How Long do Bicycle Helmets Last?

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How long do bike helmets last?

A bicycle helmet is an important accessory that plays a protective role every time we hop on our bikes and hit the road for a ride. And while it’s possible to use the same helmet for some considerable time, the question begs, when is the right time to get a new one?

This is a question that, unfortunately, not many bikers can answer. Given the significance of a bike helmet with relevance to your safety, it would be wise for you to be able to tell whether or not you need to replace your helmet. (We have a page on our recommended Bike Helmets here)

So how long do bicycle helmets last? Most manufacturers suggest a time frame of between 3-5 years for replacement. However, loss of your helmet’s credibility may be determined by factors such as exposure to solvents, chemicals, UV light, and accidents. If your helmet has faded coloring or shows signs of cracks on the outer shell or the inner foam liner it may be time for a replacement.

In this post, we will consider the ideal time period it takes to use a bike helmet and the point at which it starts to lose its effectiveness for your safety. We will also look at the tell-tale signs that your bike helmet needs to be replaced.

Generally helmet linings are made of foam polystyrene and are designed under the guise of one-time use. If you have an accident in your helmet and the helmet takes a knock, then you should seriously consider getting a new one. This is because the section inside the helmet may no longer be as protective as it once was.

There are numerous situations where the effectiveness of your bike helmet can be compromised. The important thing here is to be able to tell whether the damage is too extensive that it has rendered your helmet obsolete.

When it comes to helmets, you don’t want to risk your cranium when you could easily have bought a new helmet.

Dropped Helmet on a Concrete Floor

Dropping your helmet on a hard surface such as a concrete path or on the tarmac road is nothing unusual, the question is how much damage if any did it sustain?

An impact such as this may result in cracks that seem small and inconsequential. However, you may have damage not easily seen by the eye and possibly not even feel but the protective property of your helmet may well be weakened significantly.

Although you may be hesitant to replace a bike helmet that still appears as good as new if you know that you dropped it you don’t really want to take any chances if you get hit in a subsequent crash. This is because if the foam beneath the thin shell of the helmet is cracked, it will probably break apart in another crash and expose your head to some serious damage.

I suggest that you hang the small expense against the value of your life and replace the helmet as soon as you can. However, before you rush off to the bike store; you may be interested to know that some manufacturers will replace your crashed helmet for a discounted price, check it out if you can. A little due diligence won’t hurt!

How much Force to Break a Bike Helmet?

Helmet manufacturers consider factors such as impact management, cooling, weight, etc to come up with a product that will protect your head in the event of a crash. Despite all this effort, there is no guarantee that these helmets will protect you from any kind of impact.

It is safe to say that every helmet has its limit; so what is this breaking point? Under the US standards, bicycle helmets are tested in two-meter drops. This is an equivalent speed of 14mph (22.5kph) that the helmet achieves as it is dropped to the flat test surface.

In other places such as Europe, the height is lower, at 1.5 meters.

Typically, a crash involving a road or trail bike will occur on the pavement. The main force you want to consider here is the one caused by gravity and not that from the forward speed; this only contributes a little extra energy. The severity of the impact is determined by the gravitational attraction acting from the height at which your head is above the road.

The average bike crash impact takes place at a level of force that equates to around 1 meter of a drop, which is equivalent to a falling speed of approximately 10mph. According to a study from 2009, helmets help to prevent between (63-88) percent of brain injuries.

This is to say that some 12% to 37% of the riders are not lucky enough to come out of the crash unharmed. From this assessment, we can conclude that a force equating to anything above a 1.5-meter drop or 12mph is sufficient to compromise the integrity of a standard bike helmet.

(We have an article here that looks at Bicycle Helmet statistics.)

Do bike Helmets have an Expiration Date?

Technically, the average bicycle helmet does not come with an expiration date. This means you’ll have to consider a number of different factors, as well as inspecting the helmet to determine if replacing it is necessary.

Some helmet manufacturers will tell you to replace your helmet after every three years; some suggest five to eight years as the ideal time frame to have it replaced.

In general, the differences seem to depend on the manufacturer’s quality of build and materials used. Whilst many helmets look very similar there can, however, differences between, consult an expert if you can.

This, however, does not mean that your helmet will automatically be unfit for use once the stated period elapses. Depending on different factors, the need for renewal might come earlier or even later.

Remember that while some of the recommended time frames may have to do with studies on helmets, some may just be a company’s desire to have you buy a new helmet and boost sales.

It all depends on the amount of care you place on your helmet. Aside from heavy impact, there are things such as chemicals, solvents (glues from stickers), and external exposure to UV rays that can end up jeopardizing the performance of your helmet.

Your safest bet, in this case, would be to spend time regularly examining your helmet; it is a much better way of determining if you should get a new one.

Examine the outer shell for any dents or cracks, and then gently poke the shell to check if it pops back into its initial position. If this doesn’t happen, replace that helmet. You also want to see if the shell has faded due to exposure to UV rays. This is because fading is an indication that the plastic on the shell has weakened.

Another thing is to inspect the foam liner for splits or cracks and the strap and/or buckles for any wear and tear. This will all give you an idea that the time has come to invest in a new helmet for your own safety.

For some people, however, replacing a bike may have nothing to do with a crash, or wear and tear. Sometimes, you may want to replace your helmet when you no longer fancy it and you feel like it has run out of style.

Maybe it doesn’t feel right on your head, or there is a new brand of helmets that have been unveiled. Whichever the case; it is always important to have on a helmet which you feel comfortable in.

Giro Helmet replacement

Many helmet manufacturers will replace your bike helmet at a reduced fee if you had a crash and caused damage to your helmet. This is usually a reprieve to most bike users who don’t have to break the bank by going for a brand new bicycle helmet.

For instance, Giro has a replacement policy whereby they will exchange your crashed helmet for a 30% discount on a new helmet. (You can check out our article where we compare x3 different Giro Models)

The advantage is that you get to make significant savings and at the same time acquire a new safety accessory to protect you during your riding.

State Laws

Check out our bike laws section for more details on the helmet laws for your state.

Conclusion

Not all helmets are the same, but I think you can agree that if you subject one to a hard impact- such as dropping it on the concrete or sidewalk – there may be some shift to its original state and probably to its safety performance protecting you.

Fundamentally it is up to you to determine if the impact will warrant replacement with a new one or not. Hopefully, your decision will be made easier pegged on the factors that I have mentioned in this article.

Wondering what the best bike helmets are for 2019? We have an article here.

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