TRAINING SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
“OK Radar,” I said as I was riding up Snake Road between Hamilton and Waterdown. “Stop listening.”
It’s a good thing that Intel and Oakley managed to build in a ton of patience into Oakley’s new Radar Pace. A partnership between Oakley (well, Oakley’s parent company, Luxottica) and Intel, the Radar Pace is a coach, a computer and a lightweight pair of high performance sunglasses all in one. I felt like I should be apologizing for my rudeness. The reason I had to ask Radar to stop listening was because I was riding with a friend and our conversation wasn’t making any sense to the computer, so I kept being asked to repeat my last question. (My training conversations probably don’t make a lot of sense at the best of times, so I am certainly not holding that against the crew from Oakley and Intel.) Once we got it all figured out, though, the system happily went quiet and waited for me to ask for some help.
In fact, the most amazing thing about the Radar Pace sunglasses is just how well they respond and understand any questions or commands you have, even while riding and even while riding very fast. During a workout all you have to do is say “OK Radar” and, once you hear the glasses respond, ask your question. During a test run along the beach while I was at Challenge Aruba I got more than a few funny looks from people. “OK Radar … what’s my pace?” “OK Radar … what’s my heart rate?” While to those I was going by it looked like I was talking to myself, I was getting feedback instantaneously without having to look down at my wrist or press any buttons. You don’t have to ask either – the voice in your ears will chime in if you’re not doing something right in hopes that you’ll get things back on track.
During my first run, good ol’ Radar was distinctly unhappy with my stride rate.
“Your stride rate is low … 76 strides per minute,” I would hear through the headphones. “For optimal performance, your stride rate should be at least 88.”
I’m not sure my stride rate has ever been 88, even in the days when I ran cross country and track in university, so I chose to ignore that bit of coaching advice, but I did enjoy the vast majority of the feedback. Riding with the Radar Pace and getting periodic updates on how far I’d gone, my average speed and some encouragement based on how well I was climbing (“You climbed 15 m in 20 seconds”) was nice feedback.
But all that is just a tiny bit of what the system is capable of.
Radar glasses, with a lot more
If you’ve been an Oakley fan for as long as I have (they were actually one of my first sponsors when I turned pro in the ’80s), you might remember the company’s first foray into sunglasses with headphones – the Thump, which was released in 2004. (The Thump was one of the first reviews we did in Triathlon Magazine Canada, too.) The Radar Pace looks remarkably similar to the Thump, but other than the fact that both can play music, there is no comparison between the technology.
The frame is based on the Radarlock glasses and you get all the same performance features we’re used to in those – interchangeable lenses, comfortable nosepieces and temples with earsocks that grip more as you sweat. While the Radar Pace is heavier, the difference in weight isn’t noticeable at all. You can take the ear buds out, too, making them look pretty much identical to a regular pair of Radarlock glasses.
The Radar Pace comes with two lenses, a Prizm Road lens, which is possibly one of the nicest riding and running lenses we’ve ever tried, along with a clear lens for low-light or night workouts.
Getting started with the Radar Pace is a breeze. All I had to do was download the Radar Pace app to my Android phone and then sync up the glasses. (The word was that initially there were some issues with an IOS update when the glasses were first released, but that was quickly sorted out.) In setting up the app you punch in your data and let the system know what your goals are. The software then comes up with a training program based on your goals and fitness level – you can actually start your workout with the question: “OK Radar, what’s my workout for today?”
Since I am far too much of a control freak to ever let anyone tell me what my workouts were going to be, I used the Radar Pace in what’s called “freeform mode” where I was doing my own thing and simply using the glasses for feedback and to monitor my progress. My guess is I won’t be unique on the triathlon front – if you have a coach or are following a specific training plan you’ll be in the same boat.
There’s one other thing you might want to set up on the glasses, especially if you plan to use them on the bike. Included in the package is a wind guard that helps block the wind from the microphone at higher speeds. I tried the glasses both with and without the wind guard and had no problems communicating with the system, but my guess is that in really windy conditions you might appreciate the wind guard.
There’s a touch pad on the side of the temple that lets you control music and calls or use Siri or Google Now, too, if you plan to use the glasses for day to day activities along with your training.
The Radar Pace can connect to both Bluetooth and Ant+ devices, so you’ll be able to access pretty much every heart rate monitor or power meter, not to mention cadence and speed sensors. The Radar Pace also has a number of sensors built in – an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer and some others. (Which is how it was able to figure out that my stride rate was so low and also knew just how much climbing I was doing.)
As I was setting things up I realized the issue that would challenge me with the Radar Pace: the fact that I had to have my phone with me while I was working out. That’s not a problem at all on the bike, as that’s pretty much standard operating procedure. Running, on the other hand, was more of a challenge. I typically run in tri shorts or running shorts with pockets designed to hold a key or a card, which left me having to carry my phone along with me. If you’re one of those people who typically carries your phone while you’re running, this won’t be an issue. For the rest of us it takes a bit of planning – either using a running belt or strap to carry the phone.
Once you get all that sorted, though, you’ll be off to the races. It’s easy to stream music from your phone if you’re so inclined, but despite the fact that the ear buds provide excellent clarity and sound pretty good, you can still hear the outside world, which obviously is an important safety factor.
I would have liked to be able to pause the system, but you can’t do that manually – it figures out when you’ve stopped and pauses itself.
The software does an amazing job of figuring out what you’re asking. You will, though, run into times where the system thinks you are trying to talk to it when in fact you’re making a joke about how slow your training partner is that day, at which point you might have to resort to the “stop listening” command.
The system is said to be good for up to six hours of use. The longest ride I used it for was four hours, which I followed up with a few runs over the next few days without having to charge things up, so Oakley’s estimate on battery life seems about right. So, do you need this? How many of our training tools do we really need? Many triathletes tend to have a bit more athletic experience, specific race goals and lots of access to coaching and training groups, so they’re not going to be able to utilize as many of the innovative training properties that Oakley has built in to this system. If (and, possibly, when) Oakley ties the system into something like Training Peaks, where you could load in a workout or even an entire program from a coaching platform like Training Peaks, it would become a much more useful device for more serious competitors. Whether or not Oakley will go after that crowd will determine just how much of those kind of features we’ll see built into the app.
The freeform function, though, has some real benefits. I have a few friends who struggle to see their bike computers because they only need their glasses for reading. (There’s one advantage for needing bifocals, I guess.) The Radar Pace would be a great option in that scenario. If you like to train with music, this is an easy way to wirelessly connect with lots of other benefits, too. The Radar Pace is, to me, much more useful than some of the heads up displays I’ve reviewed, providing some great info with considerably few visual distractions.
Even if you have to tell it to stop listening every now and again.
“While to those I was going by it looked like I was talking to myself, I was getting feedback instantaneously without having to look down at my wrist or press any buttons. You don’t have to ask either.”