I received a black and white Nolan Motorrad N-103 helmet, with an N-Com Basic Kit and an N-Com Bluetooth Ebox V2.0 Stereo. I was a little concerned about the size as it was a XXL, and I have been wearing a Arai Quantum/ƒ Large and had a Schuberth Concept 1 that was an XL. After trying it on, I discovered that it fit fine.
I have been looking for a good helmet communication system for some time. I am an audio person by trade, so I am finicky when it comes to these things. I have previously used a Chatterbox, and have been using an AutoComm for the past few years. It was starting to show its age during the ride out to Wyoming for the International Rally last summer.
I was at the BMW MOA HQ for a BMW MOA Foundation Board Meeting in November when I mentioned my conundrum to a few people, indicating I was looking for a better solution. Vince said, "I just got a helmet in for testing that I think you would like; do you want to try it out?"
I received a black and white Nolan Motorrad N-103 helmet, with an N-Com Basic Kit and an N-Com Bluetooth Ebox V2.0 Stereo. I was a little concerned about the size as it was a XXL, and I have been wearing a Arai Quantum/ƒ Large and had a Schuberth Concept 1 that was an XL. After trying it on, I discovered that it fit fine. I used the supplied cheek pads to adjust the fit a little bit, and I got it fitting very well and comfortable. The key lesson from this is the fact that you have to try on your helmets and sizing varies between brands.
I was surprised when I started to do some testing on the helmets. I have three helmets that I weighed to compare them. My wife, Jennifer, has a Nolan N-100 flip face that weighs 3.75 pounds, my Arai weighs 3.5 lbs; these weights are with the AutoComm headsets installed so it is just like we wear them when riding. When I weighed the N-103 I was surprised that it weighed in at 4.5 lbs for with all the gadgets installed. It really did not feel that heavy from wearing around. It seems to be a fair weight but like I said it did not feel that heavy as it is so well balanced.
The first thing I saw was that they changed the flip front release mechanism from the previous version that my wife's helmet had that required using two hands. The N-103 has an easy to use center latch that can be used with either the left or right hand. It was also able to be used while wearing various gloves, without a problem. I will recommend using the latch when closing the helmet as it can be fairly loud if you close it by simply "snapping" it shut. This is not a bad thing as it is a very positive latching process and stays sealed well.
Once the helmet is closed it was very tight for the most part. I liked the under chin wind skirt during the winter ride as it kept me fairly warm. It was more comfortable than the same skirt in the Schuberth helmet I had previously worn. I also really liked the built in Vision Protection System sunshade. It was nice while riding around not to have to stop to put sunglasses on or take them off.
Next I tried out the electronics. The N-Com system was preinstalled and contained a Bluetooth system and a wired solution. I liked the fact that it was flexible so that I could use what made the most sense for the situation. First I paired it with my work Blackberry cell phone. It was very fast and easy to pair; it worked on the first try-better than my Jawbone headset. It worked as expected; I pressed the multifunction "On" button to initiate the voice dialing, I told it to call home. The Blackberry got it right on the first try, better than the wired headset I use in the car.
I then tried pairing it with other devices just to see how it would handle multiple Bluetooth devices as the manual indicated the N-Com would support multiple devices. I paired it with my PlayStation 3, my MacBook Pro and my wife's cell phone. They all paired just as quickly and easily.
I then figured it was time to try out the system with music. I had the MacBook Pro paired, so I played iTunes through it the N-Com. I had to do some tweaking of the settings to get the sound acceptable to my audiophile ears. This was done by turning down the MacBook and turning up the helmet system. The N-Com system also allows for the use of an audio device through hard wire; a 1/8" to 1/8" cable was included. I tried that and the entire system just came alive. It sounded much better. I was very satisfied with the sound quality. I ride wearing ear plugs to compensate for the wind noise, so I decided to take a listen to the system with ear plugs in, I was still very satisfied; the wired sounded better than the wireless connection but that is not the N-Com's fault it is just the process of the transmission.
I was able to learn the controls very quickly. The buttons were able to be used and identified using my summer weight gloves, my rain gloves, and my winter gloves. It took me about five minutes to get used to the functions. The ergonomics and the use of the multifunction "On" button made very good sense.
I did find the amount of wind noise on the helmet to be a bit more than the Arai Quantum, but that is not surprising as typically a full face helmet is quieter than a flip up helmet. The communication system however was the opposite, working better on the Nolan with the flip up than with the Arai Quantum. I think that part of this difference is the result of the additional venting on the Arai and the chin skirt on the Nolan. The Nolan was also much warmer during the "Rounder" ride I took than I had expected. A few miles in I stopped to take off the balaclava as I was getting warm.
Overall I would give the helmet and the communication system a thumbs up. No one system is going to satisfy everyone, but the Nolan solution and approach works very well to solve the most common uses and does it great. I liked how easy it was to charge the system and pair everything. I liked the audio quality of the system when used via hardwire with my iPod, the phone via Bluetooth was very good. I was not able to drain the included rechargeable battery during the testing. I realized during the writing of this article that Jennifer's helmet is more than five years old, I can see a Nolan N-103 with an N-Com in her future.
I also will say very clearly that the use of a communication system is not for all situations. Just like it is possible to turn up the audio too loud in the car making it so that you can't hear the ambient noises, it is just as possible and perhaps even easier to do the same in a helmet. If you do not feel comfortable riding with audio in your helmet, please don't. Be aware of your surroundings. No song or phone call is worth risking your life over.
N-103 is listed at $399 MSRP, for more information: http://www.nolan-usa.com, Phone 866-243-5638 or 630-701-1601.