Stroll through your neighborhood dealer or peruse the wares of your favorite online retailer, and one thing becomes clear—we have a lot of choices when it comes to gear, especially when we’re talking about motorcycle helmets. Not only that, but we must also wade through a litany of certifications, proprietary names for helmet technologies, and pricing, even before strapping on a lid. The market has plenty to offer, and the good news is that competition generally strengthens the breed.
Reputable helmet makers have one overriding common theme—a commitment to safety, and helping to protect us from injury, or worse, when things go wrong. To do that, motorcycle helmets are subjected to a myriad of tests to prove their crashworthiness, but simply meeting those standards is not enough for many brands.
Admittedly, it is a tad uncomfortable talking about the safety aspect of helmets. Still, it is a reality of riding and precisely why Ultimate Motorcycling promotes wearing high-quality, properly fitted protective equipment purchased from an authorized dealer. That said, we try earnestly try to review helmets and do everything our power to avoid testing them ourselves.
Before we get too granular, we need to briefly touch on common helmet certifications that we see in the marketplace. They include DOT (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218), ECE 22.05, Snell (M2020R), and more recently, FIM FRHPhe (FIM Racing Homologation Programme).
Crucially, riders need to know which certifications apply to their respective market to be considered legal for sale for use while operating a motorcycle. For example, all motorcycle helmets sold in the United States must feature a DOT certification. Similarly, helmets sold in the European Union must have an ECE 22.05 certification.
Beyond the minimum certifications to bring products to market legally, private certification bodies such as Snell and FIM FRHPhe allow manufacturers to subject their lids to additional testing. Snell has far more stringent standards the DOT, and FIM FRHPhe is required for anyone participating in FIM homologated championships. Often, a helmet will carry multiple certifications simultaneously.
We’ve covered the testing procedures for the main certification bodies in detail here, but suffice to say that a helmet is put through a battery of impact and penetration tests that attempt to simulate the forces of a crash. Typically, this is accomplished by dropping a helmet from a predetermined height onto a metal anvil, allowing a manufacturer to measure the impact-absorption capabilities of any given helmet.
Let’s not mince words. Standards are a good thing for the consumer, but they don’t go far enough for many top-tier brands—as is the case with the outdated DOT FMSV218 standard. After building the lightest, quietest, most aerodynamic, and safest helmet a manufacturer can muster, it is subjected to impact tests that fail to account for the variables of a crash in the real world, where all manner of obstacles from trees, curbs, rocks, and more exist.
Arai, for example, is not satisfied with meeting impact standards. Arai feels the need to exceed the standards dramatically, and one of the ways Arai does this is with what it calls ‘glancing off’ impact energy.
Glancing off is a design solution to a real-world problem that dates to when the Japanese firm first started producing helmets in the 1950s, and it all comes down to helmet shape. Over the years, Arai’s helmets evolved from a round profile to the elegant egg-shaped form we see today, known as the R75 shape, which refers to the shell’s continuous curve radius of at least 75mm (about three inches). Of course, it’s most easily seen in Arai’s street lineup, but the design ethos extends to its adventure, off-road, and open-faced helmets, too.
Now comes the critical part. Arai believes that its smooth shell shapes deflect and dissipate impact energy—by glancing off blows—before the EPS foam liner is put to the test, further protecting the rider. No current testing standard factor is glancing off; it is simply something Arai believes in wholeheartedly.
The shell is doing quite a bit of heavy lifting in a spill; it must be lightweight, physically resilient yet pliable, and resist penetration. To that end, Arai is constantly improving its Complex Laminate Construction, regularly updating its materials and resins.
However, its work isn’t done yet, as the glancing-off philosophy is precisely the reason why aerodynamic features are kept to a minimum. Angular helmet shapes that promote aerodynamics oppose a round, smooth shell that Arai says reduces the risk of catching hard-edged objects it collides with.
The issue is taken a step further by designing all vents and diffusers to sheer away if the crash is severe enough. Some readers have commented that the Arai vents are too delicate. Fortunately, if a vent breaks during normal wear and tear, Arai can replace it.
That is quite a bit of attention put onto the design and construction of a shell and, ultimately, it cannot carry the sheer weight of dissipating energy on its back alone. So, the multi-density EPS foam liner is the last line of defense a rider has. The liner is mated perfectly to each respective shell size, providing as much impact absorption as possible. The EPS liner, just like the shell, is still made by hand at Arai. For more information on that, check out our in-depth feature from behind the scenes inside the Arai factory.
A simple, elegant, and effective design has been the driving force of Arai since it first began producing helmets nearly seven decades ago. The ‘glancing off’ philosophy dictates every aspect of an Arai helmet and reports to a singular job—creating high-quality safety equipment for riders of all shapes, sizes, and disciplines. Arai’s glancing off is just one example of how top-tier helmet manufacturers take extra steps in the name of protection.