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Helmet Life


Steve Kolenda

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Steve Kolenda

Can someone point me to a scientific study that legitimizes the five year life of a helmet? Dealer claims that helmets take a year to get from manufacturer to the dealers shelf, so that would reduce the useful life to four years.

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Joe Frickin' Friday
Dealer claims that helmets take a year to get from manufacturer to the dealers shelf, so that would reduce the useful life to four years.

 

Absolutely no way that's true. No manufacturer or merchant wants to sit on goods for a year; that's not how you turn a profit. I'd be surprised if it was more than a few months from the factory to the customer's hands(head?).

 

Can't point you to a study that says "five years," maybe someone else can. Seems like it'd be pretty easy to subject batches of helmets to the ANSI/Snell tests after various ages - 3, 4, 5, 6 years - and see how old they get before a significant fraction no longer pass the test.

 

My guess is that they'd pass the tests for longer than five years. I've made a habit of replacing mine after four years, though; at the end of that time, they're kind of pocked on the outside and the padding on the inside is pretty flattened and salted up from sweat.

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Can someone point me to a scientific study that legitimizes the five year life of a helmet?

I don't know of any, just manufacturer claims that are somewhat suspect by their very nature. It would be very interesting to see any kind of objective data, although product life in the real world would probably vary so much based on use and storage conditions that meaningful tests might be kind of difficult to construct. I would also suspect that the typical 3-5 year life quoted by most manufacturers is extremely conservative though.

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Shoei quotes 5 years from date of SERVICE, 7 years from date of MANUFACTURE for recommended life.

Yes, Shoei quotes 5 years from date of service, Arai quotes 3 years. Hence... the statement 'typical 3-5 years recommended by manufacturers.'

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There is no study that I am aware of. Motor officers are extremely hard on helmets. They are worn every day for an entire shift in humidity, heat, cold, rain and other elements. Most officer helmets deteriorate from the inside out. The padding, fabric and impact absorption material gets filthy and begins to have odor and bacteria problems from profuse perspiration and lack of drying between use. Usually they last 2-4 years before the padding shrinks, compresses and stinks to the point it begins to fit too loosely. Any impact automatically retires the helmet.

We used an open face, Shoei RJ-Air based design.

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From the Snell Foundation website:

 

"The five year replacement recommendation is based on a consensus by both the helmet manufacturers and the Snell Foundation. Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production over 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."

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From the Snell Foundation website: ...

Yes, that is the well-known party line and pretty much amounts to 'better safe than sorry.' Might be true, but also unsatisfyingly subjective.

 

But as has been noted, there are, er, 'other' factors that may make it desirable to replace a helmet after a reasonable number of years that don't necessarily have anything to do with safety. After all, Febreze will only go so far... :grin:

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My personal experience has shown that the foam deteriorates over time (in the shell).

This is observable over time.

My opinion is that the safety issue is more one of absorbtion and transfer of energy on the inside of the helmet than one of penetration of the exterior shell.

How long to reach this stauts?

Don't know, but I don't want to find out by accident. :/

 

I have helmets that were exposed to the typical garage environment and they have broken down over a period of 5 years or less.

My guess is that the interior begins to lose some performance over 1-2 years and then duing the next 2-3 years becomes unsfe.

If you clean your helmet, keep it inside away from petrochemicals and avoid UV /heat cold cyles and precipitation they will last much longer.

But what fun would that be.

After 3 years I'm getting antsy and start the searc.

Sometime in the following year I'm making headway with my choice and then go for a new helmet before the end of year 4.

I would do this regardless of any manufacturespeak because I value what's left of my noggin.

Best wishes.

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So one would surmise that we are to throw the old helmet away as soon as we get the new one, right. How many of us do that?

 

I just replaced my well-used HJC Symax with a Symax II. The old one has a few superficial scratches and scuffs, but it never took an impact. I took good care of it and it still fits fine and seems quite serviceable. I could not bring myself to throw it away. I still wear it once in a while (for example when I ride our ATVs so the new helmet doesn't get dusty and whacked by branches). Also, if a friend or family member visits and wants a ride, then I let them wear whatever helmet I can find that fits.

 

I know that common helmet wisdom frowns on such practices. I should have fresh modern helmets for all these situations, but I don't. I figure an older helmet is much better than none.

 

I generally don't throw a helmet away until it is obviously looking worn (the one with the empty bird's nest in it was easy to part with). Does anyone else have a hard time throwing out their old helmets?

 

Jay

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Reading on the Snell Foundation website I'm somewhat confused about continuance of Snell approval. Apparently "about" every five years the foundation re-tests specific helmets at which time the helmets made previous to this test time are no longer Snell approved.

 

However, as I read it, and please correct me, if the company that makes the helmet is still in good standing with Snell then Snell's approval still stands for helmets that predate the new test period.

 

P.

 

 

 

 

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So one would surmise that we are to throw the old helmet away as soon as we get the new one, right. How many of us do that?

 

I just replaced my well-used HJC Symax with a Symax II. The old one has a few superficial scratches and scuffs, but it never took an impact. I took good care of it and it still fits fine and seems quite serviceable. I could not bring myself to throw it away. I still wear it once in a while (for example when I ride our ATVs so the new helmet doesn't get dusty and whacked by branches). Also, if a friend or family member visits and wants a ride, then I let them wear whatever helmet I can find that fits.

 

I know that common helmet wisdom frowns on such practices. I should have fresh modern helmets for all these situations, but I don't. I figure an older helmet is much better than none.

 

I generally don't throw a helmet away until it is obviously looking worn (the one with the empty bird's nest in it was easy to part with).

Does anyone else have a hard time throwing out their old helmets?

 

Jay

 

Jay,

 

I don't think you're alone on this one.

I am working on quite a "collection" myself. Just wish I hadn't got rid of that glitter gold metallic helmet I had back in the 70's. :grin:

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Truthfully, I've always wondered about the five-year lifespan advice. I still replace my helmets at about that interval (or even a little more frequently), but I've seen plenty of helmets older than that that have suffered no apparent degradation.

 

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Mike,

did you look at the helmet from inside/out?

Is the helmet "as new" on the inside?

Is there any wear that shows deterioration of the inner shell?

I know every one of my older helmets has some of this.

Several I've left in the garage to assess the rate of decay.

My concern is that the saftey/performance function will be degrade before the visible damage appears.

It has to begin at some point.

All of mine show changes on the visor (discoloration), crumbling of the inner shell/liner, and one (a KBC) has visibly discolored on the outside. (It is 15 years old but has shown this for years).

An AGV looks fine outside, but it is crumbling inside (less than 10 years old).

An Arrow looks fine (but is soft in places shell/liner) and is about 6 years old.

A Jarrow about 4 years old is in the best shape of these test case and is still looking good.

An HJC about 3 1/2 years old is enlarged inside from use ("bigger" than it was at purchase).

A Nolan about 2 years old is still "as new" inside but has low mileage on it.

The changes in texture of various materials from various manufacturers is consistent.

Best wishes.

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Truthfully, I've always wondered about the five-year lifespan advice. I still replace my helmets at about that interval (or even a little more frequently), but I've seen plenty of helmets older than that that have suffered no apparent degradation.

 

From what I recall (and this is from memory, so those of you who know me understand how sketchy this info is), I believe that there are things in the atmosphere which cause the styrene in a helmet to stiffen over time, reducing its crushabiliity and making the helmet no longer capable of meeting its designed protective performance goals. Gasoline, solvents and other aromatics contribute to this degradation in styrene performance, so keep your helmet away from your bike's gas tank and from the gas station hose when you fill up.

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FB,

your memory is fine.

In addition, to extend life of helmet, don't leave it on the bike in the garage, or in the garage, period.

Take it indoors, this will help.

But, it will reduce the need for a new helmet as often, what fun is that?

:grin:

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Can anyone find just one documented case where a helmet failed to protect due to its age?"

 

Now that's a good question. How could you even prove something like this?

 

Gil Horsley

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Newer helmets are built to higher standards of protection, so one could argue that it is prudent to get a new helmet periodically if only for the advantage of the latest helmet technology. 'Course you could use this argument to justify a new helmet every few months.

 

Jay

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Steve Kolenda

Certainly if the tire manufactures all got together and said that tire life was two years regardless of wear we would ask for the facts that back that up before we started throwing away tires with good tread on them.

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Joe Frickin' Friday
Can anyone find just one documented case where a helmet failed to protect due to its age?"

 

Now that's a good question. How could you even prove something like this?

 

Gil Horsley

 

As I mentioned earlier, it should be easy to take aged helmets and subject them to the standard ANSI/Snell tests and see if they give the same results they did when they were new.

 

This will not demonstrate that a particular helmet failed to protect a rider from a particular impact - but it could show conclusively whether helmets do or do not deteriorate over the course of five years, and whether a helmet is less likely to offer adequate protection after such time.

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Mitch,

Standards are changing.

Not to rehash thedebate DOT/EC/Snell etc, but the major issue is the transferrence of energy to the brain.

The different materials used in the hard shell actually vary a bit in this and inexpensive helmets can do quite a good job of this part.

Then the EPS liner (polystyrene foam) should crush to absorb the energy rather than transmitting it to the brain.

This varies from helmet to helmet.

There is plenty of scientific evidence that EPS deteriortates when exposed to UV, petrochemical, heat, and other environmental factors, so a helmet liner made of EPS will break down.

The question you pose, how well does an older helmet meet the standards is a good one.

But there is enough evidence about how helmet shells differ when new to eliminate some, IMO, and then by comparing energy transfer of the inner liner eliminate others.

There are some surprises in the data.

Everything and more than you want to know, long but worth it

 

To ask if anyone has died from a deteriorated helmet liner is not the right question, IMO.

The question should be, with all we know, who would want to risk a Traumatic Brain Injury that could be avoided?

Best wishes.

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The question should be, with all we know, who would want to risk a Traumatic Brain Injury that could be avoided?

The answer: No one. But unfortunately that in itself doesn't mean much.

 

What we are doing with this question is essentially a risk management assessment and that must always take into account the degree of risk as well as the potential outcome. A simple 'better safe than sorry' argument alone doesn't really cut it in that if one's only concern is avoiding head injury then you clearly shouldn't be riding a motorcycle at all. I don't want to receive a traumatic head injury, or have a repaired tire fail, or get the chickenpox... but I also have to balance the relative risk of these things against other factors. So yes, it matters to me whether the chance of receiving a traumatic head injury increases 10% or 0.00001% because I'm wearing a five-year old helmet. If it's closer to the latter then the additional odds of injury are dwarfed by other factors and it may in fact be safer to spend the $400 in resources on some other type of safety equipment. That's why information and analysis is good and 'better safe than sorry' falls short. Or at least that's how a vocation in engineering damages your mind...

 

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Harry_Wilshusen
Certainly if the tire manufactures all got together and said that tire life was two years regardless of wear we would ask for the facts that back that up before we started throwing away tires with good tread on them.

 

Two years on tires? What tires do you use? I'd be tickled pink if I got 2 months in the summer. :)

 

Harry

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Seth,

Please read the link, first.

It cites several reports/studies, does an analysis of actual speeds and the likelyhood of certain impacts followed by what amount of force.

So, I know you didn't mean to come across in a negative way.

You said,

"A simple 'better safe than sorry' argument alone doesn't really cut it in that if one's only concern is avoiding head injury then you clearly shouldn't be riding a motorcycle at all."

That is not my position, nor in any way did I say that.

Plenty of studies out there on the environmental effect on EPS.

So that data and analysis is available.

Plenty of data from the studies in the article on impact analysis and the likelyhood of a TBI or death, based on age.

You really should take the time to see the analysis.

Why?

Because if as you said

"So yes, it matters to me whether the chance of receiving a traumatic head injury increases 10% or 0.00001% "

the information comparing the amount of energy transfer betwen the

new helmets shows differences greater than that from the start.

Choose wisely. :wave:

 

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First off, no, I didn't mean to be negative, hope you didn't take it that way. But I did read the article and fascinating as it was it didn't have much to say about helmet life, rather it was mostly about the relative merits of the various standards and a bunch of other interesting stuff. The differences in protection they discussed were a result of differences in original construction in order to meet different standards, not due to age, so I'm missing the relevance to this discussion.

 

In any event, no doubt EPS will degrade in some way or another over some period of time, but comparing a ten-year old Arai Quantum to the Profile I bought last year I can't tell the slightest difference between the integrity of the foam in one vs. the other. Not a scientific test to be sure, but neither is simply assuming that significant degradation exists.

 

And as an aside... looking at the data in the article, maybe a 'hard' Snell helmet may actually be safer after the foam softens up a bit since that will transmit energy to the brain over a longer period of time. (And yes, I'm being facetious... :Wink:)

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My line of thinking is that it's not so much that a new helmet will spontaneously degrade on the shelf (actually, if it did that, we'd all store our helmets in the freezer...), but it's more about the idea that a regularly used helmet will get bumped and bruised with normal use. There is no way to predict whether joe consumer will actually damage his helmet, but they can look at a giant pile of 5 year old helmets and say (for example) 2% of them were damaged in some significant way. And they use that as a guide for suggesting "helmet life". Actually, my guess is that they don't want to get sued, so the actual number is going to be highly conservative. .01 or .001%, maybe.....

 

Or you could do all that math the easy way and just say that "YOU need to BUY a NEW helmet from ME every FIVE years, so I can send my KIDS to college."

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  • 1 month later...

Shoei will check your Shoei helmet for free, to see if it's still ok. I think all you have to pay for is the shipping...

 

I just picked up a new RF-1000. Had the 800, (for 9 years) and loved it. That is with a not much riding, until I got my RT in 2007.....

 

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Newer helmets are built to higher standards of protection, so one could argue that it is prudent to get a new helmet periodically if only for the advantage of the latest helmet technology. 'Course you could use this argument to justify a new helmet every few months.

 

Jay

 

Do the "standards of protection" (I presume you mean Snell/DOT?) actually change that often? I had the impression these things are established through a rather cumbersome bureaucratic process and reviewed, at most, only every several years.

 

Regarding throwing away old helmets: I generally begin to consider getting a new one after mice have nested in the old one over the winter . . .

 

Lee

2002 R1150RT

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Shoei will check your Shoei helmet for free, to see if it's still ok. I think all you have to pay for is the shipping...

 

 

 

 

And I bet 99 out of a 100 would just happen to need replacing................

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A little divergence....I wore my new Shoei Multitec this weekend. I put a little over 400 miles on it. I wore it around the house the first 7 days in case I wanted CycleGear to take it back. I didn't.

 

Goods and Bads...at least for me.

 

It is overall comfortable. It is overall noisier than the HJC Symax it is replacing. Both helmets are flips so it is not just the flip.

 

The shield is optically more clear, the shield will stay in any position you put it (big plus). On my Symax it would not stay where you put it above about 30 mph.

 

The MultiTec has noticeably better ventilation and cooling. The downside is when you open the top vent it whistles on any setting past 1/2.

 

There isn't as much room around the ears for my ER 6i's as there is on the Symax. It felt a little jammed.

 

Only the cheek pad are removeable where much more is removeable and washable on the Symax.

 

I do like it or I wouldn't have kept it; but at more than twice the price of the Symax, it is hard for me to justify the name. For me the comfort, fit, cleaning, noise of the Symax is better. The MultiTec ventilation, the quality of the inside, chin strap, and the reputation are pluses.

 

YMMV...just my personal experience.

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Are you comparing your Multitec to the newer SyMax II or to the earlier SyMax? I have the SyMax II and think it's a pretty good helmet, especially for the price.

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I would wear my helmet for more than five years if I could still find visors for it. Seems like after about four years, they change visor design and I end up having to buy a new helmet just to get a clear visor again.

 

My personal opinion from what I've read about helmet testing is that Snell certification is over rated and I'm suspicious of some of the stuff they say.

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