matters, please know that I prefer, when possible, something not from the Borg (Luxottica). What I’m writing is simply my experience.

Yes, I would like ROKA to eventually offer from its own factory the progressive lenses I need for my own sport-specific use. That said, I’m now switching from Costco to ROKA for my single-prescription lenses as well, because the price is right and the ROKAs are just… flat… better… frames, based on my own experience, and whether I’m seeing thru them while leading a Zwift ride or typing articles like this to you.

As a final note, ROKA has been a Slowtwitch partner more often than not over the years, so, please factor this in. Also – and I hate to have to add these caveats but we live in an age, do we not? – we do not offer “paid media” as a partner deliverable. ROKA has not seen what I’m writing to you now; they do not know that I’m writing this to you now; and they’ll see it when you do. If you want to know more about ROKA eyewear you know where you can read about it.