There have been numerous discussions in the bike blogosphere about appropriate clothing for cycling. The two extremes seem to be: bike specific clothing (think lycra, and MAMILS) and “just bike in what you normally wear”. For the city, the rules are a bit different, since wearing team kit looks a bit silly when you are commuting. One can make well reasoned arguments for just picking regular clothes that are practical for biking.
I for one am of the school of thought that high visibility is best. Underneath I’m partial to wool.
Nevertheless, there are many companies that have started to make bike oriented clothes don’t obviously look like bike clothes.There are bike clothing companies like showers pass or rapha that make jackets that don’t glow in the dark. For pants, there are a couple of companies that have started making “bike to work” pants.
“Bike to work pants” have reflective material sewn into the inside of the cuffs that are visible when you turn them up (to save the pants from getting caught in the chain). This appeals to those of us who are constantly losing our little pant clips or straps, and are willing to pay too much money to avoid a little inconvenience. AFAIK, the first company with BTW pants was Betabrand. Now Levi’s has gotten into this niche with their commuter jeans.
Over the course of the last couple of months, I have ended up with four pairs of pants that fall into this category. I thought that it would be fun to compare them.
Here is a picture of the four, from left to right in the order of acquisition: outlier climbers, Betabrand, Levi’s commuters, and Bonobos Ninja pants, showing the cuffs with flash photography to show the reflective material.
Outlier Climbers: the fact that I included these is a bit of a cheat, since the climbers don’t come with reflective material. I had the local dry cleaner sew on some reflective ribbon. Nevertheless, these are my go to pair of pants for any season that is too cold for shorts. They are made from Schoeller Dryskin fabric that has a water repellent treatment. They are good down to about -10C, but not too hot for warm weather either. They are expensive, but they are sewn in the US, if that sort of thing matters to you. Highly recommended. One note of caution: the climbers are cut very narrow. This has the advantage that the cuffs will not get caught in the chain, but these are not for you if you have sprinter’s thighs. Outlier makes wider pants as well, but you’ll have to turn up those cuffs when you ride.
I haven’t ridden much in the other three pairs of pants since it is starting to feel like winter around here.
Betabrand bike to work pants: These are the original pants in this category. The blue grid material is also reflective, and the back pockets are also lined with the same material, so you can turn them inside out and let them hang out at night if you want. Otherwise, they are just like regular pants. I find that they don’t fit that well, but this could be because they only have even waist sizes. BTW Betabrand’s customer service is excellent. The pants are sewn in San Francisco.
The Levi’s commuters were a birthday gift. The website says that they are cut the same as 511’s, which means in practice that they are very skinny. The jeans are cut from stretch denim, so that the tight fit doesn’t bother me when I ride. They are have the same Nanosphere water repellent treatment as the climbers. Here we see drops of water on the climbers (left) and the Levi’s. In practice, the climbers start soaking through after about 15 minutes in light rain. I haven’t ridden with the Levi’s in rain yet. I will note that the Nanosphere coating needs to be refreshed every once in a while by throwing the pants into the dryer, whereas I was told not to put the jeans in the dryer. The other odd thing about the jeans is that one of the pockets appears to have a waterproof lining. Perhaps this is to protect a cell phone from sweat? I’ll also note that the other non-jean commuter pants are cut quite differently from the jeans, and they are a thicker, non-stretch material. To complicate things further, there were some pants with a stash pocket in the small of the back, and some without, and this also affected the fit. This line of pants is definitely something you have to try before you buy. They are sewn offshore.
The final pair is a very late entrant to the party: the Bonobos Ninjas (no longer made). I bought these because I like Bonobo’s pants in general. Unfortunately, they have changed their shipping policies, and it
now costs an arm and a leg to ship to Canada (they have fixed this). They used to produce their clothes in the US, but it is mostly China now. Ironically, their suiting seems to come from Montreal.
Update: (Jan 31, 2012) it was a slushy bike ride into work today, and water beads right up on my new Outlier Slim Dungarees. The fabric is a little heavier than the climbers and a little less stretchy, but it looks like it will be very durable. They are also cut a little wider in the thigh than the climbers, but the leg opening is still narrow enough that I don’t have to roll up the cuff to go biking.
Update (March 2013): the Levi’s commuters come in a wider 505 cut now. I review them here.