IPMBA Product Review

Tack for the Technician

by Mitch Trujillo, PCI #244T/EMSCI #248T
Boulder (CO) Police Department

Of all the pieces of equipment on the shop floor, hardware seems to garner more attention than soft goods.  Maybe it is “shiny object syndrome”.  Who knows, but it is encouraging to see designers advancing innovations in bicycling apparel, potentially since this will transfer to bike uniforms which will enable the operator to perform better.  Because job performance is critical, public safety cyclists should take notice of the clothing technologies being adapted for bike duty by a company called Bellwether.

The word “bellwether” has several meanings, one of which is “trendsetter for change”.  It also has been the namesake of an iconic cycling brand since 1973.  That’s important to point out, since that is a significant amount of time to be in any industry.  It could be that Bellwether’s longevity is recognition for the necessity of adapting to change.  The company is venturing into a niche market (a deliberate course of action, or “tack” of sorts) and is applying its ideas to a full line of apparel developed for the public safety cyclist, to include shirts, shorts, jackets, convertible pants, gloves, socks, arm warmers, base layers, and even a balaclava.  As any venture has its risks, we all might ponder the potential if a brand such as Bellwether is willing to apply resources toward a product line designed for our needs.

As further testament to their commitment to doing it right, Bellwether contacted IPMBA members to request feedback while developing their public safety cyclist uniform.  That’s a fairly significant move, since they could have copied what others have done and/or simply rested on their experience and guessed what the technician needed.  So as is typical for any easily distracted bike techie, I was lured to their innovations in a sample offering of the Cycling Patrol Polo Shirt, Patrol Shorts with Liner, Ergo Gel Cycling Glove, Coldflash™ Undershirt, and Sun Sleeves.  Each piece has a number of unique features which I’ll try to highlight from my extensive wear-test.

The prototype Polo Shirt pulls together several desirable traits.  Features like soft, stretchable and durable Micro Dry knit and Air Lite seamless mesh armpit panels to vent and help to evaporate moisture, available in a variety of sizes and color.  Things like well-appointed pockets, mic ports and tabs, and no sizing label.  Stuff like properly positioned 3M bonded reflective tape, viewable from both standing or riding positions, and silicon tracks at the hem to prevent that annoying “ride up” of the shirt tail.  All features come together in a garment that is ergonomic, professional-looking, durable, and functional for high activity bike maneuvers.  (Note:  Bellwether had to remove the silicon tracks at the hem of their production model due to a patent issue, which is unfortunate, but shirt “ride up” will probably not be much of an issue anyway if used with their shorts/pants, which employ silicon strips inside the waistband.)

The Ergo Gel Cycling Glove has a few of its own attributes.    A significant characteristic is the silicon that is impregnated into the palm material, which aids in handlebar and firearm grip.  There are also microfiber thumb wipes, high-density gel padding in the palm to relieve pressure and numbness, and pull tabs on the fingers and wrist to aid in glove removal.  Nice.     A minor quibble I have with them is the “adjustable hook and loop closure” at the wrist, which is, in my opinion, annoying and unnecessary, particularly when quickly donning/doffing while riding.  I’m not sure why that feature was included, since the gloves in their civilian line don’t have it.  Bellwether was receptive to my feedback, but it remains to be seen if they take my advice to modify that part of the glove.

The Coldflash™ Undershirt and Sun Sleeves are revelations in comfort.  They both employ a soft and highly stretchable micro-poly yarn or fabric technology that both protect from heat and wick moisture.  With flat seams, no tags, and a variety of sizes in black, the undershirt works well under body armor and the sleeves have a cooling sensation, even in hot weather.  These are features well worth it to the bicycle operator.

The Patrol Shorts and Under-Shorts are the highlights of the group, and I’ve saved them for last.  It can be said that shorts and liner are among the most important pieces of gear for the trade, and certainly garments that can’t be taken for granted.  The shorts come in navy or black and are composed of 4-Way Exo-Flex™ material, which seems to balance both durability and range of motion.  Bellwether’s short and pant design includes a gusseted crotch, a host of functional pockets, to include zippered front slash, cargo and back pockets with 3M reflective accents; adjustable waist band tabs at the sides with silicon strips inside the band to keep things in place, and a trusty zipper fly for the frantic nature break at the quick-mart.  The Bellwether gusset material is significantly broader and employs more robust stitching than those competitors who might even offer a gusset, resulting in less potential for chafing and potentially much less stress on seams and wear.  The technology implemented in the shorts translates to comfort, utility, strength and abrasion resistance in a modest and professional style.  (The early production model of one pair I tested had a defect with a front snap, which Bellwether immediately addressed in the production prior to the publication of this article.) 

The Under-Shorts, or liner, utilizes a highly ventilated mesh fabric that feels like a second skin, with an integrated seat chamois that offers anti-microbial properties and just enough padding without feeling bulky.  The outer shorts can be worn with other liners or solo for the commando.  For the price, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the shorts and liner are the best I’ve tried.  It wouldn’t be surprising if civilian riders take notice and line up to use this system.  If the shorts and other garments are any indication, Bellwether is heralding a new level in apparel for public safety cycling performance.  It certainly would seem to be consistent with their name. 

The tack and technology that Bellwether is using is impressive and worthy of attention.  Their introductory line of technical wear for public safety cyclists is based on real-world feedback.  It is well-executed, utilizes impressive technology, looks sharp, and allows the technician to excel in a demanding and ever-changing environment.  The line appears to be competitively priced and Bellwether boasts more stock size availability than the competition.  Shorts and pants are available in even sizes 28-59, and polo shirts and jackets fit sizes XS to 5XL.  Bellwether showcased their line at the IPMBA Conference in Asheville and appears to be in a position to make a positive and profound impact in the public safety cycling apparel market.  Rumor has it that there are plans to broaden their offerings toward hardware, like helmets and bikes. 

If your mission is vital, I’d highly recommend Bellwether Technical Apparel for bike operations.  Check them out at their new domain, http://bellwetheruniform.com, for uniform literature, pricing, territory reps and more information.  Bellwether does not yet participate in IPMBA’s Product Purchase Program.

For further guidance, I would recommend checking out the articles by former instructor Ken King (http://ipmba.org/blog/comments/equipment-and-uniforms-for-bike-patrol), past IPMBA president and instructor-trainer Kirby Beck (http://ipmba.org/blog/comments/dressing-for-success), and Chapter 5:  “Clothing and Personal Protective Equipment,” The Complete Guide to Public Safety Cycling (2nd Ed.), when doing your homework on selecting uniforms for your unit.

Mitch is a law enforcement professional, IPMBA Instructor Trainer, IPMBA Industry Relations Committee Member, former Education Director and Board Member, BMA Volunteer Bike Patroller, IPA connoisseur, and director of MTB Responder, LLC.  He can be reached at 1x1mitch@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy Bellwether Uniform and Mitch Trujillo.

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