Bicycle Helmet: How Long Does It Last?

Typically, if there’s one item in your cycling arsenal that you should never compromise on, it’s your bicycle helmet. This non-negotiable bike accessory will ensure that your adventures on two wheels are not just fun but also safe. And there is simply no excuse not to wear one when riding, especially when it concerns the protection of your head.

Often, riders are unsure of how often to replace a bike helmet. Now, there is no one rule that applies to all as the longevity of a helmet is dependent on a range of factors, including the extent to which it is used and how well it is cared for.

That said, the general notion is that a helmet should be replaced every three or five years to take into account the gradual degradation in its performance with aging. And that is irrespective of whether the lid shows any visible signs of wear and tear or not.


Why Should I Replace My Cycle Helmet Periodically?

Assuming that you are a fairly active rider, it is but expected that your helmet’s ability to provide quality energy absorption from head impacts will deteriorate over the years. That is primarily because of factors such as environmental exposure, contact with body fluids, hair oils, personal care products, chemicals, solvents, etc. and your handling of the lid – all of which can affect the performance of your helmet.

bicycle crash

Even if your helmet has not been exposed to any major crash, there are still those little impacts that it has to endure every day because of the constant knocking that is associated with the activity of cycling.

And not to forget the occasional drops, bumps, and bangs that your helmet is likely to encounter at some point or the other.

Each of these factors can cause the lid’s inner foam liner to degrade and lose volume over time, which can hinder the protective foam’s ability to absorb the energy from blows effectively.

It may also be worth adding here that cycling helmets have undergone a tell-tale transformation in the last couple of years with game-changing innovations made in helmet technology and frame build.

Lazer G1 MIPS Helmet

Today, the market is inundated with helmets that boast remarkable improvements in aspects such as comfort, fit, coverage, safety, durability and visibility – thanks to the use of lighter and well-ventilated frames, in-molded shells, Day-Glo options, clip-on visors, eco-leather chinstraps, MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) and concussion-mitigation technologies and more.

So, periodically changing your cycle helmets is a smart move to ensure you are always up-to-date with the latest trends and advancements in helmet design and technology.


I Had a Small Tumble but the Helmet Is Not Broken. Do I Still Need to Change My Cycle Helmet?

Possibly. Okay, so it is not always easy to figure out if it’s the right time for you to change your existing helmet. More so when there has been no crash to speak of, barring sporadic tumbles that may have caused you to hit the head but not hard enough to warrant an inspection of the helmet for damages.

However, our recommendation would be not to underestimate the effect of a tumble as the impact, no matter how insignificant it was, may very well have put a dent on your helmet’s shock-attenuation properties, even if the lid was not damaged to the point of losing its protective capabilities completely.

bicycle stumble

You may think your helmet is fit to assist you on more rides because the external polycarbonate shell looks unscathed. But what about the shock-absorbing EPS (expanded polystyrene)/EPP (expanded polypropylene) foam liner?

This inner layer of the lid is designed for one-time use only, and, unknown to you, may have suffered somewhat because of a drop or tumble. And the shielding outer shell does not make it any easier to identify any sign of damage to this inner liner (read cracks or compressed foam). So, unless you change your lid, you run the risk of compromised safety in the event of a second head impact.

Furthermore, a hit could not only cause harm to the foam liner but also upset the integrity of the helmet’s entire construction. For example, your lid may not fit as securely on your head as it used to earlier, or you may find the straps not doing a great job of holding the helmet properly in place – more reasons for you not to take a chance with your safety.


Signs to Look for to Determine If Your Bicycle Helmet Has Been Damaged or Compromised

A thorough and routine inspection of your helmet’s key elements will proactively alert you to any repair or replacement that may be necessary to ensure you have the full protection that you expect from your safety gear.

Visible signs for damage include abrasions, hairline cracks or dents on the outer shell, faded shell color (indicates possible brittleness of the shell because of excessive exposure to UV light), cracked or crushed foam liner, worn chin straps, weak buckles and compromised the structural integrity of the helmet’s rear stabilizer.

If you find the polycarbonate shell detaching itself from the EPS liner, it could also mean that you need to get rid of the headgear.

Additionally, examine your lid for what the Helmets.org describes as the “beer can” effect. Press the helmet’s outer shell to check if it pushes in and pops back like a beer can. If parts of the shell dent more than expected, it could indicate crushed foam underneath and imply that it’s time to get yourself a new lid.


How Can You Ensure the Longevity of Your Bike Helmet?

Proper care and maintenance are crucial to extending the lifespan of your bicycle helmet. Make a conscious effort to protect your helmet against drops, bumps, and bangs. This will help prolong the life of your safety device. Invest in a good-quality helmet carrier to keep your headgear safe when carrying it in your four-wheeler. A padded bag is a wise choice for cushioning your helmet from inevitable knocks.

Lazer G1 MIPS Helmet inside

Avoid using chemicals or petroleum-based solvents for cleaning and maintaining your helmet as they can tamper with your lid’s structure. A solution of mild soap and warm water, coupled with a sponge or a soft, scratch-free microfiber towel, will do the job without interfering with the integrity of the shell. And if your helmet is MIPS-equipped, do not attempt to remove the MIPS liner or fiddle with it when cleaning the lid.

Items such as glue, resin, paint, insect repellants, etc. can affect both your helmet’s liner materials and the characteristics of its outer shell. Hence, make sure your lid is not exposed to them.

Last but not least, safeguard your helmet from extreme temperatures, constant sun exposure and other damaging environmental conditions that can affect the strength of the shell material.


Conclusion

When it comes to rider safety, a helmet has a crucial role to play in managing the impact energy resulting from a crash or accident. Hence, no comprise is desirable when it comes to this element of your cycling gear.

Don’t let a seemingly harmless bump hoodwink you into thinking that you haven’t hit your head or that the condition of your helmet is as good as it was prior to the impact. Exercise caution and replace your helmet in time because it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Finally, it is not always the case that a helmet has to be replaced every few years. There are studies that have found instances of used but not crashed helmets that have managed to retain their performance over several years – in some cases, more than 20 years.

Always remember, when in doubt, consult the helmet manufacturer or check with your local retailer for expert opinion on your helmet’s condition and usability.

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Bicycle Helmet: How Long Does It Last? — Bike Hacks