Nolan’s New N104 Modular Helmet

By ldidsbury on


Modular, or “flip-up,” helmets are essential for moto-photographers and simply convenient for most touring riders. Many, many years ago the only option was BMW’s Modular I, but since then I’ve owned a succession of this type of helmet and each has been an improvement over the previous one. This includes over a decade of experience with Nolan’s versions.

Nolan’s new N104 modular helmet has a Lexan polycarbonate shell and an internal retractable sunscreen. The shell is a new aerodynamic design and the chinbar pivot system takes modular helmets to a new level of excellence. It’s lightweight—just 1640 grams—and the outer shell is produced in two sizes (XXS-L; L-XXXL) to provide a better fit. (Varying thicknesses of the interior padded lining is the industry-standard method of creating a series of interior sizes.)

The pivot system for the flip-up chin bar has an elliptical trajectory, which means that in the full, upright position it is closer to the helmet than any of its competitors or Nolan’s previous models (3/8 inch vs. 1.5 inch on the N90 and N103). Using the chinbar lock (available on the N102 and N90, but not the N103) when in the full, open position the helmet functions like a ¾ helmet, but with far less wind drag than others of its type. In the open position it was comfortable even when cruising at 50-60mph and is DOT approved for BOTH the open and closed positions.

Another part of this improved pivot design is the quick shield release. With the shield in the upright position, retracting the pivot lever on each side allows the shield to be quickly removed. Again, this is an improvement over their previous models and other brands.

The face shield is larger than on previous models–a full vertical and horizontal inch or 6” vs. 5” and 14” vs. 13”–and allows more peripheral vision, but this comes at a cost. When the face shield is partially open it suffers from wind vibration–previous models have thicker face shields and they don’t vibrate.

The lever for lowering the scratch- and fog-resistant tinted sunscreen (identical to that on the N90) has been replaced by a slider on the lower left edge of the helmet that is coupled with a quick retract button. Brilliant! The slider is also intuitive: simply slide it forward to lower the sunscreen.

The Airbooster venting system is completely new. The slide on the chinbar opens a vent that directs air upward and over the inside of the face shield. The slide on the top of the helmet has three positions: closed; opening the air scoop a little; and fully opening the air scoop plus opening eyebrow vents. The later direct air downward across the face shield. Channels in the helmet move air from the intake to exhaust vents while the new helmet shape increases port vacuum and therefore airflow. The venting is an important improvement over earlier models, but I still find the flow volume to be inadequate and my (white) helmet was rather warm when riding in July below the Mason-Dixon Line. Conversely, during the fall in Canada it was ideal.

The new venting helps to reduce fogging of the face shield, but the patented Pinlock anti-fogging system—a second polycarbonate shield that attaches to the inside of the face shield—is already the best on the market. Since the face shield is larger than on previous models, only the new N104 Pinlock shields will fit this model.

The helmet liner is designed to accommodate eyeglasses and there is adequate room for a boom microphone behind the closed chinbar. The new, slightly smaller Microlock2 chinstrap, the patented chinbar release, the four-piece removable anti-bacterial liner, stainless steel latches, and a removable neck roll that reduces both wind noise and drafts are other features worth mentioning.

The press release stating “Nolan reinvents the modular helmet” is a bit of hyperbole, but there’s no doubt that it ranks among the top three modular helmets on the market or that it is an improvement over Nolan’s previous models. It is quieter, has less wind drag, offers a greater field of vision, and is lighter than any other modular helmet. If you also consider the new N-Com B4 communication system as part of the helmet package it rises to top place among the competition. Nolan helmets are made in Italy.

Colors: 7 solid; 7 graphic patterns
MSRP: $449.95 solid; $499.95 graphics

The new N-Com B4 has all the functions of other top-quality Bluetooth communication systems and some of the same limitations. It offers FM radio, MP3 remote audio controls, GPS linkage, one-to-one and bike-to-bike intercom, and of course complete cell phone audio capabilities for devices that use the A2DP Bluetooth profile. Communication settings can be managed by computer software and there’s even an auxiliary plug for hardwire connections. It is limited to line-of-sight with a range of approximately a half-mile, which places it in the top tier of these devices, but doesn’t work with most other com-systems—which is normal. What sets the N-Com apart from its rivals is that the entire system fits inside the helmet. There’s no wind drag or resulting noise; no off-balance helmet. The slim control panel on the lower edge of the helmet is easy to control even when wearing heavy gloves. Another desirable feature is the audio beeps when changing communication modes in addition to the visual LED indicators on the outer surface of the helmet. MSRP: $393.25

Note: Article by Ken Aiken, aka “The Gear Guy” (re-posted by site admin)

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