Yeah, this might sound like a marketing sham to get you to spend money on one of the most expensive pieces of equipment of your collection on a regular basis. While I’m not saying that there’s some truth behind the theory, there are also facts to back it up.
How often do you sweat in your helmet? Do you wear makeup or hair products or both? Have you exposed your lid to the sun, to rain, and to dust? These are all factors and elements that contribute to the deterioration of a helmet over time. The materials used in the manufacturing process of helmets are not time and weatherproof. Every ride takes a small toll on them.
Over time, the glue evaporates, the lining loses its efficiency, and the EPS foam inside the shell becomes more brittle and loses its ability to absorb impacts. Even if you wash the pads and lining diligently and wear a beanie to protect the inside of your helmet from the oil and sweat on your skin, you’re helping extend the helmet’s life, but not make it eternal. Like we ultimately die of old age, so does a helmet. Companies and Snell state that 5 years of use is the average lifespan of a helmet.
Of course, if you’ve taken a tumble with your helmet on, chances are its integrity has already been compromised. As Ryan F9 succinctly puts it, the whole “helmet having to be automatically replaced if you drop it” myth isn’t true. If an empty helmet topples and falls, you’ll scratch the shell, die a little on the inside, but the protective EPS foam isn’t damaged. The problem is when there’s weight inside the helmet (including your head)—that’s when the EPS gets dented and loses its shock absorption properties.
Of course, 5 years is objective—if you take good care of your helmet and use it only once in a while, you might be able to keep it for a few additional years. As FortNine says, we’re looking at “5 years of active usage”.