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by James Huang
August 5, 2020
Photography by James Huang
I’ve had a soft spot for Oakley ever since my first bike shop job in the early 1990s when I bought my first pair of (blissfully discounted) M Frames. With little exception, I have continued to be impressed with the company’s eyewear ever since: the superb optics, the vast array of carefully tuned tints, the cutting-edge style. These days, it takes a lot to prompt me to push aside my preferred Radar EVs, with Smith Optics’ Ruckus currently being one of the only sunglasses to clear that bar.
I can now add the Roka Matador to that very, very short list.
Roka is quite new to the eyewear scene, with its background rooted in triathlon-focused wetsuits and swimming apparel. However, the company has clearly invested wisely in technology and talent.
The latest Matador model builds on the success of the earlier (and since discontinued) SL-1 model that left a positive impression on me several months ago, but with a bolder, full-frame layout instead of the SL-1’s half-frame configuration. Functionally, I find these new Matadors to be practically faultless.
The Matador is Roka’s boldest sunglass model to date, with a look that’s notably distinctive, if perhaps a bit derivative.
Although the lens and frame shape might seem a tad goofy, the raised center and extended sides make for a fantastically comprehensive field of view, particularly when looking behind you on the road or when you’re hunkered down deep in the drops with your head only slightly raised. Likewise, the overall coverage is outstanding, with even high-speed descents at upward of 80 km/h generating nary a tear from wind buffeting my eyeballs — which perhaps shouldn’t come as a big surprise seeing as how they’re anything but small.
One of Oakley’s longstanding advantages in my book has been its Prizm high-contrast lens technology, which I’ve regularly found to offer the sharpest definition of critical road and trail features. But alas, even that edge is getting slightly duller, as the somewhat purple/greyish “HC Fusion Mirror” lens on my Matador test set is remarkably close to Oakley’s Prizm Road tint in terms of contrast and detail, albeit with a very slightly rosier hue overall. And despite using a cylindrical, rather than spherical, lens shape, the optics are tack-sharp with none of the distortion that I regularly notice with some other popular brands, such as 100% and Rudy Project.
Roka has done an excellent job tweaking the Matador’s fit and feel, too. While some will lament the full-frame format instead of a lighter and airier frameless layout, the circumferential support lends a stiffer and sturdier feel to the Matador in general that combine with the textured “Geko Grip” hydrophilic rubber temple ends and nosepiece for a confidently secure hold on your noggin.
Roka says the temple shape was designed so as to minimize interference with helmets. I can’t say I noticed much of a difference with the kinked shape, although the shortened temple length was definitely nice.
The Matadors rank high on the customization scale as well, with titanium-core temple ends that can be bent to suit your particular head shape or helmet retention system. That latter bit isn’t likely to be an issue, either, since the temples on the Matador are already more than a centimetre shorter than what I generally find on Oakley glasses. And finally, while many sunglass brands now include two different nosepieces to accommodate a wide range of face shapes, Roka includes four with the Matador for even finer adjustment.
Over several months of regular use, the only possible functional downside I’ve noticed on the Matador is a slightly greater tendency to fog up as opposed to glasses with more pared-down frame designs or more liberal venting.
Styling-wise, however, the verdict is far less clear-cut as many will find the Matador to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair what with its somewhat droopy-looking side profile. The “V-Core” temple shape is undeniably unusual, too, and while Roka claims the dip makes for reduced interference with helmets and cycling caps, I can’t say I ever noticed much of an issue there with other sunglasses I’ve worn over the years. Nevertheless, the overall combination makes for a rather, um, noticeable appearance, especially in the fluorescent hue of my test sample.
The texture on the temples works as advertised, with a solid, yet comfortable, hold, especially with the adjustable titanium cores.
If I really want to nitpick, I also take a little issue with the way you swap lenses, as there’s almost no way to do so without getting your grubby little fingerprints all over both sides of the lens. Is that a dealbreaker? Well, no, but other companies have figured out how to achieve such a thing without having to touch the lens so much, so it’d be good to see Roka pull off something similar.
I also can’t help but see more than a little bit of Oakley Sutro in the Matador what with their somewhat similar top and side profile — and for that matter, the older Roka SL-1 sunglasses I still use on occasion bear more than a passing resemblance to Oakley’s Flight Jacket. Add in the Oakley Prizm-like lens tinting, and it sure seems like Roka has a particular competitor in mind.
Roka even offers a custom program similar to Oakley, with your choice of six frame colors, 10 different lenses, six temple colors, and eight options for the Geko rubber bits, all of which is available for a modest US$10 upcharge over the standard configurations (plus another US$10-50 for certain lens options).
Ok, the Rokas might not be the most original-looking sunglasses around, despite the Matador’s rather distinctive looks. But if you’re going to subtly mimic someone, you may as well aim high and target the big dog, and, ideally, do a good job of it. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s perfectly ok.
Price: US$195 / AU$270 / £190 / €215
See a little bit of Oakley Sutro in here? I sure do, although that’s arguably not a bad thing, depending on your perspective.
The “V-Core” temple shape is unusual, to say the least.
The shield-type lens offers excellent coverage with an expansive field of view.
The lens shape hugs your head, although those with flatter faces probably need not apply.
Likewise, the textured nosepiece stays put even when your face is covered in sweat.
Roka includes four different nosepiece sizes with the Roka for a more finely adjustable fit than what you normally find.
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