If you’re anything like me, it’s not often you’ll get the recommended 3-5 years out of a crash helmet; I’ve usually smashed them to bits way before that, crashing some bike or another. But not everyone’s as clumsy as me. In fact most people take much better care of themselves (and their kit) than I do. So if you haven’t had a crash and you polish your helmet regularly how long does it last? And do you really have to throw it away after five years?
There’s a lot of stuff online about shells, linings and chinstraps deteriorating over time; rendering a helmet unsafe after X amount of years. And there’s also a bit of culture of over-cautiousness with helmets. Most people will say ‘if in doubt, replace it’. On second thoughts, perhaps that’s not over-cautious at all, perhaps it’s thoroughly reasonable. I’ll let you decide. But what I want to know is how and why does a helmet become useless all of a sudden, once it reaches its fifth birthday.
Alright, I realise it’s not as simple as that. Helmets don’t just ‘go off’ all of a sudden, like a pint of milk. But nothing stays the same for ever, does it? A motorcycle helmet, although fairly simple, is made up of loads of different parts, all of different materials. Materials that all react differently to moisture, sweat, makeup, hair gel, sunlight, impacts, detergents and extremes of temperature to name but a few. And those are the kind of things that our helmets have to deal with on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.
So when the manufacturers, and SHARP (Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Program), say to replace your helmet after five years, they’re saying so because on average that’s the amount of time it will take all of those things to start affecting the integrity of the helmet. It’s not going to destroy your lid overnight. But once the integrity of a helmet is compromised, the official advice has to be to replace it.
If you look after your helmet really, really well, cleaning it with the right products, storing it properly and never dropping it, it might be absolutely fine after five years. But the problem is, there’s no real way of knowing whether or not it’s still as good (and as safe) as the day you bought it. So you might choose not to replace it. Because you don’t need to replace it; it’s not the law. And it’s your head, after all.
But if you’re going to cut around in a 5+ year-old helmet (like plenty do), you’re having a massive roll of the dice. It might be absolutely fine, but there’s a good chance it won’t be. And if you’re unlucky enough to find out that it isn’t ‘fine’, it might be too late.
That’s why when you go racing, your helmet has to be less than five years old. It’s not a recommendation, it’s the rules.
And I know helmets aren’t cheap (not ones worth wearing anyway), but think about it for a second. These days, you can buy a seriously, seriously good helmet from one of the top brands for less than £400; be it an Arai or an AGV or whatever. And whilst that is a big chunk of money, if you get your five years out of it, that’s only £80 a year. Less than £7 a month. Most people spend more than that on their Spotify account or on Costa coffees; I don’t because I’m from Yorkshire, but that’s beside the point.
The point I am trying to make is that the better you look after your helmet, the better it’ll look after you; should you need it to. But at the same time, no matter how well you look after it, you’ll never really know if and when it’s past it’s best. So if you value you head, and anything that’s inside it, don’t rely on an antique helmet to protect it.
So why not write a really nice letter to Father Christmas, remind him how good you’ve been this year, and ask him nicely if he’ll hook you up with a new helmet.