The best protection money can buy

The first thing any journalist should say in a product test is whether they bought the item they are writing about. In my case, no, I didn’t – Arai gave me an RX-7 GP Corsair (marketed in America as the Arai Corsair-V) at the start of the season. This makes 25 years with the same brand of helmet.

The second statement is equally important. Would I get my credit card out for the not inconsiderable sum of $809.95 from Motorcycle Superstore or would I rather have another premium helmet free of charge? The absolute truth is that I would rather buy an Arai than ride in anything else.

There are multiple reasons for my decision, but the one thing that can’t be said about an Arai is that it is uniquely better than any other top-grade helmet. However, what can be said with absolute certainty is that there is nothing safer at the very extreme end of the accident range.

The truth is that any helmet, even a cheap Chinese helmet made from polycarbonate, is better than no helmet at all. However, if I ever have a big accident, I want to walk way intact, and this means wearing a premium quality helmet that will protect me in the very end of the danger spectrum.

One of the reasons I am so locked into the Arai way of life is that there are no good Arais, bad Arais or special Arais for the company’s star riders. I have a standard paint job, but other than that, my RX-7 helmet is the same as those worn by Cal Crutchlow, Dani Pedrosa, Nicky Hayden and a host of other Arai-sponsored riders. There is simply one standard for everyone.

There is something very special about unwrapping a new Arai for the first time with its lovely bag, visor lube and an attention to detail that really does say you are now in the Ray-Ban, Rolex and Jaguar end of the market. All this is fine, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of Christmas tinsel at the start of the season, but it’s not enough to make me wear a helmet. I would have my helmet come in a used pizza box if the safety levels were higher.

Arai’s design philosophy is to have a very thin but extremely hard and strong outer shell. It is simplistic to refer to the shell as being made from conventional fiberglass because Arai claims that their structural net complex “superfiber” is 40% stronger than conventional fiberglass.

Certainly, with its aerospace “superfibers” 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 that the shell is designed to be sacrificial in an accident. In practice this means that the shell self-destructs during impact and in so doing reduces 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 whilst 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 when I slid out of Donington Park’s Redgate corner at high speed a few years ago in a Classic GP race.

A large heavy object waving around on the end of a human neck is highly undesirable in every way. Clearly, the lighter the helmet, the safer it will be. In terms of safety in the event of an accident, or when rider fatigue kicks in, 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.

The shell is made by hand in Japan by Arai staff. Arai’s press release says that each RX-7 shell takes 27 steps to make and 18 man hours. These are not $60 polycarbonate helmets sold out of the back of a van at the local swap meet!

Inside the RX-7 are five densities of liner. Gruesome as it sounds, in a really big accident the job of the helmet liner is to stop the brain from slowing down too fast and hitting the inside of the skull. If the deceleration can be made progressive, then the chances of avoiding death or brain damage are hugely increased. This is the difference between a budget helmet, with a simple, single density polystyrene liner, and Arai’s high-tech system.

Fastening remains by “D” ring and I wouldn’t want anything else. “D” rings do take a little bit of learning if you are new to motorcycling, but they are simple to use and are 100% reliable. Again, in the case of the huge accident, I don’t want to be quite confident that my helmet strap won’t slacken or even come undone: I need to be totally certain.

The question of comfort with an Arai is always a vexed one. If you have an “Arai head” then there is no more comfortable helmet in the world. However, Arais do not suit every head shape, and it is worth taking the trouble to get the initial fit perfect.

Arais come in a vast range of shell sizes and can be tuned internally to fit the wearer by subtly adjusting the padding. My head does fit Arai’s concept of the human skull and so I can wear my RX-7 all day.

Importantly, I can wear a very tight-fitting Arai without any discomfort, and this is an important aid to safety. What you don’t want is your head loose in the helmet so it has the space to accelerate into the liner in the case of a huge impact.

Arai says that the shape of their shell is uniquely aerodynamic. It’s a bold claim to make, and one that Shoei would probably refute, but certainly the Arai is super stable in turbulent air. Popping up from behind the fairing of a classic race bike at 100 mph puts the rider into very dirty air, but the RX-7 remains ultra-stable.

The same applies to turning my head in a race. Even sideways on, the helmet is like an exo-skeleton and effortless. Used all day on a road bike, I don’t even know I am wearing the Arai, it is that good.

Peripheral vision is excellent too. On the road, I can see cyclists at stop lights and aggressive trucks on the Interstate. Even in close combat racing, I never need more peripheral vision.

The adjustable spoiler on the RX-7 is of immense value. You can stop for a pie and a cup of tea at a café and then look knowingly at the weather and adjust the spoiler a notch – whilst the spoiler-less helmet owners look on with envy. In reality, I have never found any practical value from playing with the spoiler, but it’s a fun thing to have.

By contrast, the ventilation system is good, and on fully open there is a good air flow through the helmet – a real benefit when racing in summer. All the vents break off easily in an accident so that the helmet slips across the road surface and avoids critically fast deceleration.

Arai visors are optically very good and wear well. If a good visor cleaner is used, then even huge bugs can be cleaned off without scratching the visor. However, fitting the visors is still a pain in the butt. I can fit them sometimes, but more skill is required than ought to be the case. It’s no use saying that an Arai helmet technician can fit a visor in 0.00001 of a second, which they can, because this is what they do for a living. Life isn’t as easy for the rest of us! Arai really ought to address this issue.

Now, I think I will give my RX-7 a quick polish with visor cleaner – it really is a piece of motorcycle art!