When did you last replace your road bike helmet? A bike helmet is perhaps the most critical protective equipment you wear on your ride. A helmet that’s in good shape can mean the difference between a good day and a bad one. An old or damaged road bike helmet won’t likely give you the protection you need, and you’ll need to replace it.
How long does a road bike helmet last? You can probably use your helmet for 5-10 years. Standard-setting organizations like the Snell Memorial Foundation say that five years is the maximum. Some helmet manufacturers recommend replacing a helmet after just three years, especially if you ride a lot of hot, sunny days.
If you don’t ride very much, you might be able to hold onto your helmet for more than ten years. However, you might be better off replacing the helmet every 5-10 years in case it accumulates wear or damage that you might not be able to see. If you care about bike safety, there are signs that your current helmet is no longer safe or reliable.
How to Tell If You Need to Replace Your Road Bike Helmet
You’ve had a crash.
Keep in mind an important rule of thumb: If you crash while wearing your helmet, replace it, no matter how minor the accident. A bike helmet is a single-use piece of safety equipment. If you’ve worn your helmet during a crash, you might not be able to see any damage, such as compression on the foam liner hidden by the external shell.
The shell is sun-faded or brittle
When the shell gets exposed to too much ultraviolet or UV light, it can become brittle, and it’ll eventually crack and not hold up during impact. Is the color of the shell faded? Faded color could be a sign of diminished protection. Even though many manufacturers put UV inhibitors in the plastic, these inhibitors can fail.
Your helmet acts as a beer can
You probably know that when you press in a dent on an aluminum can the dent pops back out. Try the same thing on your helmet’s shell. Less expensive helmets sometimes do this, but if this denting occurs all over the helmet, the expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam underneath is likely crushed.
You can see damage on the foam liner
The EPS, which is fitted against the outer shell, is a very important element that shields your head from impact. The EPS won’t deteriorate from age alone. You still should check it for any cracks or deep dents. Even in a relatively new helmet, a damaged foam liner will not protect you properly.
The chin strap is worn out
A little sweat on the strap is not a problem by itself. However, chin straps that accumulate excessive sweat and salt don’t last forever. After you’ve buckled your strap, carefully shake your head or tilt it forward. If your helmet feels loose, the buckle might be broken. Perhaps the comfort liner, which fits directly on your head, might be damaged.
The ratchet system is faulty
The dial on the back of the helmet allows you to tighten the comfort liner, allowing the helmet to fit snugly on your head. If the dial doesn’t turn easily, you won’t be able to get the helmet to fit properly. A loose helmet could put you at risk for a head injury if you happen to crash.
It can’t take the heat
If you’re storing your helmet on the dashboard or in the trunk of your car, go to your car right now, retrieve your helmet, and find a cooler place to store it. A trunk is one source of excessive heat, which can damage a helmet. The glue that holds the helmet together can melt when it gets too hot.
Your helmet’s sporting a camera or action figure.
That little Troll doll looks pretty darn cute on top of your head, but the glue or adhesive you used to attach the doll could damage the shell and even interact with the EPS. Even worse, if you happen to crash, the attachment could drag on the ground and subject your head and neck to risky rotational forces.
Tips for Selecting and Taking Care of Your Next Road Bike Helmet
Check the pads inside the helmet
Even if your helmet is in good shape and not very old, consider replacing the pads when they wear down or get too dirty. The pads can lose their shape and make the helmet fit less comfortably. They also might be stinky! Clean pads feel better and let you be less self-conscious if you’re riding with a group!
Inspect the plastic liner
In more modern helmets, the plastic liner attaches—and snaps off—the EPS and fits directly on your head for a more comfortable fit. Look for a helmet that has a MIPS liner. MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. The MIPS design helps diminish the turning forces that can result from the impact of a crash. Never remove the MIPS liner.
Don’t forget to check the EPS
If your pads come out, remove them so you can look at the foam liner to detect cracks or irregularities in thickness. If a section of the helmet seems too thin, check it against an identical spot on the other side, or compare it with a similar helmet. If the thickness is uneven, replace the helmet.
Check the straps for comfort and fit
Try the helmet on and make sure it isn’t loose when you move your head. You want a helmet with straps that are comfortable under your chin and adjustable on the sides. Make sure the buckle has strong construction so it doesn’t break when you snap it together.
Look at the ratchet system
Make sure the dial in the back turns easily and allows you to adjust the fit of the helmet. Turning the dial also allows for more stability and comfort. If you turn the ratchet and the helmet still feels loose, don’t use the helmet. For the best fit, adjust the dial before you buckle your chin strap.
If the helmet isn’t certified, don’t buy it
Make sure there’s a certification sticker, such as one from ANSI, Snell or ASTM. This sticker lets you know that the helmet has held up against strict safety tests. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has the most basic standard, which US law requires.
After you get your new helmet, protect it
Don’t just throw it in the trunk of your car or on the floor at home. Don’t leave it someplace where it can get bumped, kicked, or jostled. Avoid excessive heat; store the helmet in a cool and dry place. Keep the helmet in a cloth or padded bag, or a helmet case for extra protection.
Clean your helmet regularly and properly
You don’t need anything more than mild dish soap, water, and a sponge or soft cloth. Some household cleaners are petroleum-based and can damage the shell and diminish its protective qualities. Make sure the helmet is completely dry before you store it. Also, please don’t put your helmet in the dishwasher or decorate it with paint!
Be careful with insect repellents
Spray yourself before you put on the helmet because many repellents contain DEET, which can harm the plastic exterior’s appearance. Repellents can leave a sticky residue and even dissolve the plastic. If you do get DEET on your helmet, wash it off as soon as possible.
Retire your road bike helmet properly
No matter how well you take care of it, you’ll eventually have to replace your helmet. When you do throw it out, cut off the straps so no one tries to sell or use it. If you take the helmet apart, you might be able to recycle some of the components.
What does it mean when a helmet is certified?
Only buy a road bike helmet that has a certification from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the Snell Memorial Foundation, or the Consumer Product Safety Commission. This certification verifies that the helmet has passed a set of stringent safety tests.
Is my helmet still okay if the EPS hasn’t worn out?
The foam on the inside of the helmet is pretty durable and doesn’t typically wear out. However, it won’t do you any good if other parts of the helmet are compromised. Durable foam won’t protect you in a crash if your external shell is cracked or damaged.
Will excessive sweat harm my helmet?
Not at all. Certification standards prevent manufacturers from making helmets that degrade from sweat and saltwater. If you’re worried about your helmet looking grungy, however, you should clean it regularly.
Is wearing a helmet always necessary?
Helmets sometimes can seem like a hassle, especially if you have a hairstyle you don’t want to mess up. However, a helmet can save your life. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that 67 percent of cyclists who died in an accident didn’t have a helmet on.
Related Article: How Long Should A Beginner Cyclist Ride
How to know if I’m wearing the helmet correctly?
You don’t want the helmet tilted too far forward or back. For the proper fit, measure one finger’s width between the top of your eyebrows and the bottom of the helmet brow. Also, don’t let the helmet tilt to one side or the other; it needs to sit level from ear to ear.