Why would you spent £500 on a motorcycle helmet when you could buy one that does exactly the same thing for under £200.
That’s what we’re going to get to the bottom of in this guide. We’re going to compare a cheap and expensive motorcycle helmet, to see the difference and to figure out whether you should be spending the big bucks or whether a tighter budget still gets you the helmet you need.
The helmets we’re comparing are the Arai Quantic, which retails around £500, and the Shark Skwal 2, which retails around £200.
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Is £200 cheap for a motorcycle helmet?
We picked the helmets at the £200 and £500 price points as they represent two different ends of the pricing scale.
You can get a much cheaper motorcycle helmet (some retail at under £50) but at the same time, you can spend far more than £500. There are lots of helmets that retail for well over £600 and you could spend as much as £1000.
When picking our two helmets to compare we first looked at the price-points of helmets, which you can see in the chart we have compiled above. We started with a £200 helmet as this is the most popular category. We then picked a helmet bang in the middle of the £400 to £600 price points to represent our upper limit. As you can see; above £600 the choice drops off dramatically.
Our assessment was that there was no point in comparing the cheapest helmet with the most expensive, for three main reasons.
Firstly, nobody’s looking at spending either £50 or £800 on a helmet. Secondly, it’s obvious that the £800 helmet is going to be better. Thirdly, the majority of helmets fall between the £200 and £500 price points, so this gives a good indication of what the majority of bikers are prepared to spend.
Surely it’s all about safety. The safest helmet is the better one, right?
Even safety is hard to quantify but there are lots of tests to try and differentiate the protection levels offered by different helmets.
For a helmet to be legally sold (and used) in the UK it needs to have been tested to the ECE 22.05 standard. However, there is a new standard that’s being rolled out, ECE 22.06.
There are effectively two big sets of changes proposed that will affect a variety of different helmets and accessories. One of which will have a direct impact on how the tests are undertaken and where, while the other change will be in relation to the technology used in the motorcycle helmet itself.
As it currently stands, impact tests are executed by placing a headform inside the helmet, before dropping it at a predetermined speed on to an anvil. To establish the results of each test, sensors inside the headform measure the forces transmitted, resulting in a simple pass or fail based on those results.
Under ECE 22.06, the drops will encompass a far wider range of speeds, and will consider how the impact effects multiple points across the helmet, to provide a much more comprehensive set of data on how safe (or not) each type of helmet will be out in the real world. There will also be an additional number of anvils introduced into the testing process, including flat, sloping and even kerb shaped.
Three years from now retailers won’t be able to sell ECE 22.05 helmets (but you’ll still be able to ride with yours). So ECE 22.06 is the new benchmark.
The Arai is one of the first ECE.2206 certified helmets. It has yet to be SHARP tested and it may be months before SHARP tests the helmet as there are hundreds of helmets on the market and SHARP has limited resources.
The Shark is ECE 22.05 certified and it has also been tested by SHARP where it was given a four-star rating (out of five), which means it’s scored well in terms of safety.
In summary, both helmets offer among the best levels of protection.
The Arai uses a multi-composite shell. This is a manufacturing process that uses two or more different materials, bonded with an epoxy resin (or similar).
This process creates a stronger, more durable material. These harder materials perform exceptionally well against impacts, making them perfect for crash helmets.
Composite materials include fibreglass and carbon fibre. If another substance, such as kevlar is added, then the helmet is referred to as composite fibre. If it’s a pure carbon fibre weave then this results in carbon fibre or carbon kevlar shell.
In Arai’s case, each helmet’s shell is hand-crafted, so not only are the materials more expensive but the process is also more complex.
The Shark has a thermo-resin shell. This is manufactured by heating resins or other synthetic substances which become plastic, allowing them to be injected into a mould. The resin shell has been developed to have properties that make it hard wearing, resistant to impacts and changes in temperature.
Thermoplastic helmets are usually the cheapest on the market because they are easily moulded and the materials used are relatively easy to come by, and mass produce.
The Arai claims to have a weight of 1600g according to the sticker on the back of the lid. It tipped our scales at 1555 grams.
The Shark claims to be 1550g according to the sticker on the back of the helmet. It tipped our scales at 1535 grams.
So both helmets are lighter than the sticker claim but both within 20 grams of each other. That’s about the weight of one AA battery.
The Arai uses a Double D-ring retention system. It’s infinitely adjustable and a no-nonsense way of securing your helmet.
The Shark has a micrometric adjuster. That’s the ratchet type adjuster that goes click-click-click as you tighten it.
In summary. There’s no difference in price or quality when it comes to these retention systems. However, I associate the micrometric and buckle type adjuster with cheaper helmets.
If you’re constantly having to remove your helmet, the quick-release style retention systems have a slight advantage but for me, the Double D is the better system. It’s a personal thing I guess.
The Arai features a Pinlock-ready Max Vision visor and comes with a Pinlock lense, which is designed to stop the visor fogging up.
Arai visors are of the best quality. On a cheap helmet the clear visor feels like you’re peering out of a goldfish bowl but the Arai’s visor offers extremely clear optics.
The Quantic’s visor has a locking mechanism to keep it in place and ensure the visor stays sealed, reducing unwanted airflow up the inside of the visor. This mechanism is easily released, using the thumb on your left hand, meaning you can easily operate it while on the go.
Once released the visor slides up with a reassuring resistance. At low speeds you can have it partially open and it won’t flip down. Once near fully opened, the visor reaches a ratchet mechanism and clicks into place. This activates when the visor is three-quarters open and will hold it in place even at cruising speeds. You can then click it open another notch to fully open.
The Arai visor is quick release and is easily removed in a few seconds once you learn the technique. If you’re a long-time Arai user you’ll find the VAS visor has a different removal method to what you’re used to. You lift the visor fully, then push the grey toggle in towards the sidepod, which pops off. Then line the small hole on the side of the visor up with the red dot on the helmet and then pop the visor off. It sounds complicated but you can do it in a few seconds.
The Shark also features a Pinlock Max Vision visor.
There is no locking mechanism to this visor but there is a small tab on the left-hand side of the visor which allows you to easily adjust the visor without having to claw at the edge with a cumbersome gloved hand.
The visor is fully ratcheted and has seven different settings from fully closed to fully open.
It is also quick-release and is easily swapped out with a different visor. You just open the visor fully, hold the visor close to where it attaches to the helmet and pull it away from the ratchet system. It’ll pop out.
In summary. In my assessment, I thought the optics on the Arai were better than the Shark.
I prefer the smooth opening of the Arai visor as opposed to the click-click-click you get on the Shark and I like the visor-lock on the Arai.
The Max vision aspect refers to the size of the Pinlock insert you can use. Early versions of the Pinlock didn’t cover the full visor. The new Max Vision type has a recess to fit the Pinlock flush against the inside of the visor and it’s also larger, covering almost the entire visor. It’s great that the budget helmet in this test also has a Max Vision visor and a Pinlock included.
The Arai – The Arai has an easy to use chin vent plus two additional vents on the top of the helmet to channel air in. There is also a rear exit vent under the rear spoiler that’s relatively easy to operate with a gloved hand.
The Shark – The Shark has a chin-bar vent and also a single vent on the top of the helmet. There’s a single rear exit vent too.
In summary – Both helmets are well vented, without overkill. Some helmets have more vents but the more you have, the more chance they have of creating wind noise. I rarely find myself needing vents to cool myself down; I use my chin vent to stop my visor misting up on cold morning commutes and both of these helmets have a large chin vent.
The Arai – Adjustable and removable cheek pads, removable 5mm temple strip for added comfort. The lining is very plush, it feels like I’ve dived headfirst into a duvet.
The Shark – Removable cheek pads, good cushioning and seal around the base of the cheeks. Chin spoiler does a good job of keeping the wind from rushing up under the helmet. The lining is comfortable but I can feel some bumps from the polystyrene shell pushing through.
The Arai features speaker pockets built into the lining to alow you to mount your Bluetooth intercom speakers without making your helmet uncomfortable.
The Quantic also features Arai’s ERS, Emergency Removal System which is essentially a couple of orange tabs poking out of the lining, that when pulled remove the cheek pads meaning it easier for emergency services to remove your lid with the least effort.
The Shark features a built-in lighting system that is activated by pressing a button on the underside of the helmet. It lights up LEDs located on the front and rear of the helmet – they can be set to flash or always be on.
It’s a nifty feature but of limited use. Of course, more visibility is better than less but if a car driver can’t see a big motorbike coming towards them with the headlight on, I don’t see how a couple of small LEDs on your helmet will change the situation. If visibility is a concern, I recommend you wear a high-vis vest.
Other handy extras are the drop-down sun visor and the cut-out in the lining to help accomodate glasses – a nice touch.
You can see the Arai Quantic in more details here. You can see the Shark Skwal 2 in more detail here.