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I have a bike helmet, Specialized Align. By the manufacturer's sticker, it was produced in 2013. Most of the time, it has been stored in the garage, only saw a very light use (several hours in a month in Spring and Summer), which began about three years ago.

I have read conflicting information whether the bike helmets expire - some sources say they should be replaced every three years, some say that even the ones that are decades old are ok. I couldn't find the helmet's manual nor any information on manufacturer's website.

Should I replace the helmet for safety reasons?

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    Probably a duplicate of bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/5836 which is also a dupe of bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/592
    – Criggie
    May 5, 2022 at 22:37
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    Does this answer your question? Do I really need to replace my helmet every 2-3 years if it hasn't been in a crash?
    – mattnz
    May 5, 2022 at 23:13
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    Agreed its a dup, but they are both a decade old. Perhaps there is more research since then that helps with the conflicting but with solid references answers.
    – mattnz
    May 5, 2022 at 23:14
  • From what I understand, bike helmets do not really expire. But the life (or suggested life) depends on how much action it has seen. Have you been hit in the head (even barely) by anything recently? If you have, look for signs of damage such as cracks. If there is nothing wrong with it, don't worry about getting a new helmet. The fitted helmets are probably quite expensive and you probably don't want to purchase a new one right now.
    – Logan
    May 6, 2022 at 17:39

1 Answer 1

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The top-voted answer on Do I really need to replace my helmet every 2-3 years if it hasn't been in a crash? (not the accepted answer), points to the "Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute" which suggests that your helmet would still be usable:

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.

Another source of advice that's independent of manufacturers, Consumer Reports largely concurs:

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, for example, advises that unless manufacturers recommend otherwise, you should get a new helmet every five to 10 years. The Snell Foundation, a standard-setting body that’s known to be one of the strictest in terms of helmet safety, says 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 good condition.

(emphasis mine)

Unless the helmet has been stored in a way that would expose it to regular UV, or a continuous presence of solvents, and as long as there are no obvious defects (crumbling foam, cracked shell) then it seems reasonable to assume it would be safe to use.

Note that, since the last time this question was asked, research papers published in 2016 and 2017 have investigated this question and found no meaningful degradation even in 20-year-old helmets.

Foam cores were extracted from 63 used and unused bicycle helmets from ten different models spanning an age range of 2–20 yrs. All cores were impact tested at a bulk strain rate of 195s−1. Six dependent variables were determined [...] Age did not affect any of the dependent variables; however, greater foam density, which varied from 58 to 100 kg/m3, generated significant increases in all of the dependent variables except for yield strain.

"Age Does Not Affect the Material Properties of Expanded Polystyrene Liners in Field-Used Bicycle Helmets", Journal of Biomechanical Engineering, April 2016

Helmets (n = 770) spanning 0–26 years old were drop tested to measure peak linear headform acceleration during impacts to the right and left front regions of the helmets at two impact speeds (3.0 and 6.2 m/s). [...] Overall, age was related to either no difference or a statistically significant but small increase (≤0.76 g/year of helmet age) in peak headform acceleration. Extrapolated across 20 years, age-related differences were less than both style- (traditional vs. BMX) and size-related differences.

"Age has a Minimal Effect on the Impact Performance of Field-Used Bicycle Helmets", Annals of Biomechanical Engineering, May 2017

This second, larger, study tested donated used helmets as long as they had no impact damage, so it's a decent baseline for an intact, reasonably maintained helmet.

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    Personally, I tend to keep helmets that I use regularly for 10-ish years; as long as you wash the liners out so they don't disintegrate and store them properly I've not seen any evidence that a helmet will spontaneously degrade.
    – DavidW
    May 5, 2022 at 17:51
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    My question: Did the BHSI, Snell, or CR/CPSC actually test helmets that have been stored for 5-10 years to determine whether they would still provide the same protection as they did when new? I firmly believe that the manufacturers want you to replace a helmet every 3 years because they sell more helmets. Have any testing organizations proven that they're still OK at 5-10 years?
    – FreeMan
    May 5, 2022 at 18:27
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    Follow the links in Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute and you get to J. Biomech Eng. published article that actually tested real helmets collected from real people, and found no degradation of performance with age.
    – mattnz
    May 5, 2022 at 21:11
  • There might be an interesting law question if using an "expired" helmet could lead to partial responsibility if you were harmed by another operator's negligence. Particularly troubling in jurisdictions that do not allow partial responsibility in road insurance cases.
    – Affe
    May 5, 2022 at 21:30
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    Consider fit - if a helmet is in use for 10 years, its probably a good fit. Replacing it with a new helmet risks a poorer fit. Its known that a good fitting helmet is required for maximum performance, so replacing an old, well fitted helmet may lead to a loss of performance. Conversely a newer helmet may have a better fit, better and easier to adjust straps etc, and provide better protection from that with no change to theoretical performance. Overall, a well fitting helmet is far more important than the age of the helmet.
    – mattnz
    May 5, 2022 at 23:21

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