As safe as a helmet gets

Arai enters the 2012 season with the RX-7 GP Corsair as their flagship product. This is the helmet you will see worn by Dani Pedrosa, Leon Haslam, Jonathan Rea and zillions of other racers. Except for their individual color schemes, the helmets are standard production items. Arai doesn’t do “works” helmets for special riders. (The top-tier Arai RX-7 GP is marketed in America as the Arai Corsair-V.)

The RX-7 is virtually unchanged for 2012 except for a modification to the internal padding of the helmet. Arai calls this the Facial Contour System (FCS), and it takes the form of a removable 5mm foam layer on the cheek pads. The tiny adjustment is an indication of how much Arai is encouraging riders to fine tune the RX-7 to their personal taste.

This is more important than it seems because one of the great strengths of the RX7 is that it can be worn very tightly – and the tighter a helmet is, the safer it will be. The downside is that Arai has a very clear vision of what it sees as the shape of a human head. This is fine if your skull meets Arai’s specification – but a real problem if you don’t.

Arais come in a vast range of outer shell and inner liner sizes. Despite the range of options, if you don’t have an “Arai head,” it will be impossible to ever get totally comfortable in one. It is also critical to take the time and trouble to get the fit absolutely right – perhaps more so than on most other helmets – because there is so much adjustment available.

Your patience will be rewarded because once a rider has an Arai “set up” for him or her, it is like wearing a second skin. Quite literally, the helmet will disappear from your consciousness and allow 100% focus on riding.

In terms of safety, Arai claims to have raised the bar with the RX-7 GP. Let’s start with the shell. Arai calls this a structural net complex, claiming that their “superfibre” is 40% stronger than conventional glass fibers.

Certainly, with its aerospace “superfibres” and resins, the RX-7 is a world away from the fiberglass shells of old, but it still enjoys the benefits of resin and fiberglass construction. Primarily, these are designed to be sacrificed in an accident. In practice this means that the outer shell self-destructs during impact and in so doing reduces the impact on the inner shell.

What makes the RX-7 clever is that the shell varies in thickness in different parts of the helmet. This means that areas not likely to impact the road – for example, adjacent to the wearer’s ear – are thin while the front and rear of the shell are much thicker. The area directly adjacent to the visor aperture is particularly strengthened to prevent flexing in the case of a face down impact – something I know about all too well from personal experience!

The lighter the helmet, the safer it will be since a large heavy object waving around on the end of a human neck, in addition to the rider’s head, is highly undesirable. In terms of accident safety and rider fatigue, light is good.

There are many other good, safe shells being made by premium brand manufacturers today, but an RX-7 is as good as it gets.

Ironically, the real life saver in a helmet is the inner polystyrene liner rather than the outer shell. The liner absorbs the initial impact and in so doing reduces the risk of the brain accelerating into the skull. This might sound a little gruesome, but it is what happens in an accident. That’s why only very seriously dumb people ride without a helmet – or wear bits of plastic kitchenware molded to look like Second World War military gear.

The RX-7 has a triple density inner shell, again designed to give maximum protection in critical areas. Arai claim that having an extremely hard and tough outer shell that allows a very soft inner lining to be fitted. Reducing acceleration and deceleration of the brain is the name of the game.

The RX-7 meets the ECE 22-05 standards, which doesn’t say much, and also the new Snell M2010, which does.

Peripheral vision is truly excellent with the RX-7, and the visor aperture is sufficiently large so that there is never a feeling of needing more.

Removing the RX7’s visor is still a bone of contention. Watch Arai technicians at a race meeting and they can replace a visor in seconds. I can change a visor but with more effort, and Arai beginners take forever. A lot of the problem is that, with a helmet that costs the same as a cheap bike, the changer is terrified of scratching/damaging his precious purchase and this nervousness doesn’t help matters. Arai says the system is fine, but a lot of riders don’t agree, so it needs improving.

The RX-7 has an adjustable rear spoiler, and when I first got the new helmet I was like a “Top Gun” trainee adjusting the trim on my supersonic jet. Then the novelty wore off. Again, in practical terms the RX-7 is completely stable even in the dirty air that comes off a classic race bike at high speed.

On the track or the road, the RX-7 is both supremely comfortable and utterly competent. Most helmets on sale are safe in most accidents, but when I was sliding down the track after hitting a patch of oil at Donington, I was very, very glad that there was a lot of Arai technology between me and the tarmac. It is the very dangerous areas, skirting death or serious injury, where a premium helmet pays for itself.

The finish and paintwork of the RX-7 is of show-winning standard. I have a new-for-2012 Randy II color scheme, and this is a beautiful mix of modern and classic – as tasteful as a top-of-the-range Lexus but still lively. When the helmet arrived, I just parked it at the end of my desk for the day enjoying a true piece of moto-art.

In the final analysis, there is one question you should ask of any journalist. Given the choice of buying the helmet you are testing or having a free one from someone else, what would you do? For me, I would always get my wallet out and lay my $920 on the shop counter to have an Arai.

Arai helmets are available on The Arai Corsair-V MSRP starts at $799.95 – $809.95 for solid colors, with replica patterns starting at $919.95.

For more information, contact or visit the British Arai distributor Moto Direct.