When to Replace a Mountain Bike Helmet


I recently took a tumble off my bike and it got me wondering, when should I replace my mountain bike helmet? It didn’t look damaged from the outside, but given that it’s protecting my brain I wanted to be cautious.

When should I replace a mountain bike helmet? On average, manufacturers state that mountain bike helmets should be replaced every 5 years. However, if you hit your head while wearing the helmet during a crash, there is visible damage or wear on the shell, or has cracks in the EPS foam then it should be immediately replaced.

While most of us realize just how important helmets are for safety in mountain biking, I see a lot of people trying to take shortcuts when it comes to replacing helmets. Funny enough, we have no problem spending thousands of dollars on frames and component upgrades. Yet when it comes to spending a couple hundred on a new helmet we think twice.

When to replace a mountain bike helmet

According to Consumer Reports, two-thirds of hospitalizations and three-quarters of deaths from bicycle injuries are due to head trauma. With this knowledge in hand, it’s all the more important to make sure that we’re replacing our helmets are the appropriate times.

Let’s take a look at a few scenarios where you’ll want to replace your mountain bike helmet.

Mountain bike helmet replacement scenario #1 – Crash

The most obvious case for replacing a mountain bike helmet is in the event of a crash. However, not every single crash warrants replacing the helmet. Just those where your head actually makes contact with the ground, a rock, a tree, etc…

In some cases, you may not even be able to tell afterward that your helmet was involved in a crash. The foam inside of mountain bike helmets is not designed for repeated impacts. Much like the cup your to-go coffee comes in, it’s made for one-time use.

The foam inside the helmet will have compacted during the impact, thus absorbing the impact that would have otherwise been delivered to your head. If you did not replace the helmet and were to crash again, the foam would not be able to absorb the same force again. Meaning that it would instead be transferred to your head.

This can be a tricky one to reason with because in some cases there is zero visible damage after a crash. That does not mean that there is not micro-damage in the foam that isn’t visible to the eye. You walked away feeling fine wondering if you could save the money by not replacing it.

What you’re missing is that that means the helmet did its job!

It spared your head the impact so you could walk away unscathed (or at least free of a head injury). It’s not likely that the helmet will be up to the same task again.

Mountain bike helmet replacement scenario #2 – Exterior damage

Periodically you should spend time examining the outside shell of your mountain bike helmet. If you find cracks or abrasion on the surface then it’s time for a new one. Same goes for cracks around the edges of the shell, or if the color is visibly fading.

If you’re able to press into the shell anywhere and see or feel it pop in and out then clearly the foam below it has been compressed. Compressed foam won’t absorb be able to properly absorb impact during a crash and also indicates the need to replace it.

Mountain bike helmet replacement scenario #3 – Interior damage

Like the exterior, you should also spend time inspecting the inside of the helmet. After all, it’s the foam that’s doing most of the work to save your noggin’! Look for cracks or dents that indicate damage. If your helmet allows it, remove any fitting pads to make it a thorough inspection.

Take the time to also inspect the buckles and straps. In the event of a crash, they’re the parts that actually keep the helmet on your head. So make sure that they aren’t worn, faded, or have stitches coming out.

Ensure that buckles are still fully functional and not broken or missing any pieces as well. If you find any of these indicators then it’s a sign that you’re due for a replacement.

Mountain bike helmet replacement scenario #4 – Age

By age, I’m not referring strictly to the expiration date posted by the manufacturer. Frankly, if you haven’t crashed or found other signs indicating the need to replace it then it’s probably ok to use a helmet past its expiration date.

However, there still needs to be a balance between risk vs. reward. Sure, you could try to squeeze another few years out of the helmet and delay spending that $100 – $200 dollars. But is it really worth the risk?

Your brain is the most vital organ in your body. Without it, we’re nothing. Being overly cautious here isn’t going to kill you. In fact, it could save your life.

I should also point out that I’m referring to expiration dates for modern bike helmets. If you’re still rocking a throw-back helmet from the ’70s or ’80s then it’s time to retire it.

The phrase “oldie but goody” is not applicable in this scenario! If you love it so much, put it in a case and mount it like the antique that it is.

While the helmets weren’t necessarily bad so to speak, they don’t live up to today’s standards.

How should I care for my mountain bike helmet?

Your mountain bike helmet should be stored in a cool, dark place. Make sure that it is not sitting in direct sunlight. It should also not be stored in a location where it will be exposed to extreme heat or cold.

Avoid allowing it to come in contact with chemicals or other solvents as these can compromise the structure of the helmet.

The same goes for transportation. Rather than simply tossing your helmet in the back of your truck to bounce around, place it somewhere safer like in the cab.

Wash it using cool water and mild soap to remove any sweat, mud, or dirt that has accumulated on or inside the helmet. While the fit pads are machine washable using a gentle (cold) spin cycle, make sure not to run them through a machine dryer.

Allow the helmet and pads to air dry before returning to storage.

What is MIPS in a bike helmet?

MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. MIPS was developed by a team of scientists and brain surgeons to reduce the rotational forces on the brain caused during angled impacts to the head.

This is done by using a slip-plane system inside the helmet that is able to spin during impact to lessen the rotational force transferred to the head.

Most mountain bike helmet manufacturers state if their helmets are MIPS-equipped.

However, you can tell for yourself by looking for a small yellow MIPS logo on the outside of the helmet, or by flipping it over and checking the inside for a thin yellow liner that sits below the pads.

A MIPS helmet feels no different on the head then a non-MIPS-equipped helmet. Some popular mountain bike helmets that come equipped with MIPS are listed below.

Why do mountain bike helmets have visors?

The most obvious answer to this question is that mountain bike helmets have visors for protection. They help to shield the rider’s face from rain mud, or branches that may be encountered when riding on the trail.

Sun protection is also a factor, but less so than protection from physical objects!

Rather than block all of the light, a visor can allow you to wear glasses that block less light but instead focus on enhancing contrast. This increases your ability to read the ground and pick better paths.

Related Questions

  • Can climbing helmets be used for mountain biking? No, climbing helmets should not be used for mountain biking. Climbing helmets are optimized to protect from top impact, rather than side impacts which are found in many biking crashes.

  • How are mountain bike helmets different from road bike helmets? Road helmets have increased ventilation and are more aerodynamic in shape, whereas mountain bike helmets have visors and a lower cut in the back. Road helmets are often lighter than mountain bike helmets.

  • What else does a beginning mountain biker need to get started? Instead of cramming it all in here, I’d recommend taking a look at my entire dedicated article here on the topic of getting started!

Additional Helmet Resources

Hi, I'm Zach Reed and I'm a Colorado-based outdoor lover! For more information about me, take a look at my dedicated about me page.

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