By STEPHEN KRCMAR
The very idea of pants made for cycling begs a simple question: Why? Indeed, why not just go with regular jeans or khakis? The answer is in sitting folded in the closet of any common urban or commuting cyclists in the form of a pair of pants with a blown-out crotch (the result of catching on the saddle), torn back pockets (from one too many miles carrying a U-lock), and a litter of jeans featuring right ankles that look like they were on the losing end of a dog chase. And that’s to say nothing about grease marks.
Ergo, cycling pants and jeans that are both fashionable and functional. They first started popping up about 18 months ago on my radar and are now available from companies like Los Angeles’ Swrve, San Francisco’s Cordarounds, New York’s Outlier, and Osloh as well more known brands like Gramicci.
Over the past couple months, putting on hundreds of miles, I reviewed pants from Swrve and Cordarounds.
Swrve is run by a husband and wife team who have been building cycling gear for urban pedalers for about three years. Casual looking, Swrve (www.swrvecycling.com)typically utilizes performance fabrics and a cut that is a happy medium between rocker/racer tight and everyday casual.
It’s that cut that made me nervous. Although my Swrve knickers are a good fit, my soccer player-sized thighs make buying jeans tough. And these are marketed as “trim fit”!
Turns out I had nothing to worry about. They fit perfectly right out of the box and I even washed them a few times before the woman I’m dating saw them. Her verdict? “I want all of your jeans to fit like that!”
And this was coming from a resident of jeans-crazy L.A. where folks regularly drop hundreds of dollars on a well-cut piece of denim. The Swrve’s cost $100 unless you want the limited edition Japanese iteration, which have a finer fabric and are made on old looms in Japan. They cost $115.
No limited edition for me. I rode the regular version for about a month. Built from 98% cotton and 2% Lycra, I couldn’t have liked them more. Wearing them for days on end, the jeans always looked good and even developed their own dirtbag muscle memory (providing a few more watts after many miles without washing).
Okay, I’m kidding about the added wattage, but they also feature a seamless gusseted crotch, articulated knees, lower front (so your belt doesn’t cut into you) a slight rise in the back (because not everyone wants to see your crack), and back pockets that fit a mini-U lock. There’s also a cell phone pocket that will hold either a Blackberry curve or iPhone (with protective covers) snugly.
Roll up the right leg and there’s a reflective strip. And for folks who buy American Apparel because of progressive politics, Swrve is worth considering: According to co-owner Muriel Bartol, clothing industry employees are typically paid by the piece (and often don’t make enough to live on if they don’t fulfill quota), don’t receive paid days off and rarely are given the opportunity to work year-round. Swrve’s five full-time sew-ers? They’re paid hourly, get vacation days and can work close to year-round.
And if you just wanna get in touch with your inner-Spiccoli, these jeans have something for you — turn the jeans inside-out and the front pockets have a checkerboard pattern reminiscent of early Vans slip-ons.
Next up, Cordarounds Bike to Work pants have a cut that’s similar to a casual khaki. At first, they seemed perfect for pedaling to work. But looking a little like linen, I was initially worried about the wrinkling with these pants, because truth be told, my wax iron (for skis and boards) gets a lot more use than my clothing iron. And in my house a wrinkled pant in an unworn pant.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The day the Cordarounds showed up, I threw on these Dockers-with-a-secret and headed to a coworkers’ going away party. Comfy and stylish, I rolled up the cuffs and pedaled toward the bar feeling even safer than I usually do pedaling at night: The Cordarounds’ (www.cordarounds.com) cuffs feature reflective fabrics when you roll them up for added visibility.
Turn the back pockets inside-out and there’s additional reflective material to increase your visibility even more. Those rear pockets will also hold a small U lock. But don’t try to stuff a regular-sized Kryptonite in there — against my better judgment I did just that more than once and eventually ripped the pocket slightly.
After locking up my bike and rolling down the pants legs, I walked into the party. Like most social gatherings it included some lulls in conversation and you know what that means, right? Show & Tell. Turns out that men and women who could care less about geeking out about bikes are way more interested in functional bike fashion. Everyone loved the stealthy, reflective qualities of the Cordarounds.
As far as wrinkle-ability goes, my assumption was wrong. Fold them nicely and they were ready to go again even after a two-hour ride. Even the olive color didn’t advertise that I would regularly go five days without a washing.
After a month of wear and a few washings, the only drawback was three or four errant threads on the garment. Like all Cordarounds products, the Bike to Work pants are only available online and made in San Francisco. They cost $90.
Like the Swrve’s, the cuffs on the Cordarounds were impressive. The problem with many fabrics is that they often unroll while pedaling and/or rub against the bottle cage on upward pedal strokes, which is annoying. Although cycling knickers answer this problem by virtue of their design, these pants had benefits that shants don’t — subtlety. They don’t scream “I’m a cyclist!” making them perfect for those situations where you want to pedal but look semi-professional when you arrive.
—Based in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., Stephen Krcmar regularly writes about cycling, board sports, gear and fashion for publications like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Bicycling and 944.