Taka Nakagami and his Arai Corsair-X Helmet [Commentary]

The first 20 or so seconds of the 2022 Grand Prix of Catalunya turned out to be even more intense than the typical MotoGP race. Blazing down the front straight after the start, the 24 riders had to brake very hard for Turn 1, and the funnel effect of them vying for the same piece of asphalt led to real drama.

A 100 mph, three-rider crash at that first corner started when Taka Nakagami misjudged his braking point, locking and tucking the front wheel of his LCR Honda Idemitsu RC213-V.

Nakagami Arai Corsair-X: Crash at Catalunya

As the motorcycle hit the track, momentum swiftly threw him face-first into the rear Michelin of Pecco Bagnaia’s Ducati GP22—causing Bagnaia to go down, too. Nakagami’s machine slid into Alex Rins on the factory Suzuki GSX-RR, taking Rins out. It was ugly in the extreme.

The front of Nakagami’s helmet hit face-first into the lowest part of Bagnaia’s rear tire—ripping off his face shield in the process—and Nakagami’s head was instantly spun up into the underside of the Ducati’s back end.

Nakagami’s helmet briefly jammed the rear wheel, causing Bagnaia’s crash. Fortunately, Nakagami’s helmet didn’t stay between the rear tire and the back of the bike; he was ejected onto the track and slid into the gravel trap.

Nakagami Arai Corsair-X: Alex Rins airborne

Taka Nakagami was wearing an Arai helmet.

As a testament to the strength and impact absorption ability of the Arai, Nakagami was seen conscious, albeit a bit disoriented, in the aftermath. He was immediately taken to the medical center, and then quickly to the hospital.

“After yesterday’s crash, I feel lucky because I have no serious injury, no fracture, and I am okay,” Nakagami said. “I spent the night at the Intensive Care Unit under observation, but all is good.”

Nakagami Arai Corsair-X: Taka

Fortunately, here at Ultimate Motorcycling, it’s rare that we truly ‘test’ a helmet. However, I can testify that I owe my life several times to Arai technology. However, the Nakagami crash was such an extraordinary test of a helmet that it’s worth looking at in detail.

The Arai Corsair-X that Nakagami was wearing (named the RX-7 in other markets), did its job far better than could have been reasonably expected of any helmet. That he did not even have a concussion, let alone anything worse, is astounding.

Essentially, there are three areas of Arai technology that saved him that day:

  1. The sheer strength of the Arai handmade Super Fiber shell withstood two extraordinarily hard impacts.
  2. Arai’s Glancing-Off technology prevented the helmet from twisting on the Ducati’s tire, jamming permanently in the rear sub-frame of the bike itself, or catching on the ground as Nakagami slid away.
  3. Arai’s multi-layered EPS inside the helmet mitigated both impacts entirely and prevented them from being transferred to Nakagami’s head, which could have killed him.

Nakagami Arai Corsair-X: LCR Honda Idemitsu

1) The sheer strength of the Arai handmade Super Fiber shell withstood two very, very hard impacts. Both impacts were blunt-force trauma at its most extreme, and the first happened in any helmet’s potentially weakest section—the large eye port and chin guard. For comparison, any MotoGP fan who watched Marc Marquez’ infamous 2020 crash, when he was tagged by the front tire of his bike and shattered his humerus bone, must wonder at the similar level of impact taken by Nakagami’s head and face.

Arai shell technology incorporates two areas that saved him. The maintained integrity of the shell prevented the chin guard from collapsing, protecting Nakagami’s face. Plus, it helped avoid the helmet from being caught and rotating, which would have broken his neck.

An Arai shell is a complex piece of equipment with decades of experience behind its technology. The Egg Shaped Form (ESF) narrows at the bottom, matching the skeletal structure of the human face. The shell’s continuous curve radius of at least 75mm is the ideal radius for maximum strength, according to Arai, and that R75 characteristic improves the helmet’s ability to deal with shocks coming from any direction without collapsing.

Nakagami Arai Corsair-X: RX-7 Motorcycle Helmet

The shell is also noticeably thicker around the bottom. Arai calls it the Hyper Ridge—a unique, added band of Super Fiber that makes the helmet opening considerably stronger. The Hyper Ridge improves the strength around the helmet opening and the chin guard, and manages the spread of energy to the rest of the shell. Because of the added strength built into the shell, the front of Nakagami’s Corsair-X retained its integrity, saving his face, and likely his life.

The Arai shell-making process is painstaking. It explains why an Arai shell is so uniquely strong, yet also manages to be light. Only an elite group of Arai Shell Experts have the skill and experience to hand-make each Arai shell. The craftsmen undergo an intense apprenticeship to become certified Arai Shell Experts. Currently, there are only 15 of them.

To create the Arai shell, over 20 precise individual pieces cut from more than 20 different materials are accurately placed into a preheated mold. These materials are not the everyday fiberglass matting you can buy in AutoZone to fix your boat. The proprietary Arai Super Fiber was developed in-house. It has 30 percent more strength than conventional fiberglass, and Arai says it is six times more expensive. Super Fiber provides incredible tensile strength as well as resistance to cracking.

The Super Fiber is meticulously bonded into a shell using Arai’s unique and specially formulated resins, which were also developed in-house. Striving to use the minimum resin to keep the helmet safe yet light, Arai’s shell construction techniques were developed to get the fibers uniformly balanced and as close to the surface as possible. Arai shells do not have hidden pools of resin that potentially cause weak spots and a vulnerability to break in an impact.

This uniform and highly precise molding uses the “bag process” to maximize the fiberglass-to-resin content ratio. Shell materials are placed in a heated mold where resin is added, and an expandable balloon is then put into the mold. The mold is sealed, and the balloon is pressurized to force the resin fully into the shell components. This compresses the shell layers and forces excess resin from the mold. The heated mold then cures the resin, bonding the shell materials.

Yet, as skilled as the Arai shell experts are, achieving a perfectly uniform shell is difficult. The thickness is constantly measured throughout the manufacturing process using precision micrometers to ensure absolute consistency.

Once the shell is in its basic form, a robotic laser-cutter accurately creates the eyeport and outer shell edge. It is done with such precision that the integrity of the carefully crafted shell is not compromised. This is especially important around the eyeport to ensure there is no weak point to give way in a direct frontal impact, such as that experienced by Nakagami.

An Arai shell is a delicate balance between strength and weight. As much as a helmet needs to be protective in a crash, it must also be comfortable and quiet for all those hours in the saddle. A comfortable rider who is not distracted by their helmet is also a safer rider.

EPS liner

 

 

2) Arai’s Glancing Off technology helped prevent the helmet from twisting on the Ducati’s tire, jamming into the rear subframe of the motorcycle, or grabbing the ground as he slid away.

Arai shells are designed to withstand extraordinary impact and reduce rotational forces that could have literally twisted Nakagami’s head from his shoulders. Glancing Off is the ability to avoid sending energy directly into the helmet and disperse as much of it as possible without stopping or snagging on an obstacle.

Noticeably, an Arai shell has no exaggerated shapes, protrusions, or hard, sharp angles to the shell. As a result, Arai styling is sometimes derided as plain. However, Glancing Off technology is why an Arai helmet does not look like that of Darth Vader or the Empire’s stormtroopers. Fashionably protruding chin guards, built-in rear spoilers, and other accouterments require a departure from that smooth R75 shape. A helmet that favors form over function may have stayed jammed between the tire and subframe at the rear of the Ducati.

Arai’s data shows that any sharp edges can potentially catch the ground or elsewhere, causing the helmet and the rider’s head to twist catastrophically. Glancing Off negates the need to add other measures inside the helmet, which can take away from an already space-limited interior liner and its ability to absorb energy.

Also, Arai exterior vents and the rear spoiler are designed to immediately snap or smear off in an impact or when sliding. By sliding over or glancing off objects—such as the rear of Bagnaia’s Ducati—the kinetic and rotational energy can be minimized, or avoided entirely. Smoother is safer!

3) Arai’s multi-layered EPS inside the helmet mitigated both impacts entirely and prevented them from being transferred to Nakagami’s head.

Of course, helmet safety is about more than simply shell strength. That is merely the first—albeit crucial—line of defense. The energy from those enormous impacts, once resisted by the helmet’s shell, then needed a compressible layer to absorb as much energy as possible before it reached Nakagami’s skull.

This is done using layers of EPS—expanded polystyrene. Aging and compression of the EPS liner during normal usage is why helmets should be retired after an average of five years of wear, or seven years after the manufacturing date—whichever comes first—and most definitely after a crash. After a crash, I’ve noticed that my helmet interior seems roomier. This is due to the compression of the EPS liner. Once that has happened, the EPS has done its job and won’t do it again anywhere near as effectively. If you’ve crashed in a helmet, it’s time for a new one.

19 Arai EPS Expert

The EPS used by Arai looks like standard polystyrene foam. However, as with the ‘fiberglass’ of the outside shell, the EPS is developed in-house and unique to Arai. The EPS liner incorporates energy-absorbing technology that’s both light and incredibly resilient. It is far stronger and more complex than anything you’ve seen before. This is not the same material as the polystyrene peanuts packing your Amazon deliveries!

Like the outer shell, Arai’s one-piece, multi-density liners are made by hand, not machines. There are as many as four densities of EPS material in one shell. These complex liners enable Arai to fine-tune energy absorption in all the areas of the helmet, while keeping the size as compact and uniform as possible.

A head inside a helmet contacts the EPS liner through the comfort liner. So, wherever possible, the softest densities are at that contact sphere, leading to Arai’s legendary ‘plush’ feel and comfort. A lot of that comfort comes from Arai’s shell strength, so the EPS layer can be softer and more comfortable. Other manufacturers use a more rigid EPS liner to compensate for a weaker shell. The result is a helmet that is less plush inside and not as comfortable.

Nakagami’s two impacts above and below the Corsair-X’s eyeport were at the most vulnerable places on any helmet to take a direct hit. It is where the shell is potentially the weakest, and it’s where the EPS layer has to be thinnest in order for a rider to be able to see ahead when leaning far forward.

Regent-X eps

Unusually, Nakagami’s impacts were in this precise location. Yet, the strength of the shell and the Hyper Ridge band prevented the front of the helmet and the chin guard from collapsing. Equally, the multi-density EPS did its job perfectly, despite being at its thinnest in that area.

Thanks to Arai, Nakagami survived without serious injury. This is directly attributable to the company’s unwavering adherence to its technology, and its disciplined approach to head protection. Arai engineers stick religiously to what they know works.

Over the years here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we’ve heard constant (and sometimes virulent) opposition to wearing a helmet on a motorcycle. A valued contributor died from injuries in a low-speed accident—he was not wearing a helmet. Hey, it’s an individual choice, and we appreciate that.

We’re not saying that only an Arai could have had the result Nakagami experienced. Other helmets manufactured and worn by other riders might well have survived this test, too. The crash photos show five riders wearing five helmet brands—Suomy (Pecco Bagnaia), Nolan (Alex Rins), KYT (Aleix Espargaró), Scorpion (Fabio Quartararo), and Arai (Taka Nakagami)—so there are many paths to safety in MotoGP headwear.

However, the Arai Corsair-X that went through this very unusual, ultimate real-world test that pushed the limits of head-protection technology—and it was an Arai that came out with an extraordinary result. Anyone who witnessed Nakagami’s crash must have been shocked and impressed in equal measure by the miraculous level of protection demonstrated by his Arai helmet. It didn’t just offer “some” protection; the Corsair-X literally enabled him to survive the incident with zero injuries to his head or face.

It should be noted that Arai makes several different helmet models. Most are designed for optimal street use, and one focuses on the racetrack. The differences essentially come down to the venting, eyeport size, and the level of plushness of the comfort liner (which helps make the helmet quieter)—leaving out the off-road, adventure, and open-face touring models, of course.

Nic de Sena

Nakagami was wearing an Arai Corsair-X—an uncompromising race helmet. Regardless, all Arai full-face helmets have nearly the same design and level of shell strength, the Hyper Ridge, and the multi-layer density EPS, so they are all as safe as helmets can get. My favorite street helmet is the Arai Regent-X (Jungle-2), which is easily the most comfortable, quietest helmet I’ve ever worn, though your head shape may have a different experience. If you look at our motorcycle tests of late, you’ll notice that Senior Editor Nic de Sena frequently wears a Corsair-X with, you guessed it, Nakagami-3 graphics.

Arai helmets are also a standout when it comes to fit. That’s a vital element to safety, and of course, to comfort. Arai was the pioneer in determining ‘head shape’ and has separated its various shells into Round Oval, Intermediate Oval, and Long Oval shapes, as well as the conventional sizes of XS through to XXXL. You can also change cheek pad sizes between 35 MM and 40 MM as well. If you’re considering wearing an Arai, then make sure you determine which model and size is the best fit for you–it’s well worth the effort!

All of this technology does not come cheap. Many times, I’ve heard people say, “I can’t afford to wear an Arai.” My response is always, “Can you afford to not wear an Arai?”

Taka Nakagami photography by Rudy Carazzevoli, Tino Martino, Milagro, Diego Sperani, et al.; courtesy of MotoGP and LCR Honda Idemitsu.

More information on Arai Fitment.