Sunday, 17 November 2013

Levi's "Commuter" Jeans Review

Recently, Levi's came out with a pattern of jeans specifically made for commuter cycling. The "commuter" has the following attributes:

3M Scotchlite reflective fabric tape on cuffs for increased visibility in the dark.
NanoSphere treatment for water- and dirt-resistance.
Sanitized tech, an anti-microbial coating, for protection against odor.
A raised back for increased butt coverage.
A reinforced crotch.
Double layered back pockets.
A U-lock storage system.
Hidden cellphone pocket.

I've been toying with buying a pair of these "commuter" jeans, but the review at started to give me second thoughts. When I looked at the product critically, I have a few more issues to add into the mix.

The raised back is, in my view, a good feature. It's there for the same reason motorcycle jackets and pants have increased coverage at the back - in both motorcycling and cycling, the riding position is one in which we're bent over, so we are more exposed in that area without it.

The reinforced crotch is also there for obvious reasons of increased wear and tear. Not sure about the reinforced back pockets or the hidden cellphone pocket, but as I see it, they don't detract from the product, so why not.

But in terms of the other features, I have no idea what kind of cyclists Levi's spoke with in the planning stages of this product, but in my view, Levi's should have consulted more all-weather commuter cyclists. Then they might have learned a lot more about the realities and the requirements of cyclists. For example:

1. Why did they choose to avoid wool?. I'm a big advocate for wool for cycling (I think with good reason), and as I see it, making the jeans from a nice comfort-oriented Merino wool blend would remove the requirement for both the water-repellant and the anti-microbial coatings, because wool retains its warmth and comfort even when wet AND the lanolin in the fibers repels water, resists microbes and prevents smell. Also, wool naturally breathes well and moderates temperature in both hot and cold conditions. Levi's have been experimenting with wool jeans, so it's a little frustrating that they haven't seen the possibilities of wool in terms of cycling.

2. Levi's should have kept the leg opening the same as regular 511s. Unfortunately, because Levi's widened the leg opening from the standard 511 width of 14 1/2 inches to an opening of 16 inches, it forces cyclists who wear these jeans to either use bike clips or roll up the jeans above the level of the chainring. If the leg opening was a proper 511 width of 14 1/2", neither of these would be necessary. I wear regular 511s to commute on my bike and in my experience, you simply don't need to roll them up: because they hug the calf, they stay about an inch away from my chainring. I don't know why Levi's made the decision to widen the leg openings on these jeans from the regular 511 size - it seems to me to ruin the biggest advantage of 511s when cycling - i.e. not needing to roll them up above the level of the chainring.

3. If Levis are going to include a bike lock attachment feature, I think it should be easily accessible, either on the thigh or on the side. Placing it on the back makes it difficult to access. I dunno - I just think there ought to be a better place for it.

As things stand, the only reason I might be tempted to buy these jeans is for the higher rise in the rear of the jeans. This is not enough for me, given the drawbacks of poor design elsewhere and the high price. Hopefully, someone influential at Levi's will see the negative reviews and institute changes, because with a few tweaks these could become a good product that every cyclist might benefit from owning.


  1. Not sure what you mean by reinforced crotch, but back on Long Island when I first started riding all over the place, I developed a badly inflamed testicle. My doctor said it was from the pronounced seam on the blue jeans cutoffs I was wearing on my bicycle and he recommended I buy myself some cycling shorts. That's when I bought my first pair of Protogs--not to look like a racer wannabe, but on the advice of my doctor. The idea of "reinforced" seams in those....delicate areas....worries me, but I suppose if they are purpose built for cycling, they won't have elevated seams.

  2. I haven't been able to find Levi's jeans in a size that would fit me well in years, but, to be honest, I haven't looked very hard. I wore Wrangler carpenter jeans as my de facto uniform trousers (extra room in the seat and thighs) for some years before switching to kilts, which outlast jeans by orders of magnitude greater than the price difference (Utilikilt Workmans model, for example, that outlasted several pairs of jeans at a time). I haven't bought jeans in six or seven years, and am down to my last three pairs from when I kept six or seven pair in service.

    Yes, I can even wear a kilt while riding a bicycle, without answering "the question."

    Just not on my recumbent bikes--the pleats interfere with my underseat steering control.

    I agree with your comments regarding wool--although I suspect that Levi's would have decided that it would really price the product out of the market.

    That lock loop does look a bit goofy. One of my commuters has a frame-mounted lock (Euro style FTW), another is my Big Dummy (heavy, hard to steal and "move" after the theft), a third is an old Raleigh 3-speed (who but a geek like me would want one of those?).

  3. Oh man! I wish I had an old Raleigh 3-speed. I went through a love affair with those a couple of years ago, but all the ones on eBay and Craigslist were well out of my price range at the time. Of course, if I got one, it would probably just sit unused in the basement, like my lovely old red '73 Raleigh Grand Prix.

  4. $48 for the jeans doesn't sound unreasonable.

  5. Not to turn you green with envy, but my Raleigh is a '74 Superbe, complete with the rear rack, DynoHub, headlight and taillight. The wiring for the lights works, but I haven't gotten bulbs. The Dyno puts out the same power as modern ones, so I rigged a modern LED headlight.

    My bike even had the locking fork feature, but someone cut the bolt. I can get a key for the lock, but it doesn't lock any more.

    After twenty years riding recumbent bicycles, I have learned to deal with a little extra attention. My utility kilts don't seem to draw much attention, but it could be that I look too surly for folks to say much.

  6. I think they widened the leg opening so that you can roll up the jeans to right under the knee. I agree with you they shouldn't have.

  7. Everything they did makes pretty decent sense. The leg opening was increased so that you could roll the jeans up (also could be to provide a bit more room, as cyclists typically have bigger calves). The u-lock is in the rear, where most people would stash their u-lock, nothing groundbreaking there. They avoided wool because they wanted to make a price-point, and they are a denim company. If you want a 200 dollar pair of jeans, buy some from rapha.

  8. I know this is a year old but call it long-term perspective: the nanosphere coating on mine lasted all of three rainy rides. I bought it together with the trucker jacket (the black one) which has been amazing and remains reasonably waterproof to this day but the jeans just turned into a slightly comfier pair of regular 511s after a couple months.

    I suppose it depends on body type and fitment but whenever I've worn through the crotch on a pair of jeans by riding it's always been in the groinal area where the jeans rub the saddle while you pedal rather than on the part where these had the reinforcement (they're reinforced for vigorously grinding your taint on things I guess). Regardless, the knees gave out first and they've since been transformed into jorts.

  9. Great update. I think it's essential to have the perspective of someone who has had a lot of experience with a product. Thanks!

  10. Ive notice many are unaware and disappointed with the durability and longevity of the Nanosphere infusion on the jeans but after you wash it you must iron the pants in order to fully reactivate the effectiveness of the repellent