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How Often Should I Replace My Bike Helmet?

A man mountain biking.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2014
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A bike helmet is arguably one of the most important accessories to have when bike riding. It protects the head in case of falls or crashes, and can save your life. It’s sound sense to always use one, whether you’re just riding on your street or you’re mountain biking long distances. In fact, some states have passed laws requiring children to wear bike helmets, and failure to comply with these laws can result in tickets and citations.

Just how often you should replace a bike helmet depends on several factors. For kids under the age of 18, the standard recommendation is that the bike helmet be replaced once yearly. Over time, the stability of the helmet may degrade, and moreover, a child’s head can grow, making the helmet a poor fit. For both adults and children, a bike helmet should always be replaced immediately if you are involved in a crash that might damage the internal structure of exterior structure of the helmet. Moreover, any bike helmet that looks damaged should be replaced with a new helmet.

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Some helmets are sold with instructions that give you a replacement guide. If a company recommends replacement of adult helmets every two to three years, you may need to weigh that against use. Another way of figuring when bike helmets need replacement is to calculate the hours you use your bike. Many adult helmets are rated at 500 hours of use. If you consistently ride your bike every day for an hour, you’d need to buy a new helmet in roughly a year and a half.

Bike helmets can degrade over time, especially if they are not stored in a proper manner. When you buy a boxed helmet, keep the box. Use it to store the bike helmet safely, away from light, heat, and the potential for other objects crushing it, when you’ve returned home. With safe storage, you can extend the life of a helmet, because even when one is rated for a certain amount of years or hours, damage can occur if the helmet is improperly stored. Always give helmets a thorough inspection to look for any cracks, breaks in the protective foam material, or other obvious defects before using them.

When a company does rate their helmets, you shouldn’t rely on the naked eye alone for this inspection. Instead, rely on the company’s recommendations for replacement. You may have a bike helmet that looks perfectly fine, but because it is older, it can lose some structural integrity that you can’t see. This is especially the case when you haven’t followed directions for safe storage, or if the bike helmet has been abused, dropped, left out in the sun for long periods of time, or been on your head when you crashed your bike.

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anon255476
Post 7

@lemmings: The reason that bike helmets need to be replaced after considerable wear is that the sweat breaks down the components and polystyrene from the protective layer of the helmet. Sweat, especially when combined with heat, is corrosive to the materials, making the helmet more likely to sustain greater compression when put under stress. Even a helmet that looks ok to the naked eye after 2-plus years of wear needs to be replaced.

I've noticed when replacing used helmets that the polystyrene layer is more easily compressed by a thumb-press when compared to a new helmet. The material is light and airy, and thus, is subject to more corrosion from sweat, dirt, and heat. Think of replacing a used helmet as insurance for your brain.

anon143653
Post 6

to anan89948: Mate, don't be stupid. The reason why you store your helmet away from light and heat is the eps liner (the polystyrene) is sensitive to light and heat. If it gets too hot it can warp the whole helmet, and depending on what it is made of depends on the degree of warp.

As for light, the uv rays penetrate the eps liner and outer shell and again will quicken the rate of degradation. I work in the industry and it isn't a ploy to get you to buy a new helmet. These are put in place for your safety.

anon109013
Post 5

If you crash, replace it.

If it's from the '80s or before, replace it (the technology has improved a lot).

If it's a SkidLid, a hairnet, or anything with spongy foam, replace it. (The guts of the thing should be styrofoam-like.)

If it's got major dings in the shell, replace it (even if you didn't crash, you must have dropped it hard).

But Giro and other manufacturers who say to replace it "every three years"?! They're not following the science. They're following the lawyers and the marketing people.

anon96682
Post 4

Interesting that the helmet manufacturers say they "degrade over time" and "replace every three years," but don't put a "sell by" date on the boxes. So what does that mean if I buy a helmet made in 2000, and have no knowledge of its storage history?

anon90541
Post 3

Ever heard of ultra-violet light, sweat, body oils or hair products? All these will take their toll on the structural integrity of a helmet in ways you can't see, but hey, it's your head.

anon89948
Post 2

This is the most ridiculous article I've ever read. Why would you need to store your helmet away from light and heat? They certainly are not that fragile. And why would hours of use matter? The helmet manufacturers would like you to buy a new helmet every two or three years, but I would go five-plus unless you crash.

lemmings
Post 1

why would hours of use matter? does putting it on your head make it degrade faster than leaving it on the shelf?

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