I started wearing knickerbockers, or knickers, about eight years ago. I had gotten tired of rolling up my pant legs to avoid chain grease, and the little straps and clips I used were either too loose or too tight. I found a pair of pants somewhere that zipped off to convert to knicker-length, and found that I liked cycling in those better than any others.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about European city bikes and realized that this same situation could well have been solved by the use of a chainguard or chaincase. But in the interim, I have discovered that I really like wearing knickers, at least as much as I like wearing pants — on and off the bike.
Knickers have a jaunty style that I enjoy. They are versatile and comfortable: they work as well in summer as they do in winter (with the judicious application of a pair of woolies underneath), and they allow freedom of movement that long pants do not. In other words, they’re stylish, comfortable, and functional — my favorite kind of clothing.
When I first started wearing them, knickers for men were hard to find, and not that appealing when I could find them. I gradually began uncovering some vintage gems on eBay; one of my favorites early on was a pair of German cross-country skiing knickers, made of tight felted wool with friction buckles at the cuff, and pockets that zipped up. They are comfortable and wonderfully warm in the winter, even when damp.
Recently, knickers have seen a resurgence in popularity. Various takes on the knickerbocker are being produced by casual clothing and sportswear companies, and there are many independent designers making stylish knickers specifically intended to look good and wear well on a bike. Some of this is doubtless connected to urban cycling, and messenger style. But knickers are, and always have been, great for walking and hiking, and just getting around.
I’ve noticed a trend among the newer array of knickers. There seems to be a need to make up new names for things, even if an old name (or many old names) already exist. I’ve seen knickerbockers for men that are sold as “3/4 pants,” “messenger shorts,” or “long shorts.” Worse, I’ve seen them called “shpants” and “manpris”, as if these mysterious garments are so beyond comprehension that we have to make up cumbersome, unpleasant neologisms. Of course, there’s no need: you can just call them “knickers” or “knickerbockers.”
You see, knickerbockers, and garments like them, have plenty of names already. According to Wikipedia, the word “knickerbocker” was the name of a Dutch settler, whose name later became associated with the breeches worn by the Dutch at that time. (Apparently, even the Dutch were still struggling with the limitations of derailleur bikes back in the 16th century.) The French culottes are simply another version of knickerbocker, though that name later came to refer to womens’ pants of similar design. In women’s fashion, similar garments are even more popular, and are called by a variety of other names, such as capri pants, gauchos, culottes (see above), clamdiggers, or — yes — pedal-pushers.
Some of my favorite knickers from the past few years:
The aforementioned Sport-Schenk German vintage wool skiing knickers (above). Perfect for the cold rainy days of deepest winter, but a bit warm for the shoulder seasons. I wish they had belt loops and a cargo pocket, but other than that they are just perfect. These are the knickerbockers that got me on Wikipedia (hi, Mom!). I found them on eBay, which is a good place to look for things like this. http://www.ebay.com
Bicycle Fixation wool knickers (above). These are sharp and dressy, cut like traditional mens’ trousers and made of fine wool gabardine. They feature a buttoned gusset at the cuff with a peek of red satin material inside. We had to tack down the satin fabric to get it to seat properly, but I believe they have fixed this error in later runs. The fabric is light and appropriate for most any season except hottest summer. In winter I wear them with a layer of woolies underneath. I absolutely love these. Their only flaw is that they are so nice, I don’t want to mess them up, so I save them for dressier occasions. http://www.bicyclefixation.com
Kuhl Boulder shorts (above). These are from the sportier side of things, presumably designed for rock climbing. They are made of a light cotton fabric bonded to a nylon inner facing. I’m not a big fan of cotton, but between the light weight and the nylon, these are quick to dry, and they are very easy to move in. They’re my favorite summer pants, great for cycling, hiking, and farm work. In winter, they’re plenty warm with the addition of a pair of woolies underneath (as above). I am on my second pair and would own three if they hadn’t screwed up the sizes with the new batch. https://www.kuhl-usa.com/