Motorcycle helmets have become a necessity, often a legal requirement when riding a motorcycle or scooter. But not only do helmets come in all shapes and sizes, and more importantly, in good or poor quality, helmets have a reasonably predefined shelf life.
How long do you keep a helmet? A lot depends on the materials used inside the helmet, and the way you treat them. The older helmets used polycarbonate as base material inside the helmet. They were subject to ultraviolet light (UV) and deteriorated quite quickly, so you will not see many of these in circulation anymore. Nowadays, an anti-UV material is used to protect the helmets, but more importantly, helmets are mostly made out of fibers, which are highly resistant to UV light.
The inside of the helmet is made in great parts out of polystyrene which is a great material to reduce the impact your head will receive in case of an accident. But the material reduces effectiveness over time.
Research has shown that polystyrene loses 2% per year in its effectiveness due to simple evaporation. So with basic mathematics, in 5 years, you’ve lost 10% of your protection, and in 10 year, you’ve lost 20%.
The reduction of the helmet’s effectiveness due to evaporation is a simple rule of thumb. More importantly is how do you treat your helmet, and how often do you use it. If the helmet is used daily, it will deteriorate more quickly then if you leave your helmet in your cupboard for days on end. Not only is there a reduction in the protection, but also the mechanisms deteriorate due to wear & tear, like for flip-up helmets. Leaving your helmet on your motorcycle fuel tank as many people do, will reduce its effectiveness more quickly thanks to the fuel evaporation. The fuel vapors that evaporate attack the materials inside your helmet, and the inside starts shrinking.
Cleaning your helmet is good, but if water gets inside the helmet, specially water with soap mixed in (never ever use anything but water and soap to clean the outside), it will again reduce your protection effectiveness. If you can, get a helmet with a removable liner. That’s easier to wash. Applying a hair dryer to the inside is nice & easy to clean and dry the helmet, but any temperature over 140° F ( 60°C) will deteriorate the helmet.
As you can see, helmets deteriorate by themselves even without using them, but taking care of the helmets will go a long way.
Helmet manufacturers used to state that you needed to change your helmet every five years. But if you treat your helmet carefully and with respect, you can always use your helmet for longer periods. Or if your head is precious to you, get a 2nd helmet and alternate. A 10% loss of protection is survivable, but 20% is not.
To look after your helmet, here are some easy tips:
- When not in use, place your helmet inside a dark and dry place (a cupboard for example)
- Never place your helmet on your fuel tank, preferably as far away as possible from the tank
- Clean the outside with water & soap, taking care that water does not enter the inside of the helmet
- If you drop your helmet hard on the floor, seriously consider replacing it
Remember that all helmets are not equal. An expensive helmet is not necessarily better than a cheaper one. One of the main sources for the quality of a helmet is maintained by the British government. The SHARP database is the reference for most helmets. Thanks to a rigorous testing protocol, a comprehensive listing of helmets and their associated quality, is maintained on the site for all to see. And best of all, it’s a free access to all.
So before you splurge on a new helmet, check SHARP to see how good the helmet is. And treat your helmet nicely. This way your helmet will save your life.