Wool Trousers to Cycling Knickers Conversion

By James Black, February 2011

My latest cycling-related construction project was this pair of homemade wool knickers, aka Breeks or Plus-Fours. I started with a pair of heavy wool outdoorsman's trousers in the famed "Adirondack Plaid" from Johnson Woolen Mills. I picked these up for about $5 on eBay (cheap no doubt because of the 28" inseam). I had come to the conclusion that I have greater saddle comfort while cycling in a trouser of thick material that does not bunch up beneath the corners of my ass at the outer edge of the saddle, and this fabric is about as thick as can be.

I highly recommend Johnson Woolen Mills: made in Vermont, high quality, and I daresay less itchy than the Woolrich Malone equivalent, I don't know why Filson gets all the "heritage brand" fans but Johnson Woolen Mills goes unheard of.

I put these together in maybe six to eight hours with my 1970s Kenmore sewing machine. I'm terrible at sewing, and sewing is really hard. Unless you already have sewing abilities, I recommend that you either find a good tailor or buy ready-made knickers. But thanks to the low resolution of these digital photos, you probably can't tell how lousy my craftsmanship is.

My process was this: I cut the bottoms off the trousers, sewed a crude button hole in one end, and sewed the bottom back on again several inches higher. Then I got some lightweight black cotton duck canvas, and sewed it into the gap where the new cuff didn't wrap all the way around. Then I took another 3" wide bit of canvas (more like 5" with 1" folded in on both sides, ironed, to make a 3" wide belt without exposed edge) and sewed this all the way around the inside to make a less itchy liner. And then I sewed on those old wooden buttons. I found that riding is somewhat more comfortable in the unbuttoned configuration.

I preferred this first image, because I look so surly. I don't usually stoop to wearing such a foppish ensemble complete with matching socks, but the Internet deserves only the best. I also own a matching Adirondack Plaid Cape Coat from Johnson Mills, which would look nice with these knickers if I needed to ride my cargo bike to a wintertime Smugness Convention.