Ok, I admit it… I’m an Arai whore. I just love them.
I’ve always been a massive fan of Arai having researched how they make their helmets, the care they take with them and their famous fastidiousness in ensuring that every helmet is made to their very best abilities.
My personal opinion is that Arai makes the best helmets available although I will concede that Shoei are also right up there in terms of quality. However, I’m not saying everyone should wear Arai; that would be ridiculous as choice is entirely subjective. Besides, other people may have a head shape more suited to a different brand and fit is by far the most important safety feature of a helmet.
That said, finding an Arai to fit perfectly is made so much easier by the range of shells and padding options they offer:
- firstly, they make different shell shapes to cater for the fact that Europeans and Asians have slightly different shaped heads.
- secondly, they offer the widest range of shell sizes, rather than offering a medium and extra large shell and varying the thickness of the padding to change the helmet size. This invariably results in people wearing helmets where the shell is a couple of sizes larger than they need.
- thirdly, they offer a range of padding options to help fine-tune the fit. For example, I like my helmets to fit very closely with my cheeks squished together because I don’t like the helmet tilting at high speeds, so I have mine with 35mm cheekpads fitting instead of the standard 25mm.
Luckily, I have an Arai-shaped head and I wouldn’t wear anything else. I have a small but growing collection of Arais and you can feel the quality in every part of even the cheapest model I have right through to the most expensive.
Arai makes helmets to a specification, not to a price, meaning they decide on the features each helmet should have, build it, and then work out what it needs to sell for, which is why they’re usually more expensive than most other brands. All Arais are completely hand-made (except for the laser which cuts the visor aperture and ventilation holes) and such is their focus on quality, there are only a few Arai employees trusted with the responsibility of attaching the straps.
Unlike most other helmet companies, the Arais worn by Dani Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow, Jonathan Rea, Michael Dunlop and Nicky Hayden are exactly the same as the reps sold to everyone else – they don’t make a super hardcore model for their racers and then sell the public a cheap replica with only the paint scheme in common. The only thing they do differently is customise the inner padding for them for a perfect fit.
The most common anti-Arai argument I hear is about how changing the visor is such a pain. I can change an Arai visor (one off, another on) in about 10 seconds so am completely confident that it’s not the visor mechanism that’s the issue! There is a knack to it but once learned, every change is simple. The reason that Arai have side-pods covering an externally mounted visor system rather than a much simpler mechanism is that to have a flush visor mechanism requires the shell to be recessed at the side of the head – which means making it thinner and therefore much less protective. As the side of the head is a major impact zone, Arai refuse to make the shell weaker at this point. Personally, I respect them continuing to buck the trend and forge their own path even if it’s not the more popular, easy option. This is also why they don’t do those internal tinted sun visors – they mean less protection across the front of the helmet (just wear a dark visor!), neither do they make flip-up helmets, as the safety of these is reduced along the line where the parts join.
Another one is that they don’t do well in the SHARP tests. Anyone who knows anything about SHARP tests will know how it’s aimed at a very specific set of conditions and low speeds. For example, they test along a line of the helmet which is rarely impacted because it’s low-down and your shoulders tend to prevent impacts here.
Helmets are always going to be a trade-off between weight, comfort, practicality and protection – the most protective helmet would be 10ft wide and full of foam to allow a slow deceleration upon impact but of course, this is not exactly practical. So manufacturers have to decide where the compromise is best made based on their research and focus on the areas more likely to be impacted in a collision and maybe save weight in areas rarely hit; the alternative would be much larger, 3kg helmets which our necks wouldn’t be able to support at 100mph.
SHARP tests take place at 3 different speeds – 6, 7.5 & 8m/s. The fastest of these, 8m/s, equates to 19mph. Helmets which perform better at lower speed impacts tend to have a softer outer shell than ones which do better at higher speed impacts, so helmets scoring better in the SHARP rating are more aimed at street and town riding at lower speeds. Arais are aimed more at racing and higher speed impacts and so Arai targets the Snell rating rather than the SHARP. Snell differs in that helmets need to withstand a much greater impact twice in the same place, whereas most other helmet testing doesn’t require more than one impact in the same place.
Essentially, if you just pootle around on a scooter or an ER6-f and are more likely to have an accident at 19mph, the SHARP rating is your bible. If, however, you ride a proper bike and thrash it and do trackdays, look to the Snell ratings. The Arai RX7-GP is the only helmet ever to achieve both the Snell and ECE ratings and if you’ve ever seen Shinya Nakano’s 199mph crash at Mugello in 2004, with 9 high speed head impacts, you’ll understand why I put my faith in them.
Arais currently owned: Quantum F (although this has been retired), Viper GT, Chaser V, Axces 2, RX7-GP.
Individual reviews of each to come soon.