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  1. #1
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    Helmet lifespan, time to dispell the myth!

    Many of us believe that bike helmets have a limited lifespan before they become unsafe to use. This myth was put forth by the helmet companies themselves as a way to sell more helmets. As long as a helmet has not been involved in a crash, there is no reason to replace it. Sweat and sunlight have NO affect on a helmet. If the pads are worn out, they should be replaced, but the helmet itself should be good for as long as you own it. Here is some info I found on the subject.

    Occasionally somebody spreads rumors that sweat and ultraviolet (UV) exposure will cause your helmet to degrade. Sweat will not do that. The standards do not permit manufacturers to make a helmet that degrades from sweat, and the EPS, EPP or EPU foam is remarkably unaffected by salt water. Your helmet will get a terminal case of grunge before it dies of sweat. UV can affect the strength of the shell material, though. Since helmets spend a lot of time in the sun, manufacturers usually put UV inhibitors in the plastic for their shells that control UV degradation. If your helmet is fading, maybe the UV inhibitors are failing, so you probably should replace it. Chances are it has seen an awful lot of sun to have that happen. Otherwise, try another brand next time and let us know what brand faded on you.

    At least one shop told a customer that the EPS in his three year old helmet was now "dried out." That is highly unlikely, unless the EPS is placed in an oven for some period of time and baked. The interior of your car, for example, will not do that, based on helmets we have seen and at least one lab crash test of a helmet always kept in a car in Virginia over many summers. EPS is a long-lived material little affected by normal environmental factors. Unless you mistreat it we would not expect it to "dry out" enough to alter its performance for many years.

    In sum, we don't find the case for replacing a helmet that meets the ASTM or Snell standards that compelling if the helmet is still in good shape and fits you well...

  2. #2
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    Thanks for the useful info, but who is the "we" you refer to? Are you a helmet expert? Not being sarcastic, I just want to know if you're speaking as an authority or representing an agency or test company.

  3. #3
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    You provided no data, no sources, and are playing with words in a field that impacts rider safety. I'm not saying you're wrong, but how would we know if you don't provide a way to back up your claims.

  4. #4
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    I'm just sharing some info I found on the topic of helmet lifespans that I found last night while doing some research. I always doubted the 3-5 year time frame helmet companies said a helmet was good for. Think about it, if you think that the styrofoam is effected by sunlight, how does it get exposed to sunlight? It's covered by a plastic shell, and you're wearing it. It has no exposure to the sun. If you left it outside upsidedown in the Arizona sun all the time, I could see that having an affect on it. It's usually bike shops that tell you helmets need replacing, of course, they want to sell you one! So no, I'm nothing more than a bike rider who always wears a helmet, and I was just looking for more info on when to replace a helmet and found the information I posted. If someone has a compelling arguement in favor of helmet replacement, I'd be interested in hearing it. But as far as I can tell, helmet replacement suggestions come from the companies that want to sell more helmets, and that's about it. Here's another myth I'm going to dispell, when you die, your finger nails and hair do not continue to grow.

  5. #5
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    OK, here is where I got my information from, the Bicycle Helmet safety Institute. Check it out for yourself.
    When to Replace a Helmet?

  6. #6
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    The MET company in the link provided said "8 years". So what goes bad after 8 years? I think if you poke at the foam with your fingernails and it isn't crumbly, you should still be ok. A Bell/Giro rep I spoke to at Sea Otter admitted that their helmets don't expire unless you really cook it.

  7. #7
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    Under normal use, I don't think a helmet will ever go bad to the point where it shouldn't be worn. Because of possible litigations, no helmet company will tell you that. Besides, if people continue to believe the 3-5 year replacement myth, they sell more helmets.

  8. #8
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    My Giro is going on 15 years. Hasn't been used a whole lot, has never had an impact, the shell and foam are in good shape. Time to replace?

  9. #9
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    I would start to get concerned after repeated smaller hits.
    You could over time be compressing the foam via many small hits to a degree that would not protect you in a large crash, and would also not be visable to naked eye inspection.

    So, if you have had your helmet for a few years; given yourself a few wallops from ducking under trees/limbs, have had a few offs where you have given yourself a small knock, dropped your helmet a few too many times - it may be time to consider replacing it.

    I'm thinking of doing that to my Hex - it is now a 5 or 6 years old and has suffered many many small falls, headbutting hanging tree limbs, and clumbsyness.

    So, for a hundred bucks every few years, I would rather be safe than sorry.

    michael

  10. #10
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    I think the key is here, what is “normal” use?

    My helmet seems to last a long time. My daughters helmets last just a few years.

    When I went to school, we had lockers… now they don’t. Their “normal” use is to keep the helmet out in the California sun all day with the bike Monday through Friday during the school year. On the wknds, they ride with me… From junior high through high school where they ride their bikes to school most days, I get about three years of use…

    I figure I’d be replacing them anyway as a helmet I bought for them in junior high school would not be cool to wear to school in high school.
    Mine? I couldn’t tell you how old it is… been a while…


    One person’s normal is another person’s abuse…

  11. #11
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    You don't need 5 tablespoons of dishwasher detergent in your automatic dish washer either. Only dishwasher companies and the dishsoap makers recommend filling "both your pre-rinse AND your main wash compartment fully". I've ruined two dishwashers using this 'recommendation'. Any long time service rep will tell you 1 tblsp is more than enough, even in super hard water cities like where I live.
    Oh!!!...and a dash of TSP goes a long way for greasy dishes. Yes, I know....banned in many states but that's how I roll! I also tread on cryptobiotic soil when given the chance...... What the heck were we talking about?

  12. #12
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    I had a giro pnumo last me 5 years untill I noticed cracks going completely through the foam prior to a ride. It had never been wrecked, but was used about twice a week during spring summer fall. Replaced it. I also had a giro Xen for 6 years, then the straps gave out. Replaced it.

    Both of these helmets were never abused, or baked in a car, just a lot of sweat, water, mud, dirt, etc...

    My question: is it really worth the risk? if its the bucket protecting your brain, isn't $100 after 5 years worth it? yea, maybe if you only ride a couple times a month, no need to get a new one, but i bet in some cases 5 years is too long.
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  13. #13
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    Believe what you want to believe. My head is important, I'm not risking my brain because of a stranger's post on the internet. I replace all my helmets every 3 years, if its a scam by the helmet companies, so be it, my head is safe.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by eatdrinkride View Post
    You don't need 5 tablespoons of dishwasher detergent in your automatic dish washer either. Only dishwasher companies and the dishsoap makers recommend filling "both your pre-rinse AND your main wash compartment fully". I've ruined two dishwashers using this 'recommendation'. Any long time service rep will tell you 1 tblsp is more than enough, even in super hard water cities like where I live.
    Oh!!!...and a dash of TSP goes a long way for greasy dishes. Yes, I know....banned in many states but that's how I roll! I also tread on cryptobiotic soil when given the chance...... What the heck were we talking about?
    Try a cup of vinegar, not quite TriSodiumPhosphate, but helps cut the grease, and also aids in leaving yer glassware spot-free.

    and next on the Home Cleaning Tips Forum........


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  15. #15
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    Depending on the manufacturer it's recommended to replace your helmet between three and eight years of age. I personally replace mine every year or two depending on how beat up it is and how many dents it has from being dropped. Of course if it's taken a hit in an accident it should be replaced immediately.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by mykel View Post
    I would start to get concerned after repeated smaller hits.
    You could over time be compressing the foam via many small hits to a degree that would not protect you in a large crash, and would also not be visable to naked eye inspection.

    So, if you have had your helmet for a few years; given yourself a few wallops from ducking under trees/limbs, have had a few offs where you have given yourself a small knock, dropped your helmet a few too many times - it may be time to consider replacing it.

    I'm thinking of doing that to my Hex - it is now a 5 or 6 years old and has suffered many many small falls, headbutting hanging tree limbs, and clumbsyness.

    So, for a hundred bucks every few years, I would rather be safe than sorry.

    michael
    exactly how i feel. what you say may very well be true but after a year or so my helmet has been dropped countless times, ducked a few branches, and has even seen a direct hit or two. i can spare $100 for my head every year or so.

  17. #17
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    How could anyone buy into something said by the Bicycle Hemlet Safety Institute? What do they know about bike helmet safety anyway? Not replacing your helmet exactly at the three year mark, would be like driving your car after the warranty runs out! The OP must be making money off this some how.

  18. #18
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    Every time you put on your helmet you are compressing the foam. Not very much, but you are doing it, and it's difficult if not impossible to measure.

    Here's what I do know-- I want maximum performance from my helmet when I crash. I replace my helmets after every direct impact or every three years, whichever comes first. My brain is worth the money. I could give a **** about The Great Helmet Company Conspiracy. Good God.

    Your head, your decision.

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  19. #19
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    My ATV helmets usually last a year or less, because I wouldn't think of riding without it. Unfortunatly, I have ridden my bikes without a helmet many times. I grew up in a time when it was uncool unless you were riding ramps on your bmx.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by msylvan View Post
    Every time you put on your helmet you are compressing the foam. Not very much, but you are doing it,

    M-
    No you're not.

    I have no empirical data to support my stance, and either do you. Just say'n..we can all make net statements, that doesn't make them true. I'll ride my 3.5 year old helmet with 3/4'' thick foam without a concern for the nano-meters of compression I may or may not have caused over the years. Others will buy a new one on day 1,095 because they are told it's spoiled on that day. My wife thinks milk and yogurt is inedible the day after the date stamped on the carton. I'll drink/eat it if it's 10 days later and smells good. We all have a different tone on life.
    Last edited by eatdrinkride; 06-04-2012 at 10:22 PM.

  21. #21
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    If you haven't crashed your brains out in 3-5 years, you're not trying hard enough.

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  22. #22
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    I was just trying to share info from a reliable source that states there is no reason to replace your helmet if it hasn't been damaged. If you want to buy a new one each year, by all means, it's your money, spend it how you want. I was just letting it be known you don't have to for safety reasons.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by beanbag View Post
    The MET company in the link provided said "8 years". So what goes bad after 8 years? I think if you poke at the foam with your fingernails and it isn't crumbly, you should still be ok. A Bell/Giro rep I spoke to at Sea Otter admitted that their helmets don't expire unless you really cook it.
    I've been leaving my helmet in the car and it probably isn't a good idea but I will end up replacing it around every five years,

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by 83stumpjumper View Post
    I was just trying to share info from a reliable source that states there is no reason to replace your helmet if it hasn't been damaged. If you want to buy a new one each year, by all means, it's your money, spend it how you want. I was just letting it be known you don't have to for safety reasons.
    This was interesting,

    Conclusion

    We would still avoid applying any hair product, sunscreen or insect repellant directly to a helmet as we did in these tests. And if you use sunscreen or insect repellant on your head before riding you would always want to wash it off the helmet with dishwashing detergent and water afterward, or just take it in the shower with you. But the lab tests demonstrated that minor surface effects from incidental contact are not likely to significantly degrade a helmet's impact performance.
    Testing cosmetics for damage to helmets

  25. #25
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    Just tightening the straps and gravity...

    ...and 35 years of using bicycle and motorcycle helmets...nothing empirical.

    If I wanted to be patronizing like you I would type something like, "Your helmet that magically floats above your head and is immune to nano-meters of compression is incredible. I just can't afford one like it."



    Quote Originally Posted by eatdrinkride View Post
    No you're not.

    I have no empirical data to support my stance, and either do you. Just say'n..we can all make net statements, that doesn't make them true. I'll ride my 3.5 year old helmet with 3/4'' thick foam without a concern for the nano-meters of compression I may or may not have caused over the years. Others will buy a new one on day 1,095 because they are told it's spoiled on that day. My wife thinks milk and yogurt is inedible the day after the date stamped on the carton. I'll drink/eat it if it's 10 days later and smells good. We all have a different tone on life.
    Last edited by portnoy; 06-06-2012 at 12:19 PM.
    I'll be along... eventually.

  26. #26
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    For automotive competition, an interesting comparison, you generally must have a helmet that has been Snell certified within the last 10 years. Since they only certify every 5 years (for example, mine is SA2005 purchased in 2009), this means helmet lifespan for racing use is between 5 and 10 years. I assume UV is discounted since the helmets are generally not vented, but I think it's interesting that they still mandate replacement, I assume for two reasons:

    1.) Helmet technology improves over time and you (should) be safer with a newer helmet.

    2.) I believe helmets succumb to natural impact "attrition." Every time you so much as set a helmet down it must absorb the impact. Consider all the times you've tossed it in the back of your car or closet and this can add up, even if the helmet never had to absorb a "big" impact.

    Now, if you've ever held an auto racing helmet, it is FAR heavier and more solid than a bike helmet. If they only last 10 years, I think bike helmets would last less. I recently made my father replace his 11 year old helmet, and he doesn't ride enough for UV to matter. Personally I have helmets ranging from 1-8 years old, and I generally try to use the newer ones. The way I see it, you pay so much money for education to make your brain smart (taxes for public schools, college tuition, etc.) why would you try to save money protecting it from damage.

  27. #27
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    You can't really compare motor and bicycle helmets. They are made completely different, and of different materials. You mention UV, but if you read all the info about bike helmets on the link I provided, UV and sweat have no affect what so ever on bike helmets. As long as the helmet hasn't been in a crash, and the styrofoam is intact, there is no reason to replace the helmet. The link gives you all the reasons you should though, it's worth looking at. You mention helmets improving with time. Not true according to the information in the link! Do you really think the bike helmet safety technology improves every year? Again, read the link and you'll see that it doesn't. In fact, it says helmets made in the early 90's are safer than most of todays helmets because of the shape!
    Here's a car annalogy for you, it used to be you changed your oil every 3000 miles, regardless. Now most cars can get 5000 or 6000 miles before an oil change. Yet some people still change the oil every 3000, because that's what they did years ago.
    If you feel your helmet loses it's protective capabilities at the three year mark, go ahead and replace it if you need that peace of mind. Just know there is no proof to show that after three years you NEED to replace it.

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by 83stumpjumper View Post
    You can't really compare motor and bicycle helmets. They are made completely different, and of different materials.
    Right, I don't mean to draw any definitive scientific conclusions, but it's an interesting data point.

    Quote Originally Posted by 83stumpjumper View Post
    You mention UV, but if you read all the info about bike helmets on the link I provided, UV and sweat have no affect what so ever on bike helmets.
    Sorry if I wasn't clear, but I only meant that it seems it's discounted for auto helmets. I actually already felt that UV damage is probably not a driving force for bicycle helmet wear prior to reading this thread.

    Quote Originally Posted by 83stumpjumper View Post
    As long as the helmet hasn't been in a crash, and the styrofoam is intact, there is no reason to replace the helmet. The link gives you all the reasons you should though, it's worth looking at.
    My argument is that every time you drop or toss your helmet it's a "mini" crash and that these may add up. Many materials undergo a "fatigue" process where they slowly get weaker as they are bent or otherwise perturbed. Perhaps helmet materials are immune to this, however the fact that it is still suggested to replace after a crash even when there are no visible signs of damage suggests that helmets might not be immune.

    This sort of thing presents a continuum of wear--my hypothesis is that the longer the helmet has been used, and the worse it has been treated, the weaker it will become. If this is wrong, or indeed, the amount of induced wear is trivial, I would actually be quite pleased, but until I learn otherwise I'd prefer to be careful.

    Quote Originally Posted by 83stumpjumper View Post
    You mention helmets improving with time. Not true according to the information in the link! Do you really think the bike helmet safety technology improves every year? Again, read the link and you'll see that it doesn't. In fact, it says helmets made in the early 90's are safer than most of todays helmets because of the shape!
    You are correct, and I should amend my point. Sometimes trends in an industry go backwards. Running with the car theme, we made a lot of progress in fuel efficiency after the fuel scare of the 70's. But then in the 90's we regressed with mini vans and SUVs and sports cars. If you take the trend long term, however, technology itself is not regressing. In the case of helmets, we might've traded safety for aero or cooling or style, whatever the market demanded. But I don't believe we've forgotten how to make helmets safely if we tried.

    Quote Originally Posted by 83stumpjumper View Post
    Here's a car annalogy for you, it used to be you changed your oil every 3000 miles, regardless. Now most cars can get 5000 or 6000 miles before an oil change. Yet some people still change the oil every 3000, because that's what they did years ago.
    If you feel your helmet loses it's protective capabilities at the three year mark, go ahead and replace it if you need that peace of mind. Just know there is no proof to show that after three years you NEED to replace it.
    Indeed, the quality of motor oil and engine seals has improved dramatically over the years. Some cars can even go 10,000 miles without replacement. The person who changes at 3,000 might be doing unnecessary maintenance, but there engine will still run marginally cleaner.

    I do appreciate what you're doing with this thread--it's easy to get caught up in "fear uncertainty and doubt" about this sort of thing, and manufacturers don't mind that as they can sell more and avoid lawsuits at the same time (rinse and repeat anyone?). I don't think we really disagree all that much and I certainly don't mean to "call you out," but this is interesting discussion regardless.

  29. #29
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    I respect everyone's opinions about helmet replacement. It's a personal choice. What I really hope is that people here will go look at the link I posted from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute and learn more for themselves. That way they can have a better understanding, and maybe decide to save some money on a new helmet every few years.
    Bike helmets are fairly light, as opposed to motorcycle helmets, and I don't think dropping it a few times has any affect on it's structural integrity. It's a helmet, it should be able to withstand little hits, even a lot of them, and not have any issues of safety degraded because of it. It all boils down to the condition of the styrofoam. If it has cracks in it, replace it! If it saved you in a bad crash, and you don't see any cracks, replace it any way. What the web site is saying is your helmet is fine so long as everything is crack free. I think that's a reasonable thing to believe in. Regardless of what proof you show them, some people insist that a helmet is unsafe after 3 years. I'm not here to convert people, just trying to share some information. Above all I want people to be safe, so always ride with a helmet, regardless of how new or old it is!

  30. #30
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    I believe that it is the abuse that a helmet will go though over the years that you really do need to replace it. I know there is a few soft spots on my snowboarding helmet and they are not from big impacts just from regular use mostly it rolling around in the trunk of the car having boards, boots thrown on top of it, hitting it against the saftey bar and just little falls. I didnt trust it anymore so I picked up a new one this year.

    The same goes for my bike helmet, it is about 3 seasons old now and I can see the little dings and scratches on it from all kinds of stuff. like the few OTB experiences I have had and lots of trees and mostly dropping and throwing it around before and after rides. I would love to meet the person who has never dropped or knocked their helmet off of anything.

    I think the only way to settle this is for a bunch of us to send their helmets off to Mythbusters and let them figure it out.
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  31. #31
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    What about the effects of plastic being exposed to different temperatures?

    I know my snowboarding helmet sees below zero temps, then gets taken inside to 70 degrees quickly. And then the reverse. Cold plastic gets brittle ...

    I have personally seen old ski boots shatter on the hill. I know mtn bike helmets may not see such big temp ranges. I just seems to me that as plastic gets older, it gets brittle.

    That being said, my skateboard helmets are all pretty old. My motorcycle helmet is probably 10 years old. The new ones look a LOT nicer tho.

    Plus I can't decide on a moutainbike helmet... sorry... they are all so UGLY. But that's another thread

  32. #32
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    The facts are all there on the link I provided. Heat, sweat, UV sunlight, those are the reasons most people give when they say you must replace a helmet. They're just myths though. Like alligators in the NYC sewer system and needles in haloween candy. They perpetuate because people keep talking about them, but none of them are true. If you need the reassurance of a new helmet every few years, then you should get one. No need for Mythbusters to test them, it's already been done by the CPSC. It's all about the styrofoam guys, if it's intact with no cracks, the helmet is fine.

  33. #33
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    Ok, this thread needs to be a little more ballanced perhaps. I shared with you all the information I found and the link where I got it from. Since so many of you support the new helmet every three years stance, how about someone providing a link to a site that supports that theory, if one exists. That seems to be the most logical way to defend your position.

  34. #34
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    I'd be more worried about the sweat salt effect on the straps than the shell....

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  35. #35
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    What's the sweat going to do to the straps? Make them crusty? Like the info states, sweat has NO effect on the helmet at all. For hygiene purposes you should wash the helmet after a sweaty ride. It's good to get it out of the pads and off the straps.
    My 80's Bell V1 camo MTB helmet arrived today, and no cracks in the styrofoam at all. I adjusted the straps, and it fits perfectly. Looking forward to wearing it in the trail soon. Yes, I gave it a good wash to make sure it didn't have cooties since it's used.

  36. #36
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    I replace mine every 6-7 years or so, but thats about the point when the thing gets damage or the straps come loose from their moorings...
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  37. #37
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    Because bicycle helmets were not available for the first 25 years of my life, I feel any helmet is better than none. Having said that, I am going to order a helmet today to replace my ten year old Giro Torrent II. Daily commuting to work with that helmet has made it as grungy as the carpet in my truck.

  38. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by stingray View Post
    Because bicycle helmets were not available for the first 25 years of my life, I feel any helmet is better than none. Having said that, I am going to order a helmet today to replace my ten year old Giro Torrent II. Daily commuting to work with that helmet has made it as grungy as the carpet in my truck.
    Your first post is dragging up a year old one- Really?
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  39. #39
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    The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute seems to be a reputable place to get information. I read some of their "references" and they seem legit. So I would have the tendency to believe what they say. Still, left to my own devices, and crashes, if I get 3 years out of a helmet I would be pleased. I have bashed those things so many times and so hard my LBS loves to see me come in. Slim

  40. #40
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    Posts
    316
    Price of helmet ($130) / 5 = $26 per year, or about $0.09 per day......

  41. #41
    mtbr member
    Reputation: kris7047th's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    280
    And I wonder how many posters have changed out their helmets since the beginning of this thread?

  42. #42
    mtbr member
    Reputation:
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Posts
    2,813
    Mine never usually make it past 3 years. Being 6'4" doesn't help. Trees, rocks and dirt all seem to be in my way. I have split one, cracked one and dented 2. All seemed to do their job well. No concussions or bleeding.

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