If you wear an AraI helmet it’s thanks to thIs guy. Ferry Brouwer Is the founder of AraI Europe. He’s also Dutch and a lIttle odd...
Ferry, you were the original Founder of Arai Europe. But why Arai?
In 1973 I was working for Jarno Saarinen as a mechanic, and he lost his life because part of his face was ripped off in a crash. Subconsciously I must have thought ‘I want to do something for safety in the future.’ At the time I didn’t think about focussing on helmets, but then in 1980, when I was jobless I thought ‘what am I going to do?’ I was intrigued by the Arai logo, I saw it in Japanese magazines and thought ‘there’s something behind this logo.’ So I took my life savings and went to Japan to visit Mr Arai. At the time he wasn’t interested in Europe, so he sent me home.
Oops. that’s a long way to go to get knocked Back, how did you manage to convince him?
I carried on sending him testing reports for helmets available in Europe. Then in 1982 he called me back and said ‘let’s start doing Arai in Europe, but I’m not giving you any money or anything.’ I had to do it all by myself, so I set to work trying to develop an image.
And how did you manage to achieve such a strong Brand image over the years?
As the wheels touched down at Schipol Airport I thought, ‘I must create an image based around Utopia, riders must base their beliefs around Utopia.’ so ultimately, pornography is something I based the Arai ideal around. I think every man if he’s honest will say when he’s masturbating over a magazine or a porno film, his belief is that he’s in the picture or the movie. That is the philosophy that I used with the Arai brand, to try and make them helmet porn.
How typically Dutch! Lots of riders in the UK claim to have either a Shoei head or an Arai head. But which one is which?
I can’t say, it’s something that they make themselves believe, it’s giving themselves some recognition for their purchase. “I bought this because it suits my head”, it’s ridiculous. you look at what you can afford and buy what you like in that range. It’s a preconceived idea.
What do you think is the single most important innovation in helmet design in your time?
Just the advances that have been made in materials and R&D. People have started looking at people as human beings now instead of just subjects, and are looking at people anatomically. It used to be about just making the strongest, safest helmet, but now there’s so much more involved. how a helmet makes you feel is as important as how it actually works. we’ve put in a tremendous amount of work in this area.
Have racers’ helmets improved thanks to studying accidents on the road, or is it always the other way around?
Everybody focuses on racers but they all go the same way, you can’t say the impact speeds are higher because people achieve exactly the same speeds on the road. It’s the road accidents that intrigue me the most, and in the ‘80s I started paying real attention to road riders. you get so many more variables with accidents on the road, and as a technical man it’s these that are really interesting. I stopped going to the races and began visiting biker meets.
There are stories of racers wearing an Arai helmet but covering the badges with the logos of other helmet sponsors. does this happen?
It still happens, yes. It’s a sad fact of sponsorship deals within racing. People will never admit to it, but it does.
What is the worst accident you’ve seen where the rider has survived thanks to his lid?
I met a british guy, he had been hit by a small van in the UK. The driver of the van didn’t realise he had hit a biker and drove for over two hundred metres with the rider being dragged along by his head. The accident completely wore away the sides of the helmet, smashed the chin bar off and destroyed the helmet. The man presented us with the helmet at the NEC show. Funnily enough, most of the letters of thanks I get for saving a rider come from the UK.
You recently retired Ferry, what do you plan to do with your time?
I’m not sure, I know there is no such thing as free time though. I will continue to speak for Arai, but my main focus will be maintaining the vintage race bike fleet for Yamaha. I can think of no better way to spend my time than playing with two-stroke race bikes, even if its not me riding them.
If you could estimate the number of helmets being used by riders in the UK that are useless, what would you say that figure was?
I would say around 35/40% are not worth buying. Because there is no official lifespan for a helmet people think nothing of wearing a 10 or 15 year old helmet on a bike. They would be better off with a paper bag on their heads.
And do you think the new SHARP rating system will encourage riders to buy the right helmet?
Time will tell. What I know is that in general people will buy products if they definitely know they are getting value for money. Some expensive helmets represent fantastic value for money and some cheap helmets don’t represent value for money at all. If buyers don’t know what they are getting they tend to only want to spend what is in their pockets at the time.
If you could give people one tip to make the most of their helmet, what would it be?
Treat your helmet more carefully than your wife!
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