How to Know When it’s Time to Replace Your Bike Helmet

Helmets! You wear one, right? Do you need a new one? Got questions? We’ve got answers. Read below to learn about sport-specific helmets and the latest technologies to help riders safeguard those brain cells.

MTB Helmets

Mountain bike helmets offer more protection on the sides and back to protect your head in a fall. They usually have visors. It’s said that the visors are for shade from the sun so you don’t have to wear sunglasses.  Downhill mountain bikers wear full face helmets for protection in the event of a face plant.

 
Rob Walker’s  Helmet…and baby :-)

Rob Walker’s Helmet…and baby :-)

 

Road Cycling Helmets

Helmets for road cycling offer different coverage than MTB helmets, and are designed to be aerodynamic. Plentiful vents are cooling. Visors are not advised because in your lower position, they can block your view of the road.

Commuter/Urban

For commuters and urban riders, helmet manufacturers have some options that are more stylish.

Time Trial or Triathlon

The helmets you see time trialists or triathletes wearing are super aero. They have no vents and are tapered in the back to direct airflow over the helmet as efficiently as possible.

Protecting that Cranium

We all know how important it is to wear a helmet, right? Many group rides require one, and any safety information relating to bikes will advise you to strap one on. (Of course, this is true in the US but in many places in Europe, where more people ride for transportation, helmet use is less common.)

But did you know that helmets are designed to protect your head from massive injury, but not so much for concussions or Traumatic Brain Injury? Bicycling magazine covers the issue well, but the upshot is that wearing any helmet provides more protection from TBI than wearing nothing at all.

 
Barden’s Helmet after a crash. This helmet utilized the MIPS design.

Barden’s Helmet after a crash. This helmet utilized the MIPS design.

Barden walked away from this crash without suffering any head injuries.

Barden walked away from this crash without suffering any head injuries.

 

You’ll see a lot of helmets with a tag advertising that it uses the MIPS design. Developed out of research in Sweden into rotational acceleration on the brain in the event of an accident, the MIPS design is used by many different helmet manufacturers. It is explained in detail on road.cc and is considered a great advancement in the effectiveness of a helmet in reducing head injuries. Helmets featuring the MIPS design tend to be more pricey, but the consensus seems to be that it’s worth it for the added protection.

 
Bontrager Helmet Display

Bontrager Helmet Display

 

And now there’s a new technology on the scene. This one is brought to market by Bontrager and is exclusively available in Bontrager helmets. Called Wavecel, it’s a helmet liner that “works like a crumple zone that absorbs the force of an impact before it reaches your head,” according to the Bontrager website. Bontrager makes big claims about the effectiveness of the liner in protecting noggins, and not surprisingly the MIPS people have clapped back with criticism. You can read some reviews here and here.

Last August, I had to replace my helmet due to a crash and I chose a helmet with the MIPS system. If I hadn’t just bought the helmet less than a year ago, I would probably replace it in favor of the Wavecel helmets. Having had one mild concussion, I’ll take whatever protection I can get.

To Replace or Not to Replace?

 
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Some say all helmets should be replaced every few years; I’ve seen recommendations of three years and as little as every other year. Others say that’s nonsense.

A recent article on road.cc gets into the nitty-gritty, with data and input from industry experts. Upshot? Take good care of your helmet and it should last a few years. But considering what it’s protecting, when in doubt, replace it. I mean, if you’re still wearing one of those eighties era Styrofoam jobbies, it’s probably time to upgrade.

Most certainly, any helmet involved in a crash needs to be replaced.

Barden’s Favorite Pink Louis Garneau Helmet

Barden’s Favorite Pink Louis Garneau Helmet

One Last Thing

The one thing that holds true of all helmets is that they only work if you wear one.

How often do you replace your helmet? Do you have a favorite brand? Have you ever bought a helmet just because you thought it was cute? (Ask Barden about her hot pink helmet.) Tell us in the comments!