Back in the summer I wrote a post on a huge window display Levi's featured in one of their New York City stores. The goal was to promote a new commuter line of clothing. In the post I invited readers who owned any of the products to comment and welcomed Levi's to send along any products for a Bike Hacks review. Levi's has been silent, but reader Nick left a comment and I followed up with him.
Nick generously agreed to write a review of the pants he purchased and he sent along the phenomenal content below. All text and pictures are credited to Nick. I hope someone at Levi's recognizes the value of a quality product review and takes Nick up on his offer to test any new pairs the company tries to market. Nick also runs a great personal blog under his own name so check it out.
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I ride bikes and I love it. I wear cycling shorts and jerseys when I'm training, racing, or even just out for a spirited ride, but when it comes to just riding around or a trip to the store, spandex just
doesn't do it for me.
There are some issues though--riding a bike is not like driving a car--you are out in the elements and sometimes you arrive a bit sweaty. One solution is tech fabrics and bike-specific clothing, but that generally locks you into looking a tad on the dorky-side. That's why I was so excited when Brad Q. from Urban Velo told me (and the rest of the Bike Pittsburgh message board) about the latest offering from denim giant, Levi's, specifically designed for cyclists.
The Levi's 511 Commuter Jean is advertised as, "Designed for the commuting cyclist and detailed with multiple high-performance features, our new 511™ Commuter Jean combines form and function." From bike-friendly features like 3M Scotchlite reflective fabric for increased visibility in the dark, NanoSphere treatment for water- and dirt-resistance, and Sanitized tech, an anti-microbial coating, for protection against odor. Add in a little stretch for comfortable movement, a raised back to keep your lower rear to keep from mooning the people behind you in traffic, a reinforced crotch, double layered back pockets, and a U-lock storage system.
On paper they sound perfect--so, once I saw they were available, I ordered a pair.
Well, a lot seems good on paper. Right away, a few things bothered me about my 511 commuter jeans.
First, the reflective piping runs inside, along the outer leg seam for 9". For me, with my pant leg(s) rolled up on the bike, the 9" is about 3" too little. In addition, as everyone who rides at night knows, side-visibility is only part of it. What about the front and rear? The 3M reflective piping is visible from the rear, but reflective flaps that fold out of the pockets would have been great, as I know another clothing company does this.
Secondly, the U-lock storage system--it is a double layered strap on the left rear, underneath where your belt would be, between the belt loops. It's a nice concept, but in practice it's useless to me. Part of it is that I am right handed and I can't even get my lock in the strap with my left hand. Secondly, it is kind of redundant because one could just as easily slide the lock under their belt (I'm a strong believer that if there is belt loops, you should be wearing a belt). Personally I'd rather see some roe reflective piping in exchange for this U-lock accommodating.
My last problem with these jeans is what Levi's describes as a hidden cell phone pocket. It sounds fancy, but it's nothing more than a smaller pocket inside of the front right pocket. The issue for me is I put my phone in my left pocket, and the inner pocket often catches my wallet and prohibits it from entering my right pocket fully.
Furthermore, I think this is another redundant feature because the existing depth of both pockets keeps a phone from falling out, and the slim cut of the jeans keep it from moving around excessively.
As for the anti-microbial treatment, it seems to work fine for me. I'm not a particularly smelly guy--I usually don't wash my regular jeans for weeks or months at a time (which is a long time for someone who spends as much time pedaling a bike or in a garage as much as me).
Now the water repellent coating is what really got me interested. I ride bicycles (and motorcycles) mostly for transportation--that means I sometimes get wet. Rain pants are one solution, but I would rather not carry them around, and I find them too warm in the summer. I am very familiar with rain repellents from camping and my job [which includes sales and testing of chemical water repellents for automotive fabrics], and I kind of went into this with hope for a miracle.
The water repellant treatment on the jeans doesn't turn them into water beading magic pants (like Levi's advertising suggests), but it does exactly what it should--it resists as much water as possible while keeping the fabric breathable, and keeps water from being absorbed deep into the fibers of the fabric. The jeans will bead off light water, but more than that, they seem like regular jeans. The big difference is in drying time. Since the denim is resisting absorbing water at the fiber level, these 511's dry much faster than regular denim.
Interestingly, the Mountain Bike Tales review depicts rear zipper storage, but mine don't have that, and I have never seen that before. Maybe it was an early feature they killed off, but I wish mine had them.
I have been a fan of Levi's 511 skinny jean for a while, and I have a few pairs. Though the commuter is a 511 fit they do seem a bit looser than my other 511's. The leg openings on my size 32x30 511 commuter jeans (made in Columbia) are 16", on my size 32x30 511 RIGID jeans (made in Mexico) they measure 14.5", and on a pair of grey (made in Mexico) size 31x30 511's [that fit the same as the other 32x30s] the leg openings are 15.5". (All these jeans have only been hand washed and line dried). The Levi's website says that the leg opening for all of these should be 14.5" for size 32x32.
An associate at the local Levi's Outlet store told me this inconsistency could be just because of which factory they are made, as it's not uncommon for variance in measurements for identical sizes.
At $78, this is the most expensive pair of jeans I own--to be honest, when I first heard of them, the price turned me off. With that said, I think the price is fair. It's only $20 more than the retail on their standard 511 skinny jeans, and for that 20-bucks, you get some practical features. Additionally, if you compare the price to other jeans designed for cycling, the are the lowest price option. Plus, the price is comparable to a quality pair of pants in a tech fabric.
I haven't commuter by bike in two years, but I do a fair amount of urban riding. If I had a commute where I was changing when I got to work anyhow, these probably wouldn't be my choice of leg coverings. If I worked at a hip company that was fine with jeans as work wear, these would fit the bill well.
With that said, for how I ride, where I ride, and how I like to dress, I am happy with them.
Do I wish they were cheaper? Of course.
Now, would I buy another pair? Probably. In fact, I think I am going to buy a pair of the khaki ones soon. Do I hope someone at Levi's reads this, designs a MK2 commuter jean, and sends me a pair to review? Definitely.