For a lot of gearheads, a regular Rite of Spring is the return to two-wheeled motoring. And considering May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month anyway, now’s a perfect time to inspect your motorcycle helmet and ensure it makes the grade for the upcoming riding season.
Why Should You Regularly Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet?
Just like a lot of other bits of personal safety gear, helmets deteriorate with age. Even if you’re only logging a few hundred miles a year, your lid will degrade simply from sitting on a shelf. For that reason, many motorcycle helmet manufacturers generally recommend replacing your helmet every five years. And that’s important not only to ensure you’ve got a fresh, comfy helmet, but also to stay on top of ever-improving safety standards and technology.
But beyond regular degradation, helmets can be subject to abuse that can reduce their ability to protect your noggin’ in a crash. Even simply dropping your helmet on a concrete driveway can compromise its protective shell or internal compression lining. Regularly inspecting your helmet can spot potential damage before it causes harm.
Additionally, if you do a lot of riding, your windscreen may be collecting nicks and scratches that gradually accumulate to significantly impair your vision. And often times the accumulation effect is so gradual, you won’t notice it happening—so making a regular effort to examine your helmet and windscreen can be really helpful.
5 Things to Look for When Regularly Inspecting Your Motorcycle Helmet
There are some key things to check out when inspecting your helmet, and some may not be so obvious. Here’s a list of five of the major things to look for during your helmet examination.
1. Damage to the Helmet’s Outer Shell
For starters, you should never re-use a helmet that was involved in a crash. As alluded to above, even a simple drop on a driveway can affect the integrity of the helmet’s protective shell or internal compression foam. Even if the helmet looks OK from the outside, it may have miniscule cracks or spiderwebs lurking below the paint job. Pull back the helmet’s interior liner and check the inside of the shell too.
But even if your helmet has lived a gentle life, it’s vital to give it a once over every few months to see if its picked up any odd nicks and scrapes.
2. Deterioration of the Helmet’s Interior Headliner
Your helmet’s interior is where regular degradation can be really noticeable. Over time, the foam will deteriorate and lose its cushion and spring. Stitching can pull out and glue can lose its adhesion, causing supplemental pads to slip or fall out entirely. Not only does this make the helmet uncomfortable, a poor fit makes the helmet unsafe. A helmet should be tight and snug on a rider’s head to ensure it won’t move and shift at speed.
If your helmet doesn’t seem to fit right anymore, if you notice little flakes of foam falling out, or if pads aren’t staying in their proper place, it’s a good sign that you should think about replacing your lid.
More importantly, inside the helmet is where you’ll find the compression material that’s designed to absorb the impact of a spill. If you see areas where the lining is compressed, misshapen, or cracked/torn, then your helmet is likely due for a replacement too.
3. Visibility Through the Helmet’s Face Shield
We mentioned this earlier, but your windscreen will collect a healthy assortment of bug guts and scratches simply from normal riding. Obviously you should be cleaning your face shield often, but you’ll also likely accumulate scratches that can’t be wiped away. In those instances, you may want to opt for a replacement helmet face shield. Most helmet manufacturers make replacing the windscreen fast and easy, often without requiring any tools. Make sure to buy one that’s compatible with your helmet make/model though.
ProTip: You shouldn’t use any ammonia-based window cleaners on a plastic face shield, tinted or otherwise. Those cleaners can gradually cloud and distort the shield, eventually making it opaque. But there are plenty of plastic-safe window cleaners out there.
4. Fraying & Wear on the Helmet’s Chin Strap
The condition of your lid’s chin strap not only affects your comfort, it affects your safety. An itchy, frayed strap can cut into your neck and take your focus away from the road. And considering that many chin straps use a pair of D-rings to secure the helmet to your melon, they’re prone to fraying right around the middle of the strap where it can be really distracting.
While most chin straps will last the life of the helmet, if yours is starting to show excessive degradation, it may be a good sign that you should replace your entire helmet soon.
5. Function of the Helmet’s Accessory Latches, Vents & Hinges
Obviously you’ll want to be able to raise and lower your face shield, so inspect the hinge mechanism for smooth operation. Sometimes the plastic teeth on the shield latch can wear down, resulting in a shield that doesn’t want to stay up (or down). The good news is, a lot of manufacturers make replacement helmet hardware kits.
Additionally, a lot of helmets nowadays feature an assortment of vents and ports to help move air through the helmet. This can keep your noggin’ nice and cool, and helps mitigate fogging of the face shield. If your helmet has vents like this, check the function of each one, opening/closing them to ensure they operate smoothly. The last thing you want to fiddle with during a rainstorm is a stuck vent. Trust us.
Better Safe Than Sorry
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of facets to consider during a helmet inspection, it should give you the basics of what you need to look for to ensure your helmet will function as intended.
It’s worth pointing out that this article was geared to ordinary street-oriented motorcycle riders. Dirt riders have some other factors to consider when inspecting their helmets, thanks to prolonged exposure to mud, sand, and water.
And for folks involved in motorsports, professional or amateur, there’s a good chance your race sanctioning body will have a much more stringent set of guidelines that your safety equipment must adhere to.
If you’re interested in learning more about motorsports helmets and safety certifications, you may want to check out this video: