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The Oakley Encoder sunglasses look absolutely epic with their flared-edge lens – there to add stiffness – and fit securely and comfortably with a wide range of helmets. The lens clarity is up to Oakley's usual high standards, but that flared edge causes distortion which has been 'solved' with a fairly sizeable nose rubber. And then there's the price – you're going to have to really like the looks...
The Oakley Encoder is designed for 'multiple sport categories' that might involve helmets, comes in eight lens/colour combinations, and borrows some design cues from the Kato – though toned back a bit so these don't look quite so radical.
Frameless glasses can be beneficial for cycling – for example, the Oakley Flight Jackets do away with the upper portion of the frame to give an unobstructed view when looking up, which is useful in an aero position with your head down. Other glasses such as the Oakley EVZero Blades do away with nearly all of the frame, but this can lead to the glasses feeling flexible and fragile; not great for retention on the head.
The Encoder's solution is the flared top edge, and as far as rigidity is concerned it's an excellent solution. The Encoders don't feel at all fragile and hold the head well.
However, as far as visibility is concerned it's just like having a frame, which sort of makes it pointless (other that for aesthetics, which for the record I am a big fan of). It actually results in similar field of view (at least upwards) as the ever-popular Oakley Radars. Just don't expect the usual benefits of frameless glasses in this area.
The rubbery nose and earpieces are made from 'Unobtainium,' and hold the glasses secure even in the sweatiest of conditions. I found the low profile temple areas work well with a variety of helmets, while the arms are shorter than some and less likely to collide with helmets behind the ears.
Despite curving right around the sides of your face, the lens hardly distorts at all across the field of view. and where the arms mount is very high so you really have to strain your eyes to even catch a glimpse of them.
The flared edge around the nosepiece would create distortion, but has been blocked out by the larger-than-usual nosepiece rubber. It doesn't impact on visibility too much, but it's definitely not a positive as it encroaches into the centre of vision.
The optics themselves are up to Oakley's usual high standards. Prizm lenses boost contrast and colours and, as mentioned earlier, there are eight to choose from, each with a different light transmission profile to suit a wide range of conditions.
We tested the Prizm Sapphire lens which has 12% VLT (Visible Light Transmission) tint – actually quite dark for typical UK riding with our abundance of shady hedgerows – so I'd personally go for the Prizm Road or even Prizm Trail lens with 20% or 35% VLT respectively. None of the lens options change the price.
At £204 these are more expensive than many alternatives, including other glasses from Oakley. For example, all of the Oakleys I mentioned earlier are cheaper: the Flight Jackets are £194, the EVZero Blades are £149, the Radar EVs are £167, and the Sutros are £140. The fact is, from a functionality point of view the Encoders offer no real benefit over any of them.
However, they certainly aren't alone at this price. The Roka GP-1Xs now cost £210, while the Roka Matadors our tester George really liked are £215. As with those the Encoders don't include a spare lens, but you do at least get a hard case with the Oakleys.
This is an interesting set of sunnies and the flared lens edge looks absolutely brilliant while stiffening them up – but it also defeats the point of them being frameless. The cost is quite hard to swallow too, because while the lens clarity, fit and comfort are great, they're not really any better than with cheaper rivals even from Oakley itself.
Striking looks, great lenses and very comfy with helmets, but expensive – and no better than their own cheaper stablemates
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Oakley Encoder
Size tested: Blue-White
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Oakley say: "Purpose-built for use across multiple sport categories, Encoder is a sport performance style designed with hat and helmet fit functionality in mind. The progressive wrap design creates a unique look with superior coverage and enhanced field of view."
I was impressed with their compatibility with helmets and found them very comfortable, but the field of view is not any better than much cheaper glasses.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
MULTI-SPORT DESIGN - Functional sport design with optimized coverage, wider field of view, frame retention and impact protection.
* REVOLUTIONARY LENS DESIGN - Advancements in optical design have allowed the lens to be designed with an extended wrap and rigidity in key areas that mimic the structural properties of a frame.
* HAT AND HELMET FIT TEMPLES - O-Matter temples have been designed to be low profile to fit with hats and helmets.
* NO-SLIP GRIP - Unobtainium earsocks and nosepads help provide sport level retention with a no-slip grip and all-day comfort.
* 8 colours/lenses - Available with Prizm lenses that are designed to enhance color, contrast so you can see more detail.
Lens Width: 36 mm
Lens Height: 36 mm
Frame Bridge Height: 136 mm
Frame Arm Length: 123 mm
They feel really robust and should last, though the lens isn't replaceable.
Very expensive and only one lens...
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They perform well, but are not without flaws. Lens clarity is excellent and they fit very well with a wide variety of helmets, though the nose rubber restricts vision slightly.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The large nose piece.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
These are some of the most expensive sunnies we've ever tested and, although they're innovative, they offer no functional benefit over much cheaper alternatives.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes... I'm a sucker for spendy sunnies, especially when they look this good
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Sadly I can't base this entirely on looks... yes the lens clarity is fantastic, but you can get that from Oakleys at nearly half the price, plus these lenses aren't replaceable and the nose rubber is noticeable in your vision. The flared edges of the lens look great and do stiffen it up, but they also impinge on vision in the same way as a traditional frame. These are really good, but only as really good as considerably cheaper glasses or those with regular frames, which lowers the overall score.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialized venge pro 2019 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...