A bicycle helmet is a vital part of every cyclist’s kit, so you should care if it is in good condition or not. You have probably some doubts about it if you read this article. So, let me help you make things clear.
I asked bicycle store owners what they recommend to their customers, found the best practices, and researched when to replace a helmet.
In summary, there are three main reasons to replace your cycling helmet:
- You had a crash and the helmet went in touch with the ground (or you otherwise damaged it).
- Your helmet is too old.
- You simply want an upgrade and buy a new helmet.
Let me now explain these reasons more in detail and add a few more as a bonus.
1. After a Crash
If you crash on your bike and the helmet will get in touch with the ground – replace it no matter what.
The damage may not be visible at first glance, but the helmet can have internal cracks that reduce its ability to protect you.
I had one serious crash on my bike. The helmet saved my life (or at least saved me from concussion). The outer shell was scratched, and there were visible cracks in the foam construction. So, I had to replace it.
I’ve been using the new helmet for about three years. But one day, I noticed damage:
I am honestly not sure if the helmet’s safety was compromised (I don’t think so), but it gave me a good reason to replace it.
Don’t risk your health just for the sake of saving a few bucks on a helmet. Your health is one of the most important things you have.
You can browse my list of the best road bike helmets to get some inspiration on helmets worth spending money on.
2. Your Helmet is Too Old
But what does ‘too old helmet’ mean? Well, if you have a helmet from the last century somewhere in a basement or a closet, it is the right time to buy a new one.
Old school bicycle helmets (those made before the 90s) were made from different materials. Watch the following video to learn more about the differences between modern bicycle helmets and old-school ones.
But what if you have a helmet that you bought, for example, ten years ago?
Well, although there are no studies on helmet aging, in theory, even older helmets should protect you. Make sure it has today’s certifications like CPSC, EN 1078, ASTM, SNELL, etc. Triathlete.com has a great article explaining them. The certification is printed on the label inside the helmet, or you can try finding it online.
I found one test done by a tour-magazine.de that tested old helmets and found out that even older helmets can still protect you well (the protection decreased by just a small percentage). They compared helmets from 2010 and 2017.
I also did a small anecdote among my friends who cycle. I asked them how often they replace helmets. Their answers varied a lot, but the average was around five years. However, they replace helmets because of the design preference, not the safety (more on that below).
Year-to-year improvements are not large, but you notice progress when looking at a more extended period, e.g., five years.
Helmets are getting lighter, adopting technologies like MIPS, SPIN, WaveCel, etc., and getting more aero to save precious seconds.
Safety-wise, the difference between a helmet from 2018 and 2022 is marginal.
3. You Want an Upgrade
Do you ask yourself when to replace a cycling helmet too often? Well, then you probably want a new one. Feel free to upgrade whenever you have some money to spend.
The market offers a huge number of helmets. You can choose from various types, colors, designs, etc.
Check out my bicycle helmet guide to learn more about helmet types, their pros, cons, and how to choose a helmet depending on your riding style.
I don’t think we will see many drastic design changes in the bicycle helmets industry. Helmets are a mature product.
However, we can expect more emphasis on marginal aero gains among road cycling helmets, especially on aero road cycling helmets.
BONUS: More Reasons to Replace a Bike Helmet
- Replace your cycling helmet if you grow out of it or no longer fits you.
- If you care about every second, consider replacing your standard road cycling helmet or purchasing an aero road bike helmet that is better optimized and saves precious seconds.
- And finally, replace your helmet if it stinks even after washing it.
Replacing a Cycling Helmet FAQ
Replace your helmet after a crash. It can cause invisible internal cracks that may compromise its capability to protect your head.
Does your helmet come from the last century? Well, you probably should treat yourself and get a new one. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on the high-end helmet. Even a helmet for dozens of bucks will protect your head (if it meets necessary safety standards).
And last but not least, feel free to upgrade your current helmet (even if it is just four years old) if you find a good deal or simply want to upgrade.