Skaters need to check their skate helmets every so often and ask yourself,
"Is it time to replace this helmet?"
Well, that depends.
Did you crash in it?
For starters, most people are aware that you must replace a helmet after any
crash where your head hit. The foam part of a helmet is made for one-time
use, and after crushing once it is no longer as protective as it was, even
if it still looks intact. Bear in mind that if the helmet did its job most
people would tell you that they did not even hit their head, or did not hit
their head that hard. And the thin shells on most helmets now tend to hide
any dents in the foam. But if you can see marks on the shell or measure any
foam crush at all, replace the helmet. (Helmets made of EPP foam do
recover, but there are few EPP helmets on the market. Yours is EPS or EPU
unless otherwise labeled.)
You may be reluctant to replace a
helmet that looks almost as good as new, but if you did hit, you don't want
to take chances on where you will hit next time. If the foam is cracked
under the thin shell, it will be more likely to fly apart in your next
crash. Many manufacturers will replace crashed helmets for a nominal fee,
and most will also inspect crashed helmets to see if they need replacement.
Call them if you are in doubt. For contact info check our list of
manufacturers. (You can also ask them if they think the advice on this page
Is it from the 70's?
If you still have a helmet from the 70's without a styrofoam liner, replace
it immediately. That would include the Skidlid (with spongy foam), 1970's
Pro-tec (spongy foam), Brancale (no foam) and all leather "hairnets." They
just did not have the protection of helmets made after 1984 when the ANSI
standard swept the junk off the market.
The better 1970's helmets were reasonably good ones, but were not quite up
to current standards. It is probably time to replace that old Bell Biker,
Bailen, MSR. Supergo or similar model from the 70's or early 80's. The hard
shells were great, but the foam liners were not thick enough to meet today's
ASTM or Snell standard. The Bell V-1 Pro was designed to today's standards,
but the foam is very stiff, and if you are over, say, 60 or 65 you probably
should replace that too.
If you have one of the 1980's
all-foam helmets with perhaps a cloth cover, we would recommend replacing
that one. Lab tests showed some years ago that the
foam doesn't skid well on pavement, and could jerk your neck in a crash. In
addition. some of them had no internal reinforcing, and they tend to break
up in a crash. That's not serious if you just fall, but if you are hit by a
car the helmet can fly apart in the initial contact and leave you
bare-headed for the crack on the pavement.
Is it a better helmet than the ones available today?
As new styles have become more "squared-off" and designers have begun adding
unnecessary ridges and projections that may increase the sliding resistance
of a helmet shell, there is good reason to stay with one of the more rounded
designs of the early to mid 90's. Those round, smooth shells like the
original Bell Image that Consumer Reports rated highly in 1993 are more
optimal for crashing than some of the newer designs. So think twice about
"moving up," and look for a rounded, smooth-shelled design when you do. We
have a lot of info on the new ones up on our page on helmets for 1999
Is it newer? With what
standards sticker inside?
Newer helmets from the late 1980's and the 90's are less simple. First look
to see what standards sticker is inside. If it's ASTM or Snell, the helmet
was designed to meet today's standards for impact protection, and you may
even find that Consumer Reports has tested it. Most manufacturers now
recommend that helmets be replaced after five years, but some of that may be
just marketing. (Bell now recommends every three years, which seems to us
too short. They base it partially on updating your helmet technology, but
they have not been improving their helmets that much over three year
periods, and we consider some of their 1997 helmets to be a step backwards,
so we would take that with a grain of salt.)
Deterioration depends on usage,
care, and abuse. But if you ride thousands of miles every year, five years
may be a realistic estimate of helmet life. And helmets have actually been
improving enough over time to make it a reasonable bet that you can find a
better one than you did five years ago. It may fit better, look better, and
in some cases may even be more protective.
Somebody is spreading rumors that sweat and Ultraviolet exposure will cause
your helmet to degrade. Sweat will not do that. The standards do not permit
you to make a helmet that degrades from sweat, and the EPS, EPP or EPU foam
is remarkably unaffected by salt water. Your helmet will get a terminal case
of grunge before it dies of sweat.
UV can affect the strength of the
shell material, though. Manufacturers put UV inhibitors in the plastic for
their shells that control UV degradation. If your helmet is fading, maybe
the UV inhibitors are failing, so you might consider replacing it. Chances
are it has seen an awful lot of sun to have that happen. Otherwise, try
another brand next time and let us know what brand faded on you.
At least one shop told a customer
that the EPS in his three year old helmet was now "dried out." That is
highly unlikely, unless the EPS is placed in an oven for some period of time
and baked. The interior of your car, for example, will not do that, based on
helmets we have seen and at least one lab crash test of a helmet always kept
in a car in Virginia over many summers. EPS is a long-lived material little
affected by normal environmental factors. Unless you mistreat it we would
not expect it to "dry out" enough to alter its performance for many years.
In sum, we don't find the case for replacing a helmet that meets the ASTM or
Snell standards that compelling if the helmet is still in good shape and
fits you well.
Do you still like wearing it?
Your helmet is of course a piece of wearing apparel as well as a safety
appliance. If you consider yourself a stylish rider and your helmet is not
as spiffy as the new ones, go for it. There is nothing wrong with wanting to
look good, and if you do, fashion is a valid reason to replace a helmet.
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