There are mandatory helmet laws in most Canadian provinces, some for all ages, some only for minors. No matter where you’re riding, though, it’s a good idea to always wear a helmet. Helmet-wearing is associated with almost a 70 percent lower risk of serious head injury in cycling crashes, but helmets aren’t indestructible. One thing experts agree on is that after a crash, you need to replace your bike helmet as soon as possible.
A helmet may look OK after a crash, but the interior foam could have been damaged in a way that is not obvious. Once the foam is compressed, you are reducing the safety margin you have. Crashes aside, many bike helmet manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every three to five years. But there’s no universally agreed-upon standard for how often you should replace your helmet.
Helmets come with a date of manufacture so you can judge its age. If it has been in a shop, or stored on a garage shelf for a while, you may wonder whether you need to replace it, and whether it’s still as protective as it was when it was new.
The Snell Foundation states that normal wear-and-tear is enough to recommend helmet replacement every five years or so, though this is a judgment call, and wouldn’t apply, for example, to an unused helmet stored in the proper environment (not exposed to direct sunlight or high heat and humidity). Most experts recommend replacing your well-used bike helmet after five years, just to be sure.
An old helmet will protect you better than nothing, but you’ll probably want to replace it, even just because with lots of use, they start to get dirty and smelly. They are difficult to clean, but you can try replacing the padding for a refresh.
Newer helmets, with new designs, will potentially fit better and be more comfortable, and they’re more likely to come with technologies such as MiPs - designed to reduce rotational forces that may contribute to concussions.
While the foam in a helmet doesn’t necessarily wear out, other parts could, including the straps, which are essential for ensuring a secure fit. The outer shell is also important, so the helmet slides over pavement, instead of the raw foam digging in, wrenching the wearer’s neck.
If you want to get a stylish new helmet, or one with better safety features, go for it! However, an older, well-cared-for helmet should still offer a reasonable amount of protection. There are currently no facilities to recycle helmets, so most of them make their way into landfills.
Shop Bicicletta’s huge collection of helmets here.