Optilabs adventurers

EMMA RUSSELL: Making a splash in the world of Kayaking

Earlier in the year we met Emma Russell who wanted a pair of our SWIFT sports glasses to wear whilst kayaking. Although only 16 and still at school, Emma is already making a name for and is currently on the British Canoeing Marathon squad as well as the England National Talent Squad. She sent us this lovely review after competing at the World Championships in South Africa this year.

“I have been kayaking for around 8 years and my love for the sport is forever growing! In 2015, I competed internationally for the first time, representing the Great British Junior Development team. My first major international race was the Canoe Marathon European Championships where I raced with my partner Freya Peters in junior women K2 and we came 6th. A year later (and a many more races under our belts) we lined up for the Europeans once again. A brilliant 3rd put us on the podium and gained us selection for the World Championships, which were being held in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Throughout my paddling career I’ve continued to face the same issue. I am long sighted with an astigmatism so cannot paddle without glasses or lenses. I often use contact lenses when paddling, however my vision is not as clear and they can sometimes go blurry. I searched for alternatives and quickly came across prescription sunglasses by Optilabs.

When I arrived in store, I was greeted by friendly and welcoming faces who were genuinely happy to help wherever they could. I had a good browse at all the sunglasses available (there are lots – for such a wide range of sports!). After trying them on and taking advice from the very patient Manager Tony, I chose the Swift sunglasses with prescription inserts. Before I left, Tony made sure I had optimum vision and that I knew how to change the lenses and remove the inserts.

I could not be more impressed with how fantastic these sunglasses are! My vision is perfectly clear enabling me to see everything on the water and they are very comfortable. The glasses are so light and are great for kayaking as they don’t slip down my nose, nor do they steam up. All these factors meant I had one less thing to worry about in South Africa.

Our race at the Canoe Marathon World Championships was 19km long with 4 portages (where you must get out of the boat and run with it for around 100m before getting back in). We had a flying start and worked with two different Hungarian crews during the first two laps. After the first portage we got dropped and we were left to hold our ground. We powered on through the rest of the race to finish 3rd – a result I am truly proud of! The atmosphere was phenomenal with lots of local supporters as well as my parents, coach and teammates. As you can imagine in South Africa, we were fortunate to have bright, blue skies and pure dazzling sunshine! It was a huge comfort knowing that I had perfect vision throughout the race and there was no danger of losing my perfectly fitting sunglasses.

I recommend visiting Optilabs if you are looking for prescription sunglasses since their customer service and quality is bespoke. I thoroughly look forward to wearing my sunglasses throughout my training and racing next season. As an elite athlete, you need to be completely comfortable with all of your equipment and these prescription sunglasses were beyond my expectations.”

Emma Russell wearing Optilabs Swift sport glasses at the World Kayak Championships
Emma Russell wearing Optilabs Swift sport glasses at the World Kayak Championships

PUNCTURES & PANNIERS London to Japan – The Big Ride

For our big ride, Optilabs kindly sponsored us with a pair of prescription sunglasses each, which we have been wearing a lot over the past eight months. André was particularly happy to be sent some prescription sunglasses as his eyesight is much worse than mine and he was worried about how he would manage map reading whilst wearing his normal, non-prescription sunglasses.

Firstly I should quickly mention Optilabs customer service as it was pretty impressive. We didn’t have much time to get the glasses sorted out before we left for the trip, so Optilabs sent us out a box of different frames to try on so we could chose the ones we liked best without having to visit the shop. This was really helpful as a lot of frames are just too big for my face! The frames I ended up choosing were ‘Serengeti’ and André picked ‘Flow’.

There are a couple of differences between my glasses and André’s which I should mention. The arms on André’s glasses have adjustable rubber ends, which help stop slipping and also make them a little more comfortable. The ends can be bent to adjust the glasses arms to better fit your head. They also have adjustable nose pads, which too are rubber coated to stop slipping. My glasses do not have these features. However, there is one other small detail on André’s glasses that I really like and wish mine had – a small hole in the top corner between the lens and the frame on both sides. This is for breathability and to ensure the lenses don’t become fogged up when you are using them – which is a great feature and very useful, especially in winter when you have a scarf on.

Both of us find the glasses very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. This is a definite plus point for me as I have had sunglasses in the past which have been too heavy and hurt the bridge of my nose and have also hurt the tops of my ears. They don’t slip as you wear them and they don’t fall off easily. We also like these glasses, as although they are designed for cycling we feel comfortable wearing them while we are off the bikes and in the city. No one wants to be that guy/girl that looks ready for track racing when they are just going to the shop to buy milk.

We were lucky enough to be given the premium, Transitions Drivewear® lenses. These lenses are polarised for contrast and definition and also have a variable tint for changes in light conditions. You can really notice this when riding, as your visibility remains great even when you head into a tunnel or evening approaches, or you jump off the bike to go inside. We have ridden with them in spring, summer, autumn and winter and can say that they performed well all year round. We can also vouch for them withstanding some pretty extreme weather conditions as we have worn them throughout winter in Georgia, across the desert of Oman and whilst trekking in the Himalayas. For us we really like the fact we don’t have to change lenses, as it is just one less thing to lose or break! Also often you don’t want to stop when you are in the flow to fiddle about and change lenses.

The polarised lenses really reduce glare in a very noticeable way. Reflections from road surfaces or water (think cycling next to the sea or a lake) are cut down drastically, which helps reduce the strain on our eyes. Polarised lenses can be an issue when using electronic devices with your glasses, as the screen of your device may seem completely black with your glasses on, we were warned of this by Optilabs when they noticed we had a Garmin on our gear list. Luckily we had no issues using the garmin with our glasses, however camera LCDs on both of our cameras are not clearly visible with our glasses on. Obviously this is an issue that comes with using any polarised sunglasses.

I would happily recommend Optilabs glasses to anyone, but especially cycle tourers. They have an excellent product and great customer service – which is a winning combination in our opinion.

punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers

RAW DISCOVERY: London to Africa in 12 days

Mike Noel-Smith and his sons Will and Harry are all extremely adventurous and charitable. They are also very keen to promote family exercise and cycling. They want to put across a message that you can achieve whatever you want if you put your mind to it. And that’s exactly what they have been doing with their lives.

Recently they took on a huge challenge as they cycled from London to Tangiers, Africa over 12 days. They averaged an amazing 200 miles a day and on the last day they cycled a very impressive 308 miles. They were averaging around 16 hours in the saddle each day, with only three hours sleep each night. And all of this was in temperatures of up to 43°C!

They did it for the charity StreetInvest, which works with street children who often fend for themselves with no-one to guide them. So far they have raised a whopping £4300. You could help them reach their £5000 target. Visit www.rawdiscovery.com and donate now.

A HELPING HAND
The family managed the trip with the help of a few sponsors, one of them being sports performance eyewear specialists Optilabs. Harry needs prescription glasses but usually cycles in his reading glasses that give him no protection from the light.  They all chose the same frames – the orange Blaze with polarised Transitions Drivewear® lenses – Mike and Will had non-prescription lenses whilst Harry had custom-made prescription lenses fitted to his glasses.

Harry said: “I looked on the Internet for prescription sunglasses but not many companies make them and the couple I found that did were extremely expensive. I came across Optilabs and fortunately they were very affordable. I spoke to the owner Tony and he thought we were taking on a huge task for a worthy charity and he was very keen to sponsor us all. We love the style of the Blaze and we all think the lenses are simply fantastic. Wearing my prescription Optilabs sunglasses made the experience even more amazing. The glasses made everything enhanced, it was like cycling in a virtual world. We could even spot every single pothole in time! There was a huge variety of lighting over the Pyrenees and we could all still keep our glasses on and we didn’t need to change the lenses. Even when the sun was blazing our eyes were completely protected due to the style of the frames.”

As it was so hot during the day the boys started to ride during the evening. “One night I forgot to take my sunglasses off and I didn’t even notice!” laughs Harry, “I’ve never had prescription sunglasses before and I am totally amazed. I’m definitely hooked on Optilabs.”

ENHANCED VISION
Even those cycling wearing the Blaze sunglasses without prescription were impressed. Mike said: “I’ve mainly used eye cover just for protection from the wind. Harry needs his vision enhanced but I don’t have bad eyesight. However once I started training with the Optilabs sunglasses I couldn’t believe how much they made everything clearer. Plus we all looked so stylish. The glasses made us look like proper cyclists – they made us feel and look the part so we could deliver the goods!”

The trip certainly had difficult times. Unfortunately Mike sustained a nasty neck and arm injury after hitting a tree head-on at 22mph on day two of the challenge; the impact of which split his helmet in half and required emergency service pick up in the middle of nowhere. The team could have stopped there and then as it was a very scary experience for the two sons to see their dad in that condition, but after he was released he insisted they carried on cycling to honour all of the training they had done and all of the brave street kids they had been raising money for. Then, against all odds Mike joined his boys on the last day and completed their biggest ride yet (308 miles). The pain he was enduring was more than evident but what kept him going was the bigger picture of why they were riding – to raise money for StreetInvest and to complete something significant as a family. The way they all looked at it was a couple of weeks of discomfort could potentially prevent suffering to a street kid somewhere for the rest of their lives.

GUTS AND DETERMINATION
What’s even more amazing about the endurance trip is that none of them were previous cyclists. The furthest each of them had ridden in one go was around 12 miles! They all put the training in and were lucky to train with Olympic and World Champion Coach Bill Black. With great training and sheer guts and determination they got through the tough days and the biggest ride of their lives.

The family took on this vast adventure because they all believe no matter where you start in life, you can achieve great things but more importantly it was to help raise money for StreetInvest. Will said: “Right now the charity’s primary focus is to train adults to become trusted figures within a village for street children to turn to. They can provide the kids with security and be someone to turn to and give them hope and skills. The majority of their work is on the African continent and that’s why we decided to cycle to Africa.”

Mike and his boys are now looking for their next challenge. Mike ended by saying: “If you get the mind and body connected you can achieve so much more. Self belief is so important.”

Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery

PEDALLING FREE: Devon - New Zealand by Bike

What would make two, seemingly sane, individuals want to give up a comfortable, relaxing life in the Devonshire countryside to spend a year in the saddle cycling half way across the globe?! Good question. For James Grainger and his best mate Ashley, it was the lure of adventure and the freedom that cycling provides, the opportunity to see the world slowly, go off the ‘beaten track’ and to meet more weird and wonderful people! James wore Optilabs glasses for the entire trip and we caught up with him on his return to see how they stood up to the mammoth ride.

In March 2013 my partner and I embarked on an epic year-long cycling adventure from our home in UK to Singapore. We ended up covering a greater distance than expected and the trip continued on to New Zealand before we returned home in Spring 2014.

Aside from the bike, my Optilabs prescription sunglasses (with Ultra 2000 Drivewear lenses) were arguably the most important bit of kit that I carried. During the course of my adventure I encountered some pretty extreme weather conditions, from the freezing snow in Europe, monsoon rains in Southern China and the searing heat of Central Asia. With all that changeable weather comes wildly variable light levels and I needed a pair of sunglasses that could be relied upon in all circumstances.

I like to think that I gave the glasses a pretty thorough ‘road test’ and every time they passed with flying colours! My eyes were well protected from the glaring sunlight reflecting off the brilliant white salt lakes in the outback of Australia, whilst at the opposite end of the spectrum, my vision was equally clear cycling through dimly lit tunnels. I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. The robust build quality was equally important. I’m notoriously clumsy and they survived being dropped (on many occasions), sat on and being soaked in the gallons of sweat that poured from my brow in the tropics of South East Asia!

Whilst planning for the trip, I contacted Optilabs seeking their advice after having received recommendations from other touring cyclists. Initially I was slightly reticent about buying something as personal as prescription sunglasses on the internet. Wouldn’t there need to be numerous fittings and minor adjustments to ensure the perfect fit?! My concerns were quickly allayed, the customer service was both extremely professional and friendly and when my glasses arrived in the post I knew I’d made the correct decision! So much so that on returning to the UK, I haven’t reverted back to my pre-trip staple of contact lenses for cycling or running and have no intention of doing so!

In addition to the sunglasses, I also carried a pair of Optilabs prescription swimming goggles. They proved to be invaluable, especially when snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where glasses wouldn’t have been able to be worn underneath a snorkel mask.

James Grainger

Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free

Are you an Optilabs Ambassador?

Every year we choose a selection of people to sponsor with our eyewear and become one of our brand ambassadors. From grassroots sponsorship to people taking on incredible adventures or those totally passionate about their sport, we want to hear from you! Please contact us for more details.