Old vs. New Helmets and Tires | Ask the Geek

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Old vs. new… helmets
** I’ve got an old Shoei helmet with an M95 Snell rating. I keep hearing from riding buddies about how you should replace your helmet every three years, or five years, or 10 years, depending on the buddy. I can’t find any information from the manufacturers about the lifespan of a good helmet. Is my helmet still safe after so long? Or has the light reflected off of Venus rendered my crash foam unsafe? Also, would an older Snell-rated helmet be safer than a new DOT helmet? I hear that getting a DOT sticker is as easy as saying “Yeah, you’re good...honest.”
**Cory Gonger
Ypsilanti, MI

Even though a helmet may still look brand new after many years of use, it can have wear and even damage that you may not be able to see. The shell and liner are both subject to degradation over time from coming into contact with chemicals used during the helmet’s production or even from your own hair and skin. This degradation can affect the helmet’s performance in an impact. For this reason, the Snell Foundation recommends replacing your helmet every five years. Shoei recommends replacement five years after retail purchase, and warrantees its helmets for that period of time or up to seven years from the date of manufacture. The Snell M95 rating indicates your Shoei could be anywhere from 11 to 17 years old; the exact date of manufacture will be on a sticker under the center pad, but your helmet is definitely overdue for replacement. In addition to the potentially better protection offered by a new helmet compared with your old one, helmets are continually improving. A new lid will no doubt be lighter, more comfortable and have better ventilation.

The Snell vs. DOT (Department of Transportation) controversy is a huge issue that could fill a feature story, but the major points are: In past years, many people believed Snell impact-management levels made the helmet too stiff, causing more injuries than they prevented. The M2010 standard’s levels are more in line with the DOT’s, but there is still a difference to consider. Snell actually tests and certifies helmets to meet its voluntary standard, whereas DOT is a mandatory standard that helmets must conform to; although the DOT does conduct random tests, there is no approval or certification and the manufacturer is responsible for its own testing (and applies its own sticker). And finally, the Snell standard specifies a greater coverage area that includes the chinbar — an open-faced “shorty” helmet can meet DOT standards but not Snell.

The answer to your question of which standard is better is not simple; there are advantages and disadvantages to both, and there are also other standards to consider, such as BSI or ECE. Snell and other organizations test for some aspects not included in the DOT standard, such as peripheral vision, chinbar impact absorption, faceshield penetration, and how well the helmet stays on your head with the chin strap done up. At a minimum, purchase a full-face name-brand helmet with a DOT sticker. You can be fairly certain it actually meets that standard, whereas you take your chances with something you buy for $20 at a flea market, DOT sticker or not. If you are concerned about coverage, impact absorption, certification or some of the other tests mentioned, research the various standards and choose the one that you think best meets your needs. I always recommend that people purchase a helmet that meets DOT standards and is certified to at least one additional standard. That way you can be certain the helmet meets the standard it is claimed to, and has the appropriate coverage area and other safety features that the DOT-only helmet may not have.

More old vs. new…tires
I have two Honda 750 fours, a '77 F2 and a '78 K8. The K has sat idle since 2004, the F since 2005. Both got brand new sets of Bridgestone Battlax BT45s before being parked in an unheated garage out of direct sunlight. Can I still use these perfectly good appearing tires? I know the tubes are shot, as I had to use slime to get them to hold air so I could transport them to their new home, my heated garage. The tires themselves have no cracks or "alligator patches", and don't seem to have gotten any harder.
Chris Gagnon
Fredericksburg, VA

The tire manufacturers mark each tire with a date code on the sidewall, it is the last four digits of the molded-in DOT serial number. The first two digits of the date code are the week, the last two the year the tire was made — for example, the tire shown has a date code of 4104, which means it was manufactured in the 41st week of 2004. Most manufacturers say that performance starts going downhill after four years, even if the tire is unused. According to Bridgestone's warranty, "Regardless of the tire's condition or tread depth, it is recommended that tires more than 10 years old be taken out of service and replaced with new tires." If you got the tires for your Hondas in '04 and '05, you're sure to be close to that 10-year limit, and I would recommend you get new tires. SR