Bell (Booth 1401) enters the premium street helmet market with its Star model retailing for between $524.99 and $599.99. The company is selling directly to dealers, whose margin is at least 50 percent. According to company reps, the Star is the second step toward a better image for the brand (the first step being the Moto 8 motocross helmet introduced in 2004).
In 1966, Bell invented the full-face motorcycle helmet, also called the Star, and was a major player in the market for many years. In 1991, however, Bell licensed out the brand for motorcycle helmets to focus on its bicycle segment. The motorcycle helmets soon found their way to Wal-Mart, and the brand became a laughingstock among many dealers.
Bell reacquired the brand in 2002 and has been rebuilding ever since. The Star began life three years ago as a custom helmet for racer Eddie Lawson. Five generations of prototypes followed. In January, the company invited the motorcycle press to its headquarters in Santa Cruz, Calif., to test out the final product. Look for reviews in publications such as Cycle World and Cycle News.
The journalists were given plenty to write about. The helmet is composed of 75 different parts. Bell says it borrowed from its auto racing helmets to design the contours. Likewise, its bicycle product inspired the ventilation system. Bell tested the helmet in a wind tunnel, in a water tunnel, on the track, and using thermal imaging.
The front and back spoilers aren't gimmicks, Bell says. They increase the downward force and the stability at high speeds. Included with each helmet is even a Track Strip, a strip of plastic that attaches to the end of the rear spoiler. It reportedly increases stability at speeds in excess of 130 mph. One person who will be using the Track Strip is Superbike rider Aaron Gobert, whom Bell has signed on for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
The Star has 10 front vents and six exhaust vents. The chin vent has three stages: closed, partly open for shield defogging only, and entirely open to circulate air to the face and head. The top vents and brow vents are adjustable as well.
The shield system has a small lever that locks the shield down, though a certain amount of hand pressure will open it. The same lever can crack open the shield slightly for defogging. Shield swapping is easy thanks to a quick-release system.
The Snell-certified Star comes in six sizes (XS-XXL) using three different shell sizes and EPS liners. The shell is made out of a composite of Kevlar, carbon fiber and fiberglass. A medium-sized helmet weighs a claimed 3.4 lbs.
Styles include four colors in an Aces graphic, three colors in a Recoil graphic, the Viper (shown), and three solids: black, matte black and silver. Custom bike builder Roland Sands is creating limited-edition graphics to be released in the fall.
The helmet is designed in California but made in a factory in China. Bell says all its overseas factories must have testing facilities comparable to its own, and that it is diligent in making sure its vendors use the exact chemicals and EPS materials prescribed.
Bell has about 750 to 1,000 dealers in the United States, and there's no chance in hell you'll ever see the Star at Wal-Mart. — Arlo Redwine