Bayport resident Tom Darrow knows the name of his company is ridiculous. But that is the point. The owner of Belch Gear, a cycling apparel and “athleisure-wear” business founded in 2013, sets out to offer quality clothing to cyclists who are more focused on having fun than having something to prove. “We wanted it to be impossible to take yourself too seriously when sporting our Belch threads,” Darrow says. “We preach getting out there, having a great time and just not caring so hard.”
This laidback attitude sets Belch apart from other brands, which Darrow says often seem elite and exclusive. “There are all these companies with multi-syllable names, a lot of them Italian-sounding whether they’re from Italy or not, depicting pictures of riders on the podium,” Darrow says. With Belch, he wanted to ditch the pretentiousness, and offer comfort and style for cyclists of all shapes, sizes and skill levels.
The 1998 Stillwater High School graduate sells jerseys, shirts and hats online, at events and at a few area retailers. The 100 percent-polyester jersey designs range from plaids to beer-themed options like the “Beer Spectrum,” which starts with a dark stout color at the top of the torso and gradients down to the amber color of a light pilsner. One of the first retailers to carry Belch apparel was Chilkoot Café & Cyclery in Stillwater. Darrow and his business partner Wade Wenzel often would head to Chilkoot to talk Belch plans over a beer or coffee. (Wenzel, also a Stillwater grad and the graphic designer responsible for a lot of Belch’s initial branding and clothing designs, has since stepped away from the business.) For a brand that would “embrace the healthy marriage of bikes and beer,” as Darrow puts it, Chilkoot was the perfect spot to talk business. When owner Lee Stylos learned of their plans, he offered to add their jerseys to the merchandise in the shop. The Belch items sell as well as anything else, and Stylos attributes this to the originality of the product. “There’s a lot of guys that want a unique and interesting shirt rather than the standard team logo kind of thing,” he says.
Darrow also offers custom jerseys for clubs, teams and breweries. One of his first custom customers was Lift Bridge Brewing Co. in Stillwater, which is one of Darrow’s favorite local watering holes. Over some pints of beer, Darrow and Brad Glynn, co-founder and COO of Lift Bridge Brewing, brainstormed ideas for what is now the Lift Bridge Hop Dish jersey. With the connection between the craft beer and biking cultures, Darrow and Glynn plan to continue collaborating. “Working together is definitely a joy,” Glynn says.
Darrow says the company has been a passion project; he also works as a regional sales manager for a company in Minnetonka, and started Belch to channel his creative side and get more into the biking scene. He’s been mountain biking since he was 12 years old, and started road cycling with his wife, Becca, about five years ago.
For those looking for beautiful scenery and plenty of hills, he says the St. Croix Valley is a perfect place to bike. “If you like things that are flat and plain, you’d probably want to stay away,” he says. Within the cycling community, he’s found that many people these days are “a lot more interested in spending their time to have fun, not necessarily going out to become super-ripped.” Not that there’s anything wrong with being fast or talented. At the end of the day, Belch, he says, is all about inclusiveness, embracing yourself and simply enjoying the ride.
Find Belch Gear at Penn Cycle and Chilkoot Café.
For more information, visit belchgear.com, and @belchgear on Twitter and Instagram.
Belch supports the Urban Assault Ride and Tour de Fat, as well as many of the events hosted at Minneapolis Bike Love.