Saturday, January 31, 2015

Review: Surly Pants aka WorkRide Pants

I've got a stack of pants that I've been wanting to write about here for a while. The Surly WorkRide are my favorite.

The upshot: the folks at Surly get the essentials of what a casual pant for riding needs to get right. In the monointernetculturetechnospeak of our day: Surly nailed the platform. As for implementation, not quite. If you're on the fence about these pants, you might consider waiting until v2. But if you can handle the failures these pants exhibit -- and I can for sure -- then get them and be at peace.

I've had my eye on the Surly Pants (MSRP: $95) since they were announced about a year ago. I like canvas pants for riding. I loved the roomy-thigh-sort-of-water-resistant-gets-softer-the-longer-you-own-them Carhartt Dungarees for the first few months. But the ass blows out prematurely. And that's a bummer.  

The Surly pants appear to have a similar Carhartt vibe going, with the color, the canvas, and the monster thigh room. And even better, the ass is reinforced and stitched in a way that doesn't put a seam under one's sensitive areas.

So that's really the thing: these pants fit perfect for riding; they're made of the right stuff; and they have a fix for the premature ass-blowout issue. That's what makes them the perfect platform.

Then the Surly people started adding a couple bikey-specific features which just close the deal on the sale... on paper. But here in the material world, they pretty much screwed the implementation pooch on both of those features. 

These are one size too big for me. They fit a bit better at the height of holiday debauchery.

And before I start railing on this, let me remind you that I love Surly. For so many reasons. Here's a few: the bikes are smart and a great value. I give them a big chunk of credit with contemporary mainstreaming (and more importantly, manufacturing components for): single speed mountain biking and road biking. Fat bikes. Did they invent that shit? Nope. But they doubled down and put the engineering and money bets into those areas. And yes, it's all Q's money, but that doesn't matter one bit to me. As an organization, taking risks, making smart shit, and disregarding the nabobs is highly valued. I love their website, especially their font, but their overall info organization and presentation is f'ing good. And their catalogs are righteous in both copy and design. Got it? I dig these guys.

But the bikey features of these pants are shit.

Why yes, that is an NFE.
One thing I was excited about was the little built in rivet-snaps for pulling the pant leg out of the way. As a solution, this appeals to me way more than some velcro or other strappy thing: it's simple and won't flop around when not deployed. But alas: all pants with waists 34" and bigger have inseams of somewhere around 38". Think about how long that is. It's ridiculous. They sort of Surly-acknowledge that on their site, but they don't own it.

The potentially-super-useful snaps live near the bottom of the pants. So by the time I chopped off the bottom of the pants so they fit (I paid a tailor $15 for this), I only had one snap left and it was in a location that assumed there would be another snap further down to make a snug fit. So that feature died on the cutting room floor. 

A rivet-snap used to live in that hole.
How about that nifty bike lock holder pocket strap deal?  I'm guessing that whoever put this project together found a really good price on those rivet snaps. And it turns out the reason those little snappy button things were such a screaming deal is that they're really chintzy. A week after wearing my pants a couple of the rivets started peeling away from the canvas. And one in particular didn't peel in away in a quick and fall-away sort of fashion. Instead, it bent on the way out, which left a sharp, thin rivet edge sticking out of my pants right at the ass. I didn't notice this slow failure. I tend to sit on my ass on chairs. Turns out that even hard, antique oak is still not harder than cheap rivet steel. 

See that scratched up section of chair? That's the handiwork of a cheap rivet-snap.
Dudes! That chair tied the whole room together.
Once I figured out that the rivet was tearing up my chair, I inspected other rivets and found that a few of them were in similar shape. So I yanked them out with pliers. 

Ok. So those are the big failures. But here's something I love: the front pockets. They're frigging huge and deep and wonderful. I carry a lot of shit in my pockets (right this second: knife, wad of cash, headphones, phone, pen, stack of wallet-related-cards-in-a-rubber-band, a small note book). Dainty pockets drive me nuts. This pocket thing, again, is part of the platform, which these pants nail.

And aside from the failed features, these pants are quality and there's a great attention to detail. Darted knees. Fancy ass reinforcement in a nice shape. Lined waist. Thick belt loops. Triple stitching. Good stuff.

That strap hanging down is supposed to hold onto your u-lock. It's a cool idea. And I used it a couple times. But the strap had a failing  rivet-snap in it that pulled out when I unbuttoned it one day.

I wanted to love these pants. And once I got over the disappointment of the faulty bikey features, I have found love. True love, really. If you know me and you've seen me since mid-November, then I've probably been in these pants. I will be watching for v2. And when it comes, I will get a new pair.


Hobbes vs Boyle said...

Thanks for the review.

So what do you think the durability of these is going to be? I'm currently testing a pair of Duluth Trading Company "Firehose" pants. I bought them because of their thick cotton fabric (supposedly old fire hoses were made out of this) and a crotch gusset, hoping that that would make them last longer than what I usually buy. It's too early for a definite verdict, though. Maybe I'll post a review in a couple of months. The only pants that for me have proven to be consistently more durable are Dickies work pants (I think I usually buy the 874). They're both cheap and cheaply made, but the polyester fabric outlasts any denim/cotton.

RE snaps: If you like the feature, addiding snaps is super easy. You can buy a kit at your LSS (local sewing store) for little money or have it done for cheap at an any place that does alterations.

John Speare said...

Hobbes: looks interesting. the gusset doesn't look very useful for ass blowout issue, but if the canvas is tough, it may not matter. Another pair of pants on my list that i'll be talking about are some patagonia canvas ones that i've been riding for over a year and there's still life in the sit bones. so this tells me that even if a canvas is similar in look/feel to another, that they're not all the same.

snaps: it's a cool idea, but i'm not going to spend more time and money on these specific pants. i feel like i've spent a near ridiculous amount already. rolling up works for now.

Hobbes vs Boyle said...

It occurred to me that actually the most durable pants I've ever had, even better than the Dickies, are polyester army surplus pants. I have never managed to wear through the fabric, even after many years of use. I think they're labeled Mil-Tec and I bought them in Germany. I'd absolutely buy a pair made of the same fabric in a less cargo/army looking style, but I've never seen anything like that.

Unknown said...

It really is interesting to be able to see all the trial and error that goes into finding an amazing looking pair of pants. Something that really stood out was that you mentioned that there are certain things that need to be taken as a good and bad thing about certain pants. I personally think that being able to find the best universal pants for working is tough, so being able to have a second best choice can still be a great conclusion. Hopefully this will be helpful to others who are looking themselves. Thank you for sharing.