Tech Articles

Head Exam: How & Why You Should Regularly Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet

If you’ve been riding for a while, there’s a good chance you’ve collected a healthy assortment of old helmets. These retired buckets now exclusively reside on a display shelf. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

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.

Most, if not all, motorcycle helmet manufacturers include some kind of date stamp to indicate when the helmet was made. You’ll commonly find it somewhere on the chin strap or underneath the helmet’s interior lining. This mark from Bell indicates the helmet was made in March of 2014. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

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.

Retro helmets are really en vogue right now, but don’t use a crusty original one like this. Plenty of manufacturers are making safe, modern helmets with gobs of throwback styling cues. Bell’s Bullitt Carbon series is a good example. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

***

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

This helmet was involved in a solo, low-speed crash. While the overall damage to the bike and rider was very minimal, it was enough to chip away parts of the helmet’s surface finish to reveal the composite material underneath. This helmet is now a paperweight. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

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

To show you an extreme case of degradation, this is the inside of a 50-year old motorcycle helmet. The foam is virtually nonexistent and a few of the supplemental pads have fallen off due to ancient glue. Don’t use a helmet like this—it’s equal parts gross and dangerous. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

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

Is that a bug? A scratch? A pothole? Oncoming traffic? Know for sure by never letting your visor get this ugly. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

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

Years of rubbing against a steel D-ring on the strap’s connecting end has frayed this chin strap to the limit. It now feels like twine against the skin. Ouch. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

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

This helmet’s lower chin vent has a broken door. While that may not seem like a big deal, it can have a significant impact on how fast your windscreen fogs up in cold weather. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

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

Retirement doesn’t have to mean the end for your helmet. Many find new life on the Speed Racer cosplay circuit. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

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:

Tags: , , ,

2 Comments

  1. Stan Bryniarski says:

    Paul,
    I am an employee of a karting motorsport sanctioning body and would like to know if there is a class or a certification that can be obtained by my technical inspection department that would give them the ability and confidence to inspect helmets that would come into question should we notice any of the above mentioned issues with a racer’s helmet.
    Example, we had a Jr driver involved in quite substantial impact to the point where the driver did lose consciousness.
    Neither I or the EMT would allow the driver to compete any more and recommended to his father he be checked out at the ER. The father said he would transport and do so. My issue is if the driver shows up at the next event and has the same helmet, I would like the helmet inspected and be reasonably sure the helmet is safe.
    Its hard telling a driver with a $800 helmet and a $1,000 paint job that he can’t sue it due to a previous accident.

    • Hey Stan, while I don’t know offhand of any classes offered, I do know that some helmet manufacturers allow you to send the helmet back to them for an inspection by their safety folks. I assume if the helmet passes (or is successfully refurbished), there’d be some sort of note/certificate that they’d return with the helmet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.