Expensive Road Bike Helmets, A Marketing Scam?


New Member
Jun 22, 2015
Not a debate about whether helmets are safe or not (wow, seems like always need this disclaimer when discussing helmets, or is it just me?)

Anyway.... expensive helmets are expensive because they're lighter, and they also have more air vents, which means they have less material, which means they are lighter, which seems pretty obvious to me.

So are companies making more money off us by encouraging us to buy the virtues of a well vented helmet which is lighter (duh, obviously, more holes!) but charging us more for it?
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The more protective foam you cut away, the more support structure you have to provide in order to maintain protection in the event of an accident. And not only are the helmets better ventilated, but they are more aerodynamic. There is a lot of science behind helmets. its not just cut away foam and you're done.

Companies spend tons of money on R&D of these products. Specialized built the most advanced cycling-specific wind tunnel in existence to create more aerodynamic helmets, bikes, wheels, clothing (yes, clothing), etc...

That cost has to be recouped somewhere.
I don't know if I would call it a scam, but, like any other area, actual consumer price can be based on brand, style, and size of helmet. Final sales price is usually determined by the retailer, not the manufacturer. Once I went to an LBS to buy a helmet, and found a nice Bell that was my size (large) but they wanted too much for it. It was substantially more expensive than the same model in smaller sizes. They justified the extra cost because of the size. I walked in to a Big 5 Sporting Goods store 2 doors down in the same strip mall and found he same helmet for about half the price in their inline skate department. It was priced about the same as the other sized helmets.

After I bought it at Big 5, I walked back to the LBS and showed them the helmet and receipt, and told them they were overpricing items. They didn't seem to care, but they went out of business a short time later anyway.
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@abnpfdr, I see your point...but I also agree with letitherobe that the helmets tend to be way too expensive. If I drop one accidentally or it rolls onto the floor from table height, that is an "impact"and according to instructions, the helmet is compromised and should be replaced at my expense. The instructions that came with my Bell Envy did not attempt to categorize the severity of an impact which requires replacing the helmet. So a dropped helmet could cost me $60 or more.

I can understand racers wanting the ultimate in helmets, but for an ordinary joe like me...wouldn't it be nice if a helmet could withstand a mild drop from 29" and just offer the same CPSC impact protection? I'm never going to race. I just want to do a nice long tour and commute, with reasonable but not pricey head protection.

I can't see spending $240 or more for a helmet if I'm not out to race someone. The price point fleeces the ordinary cyclists, and makes it harder to win acceptance of cycling as a family sport and commuting method. Just look at a family of 3: two parents and a little one. Equipping them all with helmets rapidly becomes a major cost item. 3 helmets are not cheap. Then there are other equipment items that seem oh-so-important and which also carry a substantial price tag. For example, an LED blinky light can be $17 or more. Hey! That's robbery, even at $17. I do electronics and I know the components themselves are dirt cheap. Soon the family finds itself priced out of bicycling. These people will soon decide it is a lot easier to zoom around in a car.

So yeah...I think helmets cost too much.


Helmets are like most anything else. Since there are Fed rules, there is little difference in them. Some have name and hype going for them, and they are the ones that have obscene prices. A fool and his money are soon parted.
It's kinda like designer anything. People will pay a heck of a lot for a little cachet. High end models of a given product virtually always have a much higher profit margin than moderate priced items. The lowest end models often have very little margin. A common marketing ploy is to get you in the door with a loss leader then talk you up.
What's the problem? All kinds of companies do the same thing with all kinds of products. Higher end helmets have better and more venting (or less...), are lighter, made with different/better materials, better retention strap hardware, come with stuff like helmet bags or replacement padding, tend to be more finished, better looking, etc.

They have the same or more R&D involved as any other helmet they manufacture, have to pay for the same standards testing, fixed manufacturing costs, higher materials manufacturing costs, the same shipping costs, higher marketing costs, same overhead as cheaper helmets, but because the are more expensive, they will sell less of them than the less expensive models. So the unit cost is higher than an entry level model because more go into them and fixed cost per helmet is greater because less are made, resulting in higher retail price.

Are companies making more off us by encouraging us to buy performace-based sport cars but charging us more for it?
I've had a range of helmets from around $60 to about $250, and even a $25 mass merchandiser model I bought out of desperation late on a Sat evening when I needed something to ride in.

Comfort correlates to price in my experience - lighter, better materials, better design means overall greater comfort - and I'm quite happy to pay more for greater comfort in something I will wear for hours and hours and hours.
Its all about the bling factor. Roadies want the newest, hottest. I remember a few years ago when a couple of guys in the group I rode with got Catlike helmets, which weren't sold in the US at the time. Everyone drooled.
shadowsupernature said:
Its all about the bling factor. Roadies want the newest, hottest. I remember a few years ago when a couple of guys in the group I rode with got Catlike helmets, which weren't sold in the US at the time. Everyone drooled.
While there is a bunch of this that exists in cycling, you don't have to want bling and you don't have to be a racer to benefit fron upper tier products. I know lots of guys that just like riding, that put on 150 to 200 miles a week that understand the value of a helmet that feels like it's not there at all yet offers the same level of protection.

I still remember the days when the choices for head protection were the leather hairnets which offered poor protection, a huge plastic and foam contraption that weighed about 8 pounds, or no helmet at all, which is what many of us often wore. We should all kiss the ground that Giro walks on for introducing that nylon shelled beauty in the 80s. I think my mom paid the incredibly large sum of $80 back then for mine. That was a lot of money for a helmet back then.

And without top level components and gear, there no trickle down effect. The reason some of the mid range and even lower components and gear are as nice as they are is because of the good stuff.
Find a helmet that feels good on your head and is not so ugly you can't stand to wear it. Or ride without one - I still do that from time to time with my old cycling cap. For me, Uvex helmets are amazingly comfortable and the adjustment is quick and easy. Not the most expensive but hey, Uvex makes safety equipment for industry and driven by the crazy bike industry. Also, they are actually made in Germany (at least the Uvex Boss I have,) and it shows.
The CPSC standards are the minimum that a helmet has to meet to be sold in the US. Nothing says that a helmet can't "meet or exceed" those standards. Some do. Consumer Reports tested a number of helmets a couple of years back, and found that yes, some do offer better impact protection than others. But price doesn't have any bearing on it. The number one rated helmet for impact protection was the $60 Specialized Echelon. Which I think costs $65 today. Lowest rated was one of Nutcases models. The one that looks like what The Great Gazoo wore in the Flinstones cartoons. :lol:
I think that is true about price not necessarily correlating to safety - true in cars as well - price correlates more to comfort, performance, and yes, to a degree style.
I still remember my most important business lesson. It was drilled into me by one of the Louis L'Amour "Sackett" novels. The character Tell Sackett -- I think it was him -- muses to himself that if he can "buy low, sell dear" he should do well for himself. Years later, this lesson was reinforced to me by my economics professor. "How much should your cost of goods be?" he asked the class. When no one answered, he said, "As low as possible." Then he asked, "How much should you sell your merchandise for?" He answered this with: "For as much as the buyer is willing to pay."

This is what is happening with bicycle helmets: manufacture millions of helmets at very low cost, probably in China. Sell them for as high as you can worldwide.

Absolutely - everything is about perceived value vs cost anyway. Saw a blurb in local paper here the other day about a new designer boutique for the college age crowd opening here. Showed a gray men's T shirt with pocket that sells for $98. Looked like a basic $4.98 Fruit of the Loom pocket T. The perceived value there is simply "label" because it's designer.

With bike helmets, I will argue that it's not about name or style or any other "prestige" factor, IMHO there are clear differences in comfort - the one previous poster was pretty correct, they all meet the same standards, whether $20 or $320. I haven't noticed many of tend manufacturers promoting high-end helmets as superior in safety, they promote them as being superior in comfort and in the case of many helmets, aerodynamics which appeal to competitive cyclists.
Quote by SSN:
"Its all about the bling factor. Roadies want the newest, hottest."

This. Some of these new semi-areo (WTF does that mean?) lids are as ugly as the 1984 Brancale I wore and certainly less aero than the Brancale.

Independent test showed some of the far less expensive models in a given manufacturer's line of helmets offered more protection and provided the same ventilation...at...ah yes...at a 'cost' of 25-75 grams...

Damn us roadie scum though, we do look fabulous in our whatever Spesh Bowling Ball aero lid that claims to save 40 seconds in a 40-mile ITT 'if' a fellow can hold 40 KPH or more AND hold his position on the bike. Now...about that ventilation thing...

If aero was the game we would all be in a skull cap with a few trip strips and three NACA vents for cooling. But we're not. Why? Cause that ain't cool.

"I remember a few years ago when a couple of guys in the group I rode with got Catlike helmets, which weren't sold in the US at the time. Everyone drooled."

Frac Me Dead! The Catlike Whisper is the fugliest helmet....no wait! Smith holds that crown with POC running hard to overtake them.

Drooled? Are you sure you didn't mean 'puked'? All those stupid looking holes...
"This is what is happening with bicycle helmets: manufacture millions of helmets at very low cost, probably in China. Sell them for as high as you can worldwide."

But...but...but...wind tunnel time!
Frac Me Dead! The Catlike Whisper is the fugliest helmet....no wait! Smith holds that crown with POC running hard to overtake them.
The POC Octal is getting really popular with the Fred crowd in Boulder. I think people like the colors, and there might be some affinity with the Garmin team. And its utilitarian ugliness seems to have a charm, much like the original Volkswagen.

My vote for hands-down ugliness, though is for the LAS Squalo, thankfully no longer seen in the pro peloton. It case you've forgotten, here's a sample:

This one was pretty weird, too. Gone with the Euskaltel Euskadi ProTour license, I can't remember who made it:

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