Why do Helmets Have an Expiration Date and How Serious is it?

Troy's Tech Talk

When should a cycling helmet be replaced?

To start with, you should always replace your helmet after an impact or damage. There are many crashes where I didn’t realize I had hit my head, but sure enough, I had, and the only way I knew was because my helmet was cracked. Another common circumstance is dropping a helmet when traveling. I can’t count the number of helmets that have been damaged in a bike bag or in the back of the car with people tossing their stuff in.

Bicycle helmets can be expensive, but remember, you are rarely buying more protection but instead just a lighter or better-vented version. It’s the cost of R&D plus higher-end materials, but in the end, they all offer nearly the
same protection. 

As for helmets that haven’t been compromised or damaged, they, too, should be replaced every three to five years. There are a lot of things that degrade over time, like the foam and glue used in the helmet. Your body oils, sweat and UV rays also take a toll on the material, and after five years, it is for sure compromised and not offering the intended level of protection. If you ride a lot, then I would replace it every three years. 

The last thing I recommend is cleaning and inspecting your helmet on a regular basis. If the pads are disintegrating, then it is time to consider a new shell, too. Pads degrade a bit faster than the helmet itself because of sweat, but they are a good indicator of the shape your helmet is in. Most helmets have a production date listed inside on a sticker, making it easy to identify exactly how old your helmet is. If the sticker is worn off or can’t be found, then it is probably safe to assume it is time to replace it.

Side note:

Cycling shorts and bibs also need to be retired after two or three seasons, especially if you only have a few and they have a lot of miles. Now, if you have a closet full of cycling clothing and each one gets one ride a month, then sure, they will last for a long time, but for most of us, this isn’t the case. To help extend the life of your gear, don’t use the dryer after washing them. For the sake of everyone riding behind you, pick up some new bibs and toss those old transparent shorts.

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