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Review: Levi’s 511 Commuter Jeans

A couple months back, one of our PR friends offered to send us a courtesy pair of Levi’s newly-announced 511 “skinny” commuter jeans. Being that I’m of the narrowish nature, the boys in California decided that I should be the one to try them out. I received a pair in the “chinchilla” color (they’re also available in indigo). I’ve ridden in them for a number of bike adventures and am ready to share my thoughts…read along.

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First, a bit from Levi’s website description:

Overview
Stretch fabric provides mobility and comfort;
water-repellent NanoSphere® nanotechnology and antimicrobial Sanitized® technology
Utility waistband specifically designed for U-lock storage;
higher back rise offers more coverage
3M™ Scotchlite™ reflective tape on interior cuffs provides the visibility of 500 candles
Reinforced belt loops, double-layer back pockets, and seat
Twill, 98% Cotton, 2% Elastane, 9.8 oz. – Imported

Fit & Sizing
Skinny Fit Sits below waist, 10 1/8” front rise
Skinny, 14 3/4″ leg opening
Measurements are based on a size 32W x 32L

These jeans are packed with features. The folks at Levi’s really did their homework in terms of the types of features bicycle commuters might want on a pair of pants that could go straight from the bike and into the office. The execution of some of those features, however, have me scratching my head. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The fit of the Levi’s 511 jeans is quite snug, but the little bit of stretch built into the fabric makes quite a difference. I never felt like the snugness hampered my movements. Some folks have questioned whether Levi’s addressed the inner crotch seam — and wonder how anyone can ride a bike with that seam pressing into one’s “tender bits”. The seam is still there, but I didn’t unduly notice it…but I’m pretty sure these jeans wouldn’t be my first clothing choice for a really long ride. As a concession to movement, Levi’s gusseted the crotch area for a bit extra room down below, and that helps with on-bike comfort (diagonal stitching in the photo below):

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A really nice feature of the fabric is its stain-and moisture-repellency. As we all know, the odd rain shower or chain grease stain doesn’t do well for our appearance once we arrive at our destinations, and the “nanosphere tech” on these jeans seems to do a reasonable job of keeping water and stains at bay. Don’t believe me? Check out the coverage of the Levi’s rollout party in San Francisco, as reported by the dashing Stevil Kinevil of All Hail the Black Market…folks getting stoopid, pouring beer on one another and marveling as it beads up and rolls away.

The feel of the jean fabric is one of toughness. Despite the stretch, these jeans feel durable. Of course Levi’s is known for their tough stitching and reinforcement of pocket corners, belt loops and other high-stress areas, and they didn’t skimp on the 511s. Another plus of the fabric is that it stays relatively wrinkle-free and looks “crisp” even after repeated wearing.

Let’s talk about some of the built-in features. First, the reflective cuffs: Levi’s stitched two strips of 3M Scotchlite reflective tape onto the inner leg seams of the jeans. Simply roll them up a few inches (my jeans had a bit of excessive length, as my legs are short), and that reflective tape is revealed for the world to see. It’s a nice touch, but I question the placement of the tape on the sides rather than the back of the leg. Think about this…when you’re riding at night, you really want those car headlights to illuminate you from pretty far back. And, the rhythmic bobbing up-and-down motion of a reflector as one pedals really catches motorists’ attention (that’s why pedal reflectors are so useful). On these jeans, I’m afraid that the side strips of tape simply don’t catch the light at the right angle. Yes, side visibility is important too, and we all know that sometimes such visibility is lacking in our choices of front and rear lights and bike-mounted reflectives pointing behind us. I’d like to see more reflective fabric incorporated in the Levi’s jeans — in particular, a band that goes all the way around the leg the way Betabrand’s “Bike To Work” pants do.

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The waistband of the 511 jeans has a built-in U-lock holster (sized for a Kryptonite Evolution Mini or other brands’ equivalent). The holster is situated right above the back pocket so that the U-end of the lock slips right in. That’s a nice feature if you’re not carrying a bag or other means of toting a lock around. Here’s the funny thing, though: that holster is along the same plane as the belt loops, so if you’re wearing a belt, the holster is covered. Of course, you can use your belt as a holster in that case. Maybe folks don’t wear belts these days…in any case, the holster is a neat if rather curious addition.

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Sewn into the right front pocket is a divider, ostensibly to protect your cellphone from scratches and dings. However, the combination of the snug fit of the jeans, the smallish pocket openings, and my giant hands conspired to keep me from using that divider successfully — the inner pocket created by the divider served as a “black hole” where change and small items hid. I just about had to take the jeans off to fish anything out of there! I’ve seen other jeans and pants with discrete (and completely separate) cellphone pockets, and such a pocket may be useful on a future version of these jeans.

Now, let’s talk about something — as these are created as and billed as “commuter jeans”, able to go from the bike to the workplace, I wonder what sort of workplace Levi’s has in mind? Despite the office-friendly color and the crisp-looking fabric, these still look like jeans. You won’t be fooling anyone into thinking you’re wearing snug chinos, in other words. I don’t know about you, but MY workplace frowns on jeans except on casual Fridays. In my mind, jeans should be jean-colored, and office chinos should, well, look the part by being a neutral color and having a more traditional chino cut. Perhaps I am not the demographic Levi’s intended for these jeans…I know a lot of other workplaces in the “creative class” industries have a more casual dress code, and perhaps these jeans are better suited for day-to-day wear for some of them.

The 511 Commuter jeans retail for $78. That’s a bit more pricey than a lot of we frugal commuters are comfortable with, but the built-in features and the attention to detail drives the price up a bit. I have no qualms paying that kind of money for well-made and durable jeans, but my personal feeling is that I wish these were a bit more flexible in terms of “look”…something that bridges the gap between jeans and office chinos style-wise.

I think Levi’s is on the right track with the features and fabric of the 511 jeans, and I hope that in the future they broaden their offerings to cover more commuter scenarios. I also hope that they figure out a way to make the features more useful, particularly the reflective tape in the cuffs. For now, Levi’s offers 4 pieces in their “commuter wear” line. Something less jeany and more chino-y would be a fine addition to this line. If you’re looking for a tough and durable pair of jeans that you can actually ride in, these might be up your alley.

My wife does say that these jeans make my butt look nice, and to me, that’s worth every penny!

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Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Chrome Vanya Riding Knicker Review – Will Bike for Pants!

Aloha Bike Commuters… I’m all cappuccino’d up and ready to roll!  Today’s feature, everyone’s favorite two-legged entity: PANTS!  In particular, a review of the Chrome Vanya Riding Knicker – knicker makes me snicker…!  If you remember our earlier article, I mentioned that we received these women’s riding snickers about two months ago from the sunny drain bamaged Chrome folks out of San Francisco.  (I jest – SF BC.com readers, I too hail from the land of sunshine-crack California).

Pants - as interpreted by The Oatmeal

The DL: My fave commuter-to-office-to-pau-hana PANTS!  I have done daily rides, night rides, long hot sunny rides (not my favorite for the Vanya) and morning commutes.  I love the pockets, capri-length, fit, wicking, easy washable and durable material and the transformation to business casual with heels.  Only gripe is the crotch panel gets swampy with our humid weather, even if I go commando!  I do appreciate the panel nonetheless, since you don’t have to sit on a hefty seam during your ride.  The only thing hefty about the Chrome Vanya is the price tag at $120.

The headless rider modeling Chrome Vanya snickers in BlueSteel: no rolling the cuff necessary for bike mounting!

The Tech Specs:

Weight: 1.0 lb.

Fabric: Everest 4-way stretch performance fabric

Product Source: Oakland, CA, USA

Features:

  • Everest 4 way stretch performance fabric
  • Classic 4 pocket configuration
  • Zip-secured side cargo pocket
  • New sizing runs true to size: XS (Size 0-2), S (Size 4-6), M (Size 8-10), L (Size 10-12)
  • See “Size Chart” link for exact measurements

The riding snickers come in both Charcoal and BlueSteel (not to be confused with Derek Zoolander’s”Blue Steel”.)

Full Frontal of Little Miss Vanya... a.k.a. "Pants"

Me Likey: I have just been putting them to the test for 15 minute lunch errands to the Zach Manago Ride in Paradise.  The pants are versatile enough to work for anytime short or long-range commutes if the temperature is not too hot.  Good in the summer rains too, the Vanya snickers don’t give a shiz about rain or mud – the stuff wicks well, and bike grease comes off easy in the wash!  Plus, you don’t look like a spando weirdo rolling into a bar or restaurant after work – no clothes change necessary from commuter to socialite… (uhhh, does that qualify for cycle chic!?)  The pants have a good amount of stretch and a solid fit with no butt crack revelations along the way! Everyone at my work loves them too; they are jealous of them as regular office pants, and double jealous when they found out they are bike-friendly.  Last but not least, the pants were most comfy while biking around Lake Tahoe for a family vacay: perfect length and material for dry sunny afternoons transitioning to crisp, cold evenings.

Chrome Vanya women's pants fared best in Lake Tahoe summer weather!

That’s right folks, theses pants are SO amazing, I would bike a charity century ride around Oahu and puke tons of HEED electrolyte drinks if the reward at the end was a pair of Chrome Vanya Riding Knickers instead of a dri-fit commemorative tee.

Back it up: two patch pockets reinforced with red stitching!

Me NO Likey: The gripes about the Vanya are few and far between: namely that they are too warm for extra hot days and on the pricey side!  When I rode them on long rides in bajillion percent humidity at 12pm in Honolulu, I got so hot that my shins were sweating!  I rolled them up past the knee and toughed it out… but all in all, I should have opted for spandex in the first place.  Also, me NO likey the price tag on the snickers, at 120 bones, I would much rather buy a separate pair of bike pants and work pants.  (Then again, this is coming from the person who shops at the Goodwill and my sister’s closet).

Red mesh pockets = minimizing sweaty upper thigh: Note my pockets are empty...

Pants Recap: Thank you, Chrome, for making a stylish, versatile, durable, and stretchy cladding for my lower half!  My former Vanya-less pantsless self (imagine me standing on a median, with a cardboard sign saying “Will Bike for Pants”)  could never have imagined a better fit!  I will definitely wear these guys into the ground on and off the bike!  All you Cycle Ladies in search of a nice urban commuter pants option, check out the Chrome Vanya if you have mad cash money to spare.

AMENDMENT!!! After some skepticism from the general public that the Vanya can do a heels pants transformation megatron, I have decided to post this photo that I cajoled a camera-owning friend of mine to take!  In Honolulu, the capri or cropped pants and heels look totally passes for business casual!  Check it peeps:

Chrome Vanya gets down to business with a red top and black summer heels: YOU CAN DO IT!

Interbike 2010: Club Ride Clothing

As many of you know, “cycle chic” is gaining traction…heck, even the New York Times published another in a handful of articles about the movement.

So, we were pleased to meet Mike from Club Ride Apparel on the show floor at Interbike 2010. I’m a huge fan of the western look, so many of the items on display in Club Ride’s booth were right up my alley. The best thing about this line of apparel is that it looks great but also offers a host of high-tech performance features (fabrics, moisture management, venting, etc.) that are built in. Take a look for yourself in this video we shot for our sister site Mtnbikeriders.com:

Review: Faction Cycling’s Metro Flatlander Jersey

A couple months back, Hector from Faction Cycling Co. sent us a jersey to test out. All of their jerseys are made in the U.S.A. and the company is based in Chicago, where folks know a thing or two about living with two wheels.

Flatlander

Here’s a bit about the jersey from Faction Cycling’s website:
• 100% Polyester Micro Denier Yarn
• Comfort Fit Design
• Pocket-less Construction
• 3/4-length Invisible Zipper
• Made in the U S of A

Faction Cycling describes the jersey as “Club Cut”, and while it is roomier than a race-cut jersey, it’s not quite as roomy as other club-cut jerseys I’ve tried. I give that a thumbs-up — I don’t like excess fabric flapping in the breeze — but others looking for more room may want to try a size up.

You may have noticed in the above description that there are no pockets. Faction says:

Since we were already packing all our junk in a bag, we ordered up a club cut jersey, and said hold the pockets. We kept the rest of what we liked in a standard jersey and lived comfortably ever after.

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It’s true that many (most?) commuters and other cyclists carry a saddlebag to hold their goodies while riding, so it would seem that going pocketless is a good thing. In practice, though, I actually missed the pockets that I’ve become accustomed to having…my saddlebag isn’t that big, and I often carry a couple of extra C02 cartridges, my cellphone and snacks in jersey pockets. If you’ve got a bigger bag (saddle- or handlebar-bag) or routinely carry a messenger bag or backpack, you won’t miss the pockets as much as I did.

The detailing of the Flatlander jersey is subtle…thin white stripes against a charcoal grey background, with only a small company logo on one sleeve and a small Municipal Flag of Chicago adorning the left breast (Windy City represent!). It doesn’t scream “LOOK AT ME!” the way many other cycling jerseys tend to and as such fits the needs of commuters who want to keep a bit lower profile out on the roads. And, it doesn’t look out of place with other clothing…you want to wear a pair of regular shorts or jeans with it? Go ahead: the neutral color and subtle ornamentation won’t clash with “street clothes”.

The fabric is of top-quality…all of the features (durable, moisture-wicking) one might expect of a cycling-specific garment. Construction is top-notch, too; the stitching is great and there are no odd puckers in the jersey. A 3/4-length zipper lets you ventilate as needed on hot days.

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Overall, I think this is a great jersey — with a price of $75, it is in keeping with other brands’ jerseys and it’s refreshing to see a U.S. made product. If you really need pockets, you’re in luck: Faction Cycling makes a few jerseys with traditional pockets as well. Check out their site for other jerseys, caps and cool t-shirts.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.