Helmet Replacment after 5 years...WHY?

Discussion in 'Equipment' started by jbhawley, Apr 11, 2012.

  1. jbhawley

    jbhawley WTF- Gus?

    Apr 5, 2008
    Kenly NC
    Something to ponder for a Wednesday...:norton This will take a few minutes, so go take a piss, get another cup of coffee and sit back...

    I have recently bought another new Arai helmet. It seems I am/was purchasing a new helmet every couple years or so. For whatever reason: wanted a new style, new color, better ventilation, etc, etc, etc. Previously I was spending 150$ or less per helmet. Since moving up in price and hopefully quality, crash-worthiness, etc my 500$ + lid should serve me for several years.

    NOTE::: I do not want to hear your dribble on why you would never buy a used helmet...and this is sort of the point on my post here...determining how to evaluate a used helmet. Remember as soon as you wear your brand new helmet on a ride..it is used!I have scoured the flea market for a used helmet to have as a spare for rough and tumble days as to prolong my new Arai lid a few more miles. I have fell into the trap of asking when was the helmet manufactured, how long have you owned it, any damage, and the usual other relevant questions. I say trap, but with a disclaimer...more on that in a bit. The rule-of-thumb is to replace a non-crashed helmet every 5 years...

    According to Web Bike World and the Snell Foundation:

    Why should you replace your helmet every five years?
    The five-year replacement recommendation is based on a consensus by both helmet manufacturers and the Snell Foundation. Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production can affect liner materials. Hair oils, body fluids and cosmetics, as well as normal "wear and tear" all contribute to helmet degradation. Petroleum based products present in cleaners, paints, fuels and other commonly encountered materials may also degrade materials used in many helmets possibly degrading performance. Additionally, experience indicates there will be a noticeable improvement in the protective characteristic of helmets over a five-year period due to advances in materials, designs, production methods and the standards. Thus, the recommendation for five-year helmet replacement is a judgment call stemming from a prudent safety philosophy.

    I am going to break this statement down ---way down--- in a minute so bear with me while I throw some numbers in your face.

    That sounds reasonable enough on the onset but take into consideration a few items that may increase or reduce the "life" of a helmet. I preface my examples that are assumed the helmet has not been involved in any type of crash and been taken care of as any average motorcyclist should.

    Say for instance a helmet was manufactured in January 2007. With the "5 year plan" that helmet would, by default, be ready for the scrap heap by now. However, consider that the same helmet was made in 01/2007, sat in its original box on a shelf in a store or warehouse until 01/2008. So that's one year that the helmet was not in use or exposed to any perceivable damaging effects. Would this helmet have an extended life expectancy of greater than 5 years since the first year of its life was spend in isolation.

    Now take it a step further and look at the actual road (in use) hours of a helmet.
    I did some quick stats and figure I have my helmet on my 'noggin for nearly 700 hours per year. Taking into consideration that I ride/commute every day, all year plus weekend jaunts, and 4 weeks vacation time per year...I wear my helmet quite a bit in all types of weather.

    Now analyze a more typical rider and say he may wear his helmet 350 hours a year. He commutes to work only in the warmer months, April - October, and takes a two weekend rides per month and then one week with the boys per year. Let us call him Sam.

    Final example...a fair-weather rider and logs only 150 hours a year since he rides only on Saturday and Sunday during May - September when there is no chance of rain, and then only to the local beer joint and back home...a long day in the saddle for this guy is an hour. We will call him Joe.

    See...my point...???? There are too many variables, IMO, to have a blanket statement to scrap a helmet after 5 years. My 5 years will have a conservative 3500 hours versus Sam that may have only 1750 hours or even fair-weather Joe that has 750 hours. WOW!...I put nearly as many hours in one year than Joe does in five years.

    Now, I do realize that in theory, my 700 hours/year lid should be replaced more often than Joe's 150 h/y lid. But, conversely, in theory, shouldn't' Joe's lid last him much, much longer than mine...maybe 8-10 years? And what about Sam? Is he the typical rider that the "5 year plan" is relevant?

    So would more relevant questions to ask a initial owner about a used helmet be:
    How many hours have you worn the helmet?
    What are your riding styles? Dual Sport, Street, Track, Bar hopping, touring???
    What bike do you ride?
    Where do you store the helmet when not in use? In its bag on a shelf? Thrown in the same garage corner where you store your lawn mower gas? In the attic where its 150Fin the summer and 20F in the winter?

    ...lost of variables come into play when determining the actual life of a helmet.

    I understand that the helmet manufacture folks are in the business of selling helmets. The Snell Foundation is not. I also understand that there has to be some "price-tag" put on the life expectancy of everything. Even an anvil will wear out sooner or later. Realistically, who keeps a helmet 5 years and then trashes it for a new one? Most of us...yours truly included...want newer, better, etc and will, most likely, buy a new lid before the 5 years are expired. But for the sake of argument...and back to my original point...what is the real life-expectancy of a helmet that has been taken care of?

    Now let me break down the statement I copied from the Snell Foundation web site.
    My break-down will be noted in yellow color font...hi-viz font...that is...

    The five-year replacement recommendation is based on a consensus by both helmet manufacturers and the Snell Foundation. Consensus according to Merriam-Webster: general agreement : unanimity; the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned : group solidarity in sentiment and belief. With consensus there is no scientific fact or basis. Consensus is just a group of people agreeing on an item. So the consensus is that Snell and the helmet mfgs agree to replace at 5 years. HMMM!

    Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production can affect liner materials. Hair oils, body fluids and cosmetics, as well as normal "wear and tear" all contribute to helmet degradation. Petroleum based products present in cleaners, paints, fuels and other commonly encountered materials may also degrade materials used in many helmets possibly degrading performance.
    This makes sense and I agree (this part has my consensus). However there is no backing data to support this statement either. "Possibly" degrading performance...shit a brick, I could possibly fly to the moon if I had a rocket on my back. This, IMO, is where I would like to see some data to back up this statement. Do a test on Joe's helmet after 5 years and compare it to mine. See if mine had degraded more. In theory my helmet, if based on this statement, should be ready for the sanitation department after only a couple years as compared to Joe's helmet that may last into the next decade. And would a female rider's helmet have be more degraded since she may have hair care products, make-up, perfume, etc, etc, that most real men frown upon wearing. Hey you metro-sexual blokes...step away at this point...I am not talking to you...drink your latte and get your pedicure. You have no business reading this forum anyhow.

    Additionally, experience indicates there will be a noticeable improvement in the protective characteristic of helmets over a five-year period due to advances in materials, designs, production methods and the standards. Thus, the recommendation for five-year helmet replacement is a judgment call stemming from a prudent safety philosophy.HMMM now this is very interesting...I do agree that most mfgs improve their helmets as time goes on plus with market research and field testing new styles are made and improvements over existing styles. But IMO...this is the catch 22 that we as motorcyclist are in. Is the helmet REALLY degraded to a point that it MUST be replaced or "should" it be replaced because better, faster, nicer, etc is now available?

    I know there is a lot of food-for-thought in this post. But these things are on my mind today...now they are on yours as well. :evil
    Wcmike likes this.
  2. Joey Stalin

    Joey Stalin Been here awhile

    Oct 12, 2007
    Was discussing this same subject in another forum, concerning a guy who bought a used Arai. Used is the first warning flag, but also it was manufactured in 1997. Taking into account the unknown history and the age, I would not recommend that helmet. But, I do agree with you that it is NOT a hard and fast rule, and you will have to decide for yourself. When I first started riding, I used my sister's full face helmet that was made in probably 1987 or 1988. This was in 2004-2005 or so. So it was at least a 17 year old helmet. The interior materials were starting to crack and flake off and you'd be left with flecks of vinyl and plastic in your hair after removing the helmet. I bought a new one quickly. Petroleum products (read, plastics, vinyls) also degrade when exposed to UV rays, depending on the type of plastic. Sweat and salts from the body definitely aren't good for the materials, either.

    So my rule is, I will evaluate my own helmets and decide for myself when I think it needs replacing. I would not hesitate to wear a new-old-stock helmet that had been sitting on the shelf since 2003, if it was up to the safety and comfort standards that I'm looking for. A used helmet, I would be vary weary of in general since I don't know the history of it. The EPS liner is good for one impact with the pavement (which is not the same as a helmet drop), and people are not trustworthy. It's really a case by case basis.

    Do as thou wilt.
  3. SnowMule

    SnowMule [angry moth noises]

    Jul 2, 2009
    i'm lucky if I go two years before destroying mine. <label for="rb_iconid_29">:bluduh</label>
  4. Trailrider200

    Trailrider200 Been here awhile

    Nov 2, 2010
    Exit 10A, RT 42
    I have never seen any testing of a 5 yr or older helmet proving that it doesn't provide protection anymore.
    So all I conclude at this time is that they want to sell helmets.

    styrofoam is listed as degrading in 1+ million yrs. The problem is that the numbers never suggest the mechanism of decomposition. There are several - heat, biochemical, mechanical, irradiation. In the case of styrofoam, that material is biologically inert (microorganisms have a hard time eating it) so a long decomposition time is expected. However it is subject to degradation when exposed to sunlight (UV radiation), thermal energy (the bonds break when it gets hot enough), mechanical degradation (it erodes and wears away) and chemical attack (it burns). Under these conditions the decomposition time is much shorter.
  5. bomber60015

    bomber60015 tikkun olam

    Sep 11, 2008
    a great deal of typing and a fair amount of opinions . . . not bad, mind you, but light on facts, data, and information ;-}

    I've had old helmet liners simply disintegrate -- granted, they were 10+ years old . . . but, given that the foam didn't loose it's energy absorbing properties literally overnight, they likely started to do so a couple of years before it fell to pieces . . . .

    so, the question is, how LONG before, yes?

    I have no idea, and I'm guessing you don't either --

    If nothing else, the helmet comanies have a vested interest in selling product, for certain -- they also have a vested interest in their products working up to spec -- will a good quality lid work up to spec after 5 years?

    I have no idea, and I'm guessing you don't either --

    If you want to look for a conspiricy, ask yourself why the instructions on a bottle of shampoo tells you to do the whole thing twice.
  6. lhendrik

    lhendrik Putins Puppet

    Dec 10, 2008
    New York
    I am not a scientist. I ride motorcycles. I wear a helmet, best I can buy (at least most expensive). I like to buy stuff so I get new helmets all the time. As I age and have less disposable income I am sure I will buy fewer new helmets, and will keep helmets for more years. I don't plan to do any statistical studies on all this. I just plan to ride as much as I can. I doubt that a few more years on a helmet will make much difference to me. If I crash hard enough that the age of the lining becomes a factor, I will probably have other things to worry about, like how did I get into Hell and where are the women.
    EastRoad and Retired Army 2008 like this.
  7. GSWayne

    GSWayne Old Guy nOOb

    Mar 29, 2005
    Santa Barbara
    I would think if Snell is claiming they need to be replaced they would have some test data to back that up. It would be pretty easy to test a bunch of old helmets and see how fast they really degrade and see how much scatter there is in the data i.e. do some helmets last 10 years and others show serious degradation in 5.
    Alexander B and resqdoc like this.
  8. Ultravoyageant

    Ultravoyageant Been here awhile

    Jan 2, 2010
    The congested burbs 62 furlongs west of Brick City
    I think that a lot of how long a helmet will last has to do with the type, i.e. full face or modular. I have four helmets at the moment, one full face, two modulars and one 3/4. My oldest helmet is a Nolan x-lite 1002, perhaps 6 years old. I think that this will be the last season for that helmet, as the latch mechanism is getting finicky, and the helmet is generally feeling a bit looser over the past year. I doubt that will be a problem with the Scorpion EXO-700 I own or the HJC Is-33, as there are less moving parts. Of course, the lining can wear out, but as long as a replacement is available you can buy a new one. But some helmets may be more worn out than others after 5 or more years of use. Modular flip up helmets would be more likely to be in this group due to more moving parts.

    My other modular is a Shark Evoline V2. I've had it for 2 years, and given how much looser it has become (taking into account compression of the lining it has still become a bit loose) I doubt that I'd want to use it three more years down the road. But as with many things one doesn't know until one finds out.

    I guess we'll have to meet back here in 3 or 4 years time and compare notes on the old helmets that we're still using, to see if 5 years is a good time to ditch them.
  9. Gruesome

    Gruesome Alter Heizer

    Apr 28, 2007
    Sorry for being so blunt, but this is just all nonsense. The 'point of evaluating a used helmet' is that you can't. You could of course decide to ride without a helmet, but once you go through all that effort of buying and wearing one, it would kinda majorly suck if it didn't do its job when you need it.
    Get a new one from a trustworthy source (i.e. one where it didn't sit for a year next to the solvents and paints, or in the window). No need to spend 500 bucks, just spend 200 or 300 on one that is comfy and fits, and be done with it.
  10. trc.rhubarb

    trc.rhubarb ZoomSplat!

    Nov 15, 2011
    Concord, CA
    I ride every day. I've never made it 5 years with the same helmet. They eventually reach a point of stankyness that is irreversable. No amount of washing gets the smell out, they need a new face shield and the cost of new liners/shield is usually over $100... I'll just buy a new helmet at that point.
    I currently have 2 Shoei RF1000's and a Shark Evoline 2 in the rotation
    I think it usually pretty easy to identify the helmets that are worn out. Used... not for me thanks.
    Emperor Norton and doc moses like this.
  11. BitesTheDust

    BitesTheDust Been here awhile

    Aug 3, 2008
    Mission, BC
    If the purpose of wearing a helmet is for protection - then the risk mitigation would be to replace it according to some agreed upon measurement (which appears to be 5 years). I would suggest - replacing a helmet is more likely based on an individuals risk tolerance level (ie helmet is old/damaged); disposal income; the need to have the latest and greatest; or I'm bored with what I have - must buy something new.
  12. keiji

    keiji Long timer

    Jun 19, 2008
    What they probably did is put some helmets in a heated chamber and "accelerated" the aging, as reaction rates (breakdown) is correlated to various factors, such as temperature. Of course, the storage temperature cannot be raised indefinitely, as other reactions will occur, so this aging may take half a year or more to complete to simulate a 5 year shelf life.

    Since helmet manufacturers are not required to guarantee product life up to X years, it doesn't really make sense for them to pay maintain a chamber to store the necessary samples as well as perform the testing, as it can cost quite a bit. Chances are the 5 year product life comes from leveraging data from other industries, such as those regulated by the FDA.

    While the materials are probably good for more than 5 years, plastics may be "stable" for a relatively long time, and then experience sudden degradation in performance. For critical safety equipment, there is usually a big buffer before this happens, but there is no way of telling when it will happen.

    My suggestion to you is to stop buying expensive helmets if you feel the need to stretch out their life, and buy cheaper helmets and replace them more often as the UV inhibitors will be consumed more rapidly, especially if you ride as much as you say you do.
  13. KLXmcrider

    KLXmcrider Been here awhile

    Jun 5, 2007
    Hayward,S.F. bay area
    Wow just the other day I talked about this topic with the local shop manager.I asked if the blow out price
    on certain helmets were because of old stock/older Snell ratings...No answer....But we did discuss
    the life of helmets being used..He sells the product,so the 5 year rule is recommended. I asked
    about the ones boxed/sealed lost in the warehouse... then found..Does the breakdown of protective
    materials only begin after exposure to uv rays,bodily fluids(sweat.hair oils.shampoo residue etc) the use
    of putting it on/off,washing the liner etc.Well my opinion to him was that until it's opened,contaminated by
    customers trying it on,manhandling it or worse it'll be good.Not the same as a Snell 2012 April mfg date
    but should still meet the DOT standards.Like canned goods in the pantry,good until it's opened..ymho...2 cents
    ps.... I wish they would test 5 year old helmets (same production run),one used for 5yrs one still sealed
    in the box using the same safety standard as when sold.Would be a great advertising if both passed.
    But on the other hand they want you to buy...Bold New Graphics..New Colors..New Trim .. New Features etc
  14. josjor

    josjor Long timer

    Jun 27, 2007
    The largest geological formation in the U.S.A.
    I had laid off riding for about a decade due to financials. When I got back into a bike I made a trip to one of the local dealers to look for a new lid. It just so happened that their Fulmer factory rep was there that day.

    So I'm checking out some helmets and the rep. is making small talk. He asks what I'm wearing now. I tell him it's an old Shoei that I've had for a dozen years, ten of them in basement storage.

    "Oh no! You really have to replace them when their five years old, whether they've been worn or not. The materials start to break down." he blankly stated.


    The helmet I was looking at was a Fulmer and they put a "born on" date inside their helmets. The "brand new" one in my hand had a born on date that was almost two years ago.

    "A five year lifespan, eh?" I ask and he nods in agreement. Then I show him the "born on" date inside his own product and ask "So since this one has 40% of it's useful life gone, is it now 40% off?"

    He mumbled something and slunk away.

    I think there probably is some science to it, but I also think they should pro-rate the price accordingly, just like day-old bread and milk that is close to expiration date.
    resqdoc likes this.
  15. jbhawley

    jbhawley WTF- Gus?

    Apr 5, 2008
    Kenly NC
    I am the OP and have found some more information from various places that sheds some light on the 5 year helmet plan...or does it.

    After scouring the interweb (meaning I did a google search :evil) I found that not only do motorcycle helmet mfg recommend the 5 year replacement plan but also bicycle helmet mfgs, horse rider helmet mfgs, skateboard helmet mfgs, etc, etc. Virtually all helmet mfg recommend replacement after 5 years. I guess this is the "consensus" that Snell references.

    Now here is where it gets interesting. I found a web site that discussed this same issue but about Horse rider helmets. Here are a few snippets I pulled from the site. Read the entire page if you wish. It appears that the same question was posed to several helmet mfg and, believe it or not, there were different answers amongst all.
    I only shortened each response to gather the relevant parts...not to cherry pick to prove my point. I do not ride horses so I cannot comment on these mfgs as to which offers the highest quality. i.e. Samshield may be an Arai equivalent and GPA may be a AFX equivalent...I just do not know.


    Samshield Helmets: The 5 year rule applies, starting at the date of manufacture.

    Troxel Helmets: Troxel recommends replacing a helmet 5 years from the date of purchase from a retail store.

    GPA: We do recommend to change the helmet every 5 years if it has been properly used and taken care of. The helmet materials do not get affected until it starts to be worn

    Charles Owen: Your questioner is correct that it is recommended to replace your helmet after 5 years of use, not manufacturing date. It is the sweat and the occasional drop that reduces a helmets safety level. I would equate that to 2000 hours of riding. So a helmet that is worn regularly will deteriorate faster than one used only an hour a week. A helmet kept in air conditioned storage would be ideal as it will be kept cool and dry. Helmets will degrade in very warm conditions, that is above 170 deg F and will rust and grow mold in damp conditions.

    Neither is inherently wrong but we do go by date of purchase. Our stock has a very quick turn around but I could imagine a scenario where a helmet is in a store for some time and is perfectly fine, although it was purchased when already a year or two old. Once a helmet leaves our facility (which is a climate controlled environment) it is assumed that all retailers take the same care in storage and handling the helmet until a customer purchased it.


    As you can see five different mfgs. Five different answers. It seems that the "consensus" is not across the board, so to speak, within the mfg community.

    This sorta takes me back to my OP and the main question that I have...is the 5 year plan a marketing ploy, a safety concern from the mfg to the customers, or a way for the mfg to CYA in the event of litigation. Which opens another can of worms...

    What if you are in a crash and you hire an ambulance chasing lawyer that sues the helmet mfg. Will the potential outcome and rebuttal of the mfg be based on the age of the helmet? If so, from what perspective? See above as the mfg seem to be all over the place on what they recommend as the "starting" point on the 5 year count down. Will the mfg argue that the helmet was made more than 5 years ago? Will you rebut by saying you only purchased new 3 years ago? Will you then have to sue the dealer to prove the helmet was not stored in a climate controlled environment for the 2 years it sat on a shelf before being purchased?

    See my point? I know I am making way too much of this...but it really grips my balls that we, as consumers, take a blanket statement "replace after 5 years" and blindly follow like lemmings the mfgs recommendations. Let's see Snell take a 10 year old helmet and test it, or one that has been dropped 10 times, or one that has been in a crash, or...hell I could go on and on. Again...too many variables to say "You gotta replace in 5 years!"

    I think I need to send a challenge to Myth Busters :deal or maybe Consumer Reports.

  16. KradmelderSA

    KradmelderSA Banned

    Mar 20, 2012
    South Africa
    I ride everyday all year. In addition there is the weather factor. Our sun is very strong and its a dry climate, so the helmet gets a lot of UV radiation and the foam material must erode and dry out. I have 2 helmets and use both, and both are 2 years old. They wont make 5 years.
  17. C-Stain

    C-Stain Long timer

    Jul 9, 2009
    I don't know how anyone can make it to 5 years on the same helmet. After wearing, cleaning, more wearing and such, mine ususally smell so bad after 3 years that my wife is begging me to get a new one. Mind you, I don't have a sense of smell, so I can't tell you how bad they really are.

    Point is, I usually put 65,000 - 75,000 Km on a helmet in 3 years. They get jostled in the shop, in my top box, carried up and down hotel stairways, left in a locker and once or twice been accidently knocked into a ditch. They also get worn in sun, rain, sleet, fog and the occasional snow squall. I would consider myself GENTLY on my lid. But after about 3 years, it looks like its been through the Boer War and is ready for retirement. That's when I start looking.

    The other thing, I've never bought a $500+ helmet. I do get one that is ECE and DOT rated, Snell if I can. What's the big difference between my $300 Snell Lid and your $500+ Snell lid?

  18. jbhawley

    jbhawley WTF- Gus?

    Apr 5, 2008
    Kenly NC
    I found this on the Snell site.

    Motorcycle Product News' Bob Jackson sat down with Snell's Gib Brown, director of test development and the foundation's West Coast lab manager, to discuss the criticism. Additionally, Brown offered a history of Snell and detailed its testing procedures.

    MPN: There have been various theories over the years that motorcyclists should purchase new helmets every three years or so. Has that been a marketing ploy, or do the materials used in motorcycle helmet construction fatigue over a period of time?
    Brown: I think "fatigue" is probably the wrong word to use. What happens is that many manufacturers use glues to put the liner into the shell. We've seen cases where the glues would degrade the liner. We've also seen liners degrade from perspiration and hair oils, and they become compacted through normal use. Snell finally looked at this and said there's no way we can tell an individual how long his or her helmet will be good because the user is the only one who knows how a helmet has been treated. But as a general policy, because of normal degradation and improvements in the helmet, Snell recommends that helmets be replaced every five years.


    With this, I think that the 5 year rule of thumb is a catch-all........and just that a "RULE OF THUMB"...not a hard and fast requirement.


  19. jbhawley

    jbhawley WTF- Gus?

    Apr 5, 2008
    Kenly NC
    Usually just the look, feel and quality of the materials the helmet is made with and the "bells and whistles" that you are getting. When I bought my Arai XD-4 I tried on at least 10 other Snell certified helmets. Shoei was the only one that came close, IMO, to the quality and feel of the liner against my noggin'. The lesser priced Snell branded just did not feel as comfortable to me or did not fit my head shape. I am paying a premium price for a premium helmet.

    From the Snell site...I think this sums it up rather nicely.

    What's the difference between a $100 Snell certified helmet and a $400 Snell certified helmet?
    While helmets are primarily a protective device, the true protective capabilities of a helmet, if needed will only come into play for about 2 to 4 milliseconds during the lifetime of the helmet. This leaves a lot of time for that helmet to be doing nothing more than sitting around on a user's head. Producing a product that meets the standards is not really very difficult. Producing a helmet that people will buy and wear, and will consistently meet the standards is significantly more difficult. The Snell Standards do not measure factors like comfort, ventilation, brand recognition or style, and only indirectly look at fit, weight, materials and workmanship. These are factors that frequently drive helmet cost.
  20. Joey Stalin

    Joey Stalin Been here awhile

    Oct 12, 2007
    Yes. The answer to those questions is yes. So again, do as thou wilt, anyone on here who tells anyone else that they need to replace a helmet after 5 years is talking out their ass. Snell pretty much admitted it in the post above mine - it's impossible to know for sure, so 5 years seems like a good catch-all number.