For more than five years we have been petitioning the major helmet manufacturers to produce a high-quality, retro helmet. And that’s because, whilst there are lots of retro helmets out there, most are little more than over-priced novelty pieces. Some of them look great, some have fabulous graphics, but most simply don’t work on the bike in the way one expects a sophisticated, modern helmet to.
They often don’t fit well. Indeed, with chin bars that almost touch your chin, we think some are actually dangerous to ride in. Most aren’t comfortable. Nearly all of them are noisy. The idea of variable venting is virtually unheard of. Not a single one is Pinlock prepared. And in heavy rain, most will let water in like a leaky bucket.
What we should also point out is that, as we anticipated, the importer has underestimated demand. For the coming few months, at least, this helmet is going to be in short supply.
So let’s take a closer look at the helmet.
Now, it’s an Arai. So it has a super-tough shell. And that because, in the early days, Arais were tested to the Snell standard in the US. The Snell standard was designed for car racing, where you need a hard shell to absorb multiple impacts from, say, a roll cage.
Now a hard shell is a good thing in some respects, but a hard shell doesn’t absorb energy in an impact to the same degree as a softer shell. And to compensate for this Arais have thicker eps liners. It tends to make Arais a bit larger than some helmets and a bit heavier.
But make no mistake, this is a supremely safe helmet: it’s in a different league to any other retro helmet currently on the market. But you just have to accept that there will be smaller and lighter helmets out there.
The smooth round shell is very much an Arai trademark, which is why a round shell very much colours our perception of what a retro helmet is. On the Rapide Neo the shell is totally uncluttered. It just looks right. But the helmet does have a bit of a Simpson Bandit-esque nose treatment. Still very retro, but perhaps a bit more eighties and nineties than seventies. It will look good on any retro bike, but what Arai also wanted was that it should work equally well on any modern custom bike, street fighter or cruiser. And it will do.
Ventilation on the Rapide Neo is good, but retro. There are six vents in the chin, and the vent is closeable from inside the helmet. You also get adjustable eyebrow vents. They really work, but when they’re open they do increase noise levels a bit. Which is not to suggest that the Arai is a noisy helmet. It’s not. In fact, we reckon it’s quieter than many other Arais we’ve ridden inrecently. Air exhausts through outlets at the back and side of the helmet.
Now the visor is the grade one optical quality that you would expect. Obviously, as it’s an Arai, there’s no drop-down sun visor, but down the road we hope to see some properly retro-tinted visor options. The visor attaches with a system called VAS. It pivots the visor, so that sits more flush into the visor aperture. It gives a cleaner, smoother look to the helmet, but it also makes for an excellent seal to keep out both the wind and the rain. Personally, we really like the old-fashioned, screw-in side panels. They look the part, but we also suspect that they also contribute to the helmet’s relative lack of noise. You also get , and this is exclusive to the UK version, a Pinlock 120 in the box.
The interior is what you would expect of an Arai. All the facings are comfortable. They can be removed for cleaning and, as with Shoei, we can change headliners and cheekpads to customise the fit. In proper, retro style fastening is by means of a double d-ring.
One thing we would say is that the fit of this European version is quite different to the Japanese helmet we’ve had in the shop for the last six months. We often go on about the fact that there’s no such thing as an Arai head, but basically if you currently fit a Shoei or an Arai, we should be able to make the Rapide Neo work for you.
So where do we get to with the Arai? What do we think about it? How do we rate it?
Well first off, it’s great to have a retro helmet that we don’t have to make excuses for. It’s a modern, supremely-safe, well-vented, quiet helmet that you can ride in all year round, all day long.
Inevitably, people are going to compare it with the forthcoming Shoei Glamster, and we have ridden in both. The Shoei is lighter and easier to wear. It has more of a classic shape. We know and love our Shoeis, and when the internal liners for the Glamster do eventually arrive with us we will be able to make it fit really well on most heads.
The Arai feels more like a traditional Arai which, of course, is what it is. To make this helmet, Arai has simply dug into its archives. It has not attempted to do anything new or different. If you like your Arais, the Rapide Neo is going to feel familiar. It is solid, robust and beautifully put together. It doesn’t pander to the Hipster brigade. It has not been designed for the decaf. latte crowd. It’s a proper old-fashioned helmet. It’s not a pastiche; it’s the real deal.
The Shoei, when it arrives is going also to be a great helmet, and it will give the Arai a good run for its money. But if you want just one helmet that you can commute and tour in, or throw on to pop out to pick up the newspapers, we could make a case for the Arai.
If you’re more of a weekend rider, want something light, easy and cool to ride in then you may be more drawn to the Shoei. The Shoei is cheaper and, although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the Glamster is probably more in line with what most people expect a retro helmet to look like.
But we reckon that the choice will largely be down to aesthetics. Both are going to be great helmets. From a technical and functional standpoint, both are going to blow every other retro helmet on the market into the weeds. And, what’s more, given what these helmets are, and who makes them, we reckon they’re both really well priced.
For more information and to order online, click Arai Rapide Neo helmet.