A recurring gripe among prospective bicycle commuters is having to wear the dreaded "Lycra spandex" shorts, and in my quest to find alternatives, I discovered four American-made pants that don't look like bicycling garb. There's something for everyone, from denim to khakis, with some natty slacks thrown in for good measure.
For those who ride regularly, versatility, durability and comfort are paramount. With the influx of affordable fixies and internally-geared commuters with racks, mudguards, chainguards and other commuter-friendly accoutrements, the Lycra spandex look is becoming too racerboy for many (myself included). The four companies represented approach bicycle pant making in four different ways, with a similar result: function meeting fashion.
Denim jeans have been popular with the working class since Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis introduced them to the California gold diggers in 1873. Now Los Angeles-based Swrve, a small company which began when the founders couldn't find decent cycling knickers, sells men's jeans designed specifically for cyclists. With room in the back pockets for a mini U-lock, on the side for a cell phone, and a reflective strip inside the right leg cuff, the Swrve jeans have proven their versatility the past several months on the bike. I've received compliments on the looks of the Swrve jeans both on and off the bike.
Bike-friendly features include articulated knees for full movement without binding, and a gusseted crotch, much like rock climber's pants, which eliminates pestering seams in the netherlands. A slightly tapered cuff helps keep chain grease off. After several dozen washings, the 98 percent cotton/2 percent Lycra pants still look new, and the stitching has held up as expected. Well worth the price. Men's sizing only. Made in Los Angeles. US$100. www.swrvecycling.com
Cordarounds Bike-to-Work khakis
For the business casual commuter crowd, San Francisco-based Cordarounds makes the unique brushed pebble cotton Bike-to-Work khakis, which feature Illuminite Teflon and 3M Scotchlite that line the inner left and right leg pantcuffs and rear pockets. Sound silly? Picture rolling up your pants a few inches (the cut is somewhat bellbottomy) and having built-in reflectivity. Now picture pulling both rear pockets out for the same effect. Bizarre, yes, but effective. Remember: being seen is important when commuting in the dark, something most commuters deal with two-thirds of the year.
Like the Swrve jeans, I've received several compliments on the look and cut of the Cordarounds. No articulated knee or gusseted crotch, but the cut of the khakis is forgiving enough compared to the denim Swrves. Several washings haven't prematurely taken the stout look away, and all the seams are in tact, just like the day they arrived. A good pair of pants for dressing up or riding far. Made in San Francisco. US$90. www.cordarounds.com/bike-to-work
Outlier 4Season Black Lotus slacks
At first glance the Outlier slacks look like something off the rack at the local charitable reseller, but the cut and design are certainly saddle worthy. These slimming black slacks have a special ingredient (which it should to justify the steep price tag) called Schoeller Dryskin Extreme fabrics. The somewhat shiny fabric is coated in nanoscopic spikes that, according to the New York-based company, prevent grease and stain molecules from bonding to the fabric. The pants, which look like something a busboy or waiter would wear, are essentially waterproof (or highly water resistant).
The stretchiness of the Outlier pants make these comfortable, and multiple washings haven't dulled the finish. Lack of reflectivity is an issue, though. I've been wearing the pants with my Chrome Cobra hoodie, and have been called a "svelte Euro rider" by more than one friend in the past week or so, so if it's looks you're after, the Outlier Lotus slacks are the ticket. Made in New York City. US$240. www.outlier.cc
Rivendell MUSA pants
These lightweight nylon pants are the most bikey-looking of the bunch, and fall in line more with the outdoorsy REI crowd. The pockets are useful, the leg length is a little longish, but feels good when pedaling. Like the Swrve jeans, the MUSA (Made in the USA) pants have articulated knees and a gusseted crotch for function and comfort. A Velcro cuff adjuster allows the rider to taper accordingly, adding a bit of versatility for on and off the bike.
I've worn the MUSA pants for a few years now, and while I like them for riding, I feel a little self conscious wearing them off the bike. They billow a bit in the front, which isn't flattering, even for a trim person. Ideal for overnight bike camping, which is where most of the mileage has been gained for my MUSAs. Multiple washings haven't tarnished the looks of the pants, and the seams have held up nicely. Made in San Francisco. US$55 (US$40 for butternut/olive). www.rivbike.com