Roka surges into the world of sunglasses

Anyone else notice that Javier Gomez has been sporting some new sunglasses this year? Roka is making some bold moves into the performance sunglass market. We have a look at the new A.P.EX lineup.

| April 20, 2018 | GEAR

The Roka SL-1X

The Roka SL-1X

Photo >roka.com

It’s easy to forget that Roka is actually one of the newest triathlon brands on the block. Roka, the company that sponsors some of the sport’s stars like Olympic gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen, two-time ITU world champ Flora Duffy and multiple ITU and two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion Javier Gomez, didn’t produce its first prototype wetsuit until 2012 and made its first sale in 2013. Fast forward to 2018 and Roka has gone from that inauspicious start to topping the swimskin count at the Ironman World Championship the last two years.

The men behind the Roka name are Rob Canales and Kurt Spenser. The two swam together on Stanford University's prestigious swim program and, in their day, both competed at the American Olympic swim trials. When they decided to take on their first half-distance triathlon, like many “pure” swimmers, both struggled with their wetsuits. After finishing that first race in 2011, the two embarked on a mission to design a wetsuit they could be happy with.

Canales and Spenser ripped up a bunch of suits and came up with a design they thought would work. The design was so different they struggled to find a factory that would make the suit for them. They persevered, though, and were finally able to produce their first suits. The Maverick Pro turned out to be a suit that helped Jesse Thomas, a notoriously weak swimmer, stay closer to the lead pack and allowed strong swimmers like Meredith Kessler to open up even bigger gaps on their competition.

From wetsuits to sunglasses

What’s all this got to do with sunglasses, you’re asking?

While Roka has become an industry leader when it comes to the water with an impressive inventory of wetsuits, swimskins, goggles and the like, Canales and Spenser have now set their sites on innovating the eyewear industry.

Yeah, my initial thought was the same – these guys want to break into the insanely competitive world of sunglasses?

Think about this, though. Would you have said that there was room for a company to break into the nutty-competitive wetsuit market in 2013? Yeah, me either.

A.P.EX

We got to see some glimpses of Roka’s innovative approach to eyewear in 2016 with the launch of a few different styles of sunglasses, highlighted by a high-tech workout- and race-ready “Aviator” model that was perfect for Thomas, who was famous for wearing that style of glasses.

Fast forward to 2018 and Roka has launched itself fully into the sunglass market. The company’s line up includes those original “Ultralight Aviators,” “Ultralight Modern Classics,” “Advanced Performance (A.P.EX)” and custom models. Roka also has some soon to be released cycling-specific glasses – the GP-1 and GP-1X – that are making the rounds in the pro peloton this spring and summer.

The Roka SR-1X

The Roka SR-1X

Photo >roka.com

We’ve had the opportunity to test some of the A.P.EX glasses from the line up and have been pleasantly surprised at just how much Roka has got right. In the same way that Canales and Spenser immediately went to the premier rubber manufacturer, Yamamoto, when it came to their wetsuits, when it came to the lenses in their glasses they went directly to one of the most respected names in the business: Carl Zeiss Designs. The A.P.EX line up all features lenses and lens coatings from Zeiss and they are every bit as good as you would imagine. Incredibly light, they offer super-sharp and clear vision and come in a variety of tints so you are ready for a any light condition.

Seeing is one thing, but no matter how sharp things look, you’re not going to wear any glasses for intense training unless they’re comfortable. Once again Roka has nailed it with the A.P.EX glasses. The arms use an adjustable titanium core wire design so you can dial in the fit, while the specially designed rubber (Roka’s “GEKO” technology) ensures the ear and nose pieces will grip to your head no matter how rough things get.

There are three different styles in the A.P.EX series:  SR-1, SL-1 and TL-1. All wrap around your face and eyes to provide lots of coverage for cycling and running. The SR and SL series come in two different sizes – the “X” version of each has a deeper lens to provide a bit more coverage.

The Roka SL-1

The Roka SL-1

Photo >roka.com

The SL-1 is a rimless design that weighs in at a scant 22 g. You get a bit more field of vision with the SR-1, which has a rim along the top, but still manages to weigh just 25 g.

The lightest of the lot is the TL-1, which offers a two-lens set up for those who are so inclined, and weighs just 21 g.

A customized version of the TL-1

A customized version of the TL-1

Photo >roka.com

All of the Roka A.P.EX glasses can be customized, too, so you can create your own special pair.

As they did five years ago in the wetsuit market, Roka has jumped into the world of sports sunglasses full speed ahead. Triathlon super-geeks will have noticed that Javier Gomez is now wearing the Roka sunglasses, sporting them for the first time in taking Challenge Wanaka earlier this year. Having Gomez wear the new line is a perfect fit - Gomez was a world-beater from the get go when he jumped into long-distance racing. Roka has done very much the same - offering up some impressive eyewear right off the bat as the company launches into the performance sunglass arena.