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Will Indy Helmet Highlights Offset Industry Low Lights? Random Musings From A Brain-Dead Observer

Calling them "brain buckets" is probably a misnomer when I’m wearing one, but the helmet market is definitely the niche headlining the Dealer Expo in Indy this year. While new unit sales look to continue their downward spiral (according to the most recent MIC data, ATVs are off 11%, total motorcycle sales are down 4.6% and dirtbikes are a disappointing -15.1%), things are looking up for helmet sales.

I’m not suggesting that helmets can single-handedly offset slow unit sales, but they can certainly cap off a nice bit of incremental business this spring! Don’t take my word for it, though. Take one look around the aisles at the nation’s largest tradeshow — Milan still claims bragging rights as the World’s Biggest motorcycle show (page 60) — and just see how the helmet biz is doing for yourself.

Starting alphabetically, our neighbors north of the border at AFX are going to be introducing their all new FX-16 street helmet at the show. They say the combination of safety, style and performance will help this newest addition live up to the AFX tagline of being "the first name in helmets." See the full line of AFX lids first in Booth 3725 during the Dealer Expo.

AGV’s JH Leale was kind enough to drop by my office today and sneak me a peek at the trick new Blade and GP Tech the Italian company will be heading into Indy with. While the GP Tech is an understandable evolution of a theme, and certainly sellable based on the star appeal of AGV’s poster boy MotoGP hero Valentino Rossi, the Blade boldly goes where no motorcycle helmet has gone before! I caught a glimpse at the cutting-edge design at AGV’s display in Milan this past fall, but will it play in Peoria? Even with the fact that Harley-Davidson has added it to the latest MotorClothes catalog? Swing by the Parts Unlimited Pavilion in Indy, look at the Blade and then backtrack to the MPN booth and let me know if it will sell for you (MPN is in Booth 1121).

Our friends at Arai have capped off another great year with their ninth-straight J.D. Power prize for being at the top of the customer satisfaction charts. While this may be old hat after nearly a decade, it should certainly help sell even more helmets. Head to the Arai display to hoist the new Hayes Replica "Jolly Roger" or try on the latest iteration of the XD cross-over lid for yourself (Booth 102).

Meanwhile, Bell Helmets has hired industry veterans John Farris and Andy Leisner and their new Hardcard PR firm to help ring in an all-new lid line for the street. "Bell set new standards in powersports helmets with its top-performing Moto-8 off-road model and is now set to enter the premium street motorcycle helmet market with the same level of performance," claims Bell Powersports VP Tom Larter.

"The Moto-8 is one of the most sought-after accessories in motocross," he added. "We plan to elevate the new street helmet to the same level and for the same reason — it’s simply the best."

Former racer/magazine guy and PR pro Leisner echoes Larter: "Bell is so uniquely positioned in the market with its amazing design resources and in-house testing lab, and has such an incredible story to share about this new product, we are thrilled to be part of the launch," Andy adds. Sounds like Bell has a real bellwether for the helmet biz, but unlike AGV, they wouldn’t let the cat all the way out of the bag for me (see more in this month’s "Business Briefs" column or visit Bell in Booth 1401).

But wait, there’s more, to quote the TV pitchmen: The folks at Fulmer say that their new modular lid — the AFM1 Street Modus — is so innovative that nothing short of seeing it in person will suffice (Booth 2301). Speaking of show stoppers, GMAX is taking the term literally hoping their integrated LED lighting system will stop dealers in their tracks to take a look at the GM68S skid lid at the distributor displays with Marshall (Booth 849) and Western Power Sports (Booth 3213).

Icon, as always, is set to make its mark on the market with an epic Seventh Seal graphic they believe will post sales of biblical proportions (Booth 1541). Although they will not be exhibiting at the Dealer Expo, the launch of the Joe Rocket lid line is another harbinger of helmet happenings from Sullivans.

Then there is big news coming from Scorpion (see the lead news page for a hint of the Black Dahlia and the blooming expansion plans, or go to Booth 3543). Tucker Rocky is sparking sales with the SparX roll-out not to mention the fact that my friends at Motonation (Booth 108) are announcing the return of Vemar to the premium helmet market here in the States … and this is just the tip of the helmet happenings iceberg!

I may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I think things are looking up for the aftermarket as a whole. Being half-way to idiot-savant status, even I can see that things are certainly headed up in the helmet market already.

Going straight to the top for my questions concerning the helmet market, I was lucky enough to visit the #1 helmet manufacturer in the world, HJC, and tour their factory, top-secret R&D facility and corporate offices. George Hong (left) is head honcho for the U.S. and W.K. Hong (no relation) is the man who started the company 37 years ago.

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