When Do You Need to Replace Your Helmet?

In the past, we have written about the importance of wearing a helmet and practicing safety on a bicycle. A helmet only protects your head. The U.S. has the deadliest streets on Earth for cyclists, so it’s important to remain alert and not put faith in your helmet as a forcefield that will protect you from everything bad around you.

As the weather becomes nicer and nicer, we see more and more people on bikes. It’s wonderful. We want people to enjoy the roads and get exercise outdoors!

But when was the last time you got a new helmet? We’re not suggesting upgrading to a fancy racing helmet or something more aerodynamic. We are talking about safety.

After a crash, you need to replace a helmet immediately. Even if it still looks good. “A helmet can look fine after a crash,” says Rich Handel, who works on Consumer Reports’ bike helmet testing. The plastic shell can look great, while the inner foam is compressed from the accident and no longer offers protection. “Once that foam is compressed, you are reducing the safety margin you have. That’s not going to protect you.”

If you don’t crash, you should replace your helmet every three to 10 years. If you commute by bicycle, you’ll probably need one every three years. You might need one every five years if you are out riding every lovely spring and summer day. If you don’t bike that often, “out of an abundance of caution,” you should replace it every 10 years.

The Snell Motorcycle Foundation pointed out that the bindings and overall construction can break down. “Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production can affect liner materials. Hair oils, body fluids and cosmetics, as well as normal ‘wear and tear’ all contribute to helmet degradation,” they said.  

Wear and tear, heat and humidity and UV light all wear down helmets in ways you don’t notice. They degrade and lose their shape, making them not fit as well, offering less protection. Moreover, helmet technology advances. Even if you aren’t buying an expensive helmet, standard helmets improve all the time.  

If you have only had the helmet for a couple of years but use it frequently, the pads may wear out before the helmet is unsafe. Paul Caswell, the senior brand manager for Giro and Bell helmets’ distributor ZyroFisher, pointed out that the pads are easily replaced. “Replace the pads as often as you can, primarily for safety reasons as the pads secure the helmet in the correct position on the head ensuring the maximum coverage and safety, however, there is also comfort and even hygiene to think about.” They rest on your sweaty forehead. They get grimy!

Get outside, get on your bike and enjoy the world as you zip through your neighborhood. Just make sure your noggin is well protected.

Banner image: Jordan Brierley via Unsplash

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