The Importance of Buying a New Helmet

Watermelon helmet anyone? Image credit:

To wear a helmet or not to wear a helmet, is that the question? Regardless, the answer should be pretty obvious. Though many, especially here in China both locals and expats, seem to think this is an optional, not-so-fashionable accessory, your helmet should be much more than a side consideration when you’re going out for a ride.

A motorcycle helmet is arguably the most essential and important piece of safety gear you need when you go out on a motorcycle. Many riders tend to underestimate its importance, and either don’t bother to wear one, or buy one that is second hand or not in particularly good condition. Hey, as long as the cops won’t bother you now, saving a few bucks won’t kill you right!

It should go without saying that an injury to the head could easily be fatal, at which point, no matter how good of an insurance plan you’ve got yourself, there’s often no coming back from the type of accident where head meets asphalt. So why is it that many still seem to prefer skimping on their head protection?

Worth It To Buy Used?

Some reasons people choose not to wear a helmet when they can get away with it include finding them suffocating or feeling that they take away the joy of riding, the purity of the experience of freedom, preferring to feel the wind in their faces rather than the fog in their visors. Then the grumbling comes when you cross state lines and have to put that helmet back on. For a lot of people with this attitude, when they are in a situation where they have to buy one, why not just get one on the cheap, one that you can strap onto your sissy bar once you know there are no cameras or cops around? However, keep in mind why you’re now required in most places to wear a (certified) helmet.

Buying a helmet that has already been used is incredibly risky. Even if you don’t think the helmet had previously been in an accident, consider this warning from the Snell Foundation concerning the need to replace old helmets:

Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production can affect liner materials. Hair oils, body fluids and cosmetics, as well as normal “wear and tear” all contribute to helmet degradation. Petroleum based products present in cleaners, paints, fuels and other commonly encountered materials may also degrade materials used in many helmets possibly degrading performance.

Helmets are made from a hard outer shell that covers a layer of expanded polystyrene. As the quote above explains, after use and abuse this polystyrene can compress, significantly reducing its ability to take a hard impact. The only way you can know for sure if the polystyrene has already compressed, is if you cut it open. So your choice is between risking not knowing, or having a helmet that has been split open.


All this serious talk aside, we all enjoy riding our motorcycles, and there’s no need that we should put ourselves in an unnecessary amount of danger. If the unthinkable were to happen and your bike hits the ground, make sure you’re able to get up to ride another day. Whether you’re of the school of MOTGMOTT (Most of the Gear Most of the Time) or ATGATT (All the Gear All the Time), a SNELL and DOT certified, less than 5 year old helmet should be a required part of your riding gear.

How about you? Any informative cautionary helmet stories? How do you feel about buying used? Bucket or full faced?