When we talk about expiration dates, it’s usually consumables that we’re concerned about. But, as surprising as it may be, most things have an expiration date. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad or broken, but that it’s no longer the best version of itself.
Just about anything you can think of, including bicycle helmets, will at some point in time reach an expiration date, and it’s important to know when that will happen.
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For bicycle helmets, there is no firm expiration date, as in a sticker with a ‘Use-by’ or ‘Best Before’ date. However, the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), which is tasked with certifying bicycle helmet safety standards in the United States, suggests that bike helmets be replaced every 5 to 10 years, or as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Some helmet manufacturers recommend as little as 3 to 5 years, which leads some people to believe that the helmet manufacturers are only interested in encouraging consumers to buy more frequently.
On the other hand, five to ten years is quite a broad range of time. So, how can we know for sure whether to replace our bicycle helmet after 3 years, 10 years, or even longer?
How Long Do Bike Helmets Last?
The question, do bike helmets expire, seems to be open-ended. Perhaps a better question might be ‘how long do bike helmets last’, considering that they have no definitive expiry date, they can’t last forever, surely.
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The lifespan of a bicycle helmet can only be determined by the way in which the helmet is treated by its owner. Not all helmets experience the same usage, handling and/or storage conditions.
Some people use their bike helmet every day of the week. Others may only use their helmet on weekends, while others may be as little as once or twice a month.
For many people, cycling is a recreational activity, but there are some people whose employment involves riding a bike and wearing a helmet every day as part of their job, and that doesn’t include professional sports cyclists.
So, you can see that an inner city bicycle courier who wears a helmet all day every working day can’t really be compared to someone who only wears their helmet once a week when riding to their place of prayer on Sunday.
When you arrive at your destination, do you leave your helmet outside hanging on the handlebar? Or take it inside and toss it in the corner, or plonk it down on the table or bench?
Or, do you treat your helmet like an important piece of safety equipment like a lifebuoy or car’s seatbelt?
The way in which you handle your helmet when it’s not on your head can also affect your helmet’s lifespan.
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When your helmet is not in use, it needs to be stored somewhere. Ideally, it will be stored in a clean, dry place without extremes of temperatures, rodents or other pests.
I’m sure we all know someone at each end of the spectrum as far as taking care of a helmet is concerned. For example, the young guy who treats his helmet like it’s just an inconvenience imposed on us by governments, rather that it being a potential life saving device.
He doesn’t give a thought to safety or best handling practices. He’ll often leave his helmet on the handlebar outside in the rain.
At the other end of the spectrum is your Aunt who only wears her helmet on her weekly ride to church on Sunday. She stores her helmet in a closet inside her house, and always dries it if it got rained on, not to mention gives it a wipe over before wearing it.
The young guy mentioned above will probably need to replace his helmet in two to three years, while your Aunt’s helmet will still look like new in 10 years from now.
As you can see, how you use, handle and store your helmet can have a direct impact on how much sooner, or later, it will need replacing.
If your helmet is well maintained and in good condition, then you don’t need to replace it.
When To Replace A Bicycle Helmet?
You don’t have to wait five years to replace it, but there are some situations when you must buy a new helmet immediately.
The first and most important one is – after a crash. It really doesn’t matter if the helmet looks to be in good condition. It’s quite possible that there is an invisible crack in the shell that could cost your life in the future.
The most important reason to replace a bike helmet after a crash is that most cycling helmets have a lining of EPS foam (Expanded Polystyrene) which takes the brunt of the force in an accident.
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EPS foam is only good for one crash as it compresses on impact and cannot return to its original condition, therefore it cannot absorb the impact on the next crash.
A small crack in the helmet shell could quite easily be hiding a compressed EPS foam liner beneath it. Don’t fool yourself for the sake of saving a few dollars. Consider it to be like insurance against head trauma. Replace your helmet.
Even if you do take meticulous care of your bike helmet for five years or more, and your helmet looks to be as good as new, buying a new helmet can also give you the latest safety improvements and new helmet technology. (Nowadays, it is possible to buy a MIPS helmet for under $50, unlike 5 years ago).
Bike Helmet Lifespan
Your bike helmet will last longer if you give it a little TLC (tender loving care). As mentioned above, how you handle and store your helmet can determine how long your helmet will last.
Taking good care of your helmet plays a very important role in its life. Keep your helmet away from extremes of heat, and store it where it’s dry and fairly cool.
Keep your helmet clean. When it gets dirty, wash it carefully with warm water and some mild soap. Dry your helmet with a soft cloth, or better still, let it air dry.
From time to time, you should check your helmet’s outer shell for chips or cracks, check the EPS foam liner for indentations, and also check that the chin straps are well secured and that the buckle holds together firmly.
In conclusion, the lifespan of a helmet depends on a lot of different things that can’t be determined with numbers suggested by CPSC or the Snell Memorial Foundation. If you want to keep your helmet for a long time, store it properly, clean it, check your helmet for damage regularly, and don’t try to fix the unfixable. Buy a new one. It’s a small price to pay to save your own or your child’s life.