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“Ah crap, I forgot to charge my sunglasses!”
This is not a sentence I ever thought I’d be uttering but then I started training with Oakley Radar Pace. Just a few years ago, we weren’t charging our groupsets either, so I guess its not all that strange really.
Over two years in the making, Oakley’s Radar Pace is a real-time voice activated coaching system parading as a set of sunglasses. With the help of a mobile app, you can set up a personalised training program, track your performance and receive real-time coaching via the eyewear’s headphones.
Note that the Radar Pace is purely a training tool, designed specifically for cycling or running, and not something that’s going to replace your Garmin or smart watch. And while there still are various software kinks to work out, the Radar Pace may be an early taste of technology we come to consider a training essential.
Training with Radar
At first glance Radar Pace looks like any other set of Oakley sunglasses, and performs like them too! They’re relatively lightweight, comfortable to wear and feature Oakley’s top-shelf Prizm lens – all good things.
It’s not until you get a closer look at the arms of the frame that you notice the Intel-created hardware. At the temples, you’ll find a touchpad, various sensors, Bluetooth, microphones and micro USB plug-ins for the detachable headphones. All in all, the frame features three microphones and no less than five sensors: an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer as well as humidity and proximity sensors. The frames are also equipped with Bluetooth and ANT+ technology for pairing third-party sensors like your heartrate strap, power meter and cadence sensors.
All this data is communicated to the Radar Pace app and back to you via a friendly female voice in your headphones. Think of “Radar” as a Siri or Alexa who specialises in training; specifically, your training in running or cycling.
In using the Radar Pace app you can create a completely personalised training plan – unfortunately only one plan and one sport at a time – and Radar will help you get through the workouts. She will tell you what intervals to do, give real-time updates on your progress like speed, power and distance. Radar will even answer any questions you might have during the workout. “Ok Radar, why are hills important?” She will compliment you – “well done, you climbed 200 feet in 2 minutes” – or reprimand you – “your cadence is too slow”.
You can also listen to music and take calls. Your workout data is automatically uploaded into your training plan and analysed, and you can read Radar’s feedback in the app. The software will even adjust based on your progress.
The technology does have some drawbacks, with its dependency on your smartphone being the primary one. I experienced frequent connectivity issues with the IOS 10, which abruptly paused or ended the workout. Data is not processed while disconnected, meaning that workouts were left incomplete which in turn affects the overall training plan.
Workouts also cannot be paused or restarted manually. The software will auto-pause your workout but there is a delay in restarting, which in stop-and-go city riding was a bit annoying. Equally annoying is Radar’s dislike for steep hills for training, which in Seattle are unavoidable. “This climb is too steep” was a common reprimand and uttering “Oh shut it, Radar!” to a computer no one can see does garner some strange looks from passersby.
Training with Radar this winter was tough in general because while clear lenses are available, mine did not ship with them. On most days, riding was done in the dark or greyness at best and so Radar was left at home. Additionally, the software shuts down in cold weather and battery life – on both the phone and glasses – are shortened in cold conditions. When, due to Radar’s dependency on the app, your phone dies so does your workout.
The app, while easy to use and aesthetically pleasing, does not allow you to manually upload files in case of any of the above scenarios, which can affect your training plan. The app also doesn’t sync with Strava, TrainingPeaks or Garmin Connect, meaning you’ll have to manually export and import files from one app to another to get KOM cred.
Finally, there’s the socially awkward aspect as you appear to be talking to yourself, and the safety issue of riding with earbuds in.
With all that said, Radar Pace is a novel approach to training and a vast improvement from a stock training plan you can buy off the internet. The 6-14 week training plan is completely tailored around your capabilities and your target.
Connectivity issues aside, the software is very responsive and the data seemed accurate. What impressed me the most, however, is the software’s ability to not only analyse your data in real-time, but to then adjust your training plan accordingly. While heavier than other Oakley models, the sunglasses are perfectly comfortable and the earbuds, with its several hinges for a proper fit, are some of the most comfortable sports-oriented earbuds I have ever worn.
Even when not actually training with Radar Pace, I still enjoy wearing the glasses while riding simply to listen to music. And apparently, so do the pros:
At $449 USD, the sunglasses come with a hefty price tag but if you factor in the several months of training plans or coaching it may not seem all that outrageous.
At this time, while there’s still plenty of room for improvement, Radar Pace is the best technology of its kind. I’m excited to see what happens as this technology progresses.
Price: US$449 / £400 / AUD $640 oakley.com