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All the pieces are falling into place for Gold Coast-based eyewear company BZ Optics, as more and more cycling folk share its vision.
The young company, established in 2017, developed the world’s first bifocal sunglasses with high-impact UV activated photochromic lenses which transition from clear (Category 0) in low or no light to grey (Cat. 2) in full sun.
Capitalising on the agility that comes with having a small team, BZ Optics has built on that ground-breaking product by swiftly developing a range of cycling eyewear with reader magnification – as well as non-reader variations – to cater for a growing market.
The ever-growing popularity of mountain bikes, particularly eMTBs, the rising prevalence of e-bikes in general, and increased use of digital displays are all boosting demand among cyclists who typically needs glasses because of long or short-sightedness.
“There is a significant demographic of people who need glasses to read and, when they’re on their bikes, can’t read their Garmin,” BZ Optics co-founder and general manager Kevin Barr said.
“This group of riders had been neglected until BZ came along. The reader in the base of our lens is ideal for those who are optically challenged to read a Garmin, mobile phone, menu or to find and fix a puncture.
BZ also works with an Australian optical lab that specialises in high wrap lenses to produce its range of RX prescriptions.
Its first range, the PHO, is up to its fourth generation and offers an array of mirrored, polarising and prescription options – complemented by a growing range of alternative frame designs.
Kevin said while BZ Optics has a strong following among road riders, its mountain bike market was growing particularly quickly.
He said sharp vision is especially important when negotiating rocks, roots and other obstacles, while photochromic lenses played a vital role as trials took riders between shade and full light.
“While mountain biking tends to be more of a young person’s sport, there are a lot of riders in their 30s, 40s and above who need glasses for reading.”
Those numbers are only increasing as eMTBs, like other e-bikes, enable older cyclists to keep riding and to stay on the trails for longer.
To build on the particularly fashion-driven MTB market, BZ has developed a number of larger, chunkier models – with and without its reader lenses.
Other brands are starting to see the market’s potential and are adding readers to their range. However, BZ Optics is capitalising on its head start, its ability to respond swiftly to the market and its technical knowledge to stay ahead of the pack.
“Due to our small team – we are able to release new concepts from design to market in three to four months, while the larger brands may take two to three years to do the same,” he says.
It recently released the only high-definition photochromic eyewear with a range from Cat. 1 to Cat. 3 (around 75% darkness), as well as mirrored bifocal glasses.
“The mirrored lens are great for younger riders who don’t want it to be obvious they’re wearing bifocals. Once their one the rider’s face, no one else can tell they are readers,” Kevin said.
“In the past two months, we’ve also release a slightly smaller model, 9mm narrower, to suit female riders. We’re doing them in high definition with a reader, two mirror options and photochromic clear to dark grey.”
Kevin – a former champion surfer and one of Oakley’s original reps in Australia in the late 1980s and early 1990s – cofounded BZ Optics with avid cyclist, canoeist, sailor and triathlete Scott Birdsall.
Scott wore reading glasses and wanted cycling eyewear he could train in at all hours of the day, when enabling him to read his bike computer and the small print on his watch while running.
He approached Kevin, whose company Barz Optics had pioneered polarised sunglasses with bifocal readers for the marine industry.
Kevin had originally developed sunglass goggles for surfers to prevent pterygium, a clear growth over the eye caused by salt and UV exposure during hours in the surf.
While it cost almost $1 million to develop those googles and stop them from fogging, it put him on track to create a range of eyewear solutions for a multitude of sports.
It took 12 months searching around the world to source a photochromic lens with optional bifocal inserts.
That world-first lens was sent to Kevin’s frame manufacturer to develop an ultra-lightweight cycling frame adaptable for all face shapes and sizes. The resulting design included dual moulded non-slip temples, an adjustable non-slip nose piece and small clips to make easy to change lenses.
All its reader glasses have three magnification options: +1.50, +2.00 and +2.50.
Riders wanting more specific magnifications can choose between the company’s two prescriptions models, the RX and the Oz.
BZ Optics is now exporting to four countries, the US, NZ, Germany and, its largest export market, the UK.
Kevin said while its online sales were booming , driving overall sales growth of around 25% each year, the company was finding it difficult to get substantial infiltration into Australian stores.
“They are perfect for all types of exercise or casual wear, with plenty of options to suit all head types and uses.”
“We would prefer to sell through stores, but most of them are fronted by young guys who can’t comprehend that someone would be unable to read their Garmin,” he explained.
“If the store has a mechanic out the back who is over 50 and he comes out to have a look, he thinks our glasses are absolutely fantastic.
“Otherwise, much of our growth is driven by word of mouth. Someone will lend his BZ glasses to his riding companions and suddenly we’ve got a few new customers.”
Matt Tokley, at Woonona’s The Edge Outdoor Adventure Store, is a convert.
“I refer to them as eyewear as they are far more than just sunglasses, with bifocals, photochromic, mirror and even prescription options available for our customers. They are perfect for all types of exercise or casual wear, with plenty of options to suit all head types and uses. Not only that Kevin and Scott are easy to deal with, supportive and the business is proudly Australian owned,” Matt says.
Gill O’Malley, at Townsville’s Top Brand Cycles, has been associated with BZ Optics for four years, initially stocking its photochromic bifocal riding glasses when it saw a need for a demographic in its customer base.
Gill said their good working relationship encouraged Top Brand to expand its range in store, as BZ brought out additional models.
At around $100 for a pair of BZ Optics mirrored glasses, through to $250 for its photochromic readers, its prices are well under some of its leading competitors.
“We also have a better warranty than our competitors. We offer a two-year warranty and really look after our customers and retailers,” he said.
For more information about BZ Optics, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Kevin at (07) 5576 4365.