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Levi’s Commuter 511 Trousers: Reviewing the Intersection of Form and Function

I was getting fitted for a tuxedo when the very attractive woman sizing me up asked me about my pants. After telling her that I was testing them for a review, I mentioned that I wasn’t sure about the sea foam green color. Without missing a beat, she said, “Oh no, I like the color. I’d definitely wear those.” I replied with, “that’s not exactly what I’m going for.” She laughed. At that moment, it dawned on me that I was wearing my new favorite pants.

The Levi’s Commuter line has been around for a few years now, and the 511s have been the slim-cut, button fly staple of the line. And while Levi’s technically considers these as “denim pants,” for the sake of us all, let’s just call them jeans. Like any good set of jeans, the 511s took a few days to break in. I wasn’t sure what to think when my editor handed me these tiny green pants, but it didn’t take long for that apprehension to fade. What was a stiff, restrictive set of leg coverings quickly turned into a second skin.

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The cut allows for unrestricted pedaling, and keeps your backside covered in the event that you left your bibs at home. And since they bear the Commuter name, it’s to be expected that they’re pretty good for riding in. You wouldn’t want to tackle a hilly century in them, but for cruising to the coffee shop, or riding to work, they’ll definitely do the trick.

Among the cycling-specific features are a lock loop at the waistband, and reflective piping inside the legs that’s exposed when you roll the pants up. However, the real benefit is the cut, which forgoes the low-rise of the standard 511s in favor of full coverage. And while they’re a little slim, the cut accommodates an average cyclist’s physique. My quads aren’t abnormally massive, and I wouldn’t want them to be any tighter through the legs. Track sprinters will want something roomier, say, sweat pants.

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Apparently, they’re treated with NanoSphere and Sanitized, which enhances the performance of the cotton-based denim. Sanitized is an antimicrobial treatment that’s claimed to fight odor, and since they don’t smell, I’m guessing that it works. I don’t know what a NanoSphere is, but Levi’s claims that it makes them resistant to dirt and water. It could be a placebo effect, but they seem to dry faster than normal jeans as a result. However, after wearing them through the three day long dust storm that was Rampage, they’ve taken on a distinct brown hue. I’ve washed them twice since then, and the color looks like it’s here to stay. Maybe my washing machine is outmatched by Utah’s tenacious red desert dust. Either way, I expected these to do a better job of fighting dirt stains.

Questionable dirt resistance aside, I’d gladly buy another pair. They’re easily that good. The increased coverage makes them worth the slight premium over the standard issue 511s, well, at least for me. The rest of the cycling-oriented features just make them better.

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Photo Credit: Ian Matteson
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah