Wear it. Inspect it. Replace it.
Whether cyclists are passionate racers or occasional enthusiasts, everyone becomes connected to their helmet. “That’s my helmet.” Identifiable by the color or design, a certain connectedness develops between the cyclist and the helmet they’ve grown to rely on. Gone are the carefree days of riding without protection of your noggin and nearly all cyclists understand the importance of wearing a helmet when you ride. The question becomes just how old is that identifiable plastic and foam shield that is expected to guard your skull?
Most people lack the awareness that all bike helmets need to be replaced over time. They should be replaced even if the helmet isn’t compromised by a crash or damage. The primary protectorate in the helmet design is the foam layer on the inside. This is the part of the helmet most specifically designed to guard your head from impact. The foam is known to deteriorate over time by sun and other factors and the level of deterioration varies based on usage, care and abuse. Most companies recommend you to replace a helmet every 3 to 5 years. In fact, since the 1990s, there is typically a sticker on the inside of the helmet that identifies the month and year of production so it is easy for the cyclist to know when it is time for a new lid.
The US leader in helmet safety is the Snell Foundation. Since 1957, this non-for-profit organization has been dedicated to scientific and medical research and standards development for head protection. This organization provides solid guidance for understanding the replacement cycles for helmets.
Of course, regardless of how long you’ve owned the helmet there are some clear instances where the helmet should be immediately replaced. Here are a list of basic guidelines for replacement:
- I recently crashed and my helmet hit the ground – REPLACE IT
- The helmet was dropped and it was hard enough to crack the foam – REPLACE IT
- It’s from the 1970s – REPLACE IT
- The outside shell isn’t plastic. It’s cloth or exposed foam – REPLACE IT
- It doesn’t have a CPSC, ATSM or Snell inspection sticker inside – REPLACE IT
- It can’t be adjusted properly to fit my head – REPLACE IT
You should occasionally inspect the condition of your helmet. Certainly if you have a crash, you’ll want to see if the impact did any damage such as a crack to the foam or compromise of the construction. Helmet inspection involves visually examining the shell, liner, straps, buckle and rear stabilizer or dial.
For the sake of as little as $40 every 3 to 5 years, why wouldn’t you? Plus, everyone loves a new shiny lid to protect you noggin.