Nolan’s new B4 communication system has all the functions of other top-quality Bluetooth motorcycle systems and some of the same limitations. It offers A2DP stereo from FM radio and MP3 players, linked GPS, pilot-to-passenger and bike-to-bike intercom, and of course, full cellphone capability. The B4 also allows hands-free communication and/or control of functions for devices that use AVRCP (Audio/Visual Remote Control Protocol). However, the most obvious thing that sets it apart from the competition is how it integrates with the Nolan N104 modular helmet: it fits inside.
Nolan’s new N104 helmet shell has been aerodynamically designed and the flip-up chin bar—DOT approved for both the open and closed positions—has an elliptical trajectory that places it closer to the helmet in the open position than any other modular helmet on the market. By fitting the B4 control module inside the shell, the aerodynamics remain optimum, with no additional wind drag or noise. The slim-profile control panel on the left side of the helmet is unobtrusive, but easy to operate even when wearing heavy gloves.
Under ideal conditions—line-of-sight and no radio interference—communication from one bike to another maxes out at 800 meters, or roughly a half-mile. In real-world situations topography and buildings can dramatically reduce this distance, but this is true for all top-tier Bluetooth communications systems. The range, coupled with the B4’s ability to be in contact with up to four additional riders, makes it extremely suitable for small groups touring together.
The excellent stereo FM radio with RDS (Radio Data System) has 6 program settings and station search capability. Voice-activated cellphones are easily controlled through the B4, and phone calls can be private or shared in conference mode with another rider. Any audio being played through the radio or MP3 devices is automatically suppressed from the system until the phone call is terminated. Audio devices equipped with AVRCP can be voice activated and deactivated. GPS units with verbal route instructions can also be private or in conference mode. Older audio devices without Bluetooth capability can be plugged into the B4 control unit using a standard 3.5mm phone plug (optional).
Excellent speakers and a boom microphone with noise reduction are the best I’ve tested on any bike communication system. A desirable feature is audio that beeps when changing communication modes and the battery charge is low. The rechargeable and removable lithium battery—I like this feature—operates for approximately 10 hours. A battery charger and micro USB cable are supplied.
While the B4 system is easily installed in the N104 helmet, its full capabilities require a learning curve and time to pair up Bluetooth devices the first time. Fortunately the user’s manual is well written and also available online. Firmware updates and Windows PC software for managing communication settings can be downloaded from the Nolan N-Com website (n-com.it).
The N-Com B4 system only fits in the new N104 helmet, and purchasing two or more units can get rather pricey. The MSRP for one is $393.25, although I’ve seen it offered online for as little as $279.77. On the positive side, this is the best integration of a Bluetooth communication system and helmet that’s commercially available.
For more information: Call Nolan USA at (866) 2HELMET or (630) 701-1601, or visit nolan-usa.com
(This Gearlab review was published in the May 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)