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When to replace your motorcycle helmet

Motorcycle Helmet doctors scan superstition trail bike

The general rule is to replace your motorcycle helmet every five years, but what if you drop it, sweat heavily or wear it every day?

The biggest myth is that if your helmet falls off your bike when it’s parked, you should change your helmet. That’s probably put around by helmet retailers.

Certainly you should check the helmet and it might depend on how far it fell and rolled. However, even though helmets are a one-use product designed to protect you in a crash and then get thrown away, they are pretty robust.

At least the helmets allowed in Australia are robust, especially now that UNECE 220.5 helmets are permitted.

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However, I wouldn’t trust some SE Asian helmets if they fell on a feather pillow.

Most helmets will easily withstand the general knocking they get in daily life. If they don’t, then you really have to wonder about their ability to protect you in a crash.

If the helmet you bought isn’t able to handle the crash well and if you are planning to buy another one then consider checking out the safest motorcycle helmets of 2020.

Show some respect

That doesn’t mean you can throw your helmet around. You need to treat a helmet with respect and care and store it in a cool, dry place.

The outside shell – plastic, fibreglass or carbon fibre – is pretty tough, but keep it away from petroleum-based products such as fuel, cleaners and paint.

It’s the interior foam that deforms to absorb the impact in a crash and protect your head. So that means that you shouldn’t store any heavy objects in your helmet. If it drops with something heavy in it, then it will damage the helmet.

Motorcycle Helmet
Shoei’s shell survived a bike riding over the top

Also, be careful how you hang your helmet on a hook as this can deform the interior foam.

If you feel the need to inspect a helmet after you’ve dropped it, you could probably get it x-rayed by a professional. However, if it’s been such a big drop or a frequent number of knocks that you are concerned, then you should just bin it anyway.

Five-year life

General helmet use means a helmet will last for about five years. The glues, resins and other materials used in the making of the helmet can lose their effectiveness and also deteriorate the lining.

Be aware that your helmet may have sat on the shelf for some time before being bought by you. Ask the dealer to prove date of manufacture.

You can prolong your helmet if you store it properly when you’re not using it. Keep it in a cool, dry place and store it inside the helmet bag in which it came.

It’s not the outside that deteriorates, but the inside foam and fabric lining. If you notice the helmet getting loose or some of the lining coming out or it leaves little black flakes in your hair, then it’s time to retire it, whether it has reached the five years or not.

Frequent use, sweating in your helmet, having greasy hair or using a lot of “hair product” can all aid in compacting the foam and making the interior lining degenerate faster than normal use.

You can also prolong the life of your helmet interior by wearing a helmet liner, balaclava or scarf that keeps the sweat off.

Another good reason to replace your helmet every five years is that helmet technology is advancing all the time and a new helmet is going to offer more protection than something five years old.

  1. Good atricle. Another point to mention is the women’s helmets degrade faster than men’s because we wear a lot of product in our hair, therefore the interior of the helmet rots out faster. Just another reason to wear a “dew” rag.

  2. When I took my riding course, they recommended to replace it after 5 years only because of the sun exposure degrading the materials – So if you’re a mild user, surely you’d get more time on its life.

    1. Yeah, probably….but how much longer? Six months, one year, three years longer? How will you know and do you want your head to be the thing that finds out you waited too long?

      1. 5 years is just a guess. I’ve never seen a study where an older helmet was cut open to examine the protective foam. I’ve never seen a study by Snell or DOT where older used helmets were subjected to an impact test.

        Snell does update its standards about every 5 years. Maybe that’s were the idea came from,
        but there is no way to tell if a 5 year old helmet is safer than a 6 or 7 year old one.

        Any brand of helmet may just barely meet Snell stands or is off the chart for safety.
        Snell doesn’t report that. More expensive helmets made today may exceed future standards. I suspect they do while less inexpensive ones will fail.

        The 5 year lifespan is a guess.

  3. I ride in Thailand. It’s hot and sweaty. I keep a week’s bag of fresh helmet balaclavas in my top-box, and change them daily, like my socks. I call them headsocks. Helmets last longer and don’t stink

  4. Japanese and italian helmets seem to be the best for me. I’ve ridden for a long time and tho I never crashed, their comfort and design wins me over.

  5. Since I have never seen a test of so called damaged helmets, it is hard to believe that they don’t work, even with a few scrapes. Usually you don’t want to wear them because they look bad. I would like to see the fail tests of used helmets as compared to the same unit brand new. I usually replace my helmets based on miles. Rarely get over three (or 4) years or 75K on a helmet.

  6. Not enough information on destruction testing of OLD helmets to know what fails.
    The amount of use must be a consideration, assuming materials used are of high standard and not breaking down with time ….. how old is that brand new helmet on the shelf and does it have a shelf life?
    Polyurethane foam turns to greasy dust over time, polystyrene looks fine but is rumoured to explode on impact when it gets old. Polycarbonate is supposed to have actinic degredation (sunlight breakdown) over time, and go brittle. Polycarbonate also can go brittle when painted, and smash on impact.
    WE NEED MORE INFORMATION to make our own informed decisions on when to replace helmets.

    1. Hi Daniel,
      It depends on how those chips were obtained: was it just an accidental scrape on an object while carrying your helmet; did it fall off your bike seat while you were fuelling up; or was it involved in a crash?
      Check the inside for any fractures in the shell. If there are no obvious cracks and it was only a minor incident, it should be ok.

  7. question i have a shoei helmet noreagi harma i think, its never been worn been kept in it’s helmet bag in its box in the loft for at leasr 12 years, is this still usable

    1. Hi Russ,
      Sad to say the lining will have deteriorated and made it useless.
      If you are lucky, you may be able to buy lining inserts that fit, but I doubt it.
      Still, it’s a great showpiece for the mantle.

  8. I bought another ” NEW BILT ” helmet from Redwood City Cycle gear because they would not honor a 5 year warrantee on a bilt helmet with pealing clear coat, ( they said I needed to replace helmet soon as it was getting close to 3 years old ) So get this ( They sold me a New Helmet That Was Already 4 1/2 Years old Date of manufacture older than my first helmet with pealing clear coat ) Ain’t that some $hit ! I think I’m done with Cycle Gear.

  9. It is good to know that with a helmet, you can’t store it a certain way as you are right that the helmet could deform from doing so. If you were to do that, there is a chance that it may or may not work as it should during an impact. I have been looking at getting a new one as I currently don’t have one so I’ll need to take this into consideration once I do purchase one.

  10. I was given a AGV helmet with no to very little use was too small for me and has stayed in its helmet bag in a dark cupboard. My wife has decided to get on the new bike. The helmet is 8 years old in perfect condition thoughts?

    1. Hi Peter,
      If it’s been stored properly as you say and the lining is not falling apart, it may be ok.
      However, eight years is still a long time and it may have been on the shelf a few years before that.
      Is there a sticker anywhere on the helmet that says year of manufacture?

  11. After riding 55 years I’ve decided that I can tell as well as anyone the condition of the interior of my helmets. It’s best to bring Rachel went inside when you’re finished riding take it into the restaurant, house, wherever and keep it in a dark cool place. I check the interior poly carbonate and Styrofoam by trying to press my thumb nail against the interior. I think it should indent easily as your head needs to be able to be protected by something that will compress. Further if the interior liner has started to come apart or simply worn out, the helmet itself is probably reached it’s maximum life. Yes you can replace it but you can’t replace the styrofoam. I’ve had helmets that had been in a closet for long enough that the styrofoam actually became hard to the touch. If that’s the case don’t be using the helmet anymore. I think the five year replacement is reasonable but remember many helments sat on a shelf or in the box for multiple years before they were sold. Check the mfg date before buying. I bought “sale” new helment once thinking it was a good deal, only to get home and find the mfg date indicated it was already three years old. Took it back.

  12. Helmets only start getting comfortable after about 10,000 miles. I only wear other guys’ well worn lids for that reason. New ones take too long to break in. When another guy is ready to get rid of his lid because he thinks it stinks is when it’s ready for me to get in and stay in for long rides. The only helmets that I have found that are easy to get in, right out of the box, are the ones that stink like sweat. If I can’t smell it, I won’t wear it. I like Icon helmets because I can actually see if they are used enough to put on and stay in. Hydradry padding starts out a pristine white. The best hydradry padding will have turned a dark grey with highlights of yellow and brown from sweat and skin oils. Some guys stink more than others in their lids. I rather like wearing another guy’s helmet stink, and will choose a lid I can smell from a distance over one that I can’t. It may sound gross, but it’s not. The first time you get in another guy’s dirty lid, you’ll discover how much better it is than getting in one that’s new. The well worn Arai and Icon helmets on eBay, costing about $60, including shipping, are really great. They look so cool on the outside, and they feel and smell hot on the inside.

    1. You mean well, I’m sure of that. Albeit no different for me, I think you may want reconsider how you present your sweaty golden nuggets of, wisdom lol

  13. I have been trying an LS2 Valiant 2 helmet, but even though my centimeters say I am a Large (by LS2 measuring standards), when I leave it on for 20 minutes, it leaves a line and red indentations in my front forehead, from the scalp until where the helmet stops on my forehead, and takes more than 1/2 hour to clear up. I read at a site that I could take a spoon to compact the hard foam to help it to fit better. MY QUESTION IS, WILL THAT COMPROMISE THE SAFETY OF THE HELMET, BY COMPACTING THE HELMET FOAM? The area would take the whole front curve around the forehead and toward the top where the top hard foam meats the next section of hard foam from the sort of top to the edge of the helmet? I tried on the XL and I can place my open hands in – sticking my left hand on the left side and right hand on the right side, simultaneously touching my ears – which I think means that the XL is too big for me – even though that helmet fits great front to back. MAY I HAVE A SAFETY OPINION ON WHETHER I SHOULD DEPRESS THE HARD FOAM ON THE SIZE LARGE LIKE ABOUT 3/16 OF AN INCH TO HELP THE LARGE FIT SO THAT IT DOES NOT FIT SO TIGHT?

    1. Hi Jon,
      Any compression of the foam will decrease its ability to absorb impact.
      However, I have pushed in some proud bits that hurt my head on some helmets. That is my choice and it is only in a couple of areas.
      I prefer comfort to distracting pain as a primary safety issue.

      1. Hi Jon, Hi Mark,

        In case the “right” size of a specific helmet still does not fit properly, I suggest you better try another brand and / or type, instead of indeed (potentially) impacting the integrity of a helmet.
        Helmets generally come in 3 different “general shapes”, fitting a specific type of head. These 3 shapes are: “round”, “round / oval” and “oval”.
        When it turnes out that your head does not make a perfect match with LS2 helmets, you might want to try e.g. AGV, Bell or Shoei.

  14. Five years is the maximum life of a helmet, you should change it after five years, but I change every year.

  15. I am currently doing a PhD in material science at university.

    There is literally no science backed reason to say helmets degrade over time, provided they are stored in a cool dry, dark place.

    Most resins and glues that meet the dot and EU standards will last decades before hardening and thus becoming more brittle.

    What a load of sheep!

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