I dropped my helmet, do I need a new one?

I dropped my helmet, do I need a new one?

There are some topics amongst motorcycle riders that we all have and will continue to be a part of.

This one is a top contender to the title.

There are many opinions on the topic, and today, I am sharing mine!

The question?


I dropped my helmet, do I need to buy a new one?!

Before saying yes or no, it is essential for you to understand what is at play.

Decent helmets have their shells made out of fibers that work by dispersing impact energy in web patterns, as opposed to the thermoplastic/polycarbonate helmets that instead of dispersing energy, tend to crack on impact.

Let me give you a visual analogy regarding fiber shells.

We have all grabbed an egg, hit it against something to open it, just to get a completely cracked egg that, although cracked, did not break.

 

Reference: Image from www.bustle.com

What the egg did was precisely the same thing our helmets do every time we hit them against something.

They may not break, and they may not show exterior signs of damage, but the tensile strength of the fibers in that location decreased, and just like our egg, at the second or third hit in the same place, it will crack open.

If we assume that our helmets start at 100%, each drop or hit of substance eats away at that.

By the time we crash and need the helmet to perform at its best, it may be at 50% or 99%, no way to know as there is no way to measure how much each hit or drop equates to, but it equates to something.

Regardless, the impact is there, the damage exists and denying it is pure foley.


Let me share a quote from the SHARP website:

"If a helmet has been subjected to an impact it is likely that the energy absorption properties of the helmet would have been damaged. If this is the case, it is likely that the helmet would offer a reduced level of protection to the wearer’s head if it should be subjected to a further impact in another accident. You may wish to note that the damage sustained in the original impact may not be visible. Therefore, we would always advise that if a helmet has been subjected to an impact, it should be replaced to ensure the wearer is suitably protected in the event of an accident. You may also wish to consider seeking advice from the helmet manufacturer."

We can't forget that an ECE or SNELL certification test is performed in pristine helmets, not buckets that were drop X amount of times before being tested.

Knowing this, manufacturers advise us to replace our helmets after a drop, to guarantee their product, and let's face it, avoid potential lawsuits.


But all of that refers to the shell, and what about the EPS foam?

Expanded polystyrene liners (EPS) are essentially plastic beads with air bubbles packed together.

They come in different densities to absorb high and low impacts, with some brands using one layer, and some mixing high and low-density ones.

Those bubbles get squished during impact, and unlike the shell, they cannot spring back into position, regardless of the intensity of the hit.

This is the main reason why if you drop your helmet without your head inside, there is a possibility that that helmet is still usable, but if the helmet goes down with your head in it, it's a different story.

The average human head is 4.5kg, and even a small fall will make sure that the outside shell will pressure the EPS from the outside via the contact with the floor, and your head will pressure it from the inside, thus, squishing the EPS.

Let me quote Hong Zhang, the director of education for the Snell Foundation on an interview to Outsideonline:

“EPS is essentially plastic beads with air bubbles packed together very tightly,” “Even if your head hits just a little bit—like a fall from one or two feet—the inside liner is compromised”.

 

So, is it true that you shouldn’t use your motorcycle helmet anymore after you drop it?

  • If it fell with your head inside, regardless if involved in an accident or not, yes, you should replace it.

  • If it fell on its own, but you notice a deformation on the EPS, or you see visible damage marks on the shell, you should replace it.

  • If it fell down on its own from a height of around the height of your bike seat, I would say you can continue to use it, I know I do.

    Nevertheless it’s important for you to understand that your helmet will no longer be operating at 100% of its safety properties!

    This being, common sense, and a proper reading of the situation, knowing what it entails if you continue to use, is mandatory.

    Still, if you don't want anything less than a helmet operating at 100%, you should replace it.


This last point brings out an important question:


Is there any way to know how much damage a fall made to the helmet?


If you want an extra layer of safety before deciding to keep using your helmet, you can perform an inspection to it.

Many brands have this service or have a company doing it for them.

If you send them your helmet, they will inspect it and send it back to you with a certificate of either approval or failure regarding safety.

At this point we know how to proceed in case our helmet drops, but:


 How do we know when to replace it, regardless of it having fallen?

Falling aside, there are two main reasons to do it, and they are both limited by the same factor, time.

  • On the one hand, you have helmet degradation.

If on the inside, hair oils, body fluids, cosmetics, normal "wear and tear", as well as glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production all contribute to liner degradation, on the outside petroleum-based products present in cleaners, paints, fuels and other commonly encountered materials may degrade helmet performance.

  • On the other hand, we have the technology.


    Helmet technology regarding safety standards, materials, designs, and construction methods evolve year by year, and as such, replacing our helmets from time to time allows us to stay on point with the best standards.

    The time defined by most brands and certification agencies for helmet replacement is 3 to 5 years, with some brands going as high as seven years.


    In the end, and as with most things, apply common sense, be thoughtful, stay informed, and stay safe!




    I dropped my helmet, do I need a new one?


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