Last week I re-ran a Quick Tip called Donate Unused Cycling Gear to a Good Cause to provide a reminder to readers who may want to do just that.
A reader named JJ emailed me after reading the issue: “Concerning donating gear: Is it a good idea to donate helmets that are in good shape and never been involved in an accident? Helmet manufacturers say replace your helmet every 5 years. What do you say about that?”
JJ’s timing was great, because just the week before I had the perfect experience and example to share with him (and now with all readers).
The Foam Can Degrade
At the end of a recent ride, a buddy told me the retention system in his helmet had broken and asked if I had a spare helmet.
I actually had a couple of nice helmets lying around from previous product tests. I pulled both of them out of my storage closet to inspect them. All helmets should have a sticker inside containing the manufacturing date.
As I was inspecting one of the helmets, I quickly noticed some degradation of the foam, including a small crack – none of which was present back when I was regularly wearing the helmet a couple years ago. And I knew I had never dropped that lid, or crashed wearing it. The manufacturing date was 2012.
The other helmet looked pristine. It had a manufacturing date of 2014. I saw no signs of any degradation of any part of that newer helmet.
So, yes, I think the helmet makers have a pretty good handle on how long their products last. And I think the 5-year (maximum) guideline is probably a good one. A range of 3-5 years is probably about right.
Inspect Your Helmet Just Like Other Gear
I’ve used two helmets to the full extent of their capabilities (meaning, I’ve had two crashes that destroyed my helmets – both of which worked perfectly in protecting my head).
I will regularly inspect my helmet just as I do other parts of my bike and apparel. It’s obviously a vital piece of any roadie’s equipment.
There are a few situations (this is not necessarily a comprehensive list) that call for replacing a helmet:
The one piece of a helmet that is nearly always replaceable is the padding. If your helmet didn’t come with an extra set of padding, you can probably order one from the manufacturer.
Kerry Irons says
How often to replace a helmet is probably more dependent on use than age. There is not much degradation occurring when a helmet is on the shelf somewhere in your house unless it is quite hot or near electrical equipment (the resulting ozone will degrade plastics). Whether it is helmets, cables, chains, cassettes, etc., regular inspection is the key when determining when to replace.
During my career, I was involved in testing of materials similar to those used in helmets including high intensity outside exposures in speciallyequipped testing around Phoenix. Almost all manufacturers exposed samples of new materials, which had to conform with published standards. I don’t know of any data on samples of helmets exposed in the real world. The plastic used to form the outer shell of helmets can embrittle with time. Probably only the manufacturers of the plastic molding powder know the effect of time and exposure. If the sellers of helmets say 5 years, we should consider that the outside. The impact of climate will be much greater in Phoenix than in Seattle.