The only consensus in the debate between Shoei and Arai helmets is Arai came first in 1930, starting with the production of headgear for the Japanese military. The business itself dated back to 1900 and was started by Yuichiro Arai as a hat maker. Later his son Hirotake took over and transitioned the company to industrial helmets after World War II and eventually to motorcycle helmets in 1952 in large part to satisfy his own need for safety while riding his bike. Shoei helmets were first produced by the Kamata Polyester Co. for use in construction in 1954, with motorcycle helmets added in 1958. The official Shoei name is a tribute to its formation in 1959 during the Showa dynasty. The similarities end there, and the two Japanese companies have been competing ever since. Let’s look at how these brands differ in terms of things like internal fit and construction.
Hirotake Arai first used a resin outer shell construction that he lined with cork for his personal use while riding. In 1958, he started using a polystyrene-expanded inner liner. While Arai evolved into motorcycle helmets over time, Shoei made a more direct path into racing. Its apparent focus was rewarded by Honda, who named it a ‘genuine’ racing helmet in 1965.
Helmet construction continued for both companies into the 1970s when Shoei produced the Kevlar-infused carbon fiber helmet called the GR-Z. They also presented helmet ventilation to the market and the coverless face shield, which is still popular today. Arai, on the other hand, has declined to embrace the coverless face shield system as it believes it would compromise their helmet’s integrity and safety.
Shoei has a focus on the rider’s comfort, so they don’t get exhausted by fatigue caused by wind resistance or overwhelmed by noise turbulence. It uses Advanced Integrated Matrix or (A.I.M. and AIM+) to construct its shells. It is a sophisticated system that uses five layers or six depending on the design.
The A.I.M. shell has five starting with a fiberglass inner layer followed by subsequent fibers, including a 3D organic layer and a fiberglass outer layer. The AIM+ adds the sixth layer, which lies between the 3D organic layer and the individual fibers.
Not to be outdone, Aria has its proprietary design as well. It is the Peripheral Belt technology. The Arai helmet adheres to the “R75 shape,” which it states makes for better impact resistance. It also prides itself on hand-making its helmets. The technique allows for more customization to deliver a unique product based on its intended use by the customer.
Hard to believe, but motorcycle helmets don’t work after an accident no matter how much they cost. Helmets have what is known as Expanded Poly Styrene or EPS or sometimes called “Styrofoam,” which is a trademark name by the way, and it’s not the kind used to make your coffee cup. The cells that make up EPS collapse at the time of impact, one at a time, which is good since it protects your skull in the process. It’s also important to note that dropping a helmet on the ground can damage an EPS liner as well, so take care not to drop it on the floor.
The EPS liner used by Shoei has a lining of medium density foam for high-speed crashes and an inner layer of softer foam for close impact. Arai uses up to five foam densities depending on the design, which, like Shoei, relies on denser foam for high impact and softer foam for low impact. Shoei also uses a newly developed Energy Distribution System (M.E.D.S.), which it claims reduces rotational impact.
The internal fit of a helmet depends on where you are in the world, with different regions having different styles and shapes and subject to various regulations. The Shoei helmet shape made for the American motorcycle rider is the intermediate oval, which they designed to fit a full 80% of the population. That means, however, if you have an extra-large or small head, it may not suit you well. It does have liners and cheek pads, though, to tweak the comfort level.
Arai takes it a step further and provides three options for head shapes. Intermediate, round, and long oval are your choices, but keep in mind that the different models may not fit you the same. Like Shoei, cheek pads and liners are available to adjust the comfort level.
Both Arai and Shoei are high-quality products that have been on the market for more than half a century. Only you can decide which helmet brand is right for you