Whether you are new to riding or have been at it for 30 years, you are almost certainly familiar with both Shoei and Arai helmets. Moreover, you have likely seen the ferociously loyal helmet owners that will honor their lid to the death on both sides of the camp. Either brand can be easily recognized as an industry leader in helmet safety and technology, but how do they stack up against each other? Having spent time in both helmet types, I look forward to removing the veil on these Japanese manufacturers to give you a better understanding of what makes them succeed and which one is best suited for you.
First things first. Phonetically, they are pronounced “SHOW-ay” and a-”WRY.” I have heard multiple variations in pronunciation, from Shoo to Aree-ah and even combinations thereof (Shooria?). If you want to sound like you know what you are talking about, it is important to get the words straight.
Shoei and Arai share a number of traits: both are based out of Japan, both claim to offer the very best in rider-focused design and safety, both certify the majority of their helmets to the SNELL safety standard, and both are renowned worldwide for their products as evidenced by their prominent use in racing motorsports. While their reputation is defined in motorsport racing, Shoei and Arai both offer an extensive line-up that meets the dirt, touring, adventure, and sport markets. Lets take a look at their current set of helmet models.
Initially, they may seem evenly matched, but there are a few distinctions to be made. First, Arai has a healthy supplement of 3/4 helmets (CT-Z, XC, XC RAM) that Shoei does not focus on as heavily. Though Shoei has offered a larger selection of half and 3/4 helmets in the past, the only two produced produced today are the J-Cruise and the RJ Platinum-R. On the flip side, Shoei offers two modular options, while Arai has none. Arai's stance on modular helmets is rather conservative. Their safety cues are taken from SNELL’s rating system, and SNELL has yet to pass a modular helmet, so Arai remains modular-less for the time being.
OPINION:If you are looking for a modular, Shoei is the obvious choice. Otherwise, neither manufacturer pulls ahead based on helmet class offering alone.
Another consideration as we look at this list of helmets is head-shape. Arai covers a broad variety with a long-oval Signet-Q, intermediate-oval RX-Q, and neutral oval Vector 2. Shoei comes close, but is missing a true long oval. Round oval is covered by Shoei with the Qwest or the Multitec, the RF-1100 and the GT-Air are on the long side of intermediate-oval, and the rest fall in-between. Arai has consistently been heralded as the master of fit and this is evidenced by their commitment to running the gamut of headshapes.
OPINION:While I will give Shoei the win on a more comfortable and plush interior, I consider Arai to fit my personal headshape better. I am a long oval!
Moving on to features, there are a lot of aspects to compare! Here are some thoughts on a few key items:
Faceshields deserve their own paragraph. Arai is notorious for having a more difficult shield change system. In my experience, this is not the case. You need to invest about 15-30 minutes learning and practicing how to take off your shield (our video can help!). However, once learned, Arai's shield, like the SAI on the Arai RX-Q, is perhaps the fastest and easiest shield change mechanism out there. I can swap shields in under 10 seconds every time. If you are really good at it, you can also change your shield while you are wearing your helmet -- though I wouldn't recommend this while moving. Shoei's shields are very easy to learn how to change. Most people get it right the first time with no instruction. The only downside here is that you have to be looking at the base-clamps to get it right. It takes a little more time and focus, but can still be achieved in under a minute.
OPINION:I get a sense of pride out of knowing how to change an Arai shield quickly. It might've taken me longer to learn, but boy do I feel like a boss when I can do it in 4 seconds while people look on with amazement. To reiterate, like a boss.
Lastly, I want to spend a moment talking about durability and longevity of the product. Both Shoei and Arai offer a substantial warranty that will cover your lid up to 5 years after date of purchase, or 7 years from the manufacturing date. I literally cannot recall the last time we have processed a Shoei warranty. Their helmets simply don't break! Arai, conversely, has their fair share of issues, but the advantage is that every part on an Arai helmet is replaceable and serviceable. This comes especially in handy if you have cosmetic damage since the side pods and vents can be swapped out. If you can't make the repair yourself, Arai will do it for you. Don't get me wrong, Arai helmets still have a very low warranty rate, but I have sent my Signet-Q in to have the chin curtain re-glued and my cheekpad has some threads that are unraveling, so issues could always arise.
OPINION:Arai can be more finicky to deal with, but will likely last you longer in the end since everything is easily serviceable and replaceable. Shoei won't break within your 5 years of use, so reap the benefit of peace of mind. When it does break, you will be out of your warranty period and you probably won't be able to fix it yourself. But by then, if you’re one to follow general safety standards, it will be time to invest in a new lid anyway, regardless of the condition of your current one.
Overall, both brands are an excellent choice. You won’t be disappointed with either purchase. Hopefully, my thoughts and experience here will tell you which brand is a better fit for you, your bike, and your riding style.