Dealers can charge more for new helmet features
Summary: This 1996 article reported that new helmet features were raising prices, a trend that has continued.
An Article from
Bicycle Retailer and Industry News
September 1, 1996
Consumers Like New Helmet Features
Occipital Contraptions Help Push Up Helmet Prices
BY STEVE FROTHINGHAM
SANTA CRUZ, CA-Four years ago marketing executives in the helmet
industry were unable to tell the difference between an occipital
lobe from a bump on the head.
Now some of them credit the lobe which is, in fact, a bump on
the back of the head with indirectly increasing average retail
prices by as much as $7 per helmet in the last three years.
As manufacturers try to differentiate their helmets from the competition,
most have happily discovered that consumers will pay more for
a helmet with a strap or other device that grabs the back of their
Helmet suppliers call these occipital contraptions rear retention
devices. Consumers seem eager to pay more for these fancy, adjustable
and comfortable devices.
Giro and Helmet Worx introduced the first rear retention systems
in 1993. Two years later, Bel1 threw out its Reebok Pump fitting
system in favor of its Full Nelson and Half Nelson retention straps.
Specialized followed suit with its Brainlock retention device.
All manufacturers now have some kind of rear retention device
at least on their high end, off-road helmets
The devices help keep a helmet secure during bumpy off-road rides.
They also help some helmets pass roll-off tests, which are part
of the newest standards from Snell, ASTM and the Consumer Product
The devices prevent cyclists from wearing helmets tilted too far
back on their heads, a practice that exposes the forehead to impact
or from coming off altogether. The straps also prevent helmets
from being worn backwards, a common sight on bike paths.
Another benefit is that retention devices help some helmets fit
a wider range of head shapes.
Specialized, for example, added its new web strap to its Air Piranha
and Sub 6 Pro, two helmets retailers said are hard to fit on many
consumers. The web improves the helmet's fit, a Specialized product
Rear retention straps offer another way to differentiate helmets
and define retail price points. And manufacturers who offer two
or three versions of the strap can give consumers another reason
to buy a more expensive model.
For example, GT's new helmet line features the Gripper retention
device on models selling for as little as S30. The fancier Jack
the Gripper is used on helmets selling for $50 or more.
Giro now has three versions of its Roc Loc. The Roc Loc used to
be only on our $120 helmets. Now it's on $30 helmets. That created
a marketing problem for us last year, because it gave less reason
for consumers to buyup to more expensive models. But we've added
some differentiation this year by coming out with the Roc-Loc
2 and Roc-Loc 3," said Blair Clark Giro Sport Design's vice
president of sales and marketing.
Clark cited independent research that pegged the average specialty
retail price of a helmet last year at $38. That's up from $34
in 1994 and $31 in 1993.
Clark said Giro's average retail selling price continues to climb,
so this year's average may exceed $39, the average price in 1992
before fierce price cutting drove prices down. Clark attributes
some of the price increases to the rear retention devices "They
give customers a reason to pay more," Clark said.
Others attribute the average price increase to specialty retailers
who no longer try to compete with mass merchants for sales of
"The IBDs lost the battle to the mass merchants at the low-end,"
said Bill Armas, the general manager of GT Bicycles' helmet program.
The high-end remains the proving ground of new styles, increased
ventilation and other features. Bell, Giro and Specialized, the
strongest players in high-end helmet sales, all have new top-of-the-line
helmets for next year.
Bell's EVO2 and EVO2 Pro feature a new Exoskeleton design that
minimizes microshell material and makes them look like something
from the movie, Alien. Both helmets have 15 large air vents.
Giro's Exodus RL off-road helmet has 21 vents, the same number
as last year's successful Helios road helmet. But the Exodus takes
top-of-the-line pricing to a new level, $150. Giro also changed
the styling on its $130 Helios RL. It now features a simple, two-color,
three-panel color scheme reminiscent of the company's original
Lycra-covered Pro lite.
Specialized also jumped on the retrowagon with its stylish Air
Cobra, which has a shape and color scheme similar to a vintage
Cobra sports car. The $130 helmet has 29 vents, a new record for
the company. A forked tongue hangs out of the helmet's mouth port
"It's these little touches that give our products personality,"
said Andy Pliska, Specialized's product marketing coordinator
Like Shimano. most helmet manufacturers introduce their newest
features at the high end and then trickle them down the line as
the years go by.
Major manufacturers like Specialized, Bell and Giro limit their
new helmet shapes to no more than four each year.
For example, Specialized is getting extra mileage out of its Sub
6 and Air Piranha helmets by adding the web retention strap, changing
the graphics and by lowering price points. The Air Piranha now
sells for $79, down from last year's $99. The Sub 6 will retail
for $65 next year.
GT's entry into the top-of-the-line sector is the Machete, which
sells for $99. Armas said GT developed value-added features at
all price points for its first helmet line manufactured by Troxel.
Troxel has stopped selling helmets under its own name.
You see a lot of manufacturers coming out with a $130 helmet,
then making it a $99 helmet the next year, and a $69 helmet the
year after that. Doesn't anyone say, hey, if it's worth $69 now
why was it worth $130 two years ago? We tried to come up with
helmets worth a certain amount this year and next year and the
next," Armas said.
GT helmets feature channeled vents and a tiny buckle that doesn't
pinch a customer's neck during showroom fittings. All GT visors
are specifically designed to fit only one model
"I don't think retention devices will cause consumers to
buy up, because we have them on all our helmets, at all price
points. It's the little details that will separate helmets this
year," Armas said.
Since specialty retailers are better able than mass merchants
to point out those little details, increased competition among
helmet designers could result in a further increase in average
helmet prices sold through specialty shops next year, Armas said.
Copyright 1996 by Miller Freeman, Inc, Santa Fe, New Mexico. All rights reserved. Used with permission.