test ride: levi’s 511 skinny commuter jeans

photos: velojoy

I purchased a pair of Levi’s 511 Skinny (their words, not mine) Commuter jeans for cyclists during the sweltering week in July when they hit the New York City market — and promptly and put them away for fall. Now that cooler temperatures have settled in, I’ve been wearing my new jeans to ride my bike around town for a month and can report on their fit and features.

First, I didn’t set out to buy these. They’re guys’ jeans, based on the Levi’s brand’s most popular skinny style, and under ordinary circumstances, I wouldn’t even have tried them on. However, “just looking” turned into a trip to the dressing room when I ran my hands over neat stacks of folded denim at the bike shop. In the Levi’s press announcement I’d read that the fabric is treated to resist water, repel dirt and protect against odors, so I expected stiffness. But the denim had a nice hand and weight. When I held a pair up for a better view, the cut looked promising. A touch of stretch not only promised comfort and mobility, but also offered a fit that a girl — this girl, anyway — could appreciate. Sold.

My only question is: When will Levi’s introduce a women’s version?

A number of cycling-specific apparel makers offer high-quality men’s cycling jeans with special features — Rapha and Osloh come to mind. However, it’s a noteworthy indicator of city cycling’s growing popularity that a mass-market giant like Levi’s has recognized and embraced a market in urban cycling, and appropriated many of the features favored by the urban fixed-gear set. Among the most visible of these is a reinforced strip of fabric (below) on the rear waistband that holds a U-lock:

all photos: velojoy

“We knew that our jeans were already being worn by urban cyclists across the country,” said Erik Joule, Levi’s senior vice president of men’s merchandising. “We listened to what they wanted and created a product with performance traits for biking that also functions as daily street wear.”

Levi’s packs a lot of utility, durability and safety features into the Commuter line, which also includes cropped pants, non-denim pants and a Trucker Jacket. Here are some that I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve given my jeans a shake-down ride:

    • Cut: The waistband rises slightly higher in the back. This eliminates swaths of exposed skin or, worse for girls, whale’s tail.
    • Fabric: Levi’s notes that its brand was the first to incorporate Nanosphere® treatment by Swiss-based Schoeller Technologies into denim. This is said to make the jeans water resistant, dirt repellent and more durable. In addition, Scotch Sanitized™ technology provides anti-microbial protection against odors. Listen, I wash my pants frequently, so I’m a lot less interested in odor protection than in how the pants move with me on my bike. I’ve found the material soft and comfortable, with an agreeable touch of stretch for freedom of movement and a figure-flattering fit.
    • Deep pockets: After wearing these pants for the past month, I get downright irritated at the stingy pocket design of my other jeans. The 911s offer super-deep pockets — 8 inches long from the bottom of the waistband — so my stuff doesn’t wiggle up and out when I pedal. The pocket on the wearer’s right side contains an additional, narrow, riveted pocket, ideal for a multi-tool –or a lipstick. Another pocket beneath that keeps bills and ID close at hand.
    • Reflective safety strip (below): Reflective material sewn onto the inside of the outer leg seams, supports lateral night visibility when the cuffs are rolled up. And roll them up as high as you like because that 3M Scotchlite™ Reflective Tape is a generous 10 inches long — handy on the chain side.

  • Reinforced crotch: A reinforced gusset at the crotch to enhance durability is another great feature. I’ve got to imagine that it will add warmth when temperatures drop further. The first couple of times I wore the pants, I noticed the extra layer — it felt thick. But after the first washing, that sensation disappeared. The waistband and back pocket fabrics also are reinforced.
  • Price: Stacked up against my default jeans — GAP 1969 Real Straight women’s jeans at $69.95 — I think the Levi’s represent a good value at $78, considering all the extras they offer. Compared with women’s “designer” jeans, they’re a steal.

With their well-conceived, but discreet, special features, these jeans are rapidly becoming my choice for casual wear — both on and off the bike.  My only question is: When will Levi’s introduce a women’s version of the Commuter line?

Levi’s, 511 Skinny Commuter Jeans, $78.

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1 Comment

  • Nice, I am curious though about their durability. That would be my number one concern. I usually run through regular jeans in less than a year.

    How tight is the fit?
    Does the water repellancy continue to work after a few washings, or do the jeans soak up water after a while?

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