When to Replace a Dirt Bike Helmet

My wife, Emily, and my son Ruger out dirt biking together.

Dirt bike helmets are an expensive investment, so I want to keep them as long as possible, but at the same time I want to make sure I’m safe while out riding.

Dirt bike helmet manufacturers recommend replacing a helmet after 3-5 years of use, or 7 years after the production date of the helmet, or if the helmet sustains damage from a crash.  In this article, I’ll share the specific recommendations of several major manufacturers, and also how to determine if your helmet has been damaged from a garage sale on the trail.

How Long Dirt Bike Helmets Last Before Expiring

I called up several of the largest helmet manufacturers and asked them when they recommend replacing their helmets.  This is what they told me.

  • O’Neal – They don’t have a specific date when their helmets expire.  I called O’Neal and they told me there really isn’t an issue of the materials breaking down over time, but after 5 years it’s tough to find any parts like cheek pads or anything you need to replace.
  • Fly – Replace helmets after 5 years of use.  The issue is that the EPS foam turns hard after a while and will be less protective.  They also recommend replacing helmets after a hard crash.
  • Fox – They recommend replacing a helmet after 5 years of USE (not 5 years after the manufacture date).  They also recommend replacing the helmet after any hard crash–even if there is no visible sign of damage on the interior or exterior of the helmet.
  • Bell – They recommend replacing helmets after 3 years of use or after any significant crash.
  • Troy Lee Designs – They recommend replacing helmets 5 years after the MANUFACTURE date.  They also recommend replacing helmets after a significant crash.

Keep in mind from the information above that these are not differences in how the helmets are made or if one is better than the other brand, but just listing what they told me is their company policy for helmet replacements.

Most of the helmet manufacturers I talked to said they place a sticker on the inside of the helmet under the liner.  The sticker says when the helmet was manufactured so you can tell when to replace it.

Should You Replace a Helmet After a Crash?

This is a more complicated question than the topic of the expiration date.  Some of the manufacturers, such as Fox, told me to replace a helmet after any serious crash even if the helmet shows no signs of damage whatsoever.  Other manufacturers said that most helmets are fine after a crash and to only replace it if the polystyrene has any soft spots or bends.

Dirt bike helmets are designed to be one-time-impact protective gear.  The foam that absorbs the blow is intended to crush under pressure, but the material does not rebound.  Thus, once an area is crushed, it will not protect the rider on subsequent crashes.  The only exception to this would be the very rare dirt bike helmets that utilize EPP foam.

I always recommend following the manufacturer’s recommendations on helmets.  They know their product the best.  However, here’s what I do about replacing helmets after a crash–step-by-step.

  1. Take off the inner liner of the helmet to inspect the polystyrene (styrofoam-looking material).  If there are any bulges, compressed areas, cracks, or obvious damage to this portion of the helmet, then it clearly should be replaced.  You can use a measuring tape to measure the foam thickness on different sides of the helmet to identify any compressed areas.
  2. Inspect the outside shell of the helmet.  This part of the helmet slightly spreads the impact across the polystyrene foam, protects the foam from damage, and keeps the helmet together during a crash.  Ensure there are no dings or cracks in the shell.  If there are dings or cracks on the shell, there will almost certainly be damage to the material underneath.
  3. Check the outside of the helmet for fading.  If the helmet appears to be faded, there is a good chance the plastic has become brittle and it may not keep the helmet together in the event of a crash.
  4. Check the manufacture date sticker and also consider how long you’ve been using the helmet.
  5. Call the manufacturer of the helmet and see if they inspect helmets for free.  Many of them do, and will tell you if the helmet needs to be replaced, or if you can keep riding.

Replace a Helmet After Dropping It?

“Generally the answer is probably not. Helmets are one-use items, but are quite durable otherwise, at least the ones we certify. Frequent dropping or spiking a helmet on the ground, or other hard surfaces may eventually degrade the helmet’s performance. Similarly, if the helmet falls to the ground at highway speeds unoccupied, the owner must be aware that some degradation may have occurred. In general, the real damage comes when the helmet contacts an object with a head inside” …

Conclusion

Don’t panic about your dirt bike helmet every time it takes any tiny ding or you drop the helmet.  Generally, the helmet will be perfectly fine.  However, it is very important to have a quality helmet that is free from damage to ensure your safety while out on the trail.

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