Gear: Arai XD4 helmet

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Now in its 4th generation, the XD range started the whole ADV helmet craze. And with good reason, they combine excellent ventilation and vision with all-day comfort. But, now existing in a very crowded market, can this new Arai XD4 still hold its own?

Helmet Role:
It’s been… never since we’ve reviewed an Arai here at HfL. We figured we’d give our take on one of the most recognizable helmet brands, so we reached into our gear closet to bring you this review…

The XD4 is the forth generation of the original Arai XD, the helmet that basically started the whole flock of adventure-touring helmets that every company feels that they need to make these days. This type of helmet needs to be all things for all riders, so it starts from Arai’s VX-Pro dirt lid. A shield is fitted and the venting is exchanged for more street-oriented intakes. Depending upon your needs, it can be a dirt helmet with goggles and the standard peak, an aggressively styled street helmet sans peak, or a hybrid of the two. As the O.G. of the class, the XD4 does seem to be the most functional helmet in the class and there are several places where you
can see the extra development and dollars spent.

The XD4 is the forth generation of the original Arai XD, the helmet that basically started the whole flock of adventure-touring helmets that every company feels that they need to make these days. This type of helmet needs to be all things for all riders, so it starts from Arai’s VX-Pro dirt lid. A shield is fitted and the venting is exchanged for more street-oriented intakes. Depending upon your needs, it can be a dirt helmet with goggles and the standard peak, an aggressively styled street helmet sans peak, or a hybrid of the two. As the O.G. of the class, the XD4 does seem to be the most functional helmet in the class and there are several places where you can see the extra development and dollars spent.

The updates to the XD4 bring it in line with much of the rest of Arai’s line. Arai’s distinct brow vents are now present, along with updated venting, shell shaping and interior padding. Arai’s MO always seems to be more evolution than revolution, and that’s the name of the game here. Like all of the helmets from the Japanese brand, Arai’s XD4 uses the, in our opinion less-desirable, SNELL standard.

Fit and Comfort:
Let’s get the easy bit out of the way first: this is an Arai, and as such, it is excruciatingly comfortable. Unless your head shape is radically different than the shape of the Arai you are trying on, your head will love the inside of any Arai. This company sells on their fit, and once you’ve lived inside one for a while, you will find it hard to go back.

Arai labels the XD4 with their Intermediate Oval shape, which should fit most heads even if it is a bit short front-to-back for some. But the answer is more complicated than a simple spec sheet. Arai’s new Microfit liner includes peel away temple pads that allow you to customize the shape without having to buy new liner components. The end result is a helmet that fits my pointy head right out of the box with no complaints. And thanks to the longer snout that comes from the dirty VX-Pro roots, there’s plenty of room for your chin and face. Finally, Arai’s Facial Contour System (FCS) does exactly what it promises: cradling your jaw once the helmet bell is in position around your head. It’s cool how the helmet almost seems to melt around your head when you slip it over your skull.

The end result is helmet that seems to fit everyone that tries it on with a firm, secure fit that feels broken-in out of the box. As picky as I am about helmets, I don’t make statements like this lightly, either. The only question is how that springy foam in the FCS holds up to years of use. Oh, and the chinstrap is a bit rough and stiff.

Visibility and Noise/Sound Attenuation:
As comfortable as the XD4 is, you’d better invest in some comfy earplugs to match. It’s not that the Arai is any louder than average, but every helmet is loud without earplugs. And unlike some helmets on the market, the XD4 doesn’t include ear pockets with additional noise damping material. Wind noise is dead average, in other words.

On the bright side, the ventilation doesn’t cause any strange roars, whistles or booming noises in regular use. That being said, wearing the peak and shield together can create a minor whistle at certain angles. Not a terrible whistle, but noticeable all the same.

As for visibility, that’s one of the biggest selling points for this type of helmet. The huge eyeport gives unrivaled visibility compared to standard street lids. For that reason alone, I love using the XD4 for commuting and urban jungle survival. Of course, with the peak in place you lose the upper third of your LOS but that only really matters when you’re sport riding with your head down. I’m not the dirt-eating type but there seems to be plenty of room for goggles if that’s your thing.

Ventilation:
The XD4 scores pretty well on the ventilation front. The large intakes from Arai’s street lineup work with the VX-Pro3 diffusers to pull a lot of air through the helmet. We also like Arai’s proprietary brow vents that route air directly to your sweaty temples. Like other Arais, the venting is clearly felt and very noticeable between open and shut, but lacks that direct “wind in your hair” feeling you get with racing helmets like the old Shoei X-11, the Bell Star or the Schuberth SR1. And as always, it’d be great if Arai would install a forehead vent. But they refuse to compromise on drilling holes into the brow region of the shell, citing research that is boring but probably quite valid. I don’t care, I want a cooler-running forehead!

On the bottom end, the slotted face vent is awesome. With the ducting closed, the airflow is blocked with only minor drafts reaching your face. (A version of Arai’s usual pull down spoiler is present to help direct the airflow around the lower opening of the helmet.) And with the grill open, the chinbar might as well be nonexistent, with a blast of fresh air directly to your face. Two complaints: one, the slots seem to block the wind at high angles of attack, such as when your chin is dipped into a sport riding position; and two, that super open grill does a great job of fileting insects and then shotgunning the results down your throat.

Weight and Balance:
Without having a precise scale handy, I’m only able to say that our size medium XD4 is on the heavier side of average. More noticeably, the outer shell is quite bulky looking despite being tweaked during this model update. The helmet never feels large on your head though, which is more important. In your hands, the helmet also feels slightly rear heavy but the feeling disappears once secured to your head.

Without the peak, the helmet feels nicely balanced on the road, even when making a head check. Some ADV helmets have such a long chinbar that it can seriously catch the airflow at speed. The rounder Arai design does not. Another cool trick is how the peak barely affects the helmet when it is mounted. You can feel it to be sure, but it doesn’t try to rip your head off if you look up, for example.

Graphics and Finish Quality:
Pretty much perfect… as it should be for this sort of pricing. All the vents function with an authoritative snap. The shell’s trim and visor gaskets are molded perfectly. And the shield seals well, which is impressive considering the surface area it covers. It’d be nice if you didn’t have to play with a bunch of plastic screws to change the visor or shield, but I guess that can’t be helped if you want to keep the shield system simple.

In the Explore graphic we have here, it also looks pretty good, with a simple design that evokes the popular old Squadra graphic from Arai’s past. I love it, but YMMV. A word of warning for folks that don’t use meticulous caution in handling their helmets: Arais tend to chip and scratch easily! Don’t bump this thing into a table and expect it to shrug off the hit. Arai’s shields are made out of butter, so be careful when cleaning off bugs and dirt. Of course you shouldn’t ever be banging your helmet around, but Arais require pampering if you want to keep it looking new.

Unique Features:
It’s hard to say that many of the XD4’s features are unique anymore, since so many other companies have copied the basic concept. Still, there’s enough Arai tech in this lid to make it stand out. The FCS, brow vents, Microfit liner, etc. all make the helmet work just a bit better than competition. The truly smart feature is the addition of the emergency cheekpad removal system from the Corsair V and VX-Pro3 race helmets. Getting a helmet off without aggravating potential neck injuries is just as useful for a street rider as it is for a racer.

Value and Desirability:
It’s an Arai. Everyone in this industry, from MotoGP on down, says you should want to buy and wear an Arai. You’ll get appreciative glances from fellow riders and folks that you want to have sex with will return the favor. And yes, they really are that good. It’s comfy, vents well and has that elusive luxury feel that so many products strive for and never attain.

But is it $729.95 worth of good? That’s a question you’ll have to ask yourself. If I was fighting to pay rent, I wouldn’t be able to justify an Arai. If you like the ADV styling, you can spend a lot less to get the same look. I keep coming back to Arai for the peerless, head-inside-a-cloud comfort. The fact that I know an Arai will still be serving me well five (or more) years down the road is also a nice plus.

The Good:
It’s an Arai, with all the great things that comes along with that name.

The Bad:
It’s an Arai, with the few negatives (like price, weight and Snell) that come with that name.

Verdict:
Great if you can spare the coin, but not life changing. That judgement is reserved for the high holy realms of the Nexx XR1R Carbon, Corsair V and SR1.

  • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

    After years of trying every middle of the range brand under the sun, I finally put up the cash for an Arai. Now they are the only helmets I wear.

    • Bruce Steever

      That happens a lot.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stempere Sean Tempère

      I had the opposit experience, started with araï’s (3 so far) and changed for an XR1R carbon last year, for the weight and viewport, both are phenomenal.
      My nexx was recently stollen (with a pair of gp-pro’s inside) so i’m back with my Viper GT, but as soon as i can (just bought a pair of Maple jean’s, great, but pricey), i’ll get the exact same XR1R carbon.

      • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

        I checked out the Nexx when I was at Laguna Seca last summer and thought it was a great helmet fantastically light, especially from a small company. I just can’t justify the $700, same goes for the Schubert SR1, the helmet is beyond amazing….but not $900 amazing.

        That sucks about the stolen helmet, hopefully you weren’t stranded somewhere without a lid.

        • http://www.facebook.com/stempere Sean Tempère

          In France the nexx is around 360€, while the araï i’ve had range from 600 to 700€ (and the SR1 costs around 650 also). Not sure i’d spring 600+ euros for the nexx but at this price it’s a no brainer.

          Yeah it sucked, and both the helmet and gloves were fairly recent (~6-8 months) but hey, these things happen.

  • Eric B

    What happened to the MX style visor?

    • runrunny

      removable

  • crswa

    You raved about the AGV hybrid helmet a few months back. Is this one worth the extra dough? Also, Any thoughts on fogging for those of us in places where the temps haven’t climbed into the 60s yet?

  • yipY

    Good hat.Arais are the only helmet to wear,I have worn them for years.

  • KevinB

    “The fact that I know an Arai will still be serving me well five (or more) years down the road is also a nice plus.”

    As decoration I hope. Ever read those stickers they put on new helmets? Helmets are good for 5 years tops, less if you ride a lot.

    • Bruce Steever

      My Corsair V still looks pretty damn solid after 5 years in (very) constant service. A couple of the vent lever detents have gotten weak or failed, but all the vents and other mechanisms still work. It picked up a small chip somewhere along the line, but the liner padding is pretty much like new. I’ve only replaced the shield once in this time. It will get retired soon, but i still trust it.

      • KevinB

        Arai’s website - “It should be replaced within 5 years of first use.”

        Materials degrade over time, end of story.

        • Bruce Steever

          Fair enough. I just checked my Corsair’s date. Built in Sept. 2008. So I’ll probably bin the lid this winter.

          Truth be told, i usually manage to throw a helmet down the road before i get to this point… maybe i’m maturing… nah.

        • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

          Arai and Shoei will inspect your helmet (for a minor fee) to see if it still safe standard worthy. Not sure if they guarantee it for another 5 years or anything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SashaPave Sasha Pave

    Nice review! I’ve always loved the XD line, but the XD3 changed to another shape and no longer fit. The XD4 is back to the original shape and fits once again. The only drawback is the price. Arai is worth a premium but this is pushing it a bit.

    The best feature of the XD line is the visor IMHO. It’s the ultimate commuting helmet and makes riding into the sun manageable. Depending on your windscreen (or lack thereof) you can ride upwards of 75mph without excessive buffeting/vibration. On longer street rides you can just pop the thing off and it’s as comfortable as any street helmet.

    • orthorim

      As with all helmets, I’ll have to ask: But, will it fit my long-oval elephant head?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jesse.c.perry Jesse Perry

    Unsurprised that the 4th Gen is awesome. My original XD was everything I asked of it, and I only recently retired it last summer. Went with a far less expensive, yet also built to the ECE standard lid this time around. Lots of good memories tied up in that helmet.

  • Brian Caudle

    I have an XD3 and love it – well worth the $$. so much more comfortable than previous helmets i have owned – fit and finish are great but as mentioned in the article, the paint can scuff without care. Mine is about 3 years old now and still looks and feels great. The liner is easily removeable for washing and keeping the helmet stank to an acceptable level. I just ordered a new screen to replace mine that now has some scratches and look forward to using one with a pin-lock insert for the first time. Not that fogging is a huge issue with this helmet but seattle riding in the rain in cooler temps (30′s-40′s) can be difficult to keep fog free

    Just a note – a solid color will save around $150.
    Hope the XD4 fits when it becomes time to replace my XD3

  • MotoEnthusiast

    What’s wrong with Snell standard?

    • Bruce Steever

      Some folks think it’s too stiff, and may not adequately protect from lower energy impacts. Some people don’t feel the penetration test is a realistic test.

      I personally am much happier with the new SNELL 2010 standard than the previous version, so it’s less of a concern for me. My worst crash was in a SNELL helmet and i’m still here, so cheers to SNELL for that.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      It results in heavier, harder helmets that could lead to greater risk of concussion. That’s a particular concern for wearers with very small heads, which typically means women and children.

      Until M2010, Snell did not acknowledge that different size heads have different weights, so the EPS density didn’t have to change between an XXL and an XXS…

      It’s also simply a less stringent standard, requiring less of manufacturers building to it than ECE 22.05 does. For instance, every 3,000 helmets, every ECE-rated lid has to be re-certified and specific serial number is then issued by helmet for the next 3,000. This accounts for manufacturing tolerances and changes to such.

      Every. Single. Major racer races in ECE. Including Americans sponsored by helmet makers that sell Snell rated helmets here.

      I’ve handled one of Ben Spies own HJCs, for instance, at the same time as a standard, Snell-rated replica of the kind sold in the US. Ben’s ECE version is noticeably lighter.

      Snell persists because several large helmet makers have invested heavily in it. Not because it has anything to offer over ECE.

      • atgatthd

        I’m not sure a Snell rating applies as a negative to an Arai helmet. I know Arai helmets have multiple density EPS liners which is the main protection against concussions in low speed impacts (the softer layers). The weight issue is why you won’t see a kids helmet that is SNELL rated. Too heavy helmets on kids are bad for their little necks. The biggest thing safety wise between a XXL and a XXS is shell sizing. Some manufacturers will use the same mold for the XXL as a XXS and the same size EPS liners. They make up the difference in the amount of cheek padding etc that is put in the helmet. This often causes so&so’s brand of XXS to weigh more than the XXL of the same model! flip a cheap XXL and XXS of the same helmet over and you can see the difference in padding, and feel how the XXS is heavier. That is exactly opposite of what safety dictates should be the case. Check the manufacturer specs, the more shell sizes, eps liner sizes, and padding adjustments available in a model of helmet, the more tailored to your head the fit and protection will be. Arai has quite a few, I think Shoei has more EPS liner size variations, but not sure. It’s been a while since I’ve been deep in the helmet scene. Oh, also, fiberglass is pretty awesome and there used to be controversy or propaganda (I never researched it) that fiberglass was better than carbon fiber because of the way it splinters at high impacts. Dunno if it is better, but it is a lot lighter than polycarbonate shells. So that helps.

        Thoughts?

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          There’s some fairly erroneous logic/material in this comment and anyone reading it should not draw conclusions from it.

          ALL helmets have multi density EPS. That’s how they control retardation in an impact.

          The safety problem across sizes with Snell is that, prior to M2010, it didn’t acknowledge that smaller heads weigh less than larger ones, so the eps didn’t have to become less dense as sizes went down, meaning less retardation was available to smaller heads. That’s bad.

          Shell materials change for weight, not safety. Plastic shells are absolutely as safe as other materials.

          • atgatthd

            Wes,

            Not my intent to spread erroneous information. Help clear this up for me?

            I was under the impression that some helmets had molded layer of eps that made up the entire eps liner of the helmet and that others (like shoei and arai) cast several different layers of eps of different densities and put them together in various ways to make up the entire eps layer.

            What’s the truth?

            Explanation of Snell M2010 makes sense. Didn’t know that.

            I think I was trying to make the same point you did about shell materials… but my point obviously wasn’t clear at all.

            Look forward to your response.

  • Mark Simcox

    Yes howdoes it compare with the AGV?

  • http://www.facebook.com/MrDanWoods Dan Woods

    Been using a XD4 since December, my first Arai. The build quality is great and it feels fantastic. I use the peak, it can be a little noisey at some angles but certainly my best helmet yet. Ebay for $550…