As the first week of April has now come and (almost) gone, we want to remind readers that this month is National Check Your Helmet Month. As such, don’t forget that the average life span for a helmet is three to five years. Numerous times we’ve seen riders wearing helmets far, far, older than five years simply because a visual inspection with their untrained eye deemed the helmet to be in acceptable working order.

A lot can happen in five years. Constant pounding from the sun’s rays and a five-year buildup of sweat and oils from your head can take their toll on a helmet’s internal composition, even if you don’t see it.

“The number of motorcycle crash fatalities has more than doubled since 1997,” says Ozzie Giglio, Principal of Windy City Motorcycle Company. “We know that helmets save lives and reduce health care costs. In fact, according to Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety, motorcycle helmets are currently preventing $17 billion in societal harm annually…but $8 billion in harm could be prevented if all motorcyclists wore helmets.”

“It’s not just enough to wear a helmet,” Giglio continues. “You have to make sure that is functional, well-fitting and able to do its job properly. Additionally, it’s important to be sure that riders properly maintain their helmets, otherwise they could greatly diminish its life-span and performance ability.”

Spring is the ideal time for this reminder, as Giglio says that many riders make unsafe choices about their helmets during the weather. “Many people leave their helmets in their garage, but if you live in a place like the Midwest that has fluctuating climates, that can be terrible for your helmet. We can swing from 100 degrees in summer to -20 in the winter, and helmets integrity gets questioned as it swells and shrinks in the Midwest weather pattern.”

Here are some of Giglio’s other tips for how to check your helmet’s functionality and perform maintenance:

  1. Make sure that your helmet is not older than five years. “Check the ‘date of birth’ inside your helmet’s EPS liner,” says Giglio. “If it’s older than five years, it’s in need of replacement.”
  2. Consider the state of your liner. “Speaking of your liner,” says Giglio, “Make sure that you are cleaning it appropriately. Follow the instructions for care and make sure to wash it after long rides. Sweat, rain and the elements can make your liner warp or lose its shape, which in turn will impact the fit of your helmet.”
  3. Look at your EPS. “Check out the EPS foam on the top of your inner helmet. This foam is basically plastic beads with air bubbles, packed together very tightly. Even an ‘insignificant’ hit can cause some of these beads to pop, which will then impact the all-over safety of your helmet,” says Giglio. “So check out the EPS regularly. How is it holding up? Does it show wear or tear? Is it cracking, ripping or does it otherwise appear compromised? If so, it’s time for a new helmet.”
  4. Talk to a true professional.  A true helmet professional, say, at a dealership, won’t just measure you, but will want to know the type of riding you do, as well as the way you plan to care for your helmet. Whether it’s getting the right helmet for your head shape, getting advice on proper fit, or simply learning how to correctly wash and reassemble your helmet, a good helmet professional will impart you with knowledge that might save your life.
  5. Consider your hair products. “This sounds strange, but if you use a lot of hair product, over time the grease and oils can impact your inner lining. Again, washing it will help with this issue, but overall, just keep in mind that someone with longer hair or someone who uses lots of hair gel might need to replace their helmet more regularly. Your lifestyle will impact your helmet.”

Have other tips or advice about helmets and how to properly choose, wear, or care for one? Tell us in the comments below.

  • john phyyt

    Just priced a new clear visor for my Shoei Gt-Air .. WooHoo !. I can get an entire approved helmet ( including visor) for less.. I would suggest having a good, not too scratchy visor, is an important safety point as well. I really like this helmet , and will pay ; BUT not happy..

  • JMDGT

    I really miss my Captain America. Just kidding I really don’t. Burns has all the cool helmets. Well, Troy has that winged thing.

  • mikstr

    Who needs a helmet? Let’s hear it for the freedom to die with your brain splattered all over the road! lol

  • ChrisRR

    Is there hard science behind the “change your helmet every 5 years” or is it like the 3,000 mile engine oil? My 7 year old Shoei RX-11 has never been dropped, never exposed to extreme temps, and stored indoors. Plus I always wear a wicking bandana. If there’s solid proof that the liner is compromised after 5 years, I’ll run right out and buy a new one

    • Yes, the 5 year guideline was in large part a result of studies conducted eons ago by Dr. George Snively (founder of the Snell Foundation – a non-profit).

      In one study looking at a test group of retired CHP helmets, according to current Snell Director Ed Baker:

      “…found that some as old as 12 years tested as if they had just rolled out of production, while others of the same vintage failed miserably.”

      and

      “…concluded that after five years of use, he could not assure himself or anyone else that a helmet could continue to protect.”

      So no, the 5 year (very strong) recommendation is probably not a conspiracy by the helmet industry to get you to buy more helmets. It is based on science from people who actually care about people’s health and safety.

      • ChrisRR

        Eons ago as in how many years? I’d like to think that Shoei’s technology and materials is ever changing for the better, and that what was helmet gospel years ago no longer applies. Not trying to be difficult, just would hate to discard a perfectly functional helmet (and one that set me back over $500) based on a (possibly) obsolete study.

        • ChiefPockets

          Sort of like oil change intervals. Sure you used to have to change your oil every 3,000 miles, but as technology has improved that distance has gotten longer and longer. I’d imagine the same thing has happened with helmets, but I guess until we know definitively I’d rather stay on the safe side and replace my helmets too early rather than too late…

          • MyName

            Careful with this reasoning. One of the goals of the oil companies was to increase how long the oil protects the motor. I don’t think helmet companies have had longevity as a goal. Comfort, weight, aerodynamics, noise, and of course protection from impacts are the main goals. Helmets “should” be better at protecting your brain than they used to be, but I don’t know if they last longer. Using that reasoning, actually, buying a new helmet every couple of years is a good idea because it “should” do a better job of protecting your head! That said, I fully understand why someone would hesitate to drop $200-$1000 on something they don’t know for certain they need…