It’s not like Rapha to do things by halves, which is why we’ve been waiting such a long time for the release of their Classic Sunglasses.
The brand has already enjoyed a brief flirtation with eyewear - a few years ago it released Oakley Jawbones, Radarlocks and Frogskins in the Rapha-Focus cyclocross team colours, which had such limited availability that they became instant collector’s items.
The Classic Sunglasses are a different gravy and their release has been hinted at for well over a year. These have been designed by Rapha and the frames manufactured in the Mazzucchelli factory in Cadore, Italy from acetate. They are available in the fairly standard black and tortoiseshell as well as a grey frame with pink lens. The acetate frame construction means the Classic Sunglasses can be adjusted to fit individual head shapes by an optician and will also accommodate prescription lenses.
All of which sounds nothing at all like a pair of cycling sunglasses, rather something you might wear for less energetic pursuits, such as promenading in the sun. It also follows that Rapha’s shades don’t look an awful lot like sports sunglasses. They are actually aesthetically pleasing - you would quite happily integrate them into your day-to-day wardrobe. Try doing that with your standard sports eyewear without looking like an off-duty policeman.
This will have the cycling hardcore no doubt guffawing into their ristrettos. You can see them all now, the type who find a £3 pair of sunglasses from Aldi “perfectly decent.” It’s not even worth the effort pointing out the differences.
Rapha’s sunglasses offer a lot more than a pleasing silhouette, though. They are shaped to gently curve around the face, in a form which Rapha says will help to prevent the misting of the lenses. The lenses themselves are scratch resistant and manufactured by Carl Zeiss. There are little rubber bits on the arm ends and on the nose piece to stop the frames from slipping during exercise. The overall impression is that an inordinate amount of thought has gone into the development of these - something that really should come as no surprise.
“I have a strong affinity to Dieter Rams’ ideals of ‘Form Follows Function’,” said Miles Gibbons, Rapha Hard Goods designer & developer. “For me a product must work flawlessly and give the user a special feeling even when simply picking it up to look at it.”
Dieter Rams, in case you’re wondering, was a mid-twentieth century German industrial designer who was responsible for creating versions of everything from bookshelves to pocket calculators. His ‘ten principles for good design’ are the designer’s equivalent of the Ten Commandments.
Rapha’s aim was to create a “timeless style” with the glasses, which would have ruled out anything in the true sports glasses category, which can be dated merely by glancing at the frame style. That said, the fact these are called Classic frames does suggest that Rapha could be planning a separate style to run alongside its racier Pro Team line.
By opting for a more enduring look, Rapha has delivered an inoffensive silhouette while at the same time delivering the kind of performance you would expect.
There has been no holding back when it comes to presentation, either. As with everything Rapha offers, packaging is gloriously excessive. The glasses are dispatched in a cardboard box, inside which, in a nest of tissue, sits a black tin. Inside the tin are the glasses, a supersoft leather travel pouch handmade in Italy by Giorgo Fedon & Figli, lens wipe and the obligatory information pamphlet, which as well as explaining in fine detail the technical properties of the glasses, offers up a history of eyewear in competitive cycling. All very readable and presentable, and guaranteed to make you feel as if you have chosen to buy a quality piece of kit.
On the face, the glasses offer the sort of comfort you would expect. Over the period of a 60 mile ride in 23 degree heat there were a couple of occasions when they slipped down on the nose slightly, but we haven’t found a pair of glasses that won’t. And at a claimed weight of 30g, or just over an ounce, they’re actually lighter than a pair of Oakley Jawbreakers.
Styling could be considered by many to be on the feminine side, especially the way the frame rises at the corners to join the arms, although for a brand that made it totally acceptable for men to wear neon pink, this is unlikely to cause a problem. More of an issue could be frame width, which is a little on the narrow side. This doesn’t make for a flattering look for those with fat heads.
The biggest issue for us was less to do with the design of the glasses themselves and more with the Carl Zeiss lenses, and could easily be put down to a freak of personal vision. Amber lenses can do strange things to our eyes - greens became extra-vivid, drain covers appeared to almost shimmer. The biggest problem came when viewing an iPhone - the whites of the screen became green and presented a strobing effect almost similar to watching a TV through a digital viewfinder. To be sure this doesn’t affect you, we would recommend maybe trying the different coloured lenses available to see which suit your vision best.
The other consideration, as anyone who wears acetate frames regularly will agree, is the effect of prolonged sweat on the frames. This is not something the wearer will need to worry about for maybe years, but frames will eventually begin to aesthetically deteriorate. This process will be accelerated by salt emitted through sweat so it will be necessary to clean the frames regularly.
It would also be wise to think about where you’re going to hang the glasses on your body when not in use. We wouldn’t recommend sticking them through your helmet, hanging off or putting around the back of the neck. They’re a bit too nice to ruin with a high-speed drop.
You might even decide they’re a bit too nice to cycle in, which defeats the purpose of them slightly, but does illustrate what a gorgeous pair of shades Rapha has released.
Summary: Rapha have created a pair of sunglasses that successfully delivers in timeless styling with an incredibly high level of performance functionality. Perhaps not something you would wear to race in but absolutely suitable for other levels of riding. You might even consider them too nice for riding, which is perhaps their biggest drawback.
4 / 5
This article first appeared on www.thetimes.co.uk/onyourbike on August 17, 2015