Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet To Reveal Hidden Dangers

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I had to take my car in for its big service last week. And for the weeks leading up to it, I was dreading it.

Why? Because I knew the mechanic would find parts that needed replacing. I knew he would find faults that needed sorting. And on top of that, I knew he would find ‘potential’ issues that would worsen if left untreated.

So why was I dreading it? Well, the answer to that is simple. I knew it would be expensive!

And that’s the weird thing about being a human. We know that if we don’t take the car for a service, we will likely end up in some kind of accident because of it.

Yet we take the risk and postpone it until it’s absolutely necessary – so we don’t have to foot the impending bill.

We don’t go to the dentist as soon as we feel a twinge of toothache. We put it off until we’re in absolute agony – and then we pay.

I understand why we do it – but that doesn’t stop it from being anything less than utterly counterintuitive.

rider holding helmet - inspect motorcycle helmet
Image: Sean Benesh

Replacing Your Eye-Wateringly Expensive Motorcycle Helmet

In the same vein as the above, we do the same with our motorcycle helmets.

It’s obviously just how much of a beating our lids take. They’re out in the elements every time we ride, battered by the blazing sun, driving rain, or freezing winds.

They get the occasional bang walking through doorways or the odd knock on tour. And sometimes, they may even be subject to drops.

And yet we put off checking them for damage for the same reason I put off taking my car in for its big service – the impending cost of having to replace it if we find something dubious.

Let’s face it – lids are expensive. But the price is inconsequential when you compare them to the value of your head, your safety, or your faculties. 

So in this post, we’ll look at how you can inspect your motorcycle helmet for any hidden dangers.

rider pushing bike
Image: Dmitri Lothbrok

Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet: A Note On Pre-Ride Checks

One habit I find useful is incorporating a cursory glance at your helmet as part of your pre-ride safety checks.

So when you give your bike a once over before you ride (tyres, brakes, lights etc.), have a quick look at your lid at the same time.

You’ll become familiar with knocks, scratches and evidence of wear – which means you’ll notice any new ones before you ride.

But what about the ‘proper’ check? Below is our 6-step process to inspect your motorcycle helmet.

rider on royal enfield - inspect motorcycle helmet
Image: Gijs Coolen

Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet: 6-Step Process

1. Check The Outer Shell

When you check the exterior aspect of the shell, you’re really just looking for scratches and evidence of splitting.

If a small scratch can be removed with a bit of polishing, you likely have nothing to worry about. But if you notice any deep scratches, these can split – and then you have real issues.

Also, look for any signs of stress or discolouration.

2. Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet: Check The Liner

If all looks good on the outside, flip your lid over and get ready to inspect the interior.

The first thing you’ll notice is the liner and comfort pads. These need to be removed to get the EPS (more on that later), so you may as well give the liner a once over whilst you’re there.

The liner has the potential to get a little fruity – mainly because it’s the closest part of the helmet to your skin.

Sweat, grease, grime, and God knows what else can accumulate in the liner. If it needs washing, give it a soak in some gentle soap and then air dry.

Whilst there, check for flaking or deterioration of the foam and pads. If it’s getting shot, it’s worth replacing. Many brands now offer replacement liners – so you don’t have to replace the entire helmet.

Also, check for looseness and fitting. The liner should fit correctly – check all the poppers work and that the liner isn’t moving inside the lid.

Finally, ensure the helmet still fits. Liners can become squashed and depressed over time – leaving you with an ill-fitting lid.

chipped shark lid

Related: How To Clean Your Motorcycle Leathers

3. Check When Your Helmet Was Born

With the inner liner removed, you should see a layer that looks like compressed polystyrene. This is the EPS – more on this later.

On the crown of the EPS, you should see a sticker with a date on it (if you can’t see it, check elsewhere on the helmet – such as on the chin straps.)

This date will tell you the month and year the helmet was manufactured. For example, 06/2019 – or some variation.

So, why is this important? Because like everything else in the world, even the most well-looked-after lid will deteriorate with age.

It’s generally regarded that helmets should be replaced after 4-5 years – even if they’ve never been used. This is due to the degradation of materials, glues and resins.

Some manufacturers state their helmets need to be replaced every two years. Others (such as Shoei or Arai) state a 5-year shelf life.

More on this later.

The fact is, if your lid has a sticker advising it’s 5+ years old, you’d be best off replacing it.

label - inspect motorcycle helmet

4. Check The EPS When You Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet

As mentioned above, you’ll find the EPS layer between the comfort liner and the hard exterior of the shell.

It looks like compressed polystyrene and, depending on the manufacturer, can be black or white. The EPS layer is the most important part of the lid – compressing to absorb impact and protect your head in the process.

The EPS works a bit like a crumple zone on a car. It squashes on impact, taking the brunt of the force.

Black EPS layers are better – not because they offer better protection, but because they give a better indication of damage.

EPS layers that are painted black allow you to notice scratches and dents more effectively, as the white layer beneath the paint shows through more clearly.

Give it a press at random areas around the helmet. If it dents when you press it, that’s a clear sign that this helmet is now worthy of being little more than a paperweight.

The EPS should be rigid.

Also, check for ‘spider-web’ cracks in the EPS – clear signs that the lid has had a knock at some point.

eps inner

5. Check The Chin Straps

Whilst your helmet is in bits on the dining room table, take the time to inspect the chin straps.

It’s common in older helmets to see fraying and degradation – especially around D-ring chin straps.

Check the D-rings or ratchet for general wear, and ensure there is no evidence of frayed stitching.

Unfortunately, the D-rings or ratchets can’t be replaced if they’re ruined. But then again, it’s probably a good time to replace the entire helmet if they are.

chin strap - inspect motorcycle helmet

6. Check The Visor When You Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet

Once you’re happy with the helmet’s integrity, put it back together and spend a few minutes inspecting the visor (and the mechanism.)

A scratched visor is annoying. But it can also be dangerous – especially in bright sunshine or at night when headlights can become distorted.

Give it a good clean and check for scratches. Give the weather seal a once over, remove any grit from the closing mechanism, tighten any screws, and ensure the visor is closing properly.

Also, check that the visor stays in the ‘up’ position when it’s supposed to.

The good news is that most manufacturers now offer replacements – so you won’t need to replace the entire lid for the sake of a visor.


Inspect your Motorcycle Helmet: General Questions & Advice

The Power Of Common Sense

When it comes to your lid, common sense is probably the best tool you have – because not all knocks and blemishes are visible.

If you simply knock your lid against a doorway on your way into your hotel for the night, chances are it won’t need replacing.

Even if it takes a gentle drop (from a coffee table, for example, or even from your bike seat onto the grass), chances are it will be fine.

And if any scratches incurred can be polished out, it’s generally regarded that the damage will not affect the helmet’s integrity.

But if you come off your bike in a tumble (even a slow-speed one), you need to accept that the safest option here is to replace your lid – despite it being a bitter pill to swallow.

helmet on double yellow lines - inspect motorcycle helmet
Image: Jeremy Bishop

A Note On Second-Hand Helmets

Speaking of common sense, you’d be surprised how many times I see people buying second-hand helmets.

The fact is, you don’t know the history of ANY used helmet. Even if the owner seems trustworthy and careful, you simply can’t be sure that the helmet is safe.

Don’t do it. Leave the bargains on eBay and get yourself a new helmet – every single time. It’s not worth the risk.

Related: Is it Ok to Buy a Second-Hand Bike for Touring?

Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet: How Long Before You Replace It?

Bikers have argued about this for years. Most people (and brands) agree that 4-5 years is the appropriate shelf-life for a well-looked-after lid. But I know plenty of bikers who keep theirs longer.

I also know bikers who change their lid every other year – usually when they get a new bike.

In general, this is unnecessary. Every 4 years (or so) is fine.

Some manufacturers state their helmets need to be replaced every 2 years. Others (such as Shoei or Arai) state their helmets are good for 5 years – and even offer 5-year warranties to support this.

The reason for this is due to the materials used in the outer shell.

Polycarbonate and plastic shells are porous – like skin. And this means they’re prone to soaking up dirt, grime, grit, bugs, (and whatever else) that can degrade it quicker.

More expensive materials (like fibreglass or carbon fibre) are more tightly woven under construction. This slows down deterioration and improves the shelf-life of the helmet.

rider with helmet and shades
Image: Bradley Dunn

Keeping Up With Technology

Another reason to replace your lid after 4-5 years is to accommodate new technology.

Whilst the general essence of helmets has remained the same for decades, the materials used these days are stronger, lighter, and technically superior.

Standards also improve as time goes on. So whilst your helmet may have been deemed safe 5 years ago, it may now come quite low on the safety scale compared to newer helmets.

Inspect Your Motorcycle Helmet: Consider An MOT

As mentioned at the top of the post, the cost is the main reason people don’t replace their lids. If you buy a £700 helmet and drop it from your coffee table onto a thick rug, are you really going to shell out £700 for another one – just in case?

If money is no object, maybe. But most people don’t because they can’t afford to.

In these circumstances, sending your lid to The Helmet Inspection Company might be just what you need.

THIC use a non-destructive technique to check for damage invisible to the naked eye. By applying small amounts of heat and measuring the expansion of materials, THIC can see irregularities and defects that you or I wouldn’t be able to see.

From here, the company can advise whether the helmet is fit for use or should be replaced.

helmet inspection - inspect motorcycle helmet

Take Advantage Of Free Safety Checks

Some brands (such as Arai) offer post-accident safety checks, where they will assess the helmet and advise whether or not it should be replaced.

If it’s deemed fit for use, they will send you a certificate to state as much when they return the lid to you.

It’s worth pointing out here that it’s only a surface check that is performed and their opinion on whether the helmet is safe is just that – an opinion.

Inspect your Motorcycle Helmet to Reveal Hidden Dangers: Conclusion

The simplest way to maintain your lid is to look after it, perform pre-ride checks, and then give it a proper going over using the above process a few times a year.

Keep it clean, and store it somewhere warm and dry. Avoid keeping it on windowsills in direct sunlight or cold environments (such as the garage.)

Finally, keep an eye on the production date. When the helmet gets to 4 years old, start your search for a replacement – knowing you have 12 months’ grace.

Taking your time will allow you to find your next worthy replacement!

Top image: Ekaterina Belinskaya


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