Newsletter: Putting a lid on it

I rarely throw anything away, but this weekend I cleared my shelves of helmets and took a bunch of them to the dump.

I was running out of space and never wear most of them anymore. Some were more than a decade old, and although they were dusty, they looked new. Probably, I could have put them online and got a few dollars for them, but no – you must never buy a used helmet. They’re like child car seats, which must also never be sold used: you don’t know what’s happened to them, and what’s inside is too valuable to risk for a few saved bucks.

Helmets can last a long time and they often do, because they can be expensive, but manufacturers generally recommend replacing them every five years at most. Sunshine and “Helmets Suck” stickers can break down the outer layer, the inner linings loosen up and don’t grip your head so well, and general wear and tear will take its toll. If you drop a helmet off your bike seat, it’ll probably be okay, but they’re designed to sustain just one impact, be it major or minor. If it’s damaged, it’s still legal, but it’s up to you if you want to ride with less protection. In any case, helmets are compulsory for riding motorcycles in all of Canada and many of the United States, so you might as well wear a decent one.

Full disclosure: I’m a strong advocate of All The Gear, All The Time, but I’ve also been known to ride sometimes without a helmet. It’s a treat I allow myself no more than once a year, if I find myself in an American state that permits helmet-free riding. It feels great. It’s also really loud in the ears, so not something that’s much fun on the highway. And of course, it’s stupid – even more dumb than driving without a seat belt. I know this well enough, which is why I trust to fate and do it only once in any given year and come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve done it for several years now.

Even Harley-Davidson, epitome of two-wheeled freedom, knows it’s dumb to ride without a helmet, and it makes its employees wear helmets if riding on business. And back in 1999, an employee of Deeley Harley-Davidson in Toronto was killed when he moved a bike from one side of a parking lot to the other. He was a part-time safety instructor but wasn’t wearing a helmet because he rode at no more than a crawl – his boot slipped when he put his foot down, the bike tipped over and he tapped his head when he hit the ground. He was the father of two small children. From then onward, Deeley insisted on wearing a helmet when riding their freedom machines, no exceptions.

I’m remembering all this now because Zac has prepared a really useful guide to how to buy a helmet, published today, that explains all you need to know about sizes, quality and safety requirements. It’s probably too late for this season but Christmas and the bike shows are coming and, more important, dealers are clearing out their stock and dropping prices. Be prepared!

What we don’t answer, though, is what to do with an old helmet that’s passed its time, except take it to the dump. They don’t recycle. CMG friend and contributor Tammy Perry has some suggestions:

  1. Mark clearly as non-usable and donate to EMT courses, “how to remove a moto helmet safely”
  2. Cut the chin strap so it can’t be used as a real helmet and make a Halloween costume with it, or donate to a shelter for kids to make Halloween costumes from.
  3. Donate to Motorcycle safety courses so they can cut in half and show how a helmet is built.

And reader TK4 commented on Zac’s story that “I’ve posted previously in Soapbox that your local fire department or EMS can sometimes use them for training purposes. If you’re just going to toss them in the trash, first cut the straps off so someone doesn’t end up reusing it.

“If you look on the back, or inside on the liner you’ll usually find a date of manufacture stamp.
Five years of use, as you’ve suggested, is usually about it BUT if you find something brand new, old stock that the retailer is willing to discount, savings can be had. Just because it’s been sitting in the box in a warehouse somewhere for a couple of years doesn’t mean it’s no good. Colours and graphics change every season, so if you’re willing to not be the coolest kid on the block there are perhaps savings to be had there.”

Somebody else once suggested using them as flower pots but do you have a better idea? If you do, put your idea in the comments below. There’s got to be something they’re good for, surely?

In the meantime, don’t call me Shirley and keep it pinned at CMG!

Mark Richardson

Editor, Canada Moto Guide


  1. Very hot used helmets. A lot of guys prefer the feel and smell of well worn headgear. You really should sell items you’re no longer wearing.

    • One of the most important aspects of wearing a helmet is proper fit. In the beginning days of breaking in a new helmet, the liner padding deforms to exactly match the shape of the wearer’s head. This exact shape-for-shape match between inside of the helmet and outside of the wearer’s head is the first line of defence in minimizing injury in case of impact.

      Used helmets already have deformed padding. They do not “unmold” from the original wearer’s head shape, which means that there will inevitably be areas where the helmet liner does not have sufficient contact with the wearer’s head. In case of a crash, the helmet will impact the pavement and then the space between the liner and skull will experience its own impact in which the skull travels due to inertia to impact the liner. That lack of a sufficiently tight fit means that the helmet is unable to absorb and dissipate much of the energy that the skull experiences in a collision. It is the equivalent of being in a car accident without wearing a seat belt and hurtling into the windshield.

      Selling old helmets is irresponsible and dangerous. Buying old helmets is equally irresponsible and dangerous. And if you purchase a used helmet and give it to somebody else to wear, you could very well end up responsible for any head trauma that person may experience in case they are involved in an accident.

      Used helmets: Just don’t go it.

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