GEAR: Bellwether Optime Kit Review
If you haven’t noticed, Bellwether Clothing is back, and their newest top-line cycling jersey & bibshorts are worth noticing. A resurgence in their R&D raised our eyebrows a couple years back (read the Bellwether Forma Bibshorts, Phase & Cadence Jerseys review here) and after some solid miles in their Optime kit, we remain impressed.
“As for fit – if you’re sized like me, you’d say they’ve done a pretty good job.”
– Word & Photos by Sean Coffey –
We ask a lot of cycling kits. We want a perfect fit, despite our own less-than-perfect bodies. We want to stay cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cool…sometimes in the same ride. We want a snug, aerodynamic fit that doesn’t restrict movement, but we don’t want to feel like sausages. And down below, we want protection from chafing and a plush pad, without the sensation of wearing a diaper. We want it all. And it’s a tall order for a few millimeters of fabric.
Bellwether may be one of the more ‘quiet’ names in cycling apparel – they’re not the sort to sponsor Tour de France teams – but they’ve spent the past 40 years pursuing this lofty goal. And the new Optime kit showcases all that they’ve learned, and have to offer.
Cycling kits are the culmination of two things: fabric and fit. For the former, Bellwether works with their fabric mills to either develop their own proprietary materials, or modify existing fabrics to enhance certain qualities, like stretch or moisture management. As for fit – if you’re sized like me, you’d say they’ve done a pretty good job.
The Optime jersey uses Coolmax™ front and shoulder panels wick moisture away from skin on the areas facing the wind, to reduce chill. Bellwether’s proprietary fabric called Cooltemp covers the back, which is designed to assist in thermoregulation through the use of cooling crystals embedded into the fibers and nanotechnology, which acts like a large radiator to lower skin temperatures by up to 5 degrees. X-Factor patches under arm and across the back provide extra venting where it’s needed most. Though the fabrics used in the Optime seem optimized for warm-to-hot days, it’s still comfortable when the air takes a chill – but you’ll want a vest or jacket if temps get below 70 degrees.
The Optime bib shorts employ a similar arsenal of technical fabric, starting with a ColdBlack™ dying process that deflects UV rays to resist heat buildup, and PowerGrid™ and Denier fabrics to provide a balance of stretch and compression qualities as well as moisture-wicking. The ColdBlack™ fabric produces a very noticeable effect – when you stop and rest at the top of a climb, you expect the black fabric in your shorts to heat up in the sun. So when it doesn’t do that, but you can still feel the sun’s heat on your legs, it’s pretty impressive.
Suspending your sit-bits off the saddle is a Physio Pro Carbon™ chamois – a 4D high-density unit threaded with carbon fiber and made out of Spacerknit hollow foam, which speeds up heat dissipation. I’m sensitive to saddle and bib deficiencies when it comes to pressure management and was able to knock out some long rides in the Optime bibs without even thinking about the chamois. For me that’s a rare and wonderful thing.
“When it comes to pressure management I was able to knock out some long rides without even thinking about the chamois.”
Stringing these wonder-fabrics together is a number of advanced construction techniques that improve both comfort and air flow, including silicone-backed microfiber arm and waist bands and silicone coated wide-stretch leg bands, and flat seams throughout. Bellwether has decades of research to lean on when it comes to their fit philosophy, as well as a rigorous in-house testing process.
I talked with Bellwether Product Manager Brian Cameron, who told me: “We want to make sure that patterns and fabric selections truly enhance performance and hit the goals we set for them….is it still a truly comfortable chamois even after a 5-hour day in the saddle? Does the fabric keep you cooler and dryer than traditional poly?”
Given that the Optime kit is Bellwether’s top tier offering, the resulting ‘Aero Fit’ is described as, “Targeted for a fit athlete who desires a more body- forming fit.” Careful management of stretch panels in both jersey and bibs provides a nice fit without feeling overly tight anywhere, and the medium kits felt true-to-size. It’s a racer-oriented fit that’s likely going to work best for slim physiques seeking speed and trying to avoid any excess fabric flapping in the wind. This means the technical fabrics are against your skin for maximum benefit, and in some areas (particularly the bibs) there’s a degree of compression claimed to improve circulation. It also means that if you have man-boobs or don’t really want to be in a kit that flaunts your every curve, you might want to seek a less snug-fitting kit.
I’m pretty slim at 5’-9” and 150lbs and for me the fit was spot-on in most areas. I’m a bit long in the torso and some shorter and tighter ‘race-fit’ jerseys can become belly shirts on me, so I was pleased that the Optime jersey was long enough to prevent this. I may need to bulk up my chicken-arms though, as the sleeves fit me a tad loose.
The shorts and sleeves are a bit longer than some kits (which I prefer) and the silicone backing keeps things from sliding around or riding up over the course of a ride – which is nice when you’re wearing arm warmers and don’t want any gaps. The jersey features three standard jersey pockets and a fourth zippered waterproof pocket. The side pockets are a bit smaller so that the center pocket can be a bit larger, which makes it easier to stuff a jacket in there. I wish more jersey makers thought of this.
Complaints are few to mention. The jersey has a full-length zipper which I consider to be a must-have, but it’s a bit fiddly and hard to unzip/rezip especially when rolling due to being pretty fine, and also protective fold at the bottom. This is far from a deal killer though, since the heat-managing materials used means there’s less of a need to fully unzip your jersey even on a hot day.
When it comes to cycling clothing, comfort is king, and the Bellwether Optime delivers at a very attractive price with no sign of skimping on quality in terms of construction. The fit is aimed at the rider seeking performance and the technical fabrics employed will keep you cool and dry on days ranging from pleasantly warm to uncomfortably hot. And while Bellwether may not be the trendiest brand on the Saturday group ride, the performance is there and with the money you save, you could buy a second kit to wear on Sunday…
Colors: Black, White
RETAIL PRICE: $119.99
Optime Bib Short
Chamois: Physio Pro Carbon™
Color: Black/Black, Black/Ferrari, Black/White
Size: S-XXL RETAIL
Get more info and find a dealer near you at www.Bellwetherclothing.com