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  1. #1
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    Helmets: expiration date or not?

    Anybody agree or disagree with the BHSI (Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute) site:

    When to Replace a Helmet?


    Outside of crashing your helmet (which we all know means immediately replace it no matter what) I was always under the impression, which seems mistaken now, that foam EPS construction broke down over time and thus helmets need replaced. Seems this is not true. From the BHSI site, EPS is a stable material that doesn't breakdown, no matter if it's exposed to copious amounts of human sweat or whatever, and furthermore, since helmets have an outer protective shell, the chances of sun degrading the EPS are also nil.

    What is going on? Helmet manufacturers (from Giro, Bell, etc, etc) all say, respectively, to replace your helmet every 2-3 years max. Only manufacturer that I found outside of this range is MET helmets, who actually state they've done real live crash testing, and they say all post 90s helmets are good to go for 8-10 yrs (again, with no crashes) or longer.


    I understand helmet manufacturers need us to buy helmets to stay in business, but this 3 year expiration date seen from a lot of them seems a little feckless if it isn't true.


    Curious what everyone is wearing and some dates/how long you've been wearing them? I am now wondering if the cache of helmets I have from 4-8 yrs ago are still good to go? Sure, they may be a few grams heavier than newer lids, but I can't tell the difference today between a 250g lid vs a 350g lid. Guess my neck is too thick Anyhow, these cache of helmets have never seen an accident, still look new, everything on them is functional, but I've been avoiding them (and getting new ones) thinking that damn EPS had broken down after 3 yrs.

  2. #2
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    If the foam breaks down enough after 2-3 years to be considered unsafe and warrant replacement, I'd never buy one from that brand.
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  3. #3
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    Well let me put it to you like this:

    The owner of our shop does his diligence and tells every customer pretty much that helmets are only good for 2 or 3 years. He points them to the statements provided by the manufacturers and then does his best to sell them a new helmet. He will tell anyone who will listen and even those that won't that helmets need regular replacement.


    He wears a 2008 Giro Atmos, it's the only helmet he owns.
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  4. #4
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    Had a lot of discussion on this late last year. See this thread.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by MMsRepBike View Post
    Well let me put it to you like this:

    The owner of our shop does his diligence and tells every customer pretty much that helmets are only good for 2 or 3 years. He points them to the statements provided by the manufacturers and then does his best to sell them a new helmet. He will tell anyone who will listen and even those that won't that helmets need regular replacement.


    He wears a 2008 Giro Atmos, it's the only helmet he owns.
    I'm not sure I follow. Are you surprised your boss' primary motive (and that of the helmet manufacturers) is making money?
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  6. #6
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    I'm not surprised about anything.

    And if you're wondering, I'm on the side of his actions and not his words. I would only replace a helmet if I felt it needed replacement for some reason, not just because of time.
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  7. #7
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    My Bell Ghisallo is a 2007 issue. I only replace my helmets when something breaks, which is usually the plastic on the occipital lobe device.

    I'll hazard a guess and suggest if a cyclist gets into an accident and claims the helmet was defective for some reason, the manufacturer will point out the helmet was past its useful lifespan.

    I'm really inclined to think these lifespan limitations are set to promote helmet sales.

  8. #8
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    I've crashed while wearing helmets over 3 years old. Each time the helmet did its job, breaking instead of my head.
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  9. #9
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    It is my understanding, based on knowledge of the basic materials, that the concern would be that the helmet gets less absorptive, and more like wearing a very lightweight brick on your head, over time. That probably depends mostly on how you store it, since a helmet spends most of its life not on your head. I'd say that the life ratings are based on accelerated tests that are then extrapolated to worst case conditions - say you storing the helmet in a place that is 100 degrees 100% of the time.

    Since I had a helmet save my life, although with a pretty bad concussion whose effects took more than three or four months to fade to where I felt pretty close to normal, and since it was old and fractured into pieces in the process, I've taken to keeping my helmet inside my house, rather than in my bike shed. Is it necessary? I have no idea. But I'm not really in finding out the hard way by doing the alternative.

  10. #10
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    Not so much sales, as to reduce or eliminate liability should an old helmet prove to be defective as a result of degraded material properties (e.g., impact strength, etc.).

    The problem with waiting until obvious failure is that, if the failure is a result of loss of material properties arising from aging or exposure to any number of substances, the key properties associated with protection were likely lost long before you could see anything. There is no way of knowing how much loss has occurred over time other than destroy the helmet. If you visibly see the effects of lost integrity, then that helmet is long, long gone - it won't even hold together absent stress.
    Last edited by ibericb; 06-20-2015 at 05:57 AM.
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  11. #11
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    In the good old days I need to crash replaced my BELL brand helmet twice, I sent it in, and got a new one for free. Today a crash replacement is a courtsey 30% discount off full list. Goine are the days of free crash replacement.

    Both my helmet are over 5 yesrs old, show no sign of cracking. I push hard with a finger one in a while, and there is no movement.

    FYI Helmet like all bicycling stuff has got very expensive in recent years.
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  12. #12
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    There was an independent test done recently that tested old helmets to the ANSI or Snell standard, and they passed.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter P. View Post
    My Bell Ghisallo is a 2007 issue. I only replace my helmets when something breaks, which is usually the plastic on the occipital lobe device...
    But why does that part, or any other, fail? Was it significantly weaker/degraded than it was when the helmet was new? The article does seem to imply it's not the case because of various "UV inhibitors" and other things manufacturers do to prevent degradation. So if we all seem to wait until "something breaks" I tend to think that's too long and would question how such a helmet might actually perform in a crash. Would the straps fail and the helmet come off all over some small plastic bit that was just old and brittle?

    Full disiclosure - I too wear a Ghisallo (love that helmet model) with a Jan '10 sticker in it. I'm not criticizing, just wondering if there is a point where replacement is prudent even if it's not the shorter 2-3 years manu recommends.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by mfdemicco View Post
    There was an independent test done recently that tested old helmets to the ANSI or Snell standard, and they passed.
    I wish you would post that link. Reason is a couple of days ago I called Bell seeking a replacement pad kit, I was willing to pay for. Lady I spoke with kept insisting helmet was too old, unsafe, and push hard to make a sale.

    In the end I said it is my life, beside your company has changed, and is not the old Bell. Reminding her of the days of FREE CRASH REPLACEMENT.
    “Nothing is impossible. Some things are just less likely than others.”-Jonathan Harshman Winters III (November 11, 1925 – April 11, 2013) was an American comedian & actor.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheManShow View Post
    I wish you would post that link. Reason is a couple of days ago I called Bell seeking a replacement pad kit, I was willing to pay for. Lady I spoke with kept insisting helmet was too old, unsafe, and push hard to make a sale.

    In the end I said it is my life, beside your company has changed, and is not the old Bell. Reminding her of the days of FREE CRASH REPLACEMENT.
    But the free crash replacements were only during first three years if I recall correctly. After that, they expected you to buy a new helmet.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by MisterMike View Post
    But why does that part, or any other, fail? Was it significantly weaker/degraded than it was when the helmet was new? The article does seem to imply it's not the case because of various "UV inhibitors" and other things manufacturers do to prevent degradation. So if we all seem to wait until "something breaks" I tend to think that's too long and would question how such a helmet might actually perform in a crash. Would the straps fail and the helmet come off all over some small plastic bit that was just old and brittle?

    Full disiclosure - I too wear a Ghisallo (love that helmet model) with a Jan '10 sticker in it. I'm not criticizing, just wondering if there is a point where replacement is prudent even if it's not the shorter 2-3 years manu recommends.
    It's a skinny little strip of plastic no thicker in diameter than a pencil lead, and I'll speculate that all plastics tend to get brittle with age. Even when this part of the "Roc Loc" (Giro's trade name) or whatever trade name it's given, fails, the helmet is still wearable-helmets were manufactured for many years before the occipital lobe retainers came on the market.

    It's too bad that the foam or the shell don't provide obvious signs of degradation such as crumbling, powdering, cracking, etc. In fact, you could say that the lack of those indicators are by themselves indicators that the helmet is still useful. But sometimes that degradation is not visible to the naked or untrained eye.

  17. #17
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    Helmets: expiration date or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by TheManShow View Post
    I wish you would post that link. Reason is a couple of days ago I called Bell seeking a replacement pad kit, I was willing to pay for. Lady I spoke with kept insisting helmet was too old, unsafe, and push hard to make a sale.

    In the end I said it is my life, beside your company has changed, and is not the old Bell. Reminding her of the days of FREE CRASH REPLACEMENT.
    Try http://www.helmets.org/up1505a.htm

    I think if you take care of your helmet, like not storing it out in the sun or the heat, replacing it every 2-3 years is overkill.
    Last edited by mfdemicco; 06-20-2015 at 09:21 AM. Reason: edit

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by mfdemicco View Post
    I think if you take care of your helmet, like not storing it out in the sun or the heat, replacing it every 2-3 years is overkill.
    Keep it stored in a reasonably cool, dry place, avoid contact with things like sunscreen, solvent vapors, etc., and it should still retain its material properties for well beyond 3 years (like 10 years). The problems come when they get left in cars, hot garages, get contaminated with sunscreen, solvent vapors, etc. The idea is to replace the helmet BEFORE it becomes sufficiently degraded that it wouldn't pass the test. There is no way a helmet manufacturer can predict how any helmet will be cared for, thus there recommendation will be based on a reasonable worst-case scenario, and the expected loss of properties that would follow.

    FWIW - every child car safety seat comes with an expiration date that is ~ 3-4 years from the date on manufacturing, for the very same reasons that bicycle helmet replacement at 3 years is broadly recommended.
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  19. #19
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    Styrofoam is forever. So is your helmet.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Special Eyes View Post
    Styrofoam is forever. So is your helmet.
    But, there isn't any Styrofoam in bicycle helmets. None!
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  21. #21
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    Then I wonder what the technical term is for that material that looks just like styrofoam.
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  22. #22
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Special Eyes View Post
    Then I wonder what the technical term is for that material that looks just like styrofoam.
    Expanded polystyrene foam.

    Styrofoam is a trademark of The Dow Chemical Co., limited to extruded polystyrene foam board.

    You also need to consider the other materials in a helmet - polycarbonte, ABS, polyurethane, ...
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  24. #24
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    I tend to replace mine when they become seriously out of style.

    have a Giro Pneumo that's easily 6-7 yrs old.

    still looks fine.

  25. #25
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    From a profit standpoint, the manufacturer wants you to buy a new helmet sooner rather than later... It's good business. From a safety standpoint the manufacturer wants you to buy a new helmet sooner rather than later to ensure that you are wearing a melon guard that boasts the latest and greatest advances in technology. Too old is last decades tech... Even if only minor changes show up to be improvements they would prefer you have that advantage.
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