Arai Signet/e & NR-2

I'm a Believer

At one time, I viewed helmets as a unnecessary and coerced evil.

They were these heavy things that pinched in various places and made you feel claustrophobic. As such, I voted for candidates against the helmet law and wore an illegal beanie as much as possible, which is to say whenever it wasn't raining. I spent as little money as possible on a full-face helmet.

One day, while preparing to go to the BMW K1200RS intro, I looked at my *$%&&% (name masked to protect the maker of a pretty lousy helmet) with its bottom rubber weather-strip-looking thing coming off, gashes galore, and scratched, opaque windshield and decided to spring for a new helmet so the other journalists wouldn't laugh at me. Hey, nice $1,500-but-I-got-it-for-free-
custom-made-carbon-fiber helmet Mr. Canet, do you have a spare?

I went down to the local shop and started looking around at the helmet selection, running into the same problems I've always had because of my slightly oblong head: helmets either pinch, swim around, or both. After about half-an-hour of frustration, my eyes fell on an inconspicuous white box on the bottom shelf, marked: NR-2 Size M.

Desperation caused me to pick it up and take out a beautiful black Arai NR-2. I'm normally sized large in most other brands, but being a man possessed by destiny I plopped the little medium onto my large noggin. I thought, "This thing isn't on all the way, is it?" There was none of that familiar pinching. Better yet, it was light, and it was even sort of comforting. My only complaint, which worked itself out later, was that it gave me chipmunk-cheeks.

Editor Brent Plummer in his NR-2, "the best 'cheap' helmet I've owned."
So, I'm thinking, "Oh well, here comes the $500 hit. Goodbye fast-food lunches and $75 nights at the strip bar. Welcome to the land of world-class helmets with world-class price tags. Check, please. $240?! Holy crap! You mean that ill-fitting &$%&# would have cost me $475 and this helmet, the one that changed my mind about helmets, is half the price?!"

The NR-2 lasted a year before turning pretty ugly from the all dents and scratches of daily use, so (having been completely seized by Expensive Helmet Syndrome, or EHS, if you will) I got an Arai Signet to replace it. The main problem I had with the Signet is that the entry-level NR was so good, I wondered if the Signet was in fact $160.00 better.

The Signet is Arai's "other" shell. They don't want to give anybody a reason to buy anything else, so they make a couple shapes. Astonishingly, they both fit me. It comes down a little lower in front, and tucks in a little tighter in the mouth. Although not quite as comfortable, it feels more firmy planted on the noggin.

While the NR is a good, basic helmet with reasonable venting and decent weather protection, the Signet is a full-on road-or-track-thrashing sport-bucket. They share Arai's ADSIS no-tools shield-changing mechanism: If you want to change your shield, merely spread it and pop it out.

"Holy crap! You mean that ill-fitting &$%&# would have cost me $475 and this helmet, the one that changed my mind about helmets, is half the price?!" Additionally, the Signet has top-'o-your-head venting, a diffuser that vents air around your mouth (no more chapped lips), and anti-fog measures like an integrated air vent that sends air up the shield as well as an unobtrusive breath guard over the nose. Most times you don't even have to lift the shield when you are stopped at a light. Of all these features, my only complaint is that the mouth vent offers very little feedback -- without a click it's hard to tell if it moved or not.

The jury is still out on long-term comfort since my only basis for comparison is the comfortable, broken-in NR. However, I now find every other helmet brand I wear uncomfortable. And the Signet's great looks even pose a minor dilemma: I would wear it more, but the flashy three-color paint is out of place on a cruiser, and I hate getting bugs all over the pretty thing, so I don't wear it for long-distance touring. Curiously, on the one long trip I did take on a ST1100, the Signet gave me a headache like the NR-2 never did. It may be due to the snug fit of the different shell. That leaves short jaunts in the canyons and day trips, as I'm overprotective of anything that costs the sum of my discretionary income for a month. In this role it shines, as tighter tolerances make for less movement at speed.

I realize there are differently shaped heads out there, so the only way to be sure about the Arai is to slide into your nearest retailer and slip into one. Trust me, when you try one on, you'll know.

Having established that all other helmets suck, are all the widgets on the Signet/e worth an extra $100+? Maybe. If you're a hard-core sport rider, you'll appreciate the pull-down air dam under your chin, the superior venting, and the greater range of color/design options. But if you just need a lid to protect your head and/or go touring with, the NR-2, or possibly the new NR-3, will not disappoint. Arai's Signet/e features a pair of cool-looking vents on top, in addition to a pair of 'eyebrow' vents and a mouth vent.

Motorcycle Online Ratings:
Arai Signet/e ****
Arai NR-2 *****

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