Your helmet selection typically relates to the type of bike you ride. In general, sportbike riders wear full-face helmets, cruiser riders go for open face or half-helmets, and no self-respecting motocrosser would be caught without a proper MX helmet featuring elongated chin-guard, wide opening for goggles, and the signature visor (properly called a “peak”). Whether they are attributable to function, or to form, these helmet conventions are noticeable. You wouldn’t wear a MX helmet on a Harley, would you?
Not surprisingly then, the growing popularity of dual sport or “adventure” bikes in the late 90’s warranted a new type of helmet. Arai quickly stepped up to fill that niche when it created a whole new helmet category: the dual sport helmet. Arai called these helmets its XD series and the XD4 featured here is the latest evolution.
The design basics of early dual sport helmets—styling and functionality reminiscent of a MX helmet, but with the addition of an earnest helping of street-going protection—worked well for the bike offerings of the late 90’s. But dual sport bikes have evolved. Looking purely at engine outputs, acceleration, and top speed potential, the bikes within this segment have become decidedly quicker in recent years. Think of today’s Super Tenere, Tiger, or Adventure as compared to a DR650 or KLR and you get the picture right away. Not to mention various supermoto scorchers, which are often paired with dual sport helmets.
To its credit, Arai appears to recognize the increased demands—particularly speed-related—being placed on helmets like the XD4. The XD4’s many improvements, over its predecessor the XD3, seem devoted to addressing these demands. The XD4 features a new shell shape for “better aerodynamic stability at higher street speeds,” says Arai. A redesigned peak creates “even better stability and airflow.” Similarly, the chin vent, exhaust ports, and side cowl vents all help improve “ventilation efficiency as well as helmet stability at higher speeds.” The common denominators are stability and speed.
And the XD4 delivers in these areas. It is indeed refreshingly stable at highway speeds. Since the peak has the biggest negative impact on stability, I removed it for my first ride with the helmet. This brings up one of the most interesting new features of the XD4 – the ability to remove the peak. In fact, the XD4 can be configured three ways: with peak and faceshield, with peak and no faceshield, or with faceshield and no peak (by the way, this configuration gives the XD4 a distinctive, fighter-pilot look – unlike any other motorcycle helmet). By running it without the peak, I was able to gain some idea of how the helmet would handle if it were an ordinary full-face helmet. Then, after a few rides, I installed the peak to compare.
Around town I experienced no noticeable difference. Even at two-lane highway speeds the peak was barely a factor. Only once I reached interstate speeds did it begin to feel like anything other than a traditional full-face helmet. And, even then, the sensation was never surprising or unmanageable.
Wind noise was also impressively low. With the faceshield down, the XD4 exhibits no more noise at ordinary road speeds than traditional full-face helmets. This may be largely due to the locking mechanism on the faceshield, which does an excellent job of pulling the shield firmly against the gasket.
The XD4’s other new features are primarily designed to boost comfort. Its shield now incorporates Arai’s trademark brow vents, which route air through cooling passages within the helmet. As any Arai owner will tell you, the brow vents work. Other interior improvements include the Facial Contour Support cheek pad design and Dry Cool liner, which are now featured in a number of Arai’s models.
But perhaps the most notable feature of the XD4 is the Emergency Cheek-Pad Release Design. Arai offers this system only on the XD4 and its two competition-oriented helmets, the Corsair-V and VX-Pro3. As Arai describes, this system was “developed to allow easier access to an injured rider; the XD-4’s cheek-pads slide out easily via the integrated pull-tabs built into the underside of the cheek-pad – which makes helmet removal much easier for trained medical personnel.” I found the emergency release pull-tabs to be clearly labeled and intuitive; hopefully medical personnel would too.
The overall fit and finish of the XD4 are excellent. From the moment you open the box, you see pride of workmanship. Like most new helmets, the XD4 comes in a soft bag but, unlike others, the bag is neatly cinched at the front of the helmet (rather than being simply stuffed into the interior of the helmet at the bottom) and the cinch-string is tied in a perfectly-uniform bow. It’s like opening a carefully wrapped Christmas present from someone who cares. Details like this express quality. The faceshield does not bend or bow when opened, and it locks closed with complete precision. Likewise, the vents open and close with authority, there is no vagueness. Where parts come together the seams are razor tight. The paint is rich and has depth.
Shortcomings? The chin curtain can be pivoted up and down, according to Arai, to serve as an “Airflow Spoiler.” But try as I might I could detect no difference in air flow by lowering or raising this device. Another minor area for improvement is the snap that keeps the end of the chinstrap from dangling. While not particularly difficult to secure, it could be easier. For example, other manufacturers have replaced the snap with a magnet embedded within the chinstrap. Given the effectiveness and ease of that system, it would be a welcome addition to the XD4.
The XD4 has an M.S.R.P. of $729.95 for any of the “Explore” graphics options, such as the “Explore Orange” version shown in this review. Solid colors range from $599.95 for White to $619.95 for “Fluro Yellow.” The Explore Orange helmet I reviewed will not disappoint those with allegiances to KTM. For more details, and a look at all of the color schemes available, visit Arai’s website.
As the inventor of the dual sport helmet category, Arai has raised the bar with the new XD4. It is a well constructed and well designed response to today’s road-going realities of the dual sport market.
Courtney Olive lives in Portland, Oregon where he and the Sang-Froid Riding Club challenge motorcycling conventions. He has been known to wear a MX helmet on a Harley, once.