As utility cycling (as opposed to leisure cycling) becomes more popular, more and more clothing manufacturers have started to tap into this market with cycle-specific clothing lines, offering functionality with style. When choosing to take the bike to meet up with friends, run errands around town, or commute to work, it’s nice to not have to change from your bike gear to your normal clothes, but even nicer to have your normal clothes offer all the benefits of your bike gear.
Levi’s was the first major manufacturer that I was aware of to do this (edit: I guess major manufacturer is still technically true, but there were others who were on to this as well). A few years ago, the denim giant started their Commuter line. Here are the jeans in action:
I’ve had a pair for about six months now, and this is how the features stacked up for me:
Stretchy fabric. Works like a charm. They look like jeans, but have a surprising amount of stretch. This is probably the most important features for bike friendly trousers. Freedom of movement is key, and although these are skinny, they’re not at all restrictive. They feel great on the bike even when you start to wok up a bit of a sweat.
Skinny for a reason. Granted, any pair of skinny jeans will keep the right leg out of the chain. I’m not really a skinny jeans kind of guy, but it’s worth the practicality in this case. Skinny and not stretchy would be terrible for cycling – I don’t know how hipsters do it…
Odour control. Haven’t noticed, but then my other jeans don’t stink either.
U-lock storage in the belt loop. This isn’t something I use, but if you use a mini U-lock and don’t want to have a bag on your back to carry it in (or have it attached to your bike, which I don’t like), this would be a good feature.
The first pair I had were black chinos (for work at the time), and after about 5 rides I noticed that they were wearing out in the seat pretty badly. The good folks at the Realstore took them back and ordered me a new pair (didn’t have my size at the time). I opted for the 511 jeans instead because a) I didn’t need black anymore, and b) they were jeans, so a tougher material than chinos. I’ve had these for probably 6 months now and have used them quite consistently. They haven’t worn away like the chinos, but, unfortunately, they did start showing signs of wearing after about 2-3 months and now, although still not nearly as bad as the chinos were, they are wearing more than I think a pairs of cycle-specific jeans should. Or any pair of jeans. I’m comparing this to the other jeans that I currently own which have seen equal amounts of action on the bike, as well as all the other trousers/shorts I’ve worn over the last 10 years of commuting by bike – none of which have shown any signs of wearing. I would that suspect that this is due to the stretchy content in the denim, making them softer than regular denim, but then Lycra shorts don’t wear like this either, and I would think that jeans, stretchy or not, would be tougher than Lycra. In any case, this is the one area where I am a bit disappointed. None of the saddles I have used them with have any harsh material on them. I hope to be able to compare this to other trousers from different brands, or another pair from Levi’s.
High-backed. Yep. No plumber’s crack here.
Reflective tape on the seam inside the lower leg. This is pretty standard now among trousers of this type but it’s a great idea. It’s not super reflective, but it’s better than nothing.
Water resistant. They are water resistant. They aren’t very water resistant. It doesn’t take more then a few minutes of light rain to start to work into them, but, again, they’re better than normal trousers. The extra bonus is that this treatment also makes them pretty stain resistant.
Final impressions. Disappointed as I am with the wear in the backside, these have been the best pair of jeans I’ve ever worn on the bike. Comfortable and good looking on and off the bike, with a host of useful cycling-specific features. The way they are cut for riding means that the knees and butt are slightly bunchy when not on the bike, but only slightly. Maybe that’s just me. Would I buy them again? I think so, but if the next pair wears out like this one, I’d probably try a different brand the next time around.