Some US-Based Helmet Manufacturers - Old Data!
Summary: Helmet industry info from the consumer's viewpoint. Please note that we never accept funding from any manufacturer or company involved in the sale of helmets. Our writeup on helmets for the current season may be a better way to understand what each company is making, but this page is for background on the US manufacturers. It was written in the 1990's, and we now use links to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News to update it.
Accurate industry numbers have never been available. There is no source of published data on the
number of helmets sold this year, or estimates for the future.
We have at times heard that the
Bicycle Market Research Institute in Boston (telephone 617-277-5660) sells consumer research-based
studies of demand for helmets and other bicycle-related items. Bell Helmets published in their
1994 stock prospectus an estimate of their own worldwide sales at about 11 million annually at
that time, and the popular saying is that they have 70 per cent or more of the world market. We
don't have any basis for confirming those numbers, and Bell is no longer a publicly traded company so
they don't publish their numbers. In June, 1995 another manufacturer, Headstrong Group, published their version of the numbers in a promotional pamphlet. (Headstrong has since disappeared from the market.) They estimated that the helmet market at that time was "worth $200,000,000" a year, and gave this breakdown for the major players:
From Headstrong Group
Market Share Comparison:
Manufacturer 1993 1994 Percent 1995 est.
Bell Sports 3,000 4,000 40% 4,500
Cycle Products 1,500 2,000 20 2,000
Headstrong 1,700 17 3,300
Troxel 1,500 1,000 10 1,000
Other 1,000 1,300 13 2,200
----- ----- ----- -----
Total 7,000 10,000 100 13,000
The brochure where this chart appears does not make it clear whether these estimates
were for the U.S., North American or World helmet markets. It also does not say
whether or not it includes the non-bicycle part of Headstrong's sales of baseball,
equestrian, ski, snowboard and skating helmets. The source is cited as "Various industry
reports and internal estimates." Whatever the accuracy of the figures, we salute the
Headstrong Group as the only manufacturer to publish their estimates. Unfortunately,
they were forced into bankruptcy a few years later (see below). We only leave these numbers here
because no other manufacturer or industry source will publish figures to replace them.
The helmet industry has had a small association of manufacturers, the Protective Headgear Manufacturers Association (PHMA, pronounced Fee-mah). The organization folded in 2009. PHMA had funded some useful research studies.
Each year we do a review of helmets for the current season. That review includes all of the manufacturers for whom we have been able to find helmet information, many more than the few mentioned below. For a complete list, we keep a list of all the manufacturers we have heard of, whether or not we have any idea of their line. What follows is commentary on only the largest players in the US market. Most of the news
articles referenced below are used with the permission of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, the best
source of information on the US bicycle helmet industry.
Major US Helmet Manufacturers
All of the manufacturers listed below are currently selling large numbers of helmets in the US market. All of them have had an occasional recall.
Bell Sports, Inc. is probably still the world's largest manufacturer of helmets and at one time held some 70% of the total world helmet market. In 1995 Bell began buying other helmet manufacturers, including several Canadian companies and Giro. We think Bell has made some really good products over the years, and some that were not so good. Bell's staff members have been among the most active in promoting standards, particularly VP emeritus Dean Fisher, who has for years contributed a great deal to the standards effort, along with Thom Parks in Corporate Affairs. In 1998 Bell began producing their Kinghead helmet for very large heads, a project we had been asking manufacturers to undertake for several years. It was unquestionably provided as a public service, since the number of riders who need 8 1/4 size helmets is very limited, and Bell has never made a profit on that model. Bell also funds bicycle helmet promotion activities of the Safe Kids, whose local chapters are the country's most active lobby for mandatory helmet laws. Because of their market dominance in the US, Consumer Reports usually includes lots of Bell models in their testing, and Bell always has several models among their recommended choices.
In 2004 Bell Sports was purchased by Fenway Partners, a private-equity holding company. The Giro part of Bell was included. Through Fenway, Bell Sports in early 2005 repurchased the Bell motorcycle helmet manufacturing company that it had spun off in 1991. Then Bell merged with Riddell, known as a football helmet maker. In 2006 Riddell Bell merged with Easton Sports, and became Easton-Bell Sports, owned by Fenway Partners, Jim Easton, and The Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. In 2016 the Bell, Giro and Cpreme brands were sold to Vista Sports. Most consumers are probably unaware of any of those changes, and as far as we can tell they have not changed the company's technical competence or product quality.
Here are some references on Bell:
Giro produced the first no-shell helmet for adults in 1986, sparking a massive shift to the no-shell and then the thin-shell design. They are best known for high-end helmets that sell at high-end prices, helped along by advertising featuring Lance Armstrong and emphasizing the racing connection built from that 1986 design. Giro was bought by Bell in 1996, but maintained a separate brand identity. They have been among the industry leaders in new features such as rear stabilizers and better strap adjusters. Consumer Reports has consistently rated their low or medium priced helmets as more protective than the pricey high-end models with the huge vents. Bell and Giro are now completely integrated, but the Giro brand helmets are still different from Bells.
Reference: Bell Begins Building Giro's Helmets March, 1999
Giro Sport Design
PTI, formerly Protective Technologies International, was a very large producer of mostly inexpensive bicycle helmets, marketed primarily through discount stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, the Sports Authority and Toys `R Us. In mid-2002 they purchased the rights to use the Schwinn brand for helmets and other bike accessories. In 2008 PTI was purchased by Dorel Industries of Canada, and integrated into one of Dorel's divisions. We think that means the PTI brand has disappeared.
Specialized is an importer and manufacturer of a wide range of bicycle accessories and bicycles. They brought mountain biking to the masses with their Stumpjumper in the early 1990s. Their helmets have usually been good performers, and are marketed with design sizzle.
Trek is an independent producer of quality bicycles in the U.S., and their helmet line complements their bicycle sales. We see Trek helmets selling in the $25 range and up in some local bike shops, but usually they are higher than that. Their medium-priced helmets have scored well in Consumer Reports testing. They bought Bontrager, and now use that brand for their helmet line.
Where are the rest of them? We began this page years ago as "US-based Manufacturers." It's mostly history now, with few helmets made in the US.
Here is an article from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News with many hopeful comments from European helmet marketers about expanding their sales in the US market.
This page was updated or partially revised on: February 27, 2016.