West Coast fall fashions are the best. In part because it’s the beginning of ten months where I can wear West Coast bike clothing. And if I’m dressing up to ride, I definitely need some comfortable pants. And here come some now...
What Are They? Mark II Jeans, by Thunderbolt Sportswear, Portland OR
Linkage: Via Thunderbolt Sportswear’s website. Retail cost $200.
What’s Special About Them? Light, comfortable fun bike trousers for riding or hanging out.
Downsides? Not cheap, not hardcore rain pants.
Verdict: Function on the bike, even in rain, is plenty good enough to gain all-day comfort in a cool pair of jeans.
Over the past few years a handful of sportswear companies have put out pants to be worn on and off the bike, with the idea that you can dress in something that passes for actual pants when you reach your destination, and until you do they will allow you to stay warm, stay dry, and move your legs.
The results were products that definitely worked on the bike, because we have reached the point in time when the secrets of breathable, waterproof clothing have been largely unlocked. Since they were often cut to look like dress pants or jeans, you could keep them on and look good in the process. What was missing, however, was the feel of a great pair of jeans, the kind you reach for when you just want to feel completely at ease in your clothes. Thunderbolt Sportswear of good old Portland took notice.
The company released its Mark II Jean this past spring, taking the bike trousers to their most comfortable place ever. Without losing the weather protection of the harder-shell pants on the market, the Mark II combines an outer four-way stretch layer for total ease of fit and movement and an inner layer of blended nylon, polyester and spandex that feels like soft fleece on your skin.
The weather resistance is still there, thanks to the Schoeller Dryskin exterior (treated with a water-repellent coating), and the look is like an air-tight layer between you and the elements. After a couple decades in the Northwest, I know how important it is to feel like you have a plan for the rain and grit. But I also know what it likes to go too far in that direction, and if there’s a time you want to feel comfortable in your clothes, it’s on a wet fall or winter day.
I’ve had the Mark II Jeans for several months, including summer when I needed to air out my legs when the clouds finally broke up. But having ridden a couple dozen days in the Mark IIs I can definitely vouch for that psychological edge of actively wanting to wear these pants. I can wear all sorts of things, and testing clothing against the slop has brought out lots of such opportunities. But Thunderbolt has delivered the best of the lot for pants you want to keep on all day long.
The look is more casual than some of the bike trousers on the market, with pocket stitching and minimal shaping that says this is a pair of jeans. They come in black with black stitching for a cleaner look, or with light stitching for something more fun, as well as a slate-grey alloy option for a different direction. This is where being designed and sewn in Portland seems to make total sense. These pants are very Portland: not too serious but clearly stylish enough to stand out from the denim crowd.
It’s reasonable to think that they had to sacrifice some interval of rain resistance to get such a soft feel, and I would not completely disagree. The difference is between a pair of pants that can feel the slightest bit wet after a while (but dry out quickly) versus pants that never let in any moisture to begin with. The latter put your bike commute experience above the rest of the day, which is fine, but Thunderbolt wants you to keep the Mark II Jeans on when you get where you’re going. After riding in the rain I’ve never felt moisture come through to my skin; it’s more a matter of noticing that they retained a bit of moisture, which seems to be gone before I notice it again.
On a dry day, the pants function exceptionally well on the bike. They probably breathe a bit better than their competition, and maybe that leaves you getting a bit more of a chill as a result on colder days, but the freedom of movement is exceptional, particularly if you’re no longer (cough) a highly-trained athlete and you can appreciate a little forgiveness in the waistline or thighs. The pants are straight-legged, so you might need something to hold the cuffs out of your chainrings (a lesson I learned the hard way, though the fabric fought off any real damage). But the overall experience is that they ride as comfortably as they feel on the couch.
The Mark II jeans are a pair of pants you will reach for from September to April, for riding or walking out the door, or even being home in your maximum comfort space. That’s not something you’ve heard about too many weather-resistant bike trousers.