Helmet makers Giro and Bell were once bitter rivals but that all changed in 2003. When Bell bought Giro that year, many wondered how the purchase would affect the former brand. At the time, the fear was that Bell would become the 'lesser child' of sorts to the more prestigious Giro, garnering less attention and R&D.
In effect, that's exactly what's happened: Bell has become the distinctly lower-priced and lower-tech half of the pair and while the company just released a new Javelin aero helmet, much of the line is fairly stagnant. But it looks like there may be better days ahead.
We recently received a copy of Bell's 'Field Guide' – a condensed version of the company's in-house-only brand planning document designed to help outline the business's future direction. The contents are intentionally vague – there are no product specifics included within – but it's clear that Bell are looking to emerge from the shadows of their bigger brother.
"We aren't getting out of the road helmet biz," said Bell's director of marketing, Don Palermini. "What we are, however, doing is emphasizing some non-road categories: all-mountain, downhill, BMX. So you'll see more product introductions in those areas and truthfully about the same pace we've been on for road."
"I want to be clear that the present-day Bell is still a pretty damn good Bell," he continued. "I’d put our best up against anyone’s in the industry and be confident in the results. What I’m referring to more so than a helmet or technology, however, is Bell’s knack for bringing confidence to generations of boundary breakers, being in pioneering spaces and the natural innovation and progression that results from being there. We now do what we do very well, but it’s pretty much the same thing everyone else is doing… We need to recalibrate to get back on the edge and be that kind of Bell again."
Much of the documentation emphasizes the company's motorsports and BMX roots along with long-standing sponsorships of such cycling icons as John Tomac and buzzwords like "timeless values" and being "authentic". In addition, "Bell is: Beer, Sweaty, Baggies, Tattooed, Daily Driver; Bell is not: Design Center, Sanitized, Spandex, Garage Kept".
So what does it all mean? "We’ve been spending a lot of time on Bell the last nine months or so, stepping back from the day-to-day and charting a course for the future of the brand," Palermini told us. "Through this earnest effort we’ve found some holes in what the current-day Bell is, and frankly continuing to be the apologist little brother of Giro isn’t going to cut it."
In the short term, Palermini says to expect just some different aesthetics but model year 2013 will apparently bring a significant change in direction along with a slew of innovative new products. Palermini wouldn't give specifics but given the company's history – this is the brand that dared to put Reebok Pump-enhanced padsets in its helmets, after all – we can only imagine.
That being said, we're hopeful that the "authenticity" that's supposedly so ingrained in Bell's corporate DNA brings with it some fresh new products but without exorbitant pricing. Bell may not garner the attention of their fancier brethren but it's not often heard that the company's offerings are overpriced, either. For now at least, we'll have to wait and see.