Saturday, November 27, 2010

Musings on MUSA Knickers

Musa is a Rivendell  house brand that stands for "made in USA." Under this label, Rivendell produces a line of clothing and accessories, including the knickers and pants that are designed specifically for cycling, but are described as being wearable "anywhere when formal wear isn't called for." The Co-Habitant ordered both the knickers and the long pants over the summer, because he was wearing out all his regular pants on long rides, and he thought these would be more durable. He immediately loved them and kept recommending them to me - until I finally bought a pair of knickers myself a couple of months later. Our impressions of this product are somewhat different, and put together they will hopefully be informative for both genders.

Made of lightweight, breathable, and durable nylon, the Musa knickers work well for cycling, because they feature a roomy gusset in the crotch area, adjustable-width cuffs with velcro straps, and reflective strips.

The adjustable waist closes via one of those nylon belts and plastic buckles you see on hiking pants.

The pockets are deep and cut in a way that stuff doesn't spill out of them while cycling - a useful feature for those who like to keep small items on their person while on the bike.

The Co-Habitant normally wears pants with a 34" waist, and the XL Musas fit him well. They are relaxed, but with a tailored look to them. The cut is flattering to the male body.

The pants and knickers are currently available in olive, gray, black and blue. The Co-Habitant has the olive knickers (pictured) and the gray long pants. The knickers he wore mostly over the Summer and early Fall; the pants he continues to wear now, including off the bike. His feedback is that his Musas are extremely comfortable and useful. Not only does the seamless gusset protect from chafing during long trips, but the pants regulate temperature well in both hot and cold weather, and are a lot more durable than the trousers he wears off the bike (one problem with cycling long distance in regular clothing, is that the clothing can get ruined from rubbing against the saddle and from sweat). For those men who do not want to wear tight, padded cycling shorts, but want something cycling-specific that looks decent off the bike, these are a good option. I do not quite agree with Rivendell's description of them looking like "normal" pants. They are definitely quirky. But I find this particular quirkiness attractive.

Moving on to my own experience with the Musa knickers (and in case you are wondering - no, we do not wear them at the same time!), my main reason for buying them was the gusset. I cannot ride a roadbike for more than 20 minutes while wearing anything with seams along the crotch, and finding pants without seams in that region is not easy. So seeing how happy the Co-Habitant was with his Musas, I finally ordered a pair for myself. Rivendell describes these knickers as unisex and has a size chart for women. Going by the waist measurements on the chart, I initially ordered an XS. However, I could not pull them on over my hips, so I exchanged them for a Small. The Small went on over my hips fine, but fit me overly loosely petty much everywhere else.

Sometimes a loose fit can be flattering, but with the Musa knickers luck was not on my side. The sagginess in the butt distorts the shape of my body in a way that just doesn't look good, and extra material bunches up around my inner thighs.

The knickers are also overly loose in the front. It is as if the fabric won't lie against my body right - bunching up in all the wrong places. This leads me to conclude that the pants were simply not tailored with a female waist-to-hip ratio in mind. While I am not the curviest woman in the world, I do have a narrow waist and comparatively wide hips - a combination that makes it difficult to get the sizing right.

But fit and sizing issues aside, the Musa knickers do have a number of features I find useful. The gusset is huge and there is not a single seam between me and any part of the saddle, which is excellent. The nylon material really is very light and breathable, as well as wind-resistant, mildly water resistant and fast-drying. The fabric does not pill or degrade after prolonged contact with the saddle  - and having worn through several pairs of leggings and shorts over the past year, such durability is welcome. The pockets are staggeringly deep - though the feature is wasted on me, as I prefer to cycle without too much stuff in my pockets. The expandable width cuffs with velcro closure are clever, if a bit finicky (I had to redo mine a few times to get them to feel right). As other owners of these have noted, the pants were shiny and slippery in the beginning, but this went away after a few long rides.

All in all, the Musa pants and knickers are excellent if you want to wear something comfortable and durable on a roadbike, and if you are male. If you are female, consider the issues with fit and compare how the pants look on a male vs a female body. For me, the gusset and other positive features are worth it - but only because I found no better alternatives. And I would never wear these knickers in a context other than on a roadbike, which does diminish the value of what was meant to be a "wear them anywhere" design.

31 comments:

  1. One problem, from the male perspective. I bought, the now collectors item, butternut colored knickers. I ride a lot and they are great. My problem is that they fit beautifully and I *do* ride a lot so I've become self conscious as I've come to wear these knickers an inordinate amount of time.

    I remember as a kid the old men who wore deluxe cotton coveralls and baseball caps and I thought they looked funny because they always seemed to wear just that one thing all of the time. I may be turning into one of those types. I really do wear them too much. I like them a whole lot.

    My "vintage" MUSA butternut colored knickers do not have the reflector strips on the back of the calves. Gives a bit more of an "off the bike" look.

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  2. I've lost count of how many pairs of trousers I've worn through on the bike! Don't think I could order a pair of 'knickers' without sniggering though... I suppose in the UK they'd be called pedal pushers?

    Regarding the fit, I've found most women's trousers have exactly the same problem despite supposedly being designed for women. Women without waists or hips, that its. Apart from jeans, the only trousers I can find to fit now are hiking trousers or other outdoorsy clothes (farming and country supply shops are great) and I'm not a particularly odd shape. Most of my female friends report the same problem

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  3. Thanks for the insightful comments. I will now be ordering a pair. You are right, they do look quirky, but we all know that "normal" in Rivendell is at least different in the real world.

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  4. Have you tried any of the Swrve range?

    http://www.swrvestore.com/servlet/Categories?category=WOMEN

    They have much more choice for men, but they do have a dedicated section of ladies clothing.

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  5. Actually I think you look a lot better in them than you think! They look very nice with the high socks and the reflector stripes. They are fine looking pants for both of you. I like the idea of something to wear especially for riding that does not look like spandex. A 60 yo guy in spandex? Give me a break P..LEEZ! On the other hand I don't think I would mind wearing these at all. I am going to call Rivendell today or next week to talk about tires and stuff and I think I will order a pair of the pants. Thanks for this great review!

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  6. Have you considered the more casual looking Terry offerings, such as the scooter capri or the baggy shorts? They look like regular clothes, but are functional cycling clothing. I like the baggy shorts a lot and will be buying the scooter capris in the spring. Now that Terry has moved to Burlington, VT you could take a trip up, cycle around Lake Champlain and try those clothes in person. No, I do not work for Terry, never have, but have used the clothes for years and have been quite pleased with them. Yes, I am planning a Lake Champlain tour this coming summer.

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  7. Chris, Marc & Jim - Yes, I think for men these really are great. And the long pants - especially the gray and the new black - almost look "normal" except for the reflective strips. Plus, compared to what other technical cycling pants cost, these are actually a good deal.

    Chris, I did not know about the earlier butternut version. Do they look like khakis? As for worrying about wearing them over and over, just buy another pair - in a less striking colour, like black - and alternate.

    tonwmouse - Yes, both knickers and pants sound funny in British English! Well, at least it doesn't say it on the label.

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  8. Claire & Anon 10:48 - I am reluctant to buy these types of technical pants sight unseen, especially as the price tag can be in the $100's! The Terrys and similar I have tried in person and did not like them at all. I cannot wear polyester and I find them much too heavy. One good thing about the Riv pants/knickers is that they are crepe-paper-thin and very light, very breathable. Other technical cycling pants I have seen that try to appear normal, are much heavier. Also, I don't want the built-in chamois most of them come with. I actually have a really good pair of proper wool cycling knickers with chamois, by Ibex. They are great, but sometimes I just want a gusset with no padding.

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  9. One problem with the MUSA pants is length. I wear the same waist size as the Cohabitant, but I have a 30" inseam. The MUSA pants are difficult to alter and if not altered, the material bunches up around the ankles, defeating the purpose of the Velcro closure.

    The folks at Sahalie make Gramicci pants which have a gusseted crotch but open legs that are easy to have altered to the needed length. True, you need trouser clips (Harris used to stock an elastic band in World Championship colors with Velco closure than can also be used to secure a windbreaker to your saddle bag), but the pants look less quirky around the local coffee shop.

    The downside is that there's no fly for those of us of the XY persuasion, but I tend to wear shorts underliners with them anyway when riding. There are also some possibilities for you double Xers, such as these cargos. Prices are pretty reasonable and they have proven durable.

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  10. As someone who makes patterns for a living, I'm actually kind of appalled that these pants would be sold as "unisex." There is so much difference between how men's and women's pants patterns are drafted, constructed, tailored and fitted that the only pants that would be functionally unisex would be old fashioned sweat pants (with the elastic waist and cuffs).

    They look like a great garment for men, though.

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  11. There are a lot of things that can be made perfectly unisex. I do not believe pants are one of them. Vive la différence and all that.

    I've been put off giving these a try, as I can be a bit fussy about the color thing. Now that they're available in black I might give 'em a shot.

    Townmouse - In the UK they'd be called "Breeks."

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  12. My ideal cycling pants would actually be fairly tight, but stretchy - maybe wool with nylon and spandex. Narrow at the ankles, but more flattering to girls with, ahem, large behinds than "hipster jeans". Oh and *crotch gusset*. I was considering reworking some of my older pants to remove the entire crotch area and replace with a gusset, but I don't know enough about trouser construction.

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  13. Phil--If Musa pants are too long for you, can't you wear the knickers? That's what I wore on my road bike until colder temps made me switch to Musa pants.

    It's true, they have no zipper and it's a bit annoying, but they are super-light and have no extra stuff. When cycling long-distance I like to wear mine with wool shirt(s), wool boxers and wool socks, the combination is perfect to avoid the wet/saggy feeling of cotton on a bike. I really like my Musa knickers/pants.

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  14. @kfg - Interesting, but I've never heard 'breeks' used in the UK except as Scots dialect for any kinds of trousers. I was going to suggest plus fours but I think those are generally tweed.

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  15. Have you seen the B.Spoke wool knickers? I haven't shelled out for any yet, but a friend has them and swears by them.

    http://bspoketailor.com/knickers/womens-knickers/

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  16. Plus fours are, well, plus four. Breeks aren't plus anything. You'll find the term in this sense used mostly among the hunting set, and yes, more common the further north you go.

    The more generic term would be "knee breeches," which I believe is what you'd find used as the common term among the more southern horsey set.

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  17. jjfantastic - Those look magnificent, wow! But the price : ((

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  18. i know, the price has definitely stopped me from jumping right in to order some. i figure i've certainly spent that much on dresses that weren't hand made and that don't get worn nearly as frequently as knickers would...but still...i have issues finding pants that fit properly and look good, and i'm afraid to order them without knowing for sure how they'll fit. that's a whole lot of money to take a chance on fit with.

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  19. Warning, rant follows.

    What's the point of looking "dressed up" on a road bike? That's what Dutch/English Roadsters are for, and they don't require special knickers. Musa stuff looks like technical clothing, not dressy trousers cut mid-way under the knee but which still supposedly go with a suit jacket. It looks clownish.

    When on a road bike either wear cycling stuff (lycra, silk or wool) or don't be on a road bike. If you need a special suit tailor-made so that you can ride a stylish leaned-over fixie conversion without a chain guard, maybe that money is better spent getting an upright commuter bike.

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  20. MDI - What you are saying assumes that people only ride roadbikes for sport, not for transportation - which is not the case. Some have a long, hilly commute that is better tackled on a roadbike. Others simply prefer the roadbike posture to an upright one. When we stayed on Cape Cod for 3 weeks and I used my roadbike to get everywhere, I would have loved to look more "normal" than I did. Now, whether the stylised wool knickers sold by B.Spoke qualify as "normal" is a matter of opinion, but that is another topic. But if they made traditionally cut, full-length trousers that resembled the trousers I would normally wear in every way except that they had a gusset in the crotch area and some other hidden features condusive to cycling, the only thing that would stand in the way of my ordering them would be the price.

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  21. I used to do my winter cycling in wool tights with nylon fronts. It seems that those haven't been made in years. Nor are the wool paratrooper pants I wore before I got the tights. However, I doubt that either of them would fit me now!

    Kfg: You're right about pants. Trust me, I know! ;-)

    MDI: I still ride my road and fixie for sport. But, while I don't wear a suits or dresses while riding them, I see no reason why I have to wear the uniform of some cycling team.

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  22. V. Have you tried Sheila Moon's riding britches in either cotton or wool?

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  23. MDI -

    Didactic much? :-)

    I don't care for the tight, cycling-specific knickers like the MUSAs or even the B Spoke versions. And I don't wear lycra. As a poster above said, those of us over 60 don't need to aid and abet the gradual loss of dignity aging brings by running around in public in brightly colored sausage casing. Or as Big Joe Turner phrased it, I'm built for comfort, not for speed.

    One of these days I'm going to have some proper Plus Fours made up by somebody like Spencers. Until then, I alternate in cool/cold weather between trousers like those linked and loose-fitting "tights". I offered the Grammici pants as a workable alternative whose length is easily altered. YMMV

    I agree with Velouria. Many ride "road" bikes for transportation. Three-speed roadsters are fine if you live somewhere where the terrain is roadster friendly. The foothills of the Smokies isn't one of those places. My main ride now is a 650B-converted '74 International with touring gears. I want to be able to run errands and go to the coffee shop in somewhat "normal" casual clothing, including footwear that's not always cycling specific.

    "Dressed up" - I look forward to taking my '58 Rotrax out for a spin in those Plus Fours, a Vittoria wool trainer, coordinated socks and shod in Dromarit's Storicas. What's wrong with a little stylin' to show the youngsters how it's done?

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  24. I love my MUSA knickers. I wear them a LOT both on and off the bike. The only improvement (for a male) would be to add 2-3% Lycra to the material and give it a bit of stretch. BTW, you don't mention it, but I feel the MUSA shorts are a bit too short. I would prefer them tapered a bit as well. The weight of the material for both is perfect though.

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  25. We don't own Musa shorts, just pants and knickers. While I'm being didactic, I might as well add that grown men shouldn't wear shorts outside unless they are swimming. :)

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  26. "While I'm being didactic, I might as well add that grown men shouldn't wear shorts outside unless they are swimming. :) "

    On that we can heartily agree.

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  27. Anne - Those look really nice as well. I have not seen them in person, though I've seen the matching jackets and they are beautifully made.

    MDI - stop riling up my readers : ) I am sure the way you dress on a bike raises more than a few eyebrows here and there!

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  28. I haunt the local thrift shops and buy wool dress slacks in my waist size, every now and again I luck up and get a few pair in my length(extra long). The ones that fit in the waist are converted to knickers, plus fours or breeks. I guess there is a difference... A great find is some of the old style dress uniform wool pants made out of worsted wool. At a few dollars a pair and a couple of hours on a sewing machine they are a great value.

    As far as shorts are concerned I only wear them in the heat of the summer in the Deep South, which includes swimming.

    Aaron

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  29. Some times I wonder why we ever switched to 'ready to wear' clothing. Ready to fit badly, perhaps! I am not terribly abnormal, but a bit high-waisted, and I have a definite booty, and very slender hands and feet. And maybe one article of clothing out of a hundred will fit me well. In specialty clothing, the odds are even slimmer. Let's bring back the tailors! Bike tailors! Yeah.

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  30. "Ready to fit badly, perhaps"

    One size fits all,
    Be you short or be you tall.
    Be you wide or be you slim,
    Be you her or be you him.
    Now please, don't start to scream and yell,
    We never said it would fit well.

    As for the issue of shorts, they are traditional combat wear and it wasn't so long ago that the mark of a civilized man was that he dressed in short skirts and that long pants were the mark of the barbarian.

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  31. it wasn't so long ago that the mark of a civilized man was that he dressed in short skirts and that long pants were the mark of the barbarian

    Those were good times...

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