Some facts about helmets

Some facts about helmets

Posted by Ben Baker on Aug 1st 2016

Regardless of your opinion on helmet laws, mostly like you wear one from time to time. But how much do you know about that lid?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has a map showing which states have a mandatory helmet law, and which either don't or have some sort of choice.

Here's a rundown of some helmet facts, expert opinions and just some general information.

Drop & Replace

We're told that if a helmet gets dropped, it needs to be replaced. How many riders actually do that? The Snell Memorial Foundation (SMF) says, you probably don't need to replace it. "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," the SMF says. "In general, the real damage comes when the helmet contacts an object with a head inside. The Foundation recommends that if you are participating in an activity that requires that you wear a helmet, you avoid hitting stuff with your head."

Replacing a Helmet

Industry consensus is helmets should be replaced every five years or more often. The reasons given are exposure, repeated drops and the material used in making the helmet breaking down or wearing out. The glue that holds the parts together does not last forever.

"Bell has a general recommendation of replacing your helmet every three years. If you are unsure of the condition of your helmet, or whether it should be replaced, call us at 800-456-2355 or e-mail us at [email protected] for information on a free inspection," says Bell Helmets

Of course, replace it if you've been in a crash while wearing it. The helmet did its job.


A number of agencies around the world certify helmets. In the United States, the Department of Transportation and the Snell Memorial Foundation certify helmets. In Europe, the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) handles that job. The ECE designation is recognized by 50 different countries and every major racing organization in the world. The Bike Bandit takes a look at what these certs mean and how helmets are tested.

Not all helmets are tested. "I wouldn’t trust some SE Asian helmets if they fell on a feather pillow," writes Mark Hinchcliffe for the Australian website Motorbike Writer.
Fake Certifications

Slapping a DOT sticker on the back of a motorcycle helmet is easy enough to do. A lot of unscrupulous helmet makers will do this. Tim Watson has an excellent article on how to tell the fakes from the real ones at RideApart. His chief suggestion is look at the manufacturing quality. If it looks cheap, it probably is and it probably has a fake DOT sticker on the back.

"A couple of good checkpoints are the design and weight of a helmet. Look and feel the thickness of the inner liner and the quality of the chin straps and rivets. These are good clues that should help you distinguish between a properly approved DOT helmet that could save your life or a cheap imitation that potentially won’t," he wrote.

Novelty Helmets

Some novelty helmets do meet all the necessary standards. Some don't. A good guide beyond the DOT sticker is to just look at the helmet. The Iron Man helmet is a solid piece of engineering. A helmet with a set of cow horns sticking up may have started solid, but the helmet's integrity was ruined with the horn mounts were screwed to the helmet.