DIY: Make your own cycling knickers

By Marie Autrey. Photo by Adam Newman. Illustration by Stephen Haynes.

Clothes make the man. (Or woman.) The problem is what they make you into. A team jersey and Lycra shorts turn you into a cross between a NASCAR Chevy and some link sausages. Even if you ride like Superman on Sunday, you probably need to look like Clark Kent for the Monday commute. We’re going to show you three ways to make a pair of dress slacks into garb that will let you ride like the wind, and still climb that corporate ladder.


Start with a good pair of dress slacks. The quality you’re looking for tends to be high-dollar, so you may want to shop second-hand. You want wool fabric or a mostly-wool blend for sweat wicking and odor control. Test the fabric by taking one leg and twisting it like you’re wringing out a washrag. If it doesn’t return to shape immediately, look elsewhere. Brooks Brothers and Neiman-Marcus are reliable brands, and show up in thrift stores in the better parts of town. Dark colors and pleated fronts resist the indignities that com- muter clothes fall heir to.

I’m only addressing men’s clothing here, not to dis my own gender, but because it answers my experience. I’ve got the sort of straight up-and-down figure that fits into unaltered men’s garb. Women with more curves and fewer straightaways have an additional challenge. In general, women’s clothing exists to serve a look rather than a function, with lighter fabric, lower quality, and cut for the designer’s vision of womanhood, not for real bodies.

I lucked into some military dress slacks, dark gray, in a wool-poly blend. An online surplus house had them at two bucks a pair. (Many types of military surplus can prove useful to the cyclist. Watch for a more thorough discussion in an upcoming issue.)


Step 1: The first step in any DIY project is to determine what you want. I wanted to turn these into a slightly long pair of knickers: short enough to stay away from the chain, and long enough not to bind my knees while pedaling.

Step 2: Try on the pants and have a helper mark the bony knob on the outside of your knee with a pin. Some acts, like riding a seesaw, just cannot be accomplished alone. With the pants off, measure down five inches from the mark, make a straight line with a T-square, and cut off the lower legs. Four inches provides range of motion, and the other inch represents a seam allowance.

Step 3: Take the amputated lowers and turn them wrong-side-out. If a cuff is already stitched in, snip it off and keep it; discard the rest. This will give you a circle of double-thickness fabric. Cut the side seam so it changes from a circle to a strip. If the pants you’re working with don’t have a cuff, cut a four-inch strip of fabric from the bottom and stitch it into a tube.

Step 4: Open up the outside seam of the pants two inches or so from where you chopped off the legs. This leaves a V-notch. Pin the tube to the bottom of the legs, starting at one edge of the V and going all the way around. Stitch over the pins, unpin it, and press the seam flat.

Step 5: Put the pants back on, and have your helper pull the cuff band up to the top of your calf. Overlap the ends, and mark the overlap. Sew on a snap, leaving enough room for two fingers between the cuff band and your leg.

Voila! Kind-of knickers. They’ll balloon a little at the knees but never bind. If you lose weight, or bulk up your legs, you can adjust the fit by moving the snap.


Let’s say you’re lucky enough to have a pair of slacks you want to ride in that is long enough. You can accomplish the same goal of keeping cuffs out of chains with the simple expedient of rolling up the cuff. Then make a loop of fabric and stitch it to the inside of the leg, so that when the cuff is rolled up, the loop can be passed under the roll and snapped to a snap on the outside seam.

You’ve undoubtedly seen this feature on safari shirts, to keep rolled-up sleeves from falling down. This will work best with fuller cuts and lighter fabrics not prone to wrinkling. This gives you a much more normal look when off the bike than knickers, and also keeps your shoes from becoming such a focal point. Any chain grease that gets on them will be on the inside.

For ultimate simplicity, stitch one half of a snap to the hem of the slacks, just behind the front crease, and the other half about three inches up from the hem, ahead of the rear crease. Snapped together, it will tighten the cuff enough to keep it out of the chain.

Sewing tips

For more thorough background, there’s plenty of info online, and Singer and Simplicity publish hardcover books with lay-flat bindings so you can look at them while you’re sewing. I’m not a seamstress: I inherited my grandmother’s 1908 Singer and was just fooling around with it when I made these. But a couple of tips will make the process easier.

Your sewing machine is like a bicycle. If it hasn’t been used in a while, some oil on the moving parts and a new drive belt will solve most problems. If it regularly breaks needles, that’ll require professional intervention.
Get a steam iron that’s clean and hot. Find the highest temperature that won’t damage your fabric, and keep the iron ready. Ironing gives the fabric its shape; the stitches hold everything together.

When joining two pieces of fabric, place the outsides facing each other, stitch down the edge, then fold back and press the seam open. This is basic, but I didn’t know it, and the first pair of knickers came out pretty goofy-looking.

Snaps do everything buttons can, and you don’t need to make buttonholes.

Knickers should be either short and snug or long and loose. Short and loose are bloomers, long and tight are Steve Urkels. Choose your shoes and socks carefully: they’re part of the ensemble.

Use plenty of pins: good, long ones with T-shaped heads. They lay flat so you can run over them with the sewing machine, and can be removed easily. Cheap pins rust and tiny heads make it hard to pull them out.

Cheap thread is no bargain.


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