By Laurel-Lea Shannon
Bike stores will tell you to replace your helmet every 3 years. Manufacturers say every 5 years. But the real answer is: It depends. A bicycle helmet is made of styrofoam covered with a thin plastic shell. How long it lasts depends on how much it’s used and how well you care for it.
Retire your helmet if:
1) You’ve crashed. Even if the helmet looks undamaged, any impact compresses the foam, making it less resistant for the next crash.
2) Your helmet is 5 years old and beat up. Maybe it’s just been dropped a few too many times, or left out in the rain. If your helmet is 5 years old and hasn’t received the appropriate TLC, replace it.
3) The plastic shell is cracked. The hard outer shell of your helmet does two things. It spreads the impact of a crash over a larger area, and it protects the inner styrofoam—the part of the helmet that protects your noggin in a fall. If there are cracks in the plastic shell, replace the helmet.
4) The styrofoam is soft or crumbly. Exposure to temperature extremes can cause the foam to deteriorate. Exposing your helmet to extreme temperatures, like storing it in a garage, or leaving it outside, makes the styrofoam brittle. Examine the foam to make sure it’s firm. If it’s soft and crumbly, or cracked, replace the helmet.
5) The straps are worn. No matter how good a condition the shell and styrofoam are in, they aren’t going to help you in a fall if your helmet doesn’t stay on. Straps can get worn and frayed. Check them where they insert into the helmet and around your chin and ears. If you notice any fraying, replace the helmet.
6) The strap buckles are cracked. While you’re checking the straps, carefully inspect the buckles. If they’re cracked, replace the helmet.
For more information about bicycle helmets, visit helmets.org.
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