General Discussion Triathlon Talk » Helmet lifespan Rss Feed  
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2008-08-23 4:28 PM

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Subject: Helmet lifespan

I've never had a serious bike crash, so I haven't had to replace the helmet.  I've had it for about 8 years now, and it still looks fine.  Do you have to replace the helmet after a certain amount of time, or can you just keep wearing it until you whack it in a crash?  Thanks.

-steve



2008-08-23 4:43 PM
in reply to: #1623320

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan

From the website of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, http://www.helmets.org/replace.htm:

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 helmets since the late 1990's 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.

2008-08-23 5:16 PM
in reply to: #1623320

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan
The case for following the manufacturer's guidelines for replacing helmets comes from a number of reasons that include:

Some helmet test standards (there are several, A.S.T.M. F1447-06, F1447-99A, A.N.S.I. Z90.4, C.P.S.C., EN 1078 and The Snell Memorial Foundation) specify a re-testing of production samples after a given duration. This test is on unused helmets. If the helmet fails the test after the given duration (they are different for different testing standards) that dictates the "normal lifespan" of the helmet.

In other words, if a helmet passes the current A.S.T.M., C.P.S.C. or European EN 1078 impact survivability standard when it is new, and that same helmet (exactly) is stored for three years in the test facility, then re-tested and fails, the life span is determined to be shorter than three years.

Now, some footnotes here: Firstly, Your question was a good one and I don't know this stuff off the top of my head- so we both learned something here. I researched this by phoning our Bell and Giro sales rep, Bill Rehor, and by conducting Google searches on the key words, "bicycle helmet test standards, etc."

My best friend of 22 years died in a cycling accident while wearing a helmet that was CPSC certified and under a day old, so I have a personal interest in this. His name was Michael R. Rabe, former Vice President of Racing for the Wolverine Sports Club. Rabe died on May 2nd, 2003 while riding home from our store. He was hit by a drunk driver and died at the scene. Read about it here:

http://www.bikesportmichigan.com/editorials/0000029.shtml

http://www.bikesportmichigan.com/editorials/0000064.shtml

Helmets degrade with time for a number of reasons, but chiefly three:

1. Exposure to ultra violet radiation (sunlight) and heat in storage.
2. Expulsion of stored gases in the expanded polystyrene material that is designed to absorb the energy of an impact by deforming upon impact. E.P.S. (Expanded Poly Styrene) is the "styrofoam" like material used in bicycle helmets. The helmet is then usually covered with an injection molded polystyrene (not expanded with gas, just regular hard plastic) shell. Increasingly some lightweight, high performance helmets such as the Giro Ionos used an intergrated, molded-in skeletal structure of polystyrene for increased structural integrity. These interior components do not assist in energy absorption during impacts. E.P.S. is basically plastic infused with gases to "puff it up" forming gas voids that compress upon impact. The gas leeches out of the polystyrene over time, reducing the helmet's ability to absorb impact and making it less protective- hence the three year replacement necessity with some models and brands.
3. Overall wear of suspension components such as chin straps, buckles, sizing pads and adjustable hat band sizing components. These things just wear out, especially with frequent use, adjustment, buckling and unbuckling and perspiration residue.

Bottom line: Replacing your helmet in compliance with manufacturer's recommendations is not marketing or some veiled attempt at selling you a new helmet every three years. It is good common sense based on independent engineering tests performed by scientific testing agencies not involved in the helmet sales industry. Generally, they are the ones imposing the recommendations for replacement to reduce liability insurance costs for manufacturers- it isn't the manufactuer necessarily making the recommendations.

Finally, in hgh end road helmets the impetus has been on designing lighter and lighter helmets but with more features like better adjustability and increased ventilation but providing at least industry standard impact resistance. These agendas are utterly conflicting. The lighter and better ventilated a helmet gets the less protective it tends to become. On December 18th, 2007 the C.P.S.C. issued a recall notice on Specialized 2D ultra-light, road racing helmets advertised as the lightest, best ventilated C.P.S.C. approved helmet. That helmet pushed the limits of weight and ventilation as many do, and in this instance, it failed quickly mandating the CPSC recall.

2008-08-23 6:22 PM
in reply to: #1623320

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan

So who is the "Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute" and why are their recommendations different from yours?

Do you have any sources we can read to back up your maufacturers rep's recommendations??

2008-08-23 7:01 PM
in reply to: #1623320

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan
Actually, the second reason cited sounds appropriate and reasonable.  UV can be dealt with by keeping the helmet out of sunlight (when not being used, obviously), and regular treatment with a protectant like Formula 303 (I use it to prolong the life of my spray skirts and plastic boats); and the third reason (the straps) can be dealt with by regular cleaning.  But I have read elsewhere about the styrofoam becoming more brittle with age.  Something similar happens with neoprene wetsuits.  Over time, they lose some of their insulating properties (this is mostly an issue with thicker suits than are used in triathlon, for diving in water in the 50's and colder).
2008-08-23 9:54 PM
in reply to: #1623448

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan
Hmmm. Well

http://www.cpsc.gov/businfo/regsumbicyclehelmets.pdf

Second source cites an entity referred to as the "Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute":

http://www.helmets.org/cpscstd.htm

With additional information about them here:

http://www.helmets.org/bhsi_faq.htm

Note that, as an organization, they do not perform any testing but are, as quoted from their own website a: "...helmet advocacy program of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association"

There members are purported to have, "...began testing helmets in 1974"

As such, they are predominantly a watch-dog and advocacy organization who does no testing and publishes no test results as an organization- only their members have tested helmets working in that role for different organizations, not unlike the "Union of Concerned Scientists" where the industry they work in and the companies they work for may not be party to the advocacy of the organization.

Additionally, the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute acknowledges that they do not interact actively or accept resources from helmet manufacturers. This may offer a suggestion for the disparity of information regarding specific helmet products.

Industry resources, as suggested by Michigan's Bell Sports Outside Sales Rep, Bill Rehor, are available for review here:
http://www.bellbikehelmets.com/downloads.asp
That is the link for the Bell owners manual.

This link is for the Bell Sports Helmet Frequently Asked Question page:

http://www.bellbikehelmets.com/faq.asp#6

This is an excerpt from that page:

"WHEN SHOULD I REPLACE MY HELMET?
How often should a helmet be replaced under normal wear and tear?
Bell has a general recommendation of replacing a helmet every three (3) years. If you have any questions as to the condition of your helmet please call us for information or to set up a free inspection."

The Giro product/owner's manual is available as a download from:

http://fitness.manualsonline.com/manuals/mfg/giro/helmet.html

You must conduct a free registration to view the material here:

http://dl.owneriq.net/a/a6b135da-0a20-48d9-838b-46be8e8e8cec.pdf

and contains the following information:

"...IN addition, it is recommended that helmets be replaced after three years from the date of purchase..."










Edited by Thomas Demerly 2008-08-23 9:57 PM


2008-08-24 4:21 AM
in reply to: #1623320

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan

So the manufacturers rep can only cite his own owner,s manuals as reference? 

I want to first say that I have the utmost respect for Mr. Demerly, have bought two bikes based in large part on his reviews, and constantly provide links to his articles to help beginners.

However here it appears we have scant evidence on either side: retailers and manufacturers who recommend replacement every three years (with only their literature to back it up) and advocacy group that claims replacement every five years or so and that the manufacturers' claims might be a bit of hooey.

Seems like someone would have done some independent testing somewhere...

2008-08-24 4:41 AM
in reply to: #1623320

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan
Well, all I know is that my helmet got lifted/mistakenly picked up yesterday at a race yesterday. Although only a few years old, I don't feel so bad now.
2008-08-24 6:23 AM
in reply to: #1623320

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan

Plastic deteriates over time and other materials used in helmets do as well.  We can observe that fairly easily.  Personally, I would not go beyond 5 years and maybe closer to 3. 

We just changed out a "perfectly good" car seat for the same reason. 

When it comes to safety where it could be life or death, there is just no reason to be cheap. 

 

2008-08-24 1:19 PM
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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan

Though I don't think they checked, at Steelhead in Michigan this year it was a requirement that the helmet be no more than three years old.

My first helmet was about 2 years old when I replaced it...since I broke it on a nasty crash!  The second helmet was replaced after about 4 years and now my current helmet is a 2006 model.

Since I started doing triathlon, I have noticed that I don't treat them quite as well as I used to.  They sit out all day in the sun waiting in transition or on my head and then it usually ends up on the ground by the time I get back from the run.  It gets tossed in the trunk, etc.  If I see any degradation of the straps, hardness of the foam, delaminating of the shell, I will replace it sooner than 5 years.

As I have worked for several different mfrs, I have a hard time accepting common perceptions that mfrs. create planned obsolescense or planned failure to generate future sales.  A mfr. can make most anything "bulletproof", but then most of us could not afford the price.  It is usually a delicate balance between quality, price, and service.  Helmet companies recommending replacement intervals probably have much more to do with a safety issue rather than selling more helmets.  The newest latest model and/or color are what marketing departments use to generate interest in a new product.  Just my opinion.



Edited by Gregkl 2008-08-24 1:21 PM
2008-08-24 7:44 PM
in reply to: #1623320

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan
I replace my helmet when it starts getting funky.  The first one had it's outside plastic  separating, and now I'm on my second.  The first lasted about 3 years with no major accidents.


2008-08-24 8:05 PM
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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan

Helmet  $100.00 vs Head injury $100,000's in cost or good funeral $6000.   

Since it's hard to tell wear and tear on them I vote caution.   Anyhow I just feel prettier.

2008-08-24 8:12 PM
in reply to: #1624059

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan
Gregkl - 2008-08-24 1:19 PM

Though I don't think they checked, at Steelhead in Michigan this year it was a requirement that the helmet be no more than three years old.

I just read the participant's guide, do find where they mention the requirement for helmets, but see no requirement that they "be no more than three years old." Do you have another source that mentions it? It would be a highly irregular requirement and very difficult to enforce...

2008-08-25 7:39 AM
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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan
the bear - 2008-08-24 8:12 PM
Gregkl - 2008-08-24 1:19 PM

Though I don't think they checked, at Steelhead in Michigan this year it was a requirement that the helmet be no more than three years old.

I just read the participant's guide, do find where they mention the requirement for helmets, but see no requirement that they "be no more than three years old." Do you have another source that mentions it? It would be a highly irregular requirement and very difficult to enforce...

 Current (no more than 3-years in age) ANSI, CPSC or SNELL approved helmets are required during the cycling portion of the event. You will be prohibited from participating if you don't have an approved helmet (no refunds). Helmets must be buckled in place during all aspects of the bike including transition.

The above was in the Rules and Procedures section of the website.  Hope this helps.

2008-08-25 11:16 AM
in reply to: #1623320

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Subject: RE: Helmet lifespan

In addition to the above, a helmet has a lifespan of exactly one bounce.  If you've crashed and the helmet touched the pavement, it's time to replace it.  Many helmet companies will offer you either a free replacement, or one at a huge discount.

It's also time if you want one.  If a new helmet will make you want to ride more often, or make you feel more excited about wearing a helmet, then get one.

On a side note:  I had a Bell Ghisallo that after about 2 years I found a crack in the styrofoam, right in the center of the forehead area.  I brought the helmet to my LBS, who gave it to their Bell rep, and Bell replaced it with a brand new one at no charge.  And I had not even crashed in the helmet.  Way to go Bell!!!

As said, the helmet is not a place to skimp.  Buy a helemt, make sure it's in good condition, and use it.  And replace it within a few years, even if you don't see anything obviously wrong.  You can wear an old ratty jersey, but have a decent helmet.

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