No one ever said that I should respect a rider who wears an Arai helmet, but based on what I’ve perceived in my life – such as watching racing icons whiz past with the small Arai icon adorning their helmets – I made this grand assumption that if they wore an Arai, they must be damn good riders. Illusion or not, there’s no doubt that Arai has been a main contender in the market for high-end helmets for years now. Now, given that two of my helmets are being retired, I decided this may be the time to invest in an Arai Corsair X street helmet and a VX-Pro 4 off-road helmet.
Many of us will stare at a wall of helmets, eyes glazed over, metaphorically falling into the modern comforts we crave, such as modulars, vents and stylish shapes and graphics. However, those aspects aren’t always what make a helmet so great. Understanding the factors that go into each helmet and why you should choose one over another can be tough.
Most helmets consist of one head mould, basing all helmet models off the same shape. Arai has created three helmet shapes to allow for a safer and more comfortable fit – Intermediate Oval, Long Oval and Round Oval head shapes. Doing so allows Arai to properly fit 90 per cent of heads without adjusting the fit of the helmet. Arai also offers different sizes of cheek pads and liners to further ensure that your helmet fits your head snugly.
Many of my previous helmets comprised a large shell filled with extra foam and padding to accommodate my small head. Arai offers five shell sizes that correspond to the size of the helmets, making them slimmer, more aerodynamic and true to size while also minimizing stress on the wearer’s neck. Arai creates all its shells to be smooth and more egg-shaped, based on the shape of the skull. Its helmets don’t have built-in ridges; rather, any irregular shapes are added onto the shell and break off on impact to help disperse energy, thus allowing the smooth shell to glance off surfaces or objects. (Helmets with ridges built into the shell can cause more energy to be directly distributed onto your head and neck.)
A unique aspect of the Arai shell is not only the overall shape but also the production process and materials. All Arai helmets are made in Japan and each helmet is handmade. As few as five people can be qualified to work on some steps in the helmet-making process, such as installing the expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner and aligning it properly within the shell. Every step of the helmet-making process is meticulously monitored and multiple quality checks are performed during every step.
Among the many unique aspects of Arai helmets is the one-piece foam shell with four foam densities strategically placed inside it, an arrangement designed to disperse impact. Most helmet manufacturers will use either the same density of foam for the entire liner or separate pieces that are glued together in the helmet.
The shell comprises more than 20 precisely cut pieces that are assembled in a preheated mould. This is such an intensive process that people qualified to do this must complete a two-year apprenticeship to become certified for the job. The shell is made of a “superfibre,” which Arai states has 30 per cent more strength than conventional fibreglass; however, the superfibre also is six times more expensive than other material options, which contributes to the premium price of an Arai helmet.
While I was at the Vancouver Motorcycle Show recently, I had a close look at an Arai shell. It had two quality check signatures on it to ensure it passed inspection, and was incredibly thin and light. The Arai representative took the shell from me and threw it on the ground, then stepped on the side facing up and bounced on it to display the tensile strength and rigidity of the shell.
While the Arai Corsair X doesn’t have some features that are valued in motorcycle touring – modular, with a built-in sun visor, for example, like my previous Schuberth C3Pro (which I still love) does – but the fit of the Arai is exceptional and the features are well thought out. For me, the bottom line is having confidence in the fit is worth more than enjoying the cool features a helmet offers.
The Corsair X has a very slick and simple visor design: the visor sits on a single pivot axis and can be replaced easily because of the simple pin release. The visor also has a shield latch that locks the visor against the eye port seal to prevent annoying wind whistling through while riding or opening in case of an impact. Still, the latch is easy to release with one finger, although getting used to the mechanism takes some practice. The visor also accepts a Pinlock anti-fog insert lens.
Arai helmets conform to the European Snell and our DOT rating systems. Snell has higher quality control and strength standards, and modular helmets will not pass the strict testing. Arai uses Snell standards as a baseline for safety and strives to surpass those ratings in each helmet model, which is why Arai doesn’t make modular helmets or offer helmets with internal sun visors. Arai chooses not to have sun shield visors inside its helmets because the company believes that incorporating a sun shield inside the helmet compromises the helmet’s strength as well as requiring additional internal space.
The VX model has a rounded yet slim shape, with a shorter nose than most off-road helmets have. Arai states the shorter nose is a result of the shell design – to keep the shell more egg-shaped for rigidity and to glance off obstacles on impact better.
My absolute favourite part of the VX Pro 4 helmet isn’t the helmet per se, but the peak. Anyone who’s ridden motocross or enduro most likely knows the frustration you feel when you break the peak off your helmet. I’ve had this happen multiple times; often the peak cracks, then shatters. Not only does a broken peak pose a huge risk to your eyes and face, but your vision is exposed to the glare of the sun and you aren’t protected from objects after the peak is broken, especially if you’re riding in a forest. The Arai visor is incredibly flexible and specifically designed to never break … trust me, I’ve tried to break it.
Both of my Arai helmets are size X-small, with large cheek pads to fit my slim face. I love that Arai offers different cheek pads and that the cheek pads are made of three densities of foam, which tends to take longer to pack out than other pads.
I now realize there’s a good reason why professional and recreational riders choose to don an Arai helmet. The quality and care that goes into each lid is apparent as soon as you try one on. In the end, the most important thing is to find a helmet that fits you, if you’re constantly adjusting your helmet or discovering sore spots while riding, the cost of that helmet doesn’t matter – it’s useless to you. Arai has done a great job of understanding that we all have different head shapes, so the company offers small but useful adaptions to its helmets to improve comfort for all types of riders.
For more information go to araiamericas.com.
Arai helmets are distributed in Canada by Full Bore Marketing (fullboremarketing.ca).