Bikeland Tries Out The New Defiant From Arai

Arai, Japan’s oldest helmet manufacturer, has always been a family owned business free from the corporate decision-making molasses that often impedes innovation. Deliberate in their ways, Arai doesn’t make changes for fashion sake or what’s trendy however they know there are buyers whose choice of headgear, or the lack of it, is influenced by looks. To stay competitive, helmet companies can’t ignore styling, but when weighing the style vs. function priority, Arai doesn’t let aesthetics compromise the goal of making better helmets. The recently released Defiant is a good example.

Based on the popular RXQ intermediate-oval head shape, the Defiant sports an Urban Street Fighter look and offers a variety of black and retro color schemes to appeal to hip, Naked-style bike owners. Rather than just being a new look, the Defiant introduces innovations that make it more comfortable and wearable including new high-end, air management features Arai says will also be seen on other future models.

The scoop on shell design
A casual glance immediately tells you the Defiant is designed to keep cool. Vents and scoops are plentiful. Designing the Defiant’s new look and air flow features required Arai to go to some lengths to retain their long-time commitment to smooth, round shells. Angular, aggressively shaped shells look edgy but Arai believes they’re more susceptible to snagging and generating rotational forces from when a rider is sliding. Arai favors strong, egg-shaped shells which are more slippery and minimize snag-induced rotational forces. Sliding considerations have not typically been included in helmet test standards but Arai’s experience is they’re important real world factors. Subsequently, Arai’s large air scoops, like the Defiant uses, are frangible, and designed to break away to help minimize catching. If a helmet is inadvertently dropped replacement scoops are about $20 but the sacrifice can serve to protect fancy paint jobs in addition to your (hopefully) more valuable head. Dinging the Defiant’s finish would be a shame because paint and graphic qualities are quite high.

The Defiant meets the latest Snell and DOT standards. To pass the maximum impact tests, Arai’s preferred method is to use a very hard shell with what may be the industry’s thickest and softest foam liners. Arai actually incorporates three and as many as six different liner densities in their models to help dissipate kinetic energy over the widest possible area. Though few customers ever experience a worst case scenario, there’s probably a reason top riders and over half of F-1 and NASCAR drivers wear Arai despite the company’s practice of not paying sponsorship money.

What’s inside?
The Defiant interior is very plush and all of the major pieces are removable and washable. The patented Facial Contour System FCS® cheek pads feature advanced moisture management materials. The pads feel luxurious and their two stage “spring system” makes putting the helmet on easier. The pads are built in 5mm peel-away layers which will allow most owners to customize the fit without buying different size pads. The two-stage effect allows a firm but comfortable cheek contact which helps stability at speed without much “chipmunk cheek” compression.

Ear pockets are surprisingly large which is a bit disconcerting at first but they help facilitate ear plugs and speakers where legal. They also make slipping glasses on easier. The neck roll is a new Dri Max design which should make wet weather riding more comfortable by not absorbing water.

Visor design follows Arai’s practice of a shallow shell recess which helps preserve more liner thickness. The eye port is 5mm wider on each side and gives good peripheral vision. After watching an included video and a little practice, you can probably change the Max Vision shield with out even removing the helmet. Shield durability is good enough that swaps will more likely be for color choice rather than scratching. The shield also features the familiar operable brow vents. Better yet, the Defiant comes packaged with a clear easily replaceable, anti-fog, inner shield which can also be purchased separately in four colors.

Air management
After a few rides in 90 degree temps we can affirm the Defiant’s scoops work extremely well and flow plenty of air, even at low speeds. This is indeed a well ventilated helmet. Cooling capability is sufficient to frost damage your corn rows if vents were left open year round in the places we ride! Fortunately, vent controls are large enough to be used easily with gloves. In the full-open position, the mouth vent/breath deflector allows enough flow to almost feel like you’re wearing an open face helmet. In the middle position, a just-right breeze is directed up across your face and out the visor eyebrow vents; perfect to minimize fogging. Closing the mouth vent and deploying the drop down chin spoiler seals everything up pretty tight. Arai cites significant improvement in high speed aerodynamics but we only experienced their Moto GP derived air stability and sound reduction improvements slightly at our less-than-race-pace ninety mph maximum test speed.

Proving the no free lunch laws of physics still exist though, we did find the price of good air flow is still some amount of wind noise. Even with everything closed the Defiant is not the quietest helmet out there. Sound reduction is better when your bean is in uninterrupted air streams, less so with fly screen bikes that produce turbulence around the neck. Those big ear pockets may be partly to blame. As an experiment, we stuffed some umbrella girl socks in the ear pockets and noticed a slight Db drop. As always, good earplugs helped with the noise and the umbrella girl’s whining when we elected to keep the sox.

Weight control
Arai rarely claims to be the lightest helmets in category but their approach to weight follows motorcycle design parameters in that the mass center is designed to sit low. The lower center of gravity makes it easier for neck muscles to support the helmet and resist wind force. The Defiant’s feel at the end of a long ride bore this out. In concert with all the aerodynamic features, this is a comfortable helmet to wear at speed on an unfaired or partially faired bike.

Buying it
As is often the case with helmet evolution, the Defiant’s fit and feel is not identical to previous Arai models we’ve had. If you’ve had an intermediate-oval Arai lid in the past you’ll still want to take your time with fitting and try on when you buy.

Priced similar to the Signet Q with MSRPs from $619.95 to $759.95 the feature-laden Defiant is worthy of consideration especially if you’ve not yet graduated to a full face helmet because of temperature concerns or, heaven forbid, style.

More information at

Every color is a different density

Spacious ear wells

A well ventilated interior

Three position mouth vent

Breath deflector / shield vents

Integrated drop down spoiler and aerodynamic chin bar

Plenty of intake area

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Tags: gear, helmets, arai