My helmet for road cycling has seen some good use and I was considering to replace the padding because it is falling apart, but at this point I was wondering myself: Should I even keep the helmet?

I found some old questions that state - barring crash or impact - the "rule" are ~5 years if the helmet is structurally intact:

I hope this qualifies as a standalone question given that there are already a few but the cited ones are pretty old (between 6 and 13 years) and feature some contradicting standpoints, for example the 5-year rule vs. the study quoted in #3 that showed 5 years are not enough to impact the structure as much so that a helmet would fail a crash test...

Question complex #1 (lifetime): Mine is used for about 3 years and the manufacturing date states mid-2018 (reaching 5+ years), which date should I take into consideration, here?

Should one be more cautious when buying helmets of the shelf because it may already have 1-2 years of life before you actually ride it, effectively reducing its active usage duration? Do the 5 years include use and exposure to sweat and sunlight or is this strictly from a material age standpoint? (plastic shell, styrofoam core, glue, etc...)

Question complex #2 (damage replacement): Is every crack in the styrofoam an instant write-off? I'm aware that this weakens the structure, indeed, but is such damage always considered a reason to replace it?

Mine definitely didn't suffer a crash and no sign of shell and core separating, over the course of three years, I can't rule out that it hasn't taken a minor fall (like from my sofa when dressing up for a ride) but nothing I would consider a "oh-no" situation that made me think I should not have dropped it.

However, mine has a crack at the front - there is no adjacent damage on the shell but it is a crack, nevertheless. It might have been there for a while but I just noticed recently when I took out the padding for a wash.

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My anticipation is that in my case, the combination of borderline age and damage will lead to the suggestion Get a new helmet (and I probably will because it is hard to find pads for the Cosmic Pro) but I would still be interested in some thoughts, experience and resources on the topic.

  • 1
    Does this answer your question? When or how often should I replace my bike helmet?
    – mattnz
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 20:32
  • Two questions here. How old is asked and answered (with references) in the linked dup. Is this damaged enough to need replacement is a very different question (and the answer is yes).
    – mattnz
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 20:34
  • @mattnz It partially does, it is literally linked as a source in my question. I had some questions on top and the original ones were pretty dated, it might have been that there were some studies/articles in the past 6-12 years. For sure more questions than I could put in a comment under the original questions.
    – DoNuT
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 6:26
  • ... I had this stated in the text but I made my "justification" a bit more visible by moving it further up in the post.
    – DoNuT
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 6:50

3 Answers 3


Your foam is cracked, and it may not be able to perform as designed in the event of an impact.

Replace that helmet at the first possible opportunity and refrain from riding with that helmet.

It pays to cast an eye over your gear periodically, to look for exactly this kind of subtle damage. Perhaps monthly, or whenever doing maintenance, whatever semi-regular period helps.

  1. A helmet will not noticeably deteriorate between manufacture and sale, barring damage while shipping like being dropped. So I'd not be concerned about a new-old-stock helmet as long as its not visibly damaged or faded.

  2. Yes, a crack all the way through the foam like that is instant cause for retirement. That crack is right at the front, probably the most likely part to strike something in an accident, more likely than the side or rear or top.

Lifespan: A helmet that gets fairly minimal usage may have no visible damage after decades, whereas one that is worn daily may start showing damage much quicker, so there's no hard-and-fast time limit. A year of commuting may equate to 7 years of saturday rides.

If the owner is the kind of rider who throws things around then it'll acquire damage quicker, and commuting is always harder on gear.

Likewise, simply hanging the helmet on a bike or hook is slightly more likely to be dropped compared to clicking the strap/binding closed around a loop.

Aside - the hard plastic outer shell is an integral part of the design, enabling "sliding-over-the-ground" instead of "digging in". If that's damaged, replace helmet ASAP.

I would say any regularly-worn helmet should be replaced at about 8 years at most, and sooner if the retention system is damaged/worn or if any parts start falling off or cracking. By that age the linings and padding will be breaking down, and the straps will have suffered some oxidising.

Personally, I've retired 4 helmets due to age, and one at ~2 years due to collision. My first helmet was in 1987, so that's 36 years or about 8.5 years per helmet (excluding collision)

  • As I thought. Thanks!
    – DoNuT
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 10:22
  • 1
    Some strap fastenings involve rather flimsy bits of plastic, that fail well ahead of anything else, so I wouldn't call failure of those reason to replace the helmet - if you can find a way to keep it secure, which might be tricky.
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 19:20
  • Not just from a safety standpoint, my helmet lost some pads and velcro patches that hold them on the inside, the result being bare plastic on my head and some skin irritation, for example the bar holding the fastener on the back and padding on the front. Only a comfort issue but I couldn't source replacements (the model ran out years ago) and that's also kind of a dead end with the helmet, unfortunately...
    – DoNuT
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 19:40
  • 3
    “refrain from riding with that helmet” While I agree that it should be replaced ASAP, it will still provide much more protection than riding with no helmet at all which many people don’t consider particularly dangerous. So IMHO it’s less urgent than e.g. a cracked frame or inoperable brakes.
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 19:53
  • 1
    There are brands I can mail order, and others I can't. I wouldn't completely replace straps as they're often integrated into the foam, but sometimes it's possible to cannibalise adjusters and guides
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 21:29

I wear a Giro helmet and according to their website:

How often should a helmet be replaced? Is it OK to use old helmets? We make a general recommendation of replacing a helmet every three to five (3-5) years depending on use and handling. This is based on observation of the average user, and factors like wear over time, weather, handling, the potential for degradation from personal care products like sunscreen or bug spray, and the simple fact that helmets do improve over time. While helmets kept in good condition can provide protective capability beyond the 3-5 year recommended lifespan, it’s also true that they can degrade over time. This is why we recommend replacing the helmet within this regular interval. If you fall and the helmet is impacted, you should have the helmet inspected or replace the helmet immediately, even if no damage is visible. The reason is that helmet liners are made to absorb energy from impacts and they do this through their own degradation or destruction – like an airbag in a car. If the liner is compromised from an impact or other factors, it may not offer the full protective capability it was designed to provide.

From their FAQs page at https://www.giro.com/frequently-asked-questions.html

I personally would follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

  • Yup, I just ordered myself a new one because it is well within those parameters plus the crack is the more worrying part, not sure if it makes any difference if due impact or material fatigue - if I hit the deck, its better in pristine conditon. It'll have to do for one more easy after-work ride this week but I'll happily accept that it won't do the last big 300k ride in about 2 weeks.
    – DoNuT
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 11:40
  • 5
    Obviously it's in the company's interest to sell you more helmets, so I'd take their recommendations with a large grain of salt.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 14:46
  • @DavidW I would have given it at least the 5-year mark if it wasn't for the unfortunate damage. Both Criggies experience and the study in the linked question suggest that an intact helmet may be able to last longer than that.
    – DoNuT
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 16:12
  • 2
    @DoNuT Definitely not arguing with the need to replace a damaged helmet. :) Just the manufacturer's recommendation to replace after 5 years; my helmets, even the ones I used for commuting typically last more like 10+ years before the pads start to fall apart from wear and washing.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 16:29
  • The cynical view that the manufacturer's recommendation is "it's in the company's interest to sell you more helmets" but it can also be said to mitigate court action should the helmet fail but was older than recommended. Materials age and lose strength and impact absorption properties. I belong to a cave rescue team which retires old ropes, etc once the manufacturer's recommended life is exceeded simply because should there be an accident after a rope or whatever failed, it wouldn't look good in a coroner's court if the manufacturer's recommendations were ignored.
    – Paul Lydon
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 19:20

I wouldn't be as worried about the crack in the styrofoam - the foam has no structural role per se, its purpose is only to provide resistance to squishing, i.e. pure compressive force, and a crack doesn't much reduce this capability. What is much more worrying is that the crack also goes into the shell, because the shell is structural. The shell is not only there to protect the foam from abrasion, but more importantly to spread impact forces over a large area so the foam can absorb them. Even a small crack stops this from working properly, and then the edges can easily cut through the foam.

Of course, that's not to say a helmet is necessarily alright if only the foam is cracked but no crack visible in the shell. The event that cracked the foam would likely have caused other damage too. In terms of the foam itself, the worst problem is if it has been squished once because that will reduce its resistance to squishing another time. But this should be judged based on your knowledge of what the helmet has gone through, more than how the foam looks.

My anecdotal experience is that good-quality helmets can still do some of their job after having survided a crash impact. Once I had a pretty hefty crash, hit my forehead on a stone while riding downhill MTB. Official advice would probably have been to discard the helmet (Uvex), but after inspection (no cracks, only scratches and visor damage) I decided to continue wearing the helmet for normal road usage. What do you know, I had another hit on the forehead with the same helmet, and it protected me just fine. It did crack that time though, so I then trashed it. The second crash was definitely less severe than the first though, so I guess that demonstrates that helmet wasn't 100% fit at that point anymore.

  • Were you tested for head injury after your accidents. If not, how are you certain you were protected by the helmet?
    – mattnz
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 22:55
  • 2
    @mattnz I wasn't. I'm certain because my brain still seems to work fine. I'm... no wait. Hah! That's why I can't seem to finish my PhD thesis! I knew it, it has nothing to do with spending too much time on StackExchange... Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 23:02
  • It might be a validate anecdote but possibly not a good overall answer because it mostly goes against the consensus of what I got as response and was able to read about the topic. The foam is the important part and hence, any damage calls for a replacement. Same goes for impact: You simply can't judge it reliably and if somebody reads this and takes away that impact with scratches only is OK, that's probably no good general advice. Taking individual risk is something else, I'll probably have one or two short rides on the beaten Mavic too, but only waiting for a replacement & easy rides.
    – DoNuT
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 5:55
  • 1
    the foam has no structural role Remove the foam all together and see how that goes.
    – MiNiMe
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 8:51
  • @MiNiMe I wrote perfectly clear what's meant. The foam only has a structural role in the same sense the air in a car airbag has a structural role; that is, it doesn't - it only needs to be there when the crash happens. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 9:49

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