Last week I re-ran the Quick Tip Donate Unused Cycling Gear to a Good Cause to provide a reminder to readers who may want to do just that.
A reader named JJ emailed me after reading the issue: "Concerning donating gear: Is it a good idea to donate helmets that are in good shape and never been involved in an accident? Helmet manufacturers say replace your helmet every 5 years. What do you say about that?"
JJ's timing was great, because just the week before I had the perfect experience and example to share with him (and now with all readers).
The Foam Can Degrade
At the end of a recent ride, a buddy told me the retention system in his helmet had broken and asked if I had a spare helmet.
I actually had a couple of nice helmets lying around from previous product tests. I pulled both of them out of my storage closet to inspect them. All helmets should have a sticker inside containing the manufacturing date.
As I was inspecting one of the helmets, I quickly noticed some degradation of the foam, including a small crack – none of which was present back when I was regularly wearing the helmet a couple years ago. And I knew I had never dropped that lid, or crashed wearing it. The manufacturing date was 2012.
The other helmet looked pristine. It had a manufacturing date of 2014. I saw no signs of any degradation of any part of that newer helmet.
So, yes, I think the helmet makers have a pretty good handle on how long their products last. And I think the 5-year (maximum) guideline is probably a good one. A range of 3-5 years is probably about right.
Inspect Your Helmet Just Like Other Gear
I've used two helmets to the full extent of their capabilities (meaning, I’ve had two crashes that destroyed my helmets – both of which worked perfectly in protecting my head).
I will regularly inspect my helmet just as I do other parts of my bike and apparel. It’s obviously a vital piece of any roadie's equipment.
There are a few situations (this is not necessarily a comprehensive list) that call for replacing a helmet:
- if the retention system can no longer hold the helmet snugly to your head
- if a strap or buckle is compromised and not functioning properly (some strap systems may be replaceable; others are built into the shell of the helmet and cannot be replaced)
- if you drop the helmet onto a hard surface (this could cause a hairline crack or some other damage you may not be able to see, but that could worsen over time)
- if you notice any degradation or cracks in the foam
- if you crash
The one piece of a helmet that is nearly always replaceable is the padding. If your helmet didn't come with an extra set of padding, you can probably order one from the manufacturer.