Well beer commercials notwithstanding, skinny jeans for men are becoming all the rage these days. Levi’s, one of our absolute favorite brands in street clothing, is spearheading the movement by offering three specific styles (the 511, 510 and the ultimate hip-huggers, the Ex-Girlfriend) to entice men into adopting the skinny denim way.
So what does anything have to do with cycling you wonder? Well that’s what we would have thought too until a pair of Levi’s 511 Commuters showed up to our office. Believe it or not, the brand that’s been slinging denim since the mid 1800’s has decided to venture into cycling wear and when it comes to checking out the gear that combines function with style, the MBT test crew are ready, willing and able.
As stated above, the new Commuters are based on the 511 jean of the company’s casual line, which happens to be the “loosest” of the three men’s skinny jeans offered. Yes they share such features as below-the waist fit and a 14.75” leg opening but the Commuter offers up quite a few unique features as well. Among these, stretchy fabric construction to offer some give associated with the up and down motion of pedaling, a utility waistband with a loop/ back pocket designed for carrying your bike lock, a higher back section (with zippered storage) because mooning the riders behind you is never good trail manners, an interior cuff with 3M Scotchlite reflective material, antimicrobial treatment to resist odor, reinforced seams, and finally Nanosphere Technology to make the fabric resistant to water and mud.
We received a pair of 30/ 32 (30-inch waist/ 32-inch length) in the color Rigid (dark gray). The MSRP on our tag states $78. We took them out to the perpetually muddy trails of WNY for two weeks of testing and here’s what we found.
Yes we realize that the aim of skinny jeans is to be, well, skinny in fit but even still you may want to consider ordering your Commuters a few sizes larger (especially in the waist measurement) than you would casual jeans. Even our thinnest of testers struggled to get the 511s fastened. Much of this is attributed to the simple fact that the pants don’t wear like normal jeans but rather are designed to sit below the hips (hence the extra high back).
Once on, the Commuter feels as though it’s not going to offer much in the way of flexibility but these concerns will dissipate after only a few moments in the saddle. Surprisingly enough, the stiff feeling material offers the right amount of extension in the thigh region to allow for hard pedaling efforts both in and out of the saddle.
The leg-hugging fit does take some getting used to, undeniably, and the nature of skinny jeans is that they aren’t for everyone. Some of our testers appreciated the fact that the lack of flapping pant material freed them up from potential snags on both trail foliage or the bike itself. Others could never come to terms with the lack of breathing room.
Kneepad wearers found that the only way to slip their pads on was over the 511s. And because of the stiff nature of the material, bunching up was never an issue in doing so.
About the best news is we took these things through roots, ruts, rocks and chop but never lost our pants! Years ago BMX and freeride posters often depicted riders, in mid-flight, with pants sagging low so that skivvies were hanging out. The Levi’s 511 can single-handedly put this trend to an end (and not a moment too soon).
Odds and Ends
The dirt, dust and water repelling capabilities of these pants are truly impressive! They make the perfect choice for rides that will likely end at your favorite taco joint as they transition from trail to society usage perfectly and without the fear of restaurant patrons looking at filthy pants in disgust.
Breathe-ability isn't this products strong suit so cooler climate use is its forte. Even still odor resistance to sweat/ dampness is stellar. Finally major props are due to the pants' flesh protecting abilities. Scratching from thorns, scraggly brush, even friction burn (crash damage) were dramatically reduced in the 511s.
We realize that hardcore mountain biking isn’t what Levi’s has in mind with the Commuter pant but by no means does this mean they can’t be pressed into service on even the toughest trails. They proved especially useful on rides that integrated into society without the luxury of a change of clothing. They’re also pretty darn invaluable in blazing overgrown trails, dirt jumping, and cool weather riding.
We would be thrilled if Levi’s would take the specific needs of mountain bikers into consideration by offering a genuine “baggy” option. In the mean time, skinny jeans may be tight, but they’re a whole heck of lot freer and far less revealing than Lycra!