Replacing bike tires, bar tape and even your chain regularly is part of most cyclist’s routine maintenance checklist. But knowing when to replace a helmet or pair of shoes can be trickier, and is often neglected.
Here’s how to tell it’s time to upgrade five essential items that drastically improve your comfort, safety and performance on the road.
Even though your helmet might still look exactly the same 10 years after you’ve purchased it, it has a lifespan. Of course, if you drop your helmet or are involved in a collision, you must replace your helmet afterward whether it’s visibly damaged or not. For all other helmets used regularly, most manufacturers limit the lifespan to about three years.
The foam used in almost all cycling helmets naturally degrades, making it important you stick to that three-year rule. The sun, heat, sweat, water and other factors wear the foam down to a level that eventually won’t protect your head as it should if you are involved in a crash. While this might seem unnecessarily frequent, it’s always better to be on the safe side when it comes to protecting your head.
Unfortunately, those expensive shades that protect your eyes from debris and harmful UV rays need to be replaced much more frequently than you might think. Aside from a lens being scratched or damaged, the UV protection degrades over time. Since UV exposure can lead to problems like cataracts, retina damage and other eye problems, replacing your cycling sunglasses is essential.
Exposure to sunlight, the quality of the lens, how you care for them and how often they’re worn can play a factor in longevity. This study, conducted in Brazil, has called for new regulations for all sunglasses, with most experts now stating that if you wear your sunglasses often, they’ll need to be replaced every year or two to be safe.
The exact amount of time a pair of cycling shorts lasts is difficult to quantify. It can depend on a number of factors, including the quality of the fabric used, the number of miles you’ve ridden and how they’re washed — including frequency and method (i.e., hand washing versus washing machine).
There are a few things you can look for when trying to determine if your cycling shorts have had enough. These include:
- The materials: Lycra and spandex are the most vulnerable materials, providing stretch during movement along with compression and support. When this fabric becomes looser, turns a different color or is more see-through, it’s deteriorated to the point it needs to be replaced.
- The chamois pad: This insert makes a big difference in comfort. When you notice changes in the shape or compression, it’s probably time to replace your shorts. Also, if the pad isn’t staying in the same position and shifts frequently during your ride, take it as another sign its lifespan has run its course.
With lighter materials being more commonly used on saddles, any sort of crash or impact may require you to replace your saddle. Carbon rails can be damaged easily even during installation, so it’s important to check these parts frequently to make sure there aren’t any cracks. If you have a saddle with steel rails, visible damage is also an indicator to replace it, even if it still supports your weight. A small bend or dent changes the level of your saddle, thus altering the angle or tilt of your pelvis.
As for the padding, the weight of a cyclist eventually causes it to deform and not provide as much support as it should. Keeping track of changes in color or sagging portions of the saddle are the major indicators it should be replaced.
Like shorts, the lifespan of a cycling shoe depends on the quality of the materials it’s constructed with. A lightweight summer cycling shoe isn’t going to hold up as long as some other options, especially if you’re using it year-round in poor weather conditions. Riding style, the weight of the cyclist, the shape of your feet and even your pedaling style play a role in longevity.
Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to replace your current pair:
- Number of miles: Shoes generally last several seasons if you limit walking in them.
- Care: Keeping your shoes dry and clean improves the lifespan.
- Closure: If the closure (Boa dial, laces, Velcro straps) can be replaced once it’s damaged or not securing the foot correctly, the shoes last longer.
- The upper: The materials of the upper can be stretched over time. If you notice your foot isn’t as supported by the upper as it used to be, or your foot slides around more, a new pair is necessary.
- The sole: Other than damage to the materials used on the upper, keep an eye on the sole. Typically made of fiberglass, nylon or carbon fiber, sole damage can affect performance. Look for damage like cracks or dents when determining whether shoes need to be replaced.
- Heel counter: This is the portion of the shoe that holds your heel in place. It should hold your foot snuggly in the shoe during the pedaling motion. Pay attention to whether this portion of the shoe suddenly begins to slide around and not hold your foot in place.