Even though Seattle repealed its bike helmet requirement, we hope you’ll continue wearing a helmet to protect yourself.
With that in mind, did you know that bike helmets don’t last forever? There are good reasons to replace your helmet every five to ten years, regardless of wear.
You may have heard you should replace your helmet after any crash where it gets used. That’s absolutely true. Once the foam core has been compressed, it will never spring fully back into shape, and that reduces its ability to protect you. It may look completely normal – the damage is on the inside in a way you can’t see, according to Consumer Reports.
Manufacturers, safety agencies recommend replacing well-used bike helmets
Even if you’re not in a crash, you should consider replacing your helmet on about a five-year schedule. Your helmet’s manufacturer might even recommend replacing it every three-to-five years. The Snell Foundation, which is a strict guide on helmet safety, says about five years for a well-used helmet. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says five-to-ten years. Consumer Reports says a well-used helmet should be replaced after five years “out of an abundance of caution.”
This is because helmets are exposed to all sorts of wear and tear in the normal course of riding. There’s ultraviolet light, for one thing, which can degrade plastic. There’s heat if the helmet is left in a parked car or locker. There’s humidity. Helmet performance may gradually degrade over time. Once the colors start fading from the sun, the exterior of the helmet may be degrading and that could affect the fit, which in turn can affect safety.
That said, age alone does not appear to significantly degrade helmets. An engineering firm tested hundreds of helmets, some 26 years old, and found that their protective foam was still good. A properly stored helmet that you don’t use very often won’t necessarily break down over time. For sustainability’s sake, people who don’t ride very often can keep their helmets longer.
There are new safety features available, too
Another good reason to consider a newer helmet is that the technology keeps getting better. They often fit better and are more comfortable – and that’s just the beginning. Some newer helmets are designed to limit rotational forces that can contribute to concussions.
The upshot is that there are three times it’s a good idea to buy a new bike helmet:
- After a crash where it is used
- When the manufacturer recommends replacement, or approximately every 5 years
- When new technology improves helmet design
In the meantime, keep wearing your old one until your new one arrives.
You can’t avoid every injury but wearing a bike helmet has been associated with a nearly 70% reduction in risk of serious head injury in a crash. It’s worth the trouble.