Levi’s is a company that goes back 132 years. The fact that the Levi's logo features horses, not bikes, offers a good clue (if you needed one) that the brand's Commuter collection has nowhere near that depth of heritage – in fact, it first launched for men in 2011.
What the Commuter collection does is signal cycling's growing mainstream appeal both in the lifestyle market and as a form of transport. Our Australian crew have been trying out a selection of garments from the current range, which now extends to women’s apparel. We'll be publishing full reviews of some of them over the next few weeks, but for now, let's take a look at the highlights.
The collection as a whole is remarkably clever. In addition to some bike specific pieces, Levi’s has taken popular items from its broader range and effectively worked in extra functionality for riding around town.
The Commuter range is about the little things, such as reflective panels and suitable fabrics
The pants have reflective tabs near the ankles and a high waist so you don’t reveal more than you mean to when reaching for the bars, and they’re designed to withstand the strain on fabric provided by riding.
Jackets come down low at the back, have sleeves that still cover your wrists when your arms are extended, and include zips on the pockets so you don’t lose your valuables while flying freely through the city streets. Some jackets include stowaway hoods and, like the jeans, are designed to repel water.
Our initial thoughts on our men’s and women’s test selection are below. Click through our gallery up top for a closer look at the finer details in the range.
Men’s Commuter 511 slim-fit jeans
The 511 jeans offer a slim leg fit, with a little stretch on offer
The selection of jeans and trousers available in the men’s Commuter range is impressively extensive: 504 Regular Straight, 511 Slim Fit, 511 Cargo, 522 Slim Taper and 541 Athletic Fit. Our 511 slim-fit test jeans ($88 / £85 / AU$160) are available in six different colour options and three different leg lengths (availability will vary based on country).
Different options offer different types of material. The light indigo jeans we tested are a midweight denim made of a 92.6 percent cotton, 5.6 percent polyester and 1.8 percent elastane blend. From the first wear, they feel just like a well worn-in pair of jeans should but, of course, with a newer look.
The U-lock tab keeps your bike security out of the way while you ride
In addition to reflective taping, the high back and tougher-than-average material, the Commuter edition of the popular 511s have a reinforced crotch, and a tab to stow your U-lock close to your body as you move between destinations.
Women’s Skinny jeans
The women's skinny jeans
Women only have one choice of style in Commuter jeans for now, but so far we’re impressed. The Skinny Jeans ($88 / £80 / AU$170) were noticeably tight around our cyclist thighs and calves when we first tried them on, but loosened in these areas over the first couple of wears. The result was a slightly more relaxed fit, and one that felt tailored to this tester’s individual curves and movement patterns.
The pockets are placed in a way to be useful when on the bike
The front pockets are deeper than is typical on women’s jeans. This once again points to the refreshing practicality of this garment, not just for cycling, but for anyone who wants their jeans to do more than just look good.
But the women’s jeans don’t share other bike-specific features as the men’s ones, such as reinforced crotch or the tab for holding your U-lock, which was a little disappointing.
We were also surprised – and not in a pleasant way – that claims to being water repellent seem to be flimsy. While riding in light showers on our first commute in these jeans water seemed to soak right through, especially on the thighs where the fabric is pulled tight and close to the skin.
Given the popularity of the men’s and women’s jeans, and the number of questions we’ve had about them, we're planning to do longer term reviews of these.
Women’s Trucker Jacket
Trucker Jacket and Skinny jeans
The Trucker Jacket ($128 / £100 / AU$200) also takes a popular, versatile piece of streetwear and layers it with commuter practicality. There’s a sneaky vent in the back, which opens to a mesh lining to help with temperature regulation. Reflective piping above the vent increases visibility at night.
The jacket provides a similar warmth to a mid-weight jumper or sweatshirt, and surprised us straight away with how soft and comfortable it is, even over bare skin on the arms. Not only did this make it one I often reached for, whatever the occasion, it meant I didn’t experience any chafing or discomfort when riding with a heavy backpack. In fact, it provided a much nicer backpack buffer than a standard cycling jersey.
Men’s Trucker Jacket
The men's Trucker Jacket offers a slim fit
Ranging in size from small to 2XL, the Men’s Trucker Jacket ($148 / £155 / AU$240) shares a lot of features with the women’s jacket: gusseted sleeves, added stretch for increased mobility, zipped pockets, reflective details, water repellence and a low hem at the back. This one also boasts a helmet-friendly hood.
Wearing it proves that it’s both casual in aesthetic and performance. This certainly isn’t a jacket for long rides, but on short trips it’s comfortable and the cycling-specific features do work. Thankfully, it looks pretty decent off the bike, with the rear vents and small reflective panels being all that give its true identity away.
Women’s Commuter Waxed Shell
The women’s Commuter Waxed Shell ($248 / £185 / AU$390) is almost twice the price of the Commuter Trucker jacket. It is noticeably warmer, blocks the wind and is also waterproof. Due to the longer waist and waxed cotton exterior, I found it to provide as much protection from the rain as an umbrella: the bottom of our legs got wet, but on the whole I remained comfortably warm and dry.
Impressive water repelling from this garment
Available in extra small to large, it shares many features of the Trucker Jacket, but incorporated into a longer design for more rugged weather conditions. The back comes down lower and the zipped pockets are roomier. Cotton lining on the inside keeps it soft and warm against the skin.
This one is our pick for the cooler weather. It’s much bulkier than cycling specific jackets., but you’ll be glad you have it and will be sure to get good use out of it off the bike too. A similar item, the Commuter Work Jacket ($248 / £235 / AU$N/A), is available for men.
Dropped Hem Tee
The Dropped Hem Tee has a.... dropped hem
When we first looked at the Dropped Hem Tee ($38 / £30 / AU$45) we asked ourselves what Levi’s could possibly do to a t-shirt to make it more suited to riding than, well, any other T-shirt. The closer we looked, the more we were impressed.
The name gives away feature number one, the dropped hem, which also has a small reflective detail, and means your back won’t get exposed while riding. The cotton/polyester blend (including Coolmax) is moisture wicking and more comfortable when you sweat than cotton alone. And it has a picture of a bike on the front, so people know you like them.
What this range does best is take high performing garments that are popular off the bike and add clever functionality throughout: reflective elements that are easy on the eye, seams that aren’t restrictive in a riding position, tailoring around the waist that allows you to stay warm and keep your modesty, and protection (in most cases) from light showers. These are garments that will also be popular with people who hardly even ride a bike due to the garments’ practical, hard wearing characteristics.
These are not performance-orientated items, and they don't pack down small
Die-hard cyclists wanting street wear to magically feel and perform like their high performance cycling apparel are going to be disappointed, but that’s not what this collection is designed to do. The Rapha City Collection uses lighter materials that pack down smaller and offer more stretch in the jeans. It is a good alternative and these are key concerns, but the Levi’s Commuter Jeans, for example, are significantly less expensive.
Levi’s women’s Commuter range feels a little cautious in comparison to the men’s but it has the basics covered. And, in the same way that the men’s range has grown from a few key items, we hope to see the women’s range expand in relation to demand as well.
Note: The range mentioned is based on what's available in the United States. Check your relevant country's Levi's website for specific availability.