Why Arai? – A Postcard From Amsterdam

Arai Helmets have added two brand-new models for this season: the REBEL and the CT-F. Joining the pair is an upgrade to the open face CT-Ram and a complete revamp of the ever popular Quantum, now boasting the ST model to the stable.

As one of those lucky enough to be invited to the European press launch at the HQ in Amsterdam, I was expecting to be ushered to a vast glass-fronted building, offices stretching as far as the eye could see and not a smudge in sight. Where I ended up was very different. A bus ride out into the countryside, down a few winding lanes and through gates to what I can only describe as a secret hideaway. It wouldn’t have been out of place to arrive at Arai’s testing and training facility in a blindfold. I’d heard of this unit but nothing could prepare me for what greeted me. Strong welcoming handshakes aside – including one from Akihito Arai (MD of the Americas and Founder’s Grandson) – were three walls covered in Arai helmets from the past.

A wall of saving death

A vast Arai collection from every discipline of motorcycling and car racing, the helmets that I immediately recognised were enough to get me excited, let alone the less obvious ones that gradually popped into my head as the day progressed. Mixed in with Sheene’s, Read’s and Dunlop’s is that of Jos Verstappen – Mikey Schumacher’s Bennetton teammate whose car burst into flames in the pitlane in 1994. Jos’ helmet faired extremely well in the intense heat, a bit like mine. Apparently, 50% of the F1 grid, including our own Jenson Button, drive in Arai.

Mr Akihito Arai

Having tried to take in all of the surroundings, the group moved into the main presentation area where a brief history of the company was detailed. Founded in 1930, the company is proud of its heritage and still stands by the statement that they ‘make motorcycle helmets that they want to wear….’. Despite being a global firm with HQs in Europe, America and of course Japan (where all Arai helmets are manufactured) you always feel that this is a family firm. The presence of Akihito solidified this and his knowledge, not only of the company, but the painstakingly complicated and lengthy process of making each single helmet was impressive.

‘Her boobies were this shape…’

We were given a whistle stop demonstration on what goes into making, and baking, a helmet. The shell all starts with a “Super Fibre” – 30% stronger than regular fibres and six times more expensive, apparently, which goes someway to explaining the cost of the final product. Most of the production is by hand and some eighteen hours of investment is put into each lid. Every step is monitored, checked and stamped, and the slightest glicth in thickness, weight, strength will render an entire batch void. There is a lot of care put into the manufacturing of the helmets in the Japanese factory. Each member of the Arai management and training team has spent time on the shop floor too. They know what they are talking about as they have been through the process.

Spot your hero…

So, the Arai team take a lot of pride and time in the building of their helmets. They take the same amount of time and care at trying to destroy them too. This is not only done in the secrecy of this unit located somewhere in the Netherlands, but also for the entire world to see via hundreds of racers that use Arai helmets. Every crashed lid (within reason) is returned and analysed by the Arai technician, including this one – Josh Wainwright’s lid that a competitor ran over after he crashed in BSB.

Josh Wainwright’s Arai

It’s reassuring to know that the helmets these guys are wearing are the ones we buy off the shelves and they continue to develop bringing more comfort and primarily safety. I will be writing again, detailing the additional lab based testing and the new model. My ST has just turned up in the office, and it’s nice to know more about the workings of what’s about to go on my head!

Charlie ‘The Sheriff’ Oakman

 

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