Also: wBW 2012 Motorcycle Helmet of the Year!
The new Nolan N85 is something like a full-face version of the popular Nolan N104 (review).
It has the same high levels of quality we've come to expect from Nolan and it has all the features expected in a high-end street/sport helmet.
But the single most amazing feature of the N85 is its price.
It is one of the best motorcycle helmet bargains we have seen in a long time.
In fact, the N85 can easily be compared without hesitation to helmets costing twice as much and more.
All this and light weight too!
And on top of that, it's 100% made in Italy, putting some of those other "Italian" helmet manufacturers to shame by proving that you don't have to go to Asia to do it right and reduce costs.
The Nolan N85 was introduced some time after the 2011 EICMA show (report), held each November in Milan, Italy.
The Nolan N85 on display at the Dealer Expo was the European version; it met the ECE 22.05 safety standard.
(See our report DOT vs. ECE Helmet Safety Standards)
The European version of the N85 had a brow vent that is missing from the DOT version shown here. Otherwise, the helmets are identical.
When a new helmet arrives for a webBikeWorld review it goes into the studio for photographs and video. Next comes a close inspection of the features and a read-through of the owner's manual (hmmm...most of the time!) before taking it out for a ride.
The helmet is then usually loaned to various evaluators, with each person taking or recording their notes, comments and thoughts over a period of several weeks.
Most of the time I'm not aware of the list price until I'm creating the affiliate advertisements that go onto each review page.
That's when I visit the manufacturer's website and our affiliates to find both the list price and the current street price of the item.
Thus it was for the Nolan N85, and after riding with the helmet during the last few weeks, I had a figure in the back of my mind, assuming that it probably cost about $450.00 or so.
But then I discovered that the list price of our Platinum Silver N85 is actually $249.95! At first I thought there must be a mistake, but then I discovered that is indeed the list price set by Nolan.
And if that wasn't enough of a surprise, I also found that the N85 sells for as low as $205.99 at one of our affiliates!
Amazement turned to shock, and after checking to make sure there wasn't some strange mistake, all I can say is this: I have no idea how Nolan has done it, because the N85 is one sweet helmet for the money.
On top of that, the N85 is 100% made in the Nolan helmet factory I toured in Brembate di Sopra, Italy (see the article "Making a Nolan Motorcycle Helmet")!
With the N85, Nolan has proved that a world-class, high-quality helmet packed with features can indeed be made and sold at a rock-bottom price without having to rely on co-branding or subcontractors in far-flung corners of the world.
I will state right up front that the Nolan N85 is absolutely the best helmet bargain you will find today. It has the quality and features of helmets costing twice as much and more and it pretty much sends every other motorcycle helmet manufacturer back to the drawing board. We are that impressed.
The N85 in Platinum Silver looks very much like its brothers and sisters in the Nolan family tree, with features clearly derived from recent Nolan helmets. In fact, the N85 seems pretty much like a full-face version of the popular Nolan N104 (review).
Both helmets are designed for street/sport riding and touring, and both exhibit very high levels of quality and solid construction.
Also, there's that now-famous Nolan "hard" clear coat that has been described in several of our Nolan helmet reviews (and illustrated in the "Making a Nolan Motorcycle Helmet" video described above).
The N85 comes in basic black (gloss and matte), along with "Metal White" and the Platinum Silver version shown here for that $249.95 list price.
Other colors and graphics are available in the U.S. DOT version and even more colors and graphics are available in the European versions at slightly higher list prices.
The silver is just fine and it matches the other Nolan helmets we have reviewed, such as the N104 and one of our favorite flip-up helmets, the Nolan N-90 (review), along with the Nolan N-102 (review) and Nolan N-103 (review), all reviewed in silver.
The paint on this N85 is perfectly applied, without a wrinkle, dust bump or peel o' the orange. That Nolan "hard" clear coat is also perfectly applied and the finish on the N85 looks and feels identical to the N104. Nolan has this wired, no two ways about it.
The overall quality of the N85 is also outstanding, with all the switchgear, moving parts and liner again seemingly taken right from the flagship N104.
Even the heavy-duty "Microlock" chin strap retainer system is there, one more surprise in a helmet at this price range. And on top of that, they even throw in a Pinlock (review) anti-fog insert!
The helmet shell is polycarbonate and -- like everything else on the N85, including the face shield, internal sun visor, molded vent parts and even the Pinlock insert -- is made right in the Nolan factory in Italy.
They feel pretty strongly about doing it all themselves; "vertical integration", it's called. Nolan said this allows them to control the paint and build quality, delivery and cost. Obviously, it works.
The shell feels very solid and has very little flex, which is especially noteworthy for a polycarbonate helmet. The liner fabric is comfortable and has a high-end feel, again identical to the N104. Ditto with many of the other details and features on the N85.
Score: We'll give the Nolan N85 an "Outstanding" rating for excellent overall quality. See the Summary Table at the bottom of the page for a description of our rating system.
Nolan helmets typically have a characteristic "Nolan fit", with a "Neutral" to "Slight Narrow" shape as defined in the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet FAQ.
At 60.5 cm and round in shape, my head is between a size L and XL. My head is also widest at the temples, but there are very few helmets that fit this head shape.
The N85 shown here is a size XL and although it isn't quite a perfect fit on my admittedly unusual shaped head, it feels very comfortable with just a touch of room in the forehead and up top.
It feels very much like a size XL Arai Vector 2 (review) to me, with its "Intermediate Oval" shape.
I couldn't find a direct numerical-to-letter cross reference size chart on the Nolan Italy or U.S. website, and our affiliates list the N85 in size XL as fitting a 61 to 62 cm head, which is about right for an XL.
I'd say 61 is more like the maximum size for the XL, because it feels slightly smaller inside than a typical XL. I tried a size large N85 and it felt pretty tight, so apparently this helmet is running a bit smaller than expected.
The fit is shaded just towards "Slight Narrow" from Neutral, and this should work for most head shapes, keeping in mind the slightly smaller than normal size and making sure the helmet matches your head shape. I'll hedge on this one, shading it with the graphics in the Shape Estimator table below as a "Neutral" to "Slight Narrow".
The padding isn't quite as plush as, say, the Arai Vector 2 or the very plush Shoei Neotec (review), but it feels comfortable with no hard corners poking through.
And the N85's removable "Clima Comfort" liner isn't as rough-feeling as the fabric in my Arai RX-Q (review). The liner is also removable and the fabric is treated with an anti-bacterial coating.
[UPDATE: Nolan said that six different cheek pad sizes (thickness) will be available for the N85.]
Note that there are a few different versions of the N85 available in Europe and some have different specifications.
All of the N85's sold in the U.S. are apparently the N-Com version, which also have the N-Com Bluetooth intercom module housing molded into the helmet shell on the left hand side, a microphone port and speaker housings molded into the EPS.
It looks like the N85 is not pre-wired for the plug-in N-Com intercom module system that was demonstrated to me on an N104 at last year's EICMA show.
[UPDATE: The N85 is made in just one shell size to span the head size range; probably one of the main reasons why they have been able to set a low list price. This may affect the proportions of the helmet at the smallest and largest ends of the range.]
The ear pockets are of average size and depth and can fit intercom speakers.
Nolan would like you to use their N-Com Bluetooth system, and the design of the gasket around the bottom of the helmet has an inward turn, making it difficult to install the typical clamp-on accessory helmet intercom mount, so a stick-on is probably best.
More information on helmet fit can be found in the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet FAQ page, along with the chart that lists the helmet weights of webBikeWorld reviewed helmets and also by shape on the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet Shapes page.
Score: We'll give the Nolan N85 an "Excellent" rating for shape, comfort and padding with a very nice liner and padding that works well in hot weather.
Recent Nolan helmets have been noted for their new face shield design, which provides plenty of outward visibility and the N85 is consistent with that approach.
The view out the eye port is slightly better than average in the vertical and horizontal planes, but not as dramatically so as the N104.
We measured the clear face shield at 2.10 mm and the internal rotating sun visor at 1.91 mm thick. Nolan's literature claims that the internal sun visor can also be used as the protective face shield when it's in the dropped position.
The clear face shield is claimed UV400 and it has anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings; we're not sure about the internal sun visor.
The face shield is also Pinlock-ready and a Nolan-made Pinlock insert (they have a license to make their own Pinlock inserts) comes in the box -- yet another bonus for a helmet in this price range.
The sun visor rotates downward with a lever on the left-hand side of the helmet, just behind the face shield rotating point. The sun visor has an adequate amount of travel, but it does have a larger than desired indent for the nose and it is angled up on either side, so it's not perfect.
It would be better with a straighter lower edge to keep those distractions out of the rider's line of sight.
But all things considered, it's better than many other sun visor designs and it also can be stopped in an intermediate position due to its friction-based manual system, which is a plus.
The clear face shield also has a centrally-located lift tab with a small friction click-lock tab molded in. The shield can be lifted very slightly, where it rests on the molding to allow demisting or ventilation -- a feature missing from too many helmets, especially in this price range.
The face shield then lifts through 5 detents with a solid feel.
The eye port gasket seals tightly against the face shield and the N85 passed our "Leak Down Test" without a problem.
The face shield removal system installed on the N85 is also notable. It has a spring-loaded button in the center that quickly and easily releases the face shield for removal and replacement.
Overall, the visibility, face shield and its operation on the N85 are outstanding and much better than you'd expect on a helmet in this price range.
Score: The Nolan N85 visibility is better than average and the features and operation of the face shield is outstanding, so we'll give it an "Outstanding" rating overall.
The ventilation system on the N85 is better than average. The two top vents are easy to find, although we prefer a single lever to open or close the vents.
The top vents face forward when opened, and they push a good volume of air into the helmet through a series of vent passages through the EPS and on either side of the top part of the liner and down on to the rider's head.
The top vents have a stiff feel on this helmet, but they snap open and closed without problems. The openings face forward, however, which does add some wind noise, especially when riding a touring bike with a windscreen that directs air at the top of the helmet.
The chin vent has a small slider tab to open or close the shutter behind the plastic mesh screen. Note that down is closed and up is open -- it's not obvious, even when looking closely inside the chin vent with a flashlight.
The air travels up through the chin bar and exits along the top of the breath guard.
There's a secondary small vent at the lower part of the chin bar; it can be seen as the black square insert in the photos. We're not sure what this does -- it may flow some air through two small vent passages in the chin bar itself, but we haven't quite been able to figure this out.
In any case, ventilation from both the top vents and chin vent is better than average, although it is not possible to completely shut off the ventilation through the chin vent, so we're not sure how this will affect cold-weather riding.
The helmet comes with a chin curtain in the box; it's not clear why Nolan doesn't install this at the factory, because it's a bit tricky to get it inserted correctly under the gasket that surrounds the bottom of the helmet.
The grid material that covers the chin vent is repeated in the rear of the N85 for the exhaust vent, which is incorporated into the spoiler assembly.
By the way, the DOT version does not have the brow vent of the European version, which can be seen in our photos and video of the prototype from the 2012 Dealer Expo and described in the Nolan N85 Preview.
Overall, we think the N85 has better than average ventilation.
Score: The Nolan N85 gets an "Excellent" rating for ventilation.
The N85 is about average when it comes to noise control. The top vents will make a wind noise when they're open, as they face forward. It's especially noticeable when riding a motorcycle with a windscreen that directs the air towards the top of the helmet.
But tilt the head forward slightly, as when riding a sportbike, and the noise from the top vents pretty much disappears.
The lower part of the helmet is relatively quiet, however. The overall helmet shape and aerodynamics are good and we have not noticed any exceptional buffeting when wearing the N85.
Note that our helmet evaluations are normally a combined effort of several riders over time, on different types of motorcycles with and without windscreens.
Evaluators wear correctly fitted, high quality ear plugs (even when evaluating motorcycle intercom systems).
Always protect your hearing when riding a motorcycle. See the wBW Earplug Reviews for more information on choosing and wearing earplugs.
Note also that perceived noise levels will vary, depending on the individual.
Noise can be caused by many factors, including helmet fit; the type of motorcycle and windscreen; wind speed and direction and even the type of clothing that is being worn. For more information on helmet noise, visit the wBW Motorcycle Helmet Noise page.
Score: We'll give the Nolan N85 a "Very Good" rating for average noise control.
The N85 is a relative lightweight, with this size XL weighing in at only 1578 grams (3 lbs., 7-5/8 oz.). This is a good figure for a size XL helmet with an internal sun visor system.
For comparison, some other helmets of this type in size large include the Suomy Extreme Spec-1R (review) in size XL at 1570 grams and the Nolan N43 (review), a true "Modular" helmet in size XL at 1579 grams.
Also, the Arai Vector (review) in size XL at 1583 grams; the Schuberth S2 (review) (ECE Version, XL) at 1591 grams; the Arai RX-Q (review) in size L at 1597 grams and the Bell RS-1 (review) in size L at 1603 grams.
Note that all of the helmets reviewed on webBikeWorld have been weighed and the weights are available on the wBW Motorcycle Helmet Weights page, along with a chart that lists the helmets by weight and shape on the wBW Motorcycle Helmet Shapes page.
Score: We rate the Nolan N85 as "Outstanding" for its relatively low weight and good balance.
The N85 has the Nolan "Microlock" chin strap retainer, which works well but is a bit bulky. The padding is adequate and long enough to protect the rider's neck, however.
The N85 meets both DOT and ECE helmet safety standards.
There's no doubt about it, the Nolan N85 is a true bargain in every sense of the word at its list price of $249.95 and street price below $225.00.
It has the overall build quality of helmets costing twice as much or more and it includes many of the high-end features found in the Nolan N104, like the inclusion of a Pinlock insert, the locking face shield and its special defogging position.
It's also comfortable and good-looking, with good ventilation and a solid feel.
We have no idea how Nolan is making any money on this helmet, considering what the competition is offering in this price range.
We almost never use the word "best", but we can comfortably state in this case that the Nolan N85 is currently the best helmet you'll find for under $250.00.
wBW Review: Nolan N85 Helmet
|Manufacturer: Nolan (Italy)||List Price (2012): $249.95-$299.95|
|Colors: Solids, graphics and replicas.||Made In: Italy|
|Sizes: XS-XXL. Shell Sizes: One||Review Date: June 2012|
Rating Scale is subjective: Unacceptable, Poor, Neutral, Very Good, Excellent, Outstanding.
Note: Item provided by a retailer, distributor or manufacturer with these Terms and Conditions.
From "J" (September 2013): "Have finished a year with my Nolan N-85. Very pleased. Wind noise is acceptable, vision is great, fit is good & comfortable. I wish that the liner was a little more plush. Great investment overall."
From "K.E." (May 2013): "It has been about a week since I started wearing this helmet. Since I got it, Iíve probably logged about 100 miles with it ranging from early morning, overcast commutes, to high 70-80ís, sunny rides in the afternoon.
So far, I have to agree with your review on most aspects. This helmet feels light, cuts through the air very well, and noise levels are moderate.
The one thing I will say is that it does not suffer from whistling while the face shield is up, like my Scorpion EXO-400 (review) does.
This helmet is nearly 200 grams lighter than the EXO-400, and boy can you tell! This thing feels downright feathery compared to the Scorpion.
I bought the "dark smoke" face shield along with the helmet and I have to say that even though itís dark, the tint allows you to still see very well in lower light like early morning, cloudy conditions.
That is a nice surprise because it means less changing to the clear face shield when conditions get a bit darker.
Not so for the VSP (the internal eye shield), however. The tinting on that one is definitely more suited for bright sunlight.
A couple more items: First, the micro-lock system is great!!! You can adjust the length (aside from the clasp system itself) to make it comfortable. Donít have to mess with my gloves any more to get the helmet cinched correctly or take it off.
Second, it has been mentioned several times that the helmet is about a size smaller than what it says. Not in my case. I tried two Nolans before I bought this one and the Medium fit perfect.
With the EXO-400, I had to wear a Large (and even then it fit snug). Not sure why this is since both helmets are in the "slightly narrow, to neutral" shape. BTW, I love this helmet."
From "K.S." (April 2013): "I've had the helmet since last season. Bought size large. Have since changed the cheek pads to XL.
Discomfort still exist. Helmet fits like a XXS. Even hurts my ears. I see others post comfort issues as well. Wonder what went wrong with the EPS mold, as its way out of whack.
Anyway, I'm wondering, do you know if the EPS is the same size or mold for all sizes? I ask (because) I read that all the shells are one size. So I'm curious to know if the same holds true for the EPS or shell interior? If so, no need for me to eBay this mind numbing size large in pursuit of a size XL."
Editor's Reply: The EPS changes for each size, but the Nolan helmets do have a slightly different type of fit so the match to the head shape is extra important.
The size XL N85 fits me with more room so perhaps you bought the wrong size?
It usually is not possible to change a helmet size up or down with only a cheek pad swap. Bottom line, the internal shape of the N85 may be a mismatch to your head shape, but the XL may feel more comfortable.
From "P.B." (November 2012): "My N85 helmet finally arrived. I had ordered an XL, but this helmet seems to run just about a size small and I had to exchange it for an XXL.
I wore it around for a while and then took it for a ride. It feels light and does not buffet in the wind. It seems to ventilate well, but a real test will have to wait for hot weather that's a long way off.
The built in sun visor is very good. The face shield is very clear even with the Pinlock anti fog shield installed.
I always had trouble with D rings, probably due to injuring my hand in an accident last year, and so I really like the ratchet chin strap.
Only two problems. The sun visor seemed to be coated with some oily stuff probably left from the manufacturing process. I had to take the sun visor off and clean it several times.
The neck roll isn't as substantial as my Shoei and lets the neck get a bit cold at the back. But, for $205, it's a bargain considering its light weight and features."
From "J.B." (August 2012): "I've worn a Nolan N103 (review) for the past 4 years or so, the XL size fits me very well. But I'm tired of the weight and the noise.
I was hopeful that the N85 was a natural choice, with features I like on the N103, but the XL on the N85 is so tight I can barely get my head into it. Unfortunately none of the shops in my area of Bitburg, Germany have an XXL for me to try.
Perhaps the tight sizing is a result of having only one shell size, to keep the price down? If so, I hate to see a quality company like Nolan going down that road."
Editor's Reply: The size XL N85 may fit only slightly smaller than other XL helmets, but it does have a different internal fit, so if your head shape doesn't match the "Nolan shape" of the N85, then you might have difficulties.
I don't remember how this differs from the N103 but the flip-ups usually have a little more flex in the shell, which may have compensated for the difference.
Also, the shape of the EPS probably has more to do with the fit of the helmet than the number of shell sizes made. Making only one shell helps keep costs down, which is one of the factors making the N85 such a bargain.
From "E.P." (July 2012): "Thought I would give back something since I used your review of the Nolan N85 to make my decision to purchase it. Been a loyal follower of webBikeWorld for a few years now.
My previous helmet was a HJC IS-16 (review). I fell in love with the internal sun visor, that it became a requirement for my next helmet. I also use the Sena SMH10 headset, so ear pockets were also essential.
I ride a Yamaha FJR1300 with a Rifle windscreen that creates an envelope to just below the top of the helmet. I am 6'-2'' tall.
Bought the N85 Virage two weeks ago along with the Dark Smoke replacement visor (picture of that combo below). Some very slight foam shaving was required to fit the Sena speakers into the ear sockets since the speakers are not perfectly round.
The sockets are deep enough so that you do not notice the speakers are installed.
As you mentioned in your review, the N85 has a lip at the bottom of the helmet which prevents a clamp to be used to secure a communicator. I used double-sided tape and so far so good, but I do worry about the heat here in Texas causing it to lose stickiness over time.
I've ridden a couple of hours with the N85 and it is quieter than I anticipated. The top vents do cause a slight rumble, but you do feel the air flowing to your head. The volume I need on the Sena is much lower than when I used the HJC.
I admit I do not use earplugs on a regular basis.
I have not gotten used to the position of the internal sun visor lever, maybe because I am still used to the HJC mechanism directly on top. The combination of dark visor and the internal sun visor make riding in the Texas sun quite pleasant.
It's also nice to flip the big visor up and keep the sun visor down for low speed cruising to get more air on your face.
I concur with your review that this helmet has the feel of something much more expensive. I am also surprised how compact the helmet feels on my head compared to the HJC. Just feels like a smaller helmet, although both are sized Large.
The only thing that I am hoping goes away after some more miles is there is a bit of pressure on my forehead. Leaves a good red mark on my skin for 10 minutes after I ride. Besides that, the helmet fits great. Thanks again for the review!"
From "J.B." (July 2012): "Based on your review and the excellent presentation regarding the Nolan production facility (Making a Nolan Motorcycle Helmet), I purchased 2 helmets (N85) from RevZilla.
The package was quite complete a Pin Lock insert and a chin piece. The helmet was finished impeccably.
The fit for me was good as well as for my wife. We both looked at the Shoei Qwest as a reference and found a good fit. Based on that information we purchased the large size and it conforms very well to your indicator.
Our heads are more toward round and the both fit well. It did not seem as plush as the Qwest, then again the Qwest was priced well above what we paid for the two units.
The pull-down sun shade was rough around the edges and had a film of oil which I suspect comes from the foam and this is where it resides in the up position.
It was cleaned with professional lens cleaner and the appropriate cloth and all was ok. The weight is excellent and the balance is spot on.
As an early adopter of full-face helmets and not wearing a helmet for almost 15 years, the Nolan N85 came as welcome surprise. I will update on a ride test as soon as I get another bike.
The helmet bespeaks what you place in your reviews which gives me great confidence in the knowledge that I have a place to go for an honest and accurate review.
Also I failed to mention since I am not a "D" ring fan I like the micro lock, however, it could have slightly more strap (extended mine pretty far) and the strap guard could offer more coverage. Everything else beautiful."