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Nolan N86 Review

Nolan N86 Review
Nolan N86 Helmet Review
by Rick K. and "Burn" for webBikeWorld.com
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Summary

The Nolan N86 is the third new helmet announced by the Italian manufacturer for 2014.

The N86 replaces the Nolan N85 (review), which was the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet of the Year in 2012.

The N85 was very impressive when it arrived and it had a lot to like.

It reminded us of a full-face version of the Nolan N104 (review) with its many "surprise and delight" features that belied the very reasonable price.

That would be a hard act to follow, and the new N86 is a relatively mild update.

Offering new and more features without raising the price is always a good thing!

Motorcyclists who are new to the Nolan family of 100% made-in-Italy helmets will find a lot to like here, although there may not be enough to convince existing N85 owners to make the switch.

Background

This is the third new Nolan helmet released for the upcoming model year. We reviewed the fairly radical Nolan N44 (review) a couple of weeks ago; it replaces the Nolan N43 Air (review) and the U.S. version, the Nolan N43 Trilogy (review) in the Italian manufacturer's lineup.

The N44 is what we call a true "modular" helmet, because it can be converted from one form (full-face) to another (open-face). And more...

Next was the Nolan N91 review; it's a flip-up helmet in the Nolan tradition, with an excellent finish and overall quality with solid build. The N91 replaces the popular Nolan N90 (review) for 2014 as the "mid-range" flip-up helmet in the lineup, with the Nolan N104 (review) still holding the top spot.

The N86 is a follow-up to the Nolan N85, a helmet so popular that is has pretty much been an across-the-board sellout. Most of what we said about the N85 can be repeated here, but we'll highlight the differences.

Three Nolan Helmets
Nolan N86 Top View
Paint, Graphics and Overall Quality

Nolan apparently doesn't feel that many corners have to be cut just because of a sub-$250 list price. Probably the most impressive fact about the Nolan N85 was the quality that was delivered for the money and the N86 continues that tradition.

The N86 has the same "hard" clearcoat that we've praised on Nolan helmets for some time. It feels more protective than other types and it covers our favorite Nolan silver paint, which is perfectly applied on this example -- another Nolan specialty because the company controls every aspect of the helmet manufacture in their Brembate di Sopra factory, right down to the molded plastic bits, Pinlock inserts and clear face shields.

You can learn all about the process in this webBikeWorld Nolan Helmets factory tour report, entitled "How to Make a Motorcycle Helmet".

The quality is still outstanding and a few things have been upgraded on the N86 compared to the N85, including a spiked helmet liner, now with contrasting red fabric on our silver edition. The N86 also features an extended spoiler that takes the form of a lip at the rear of the redesigned gasket that covers the bottom of the helmet.

The combination of the red liner fabric and the gasket or seal gives the N86 an upmarket feel that seems out of place in this price range.

The other major changes include the chin and top vents, although our memory (and notes) of the N85 tell us that the ventilation in the N86 hasn't improved, unfortunately. We'll get to that in a minute but otherwise, no complaints about the overall paint quality and fit-and-finish of the Nolan N86. It's still a heck of a deal for the price.

Score: We give the Nolan N86 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 N86 Helmet Slide Show
Nolan N86 Front View Nolan N86 Front Quarter View Nolan N86 Side View Nolan N86 Rear View Nolan N86 Sun Visor and Pinlock Nolan N86 Rear Quarter View Nolan N86 Chin Strap Microlock Release Nolan N86 Eyewear Adaptive Label
  • Nolan N86 Front View
  • Nolan N86 Front Quarter View
  • Nolan N86 Side View
  • Nolan N86 Rear View
  • Nolan N86 Sun Visor and Pinlock
  • Nolan N86 Rear Quarter View
  • Nolan N86 Chin Strap Microlock Release
  • Nolan N86 Eyewear Adaptive Label
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Nolan N86 Helmet Fit, Internal Shape and Liner

Nolan has kept with the program here, meaning that the N86 internal shape feels "Nolan-ish" and identical to the N85 (and other Nolan helmets).

As we said in the N85 review, Nolan helmets typically have a characteristic internal shape with a "Neutral" to "Slight Narrow" fit as defined in the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet FAQ.

Our N86 is, like our N85, a size XL and the N86 feels correct to size. The internal shape has a slight amount of room front-to-back at the forehead and the shape is similar to the typical modern Shoei helmet. The size XL N86 should fit a 60-61 cm "Neutral" to "Slight Narrow" head shape with no problems. This fit type should work for most head shapes.

We're also assuming that Nolan will continue to offer the six different cheek pad sizes (thickness) for the N86 as they had for the N85, which should help customize the fit for different head shapes.

If memory serves us correctly, the padding on the N86 feels identical to the N85. It's slightly thin but it feels comfortable with no hard corners poking through. The removable Nolan "Clima Comfort" liner has a smooth finish that feels very comfortable next to the skin. The liner is removable and the fabric is treated with an anti-bacterial coating.

All of the Nolan N86 helmets sold worldwide are now apparently prepped for the Nolan N-Com Bluetooth intercom system. This means you can add an N-Com intercom to the helmet by inserting the intercom module into the recess on the left side of the helmet and popping in the mic and speakers into the pre-molded retainers.

We have an N-Com Bluetooth intercom module here but just haven't gotten around to trying it yet; we'll add it to the N86 to see how it works.

We're also assuming that the price of the Nolan N86 is a factor of its single shell size to cover the XS to XXL range. Note that this may have an affect on the proportions of the helmet shell and the amount of EPS and padding at the smallest and largest ends of the range.

The ear pockets on the N86 are semi-recessed with a relatively thick covering of the liner padding over the molded pocket for the N-Com speakers. The new bottom gasket or molding around the helmet makes it difficult to mount a third-party intercom system, although a stick-on might work.

Also, it seems a bit difficult to fit eyeglasses or sunglasses in the N86, possibly due to the slightly narrow shape at the sides. This is despite Nolan's claim that the N86 has an "Eyewear-Adaptive feature" that "accommodates eyeglasses".

webBikeWorld Internal Shape Estimator: Nolan N86
Narrow Med. Narrow Slight Narrow Neutral Slight Round Med. Round Round
Helmet Shape
Helmet Shape
Helmet Internal Shape Examples (see more Motorcycle Helmet Shapes)
Arai
Profile
Arai
Vector 2
AGV
K4 EVO
AGV
Stealth
Arai
RX-Q
Bell
Arrow
Arai
Quantum II

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 N86 an "Excellent" rating for shape, comfort and padding with a very nice liner and padding that works well in hot weather.

Nolan N86 Helmet Liner
The Nolan N86 liner is comfortable and removable.
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Nolan N86 Face Shield, Eye Port and Outward Visibility

The view out the eye port from the N86 seems slightly below average in the vertical plane and about average in the horizontal plane, which isn't quite the same as we remember on the Nolan N85.

We measured the clear face shield at 2.15 mm on the N86, compared to a nearly identical 2.10 mm for the N85. The face shield is claimed UV400 and it has anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings as does the internal sun visor.

Like the N85, the N86 face shield is Pinlock-ready and it comes with the Nolan-made Pinlock insert installed (Nolan have a license to make their own Pinlock inserts).

The internal sun visor on the N86 appears to be identical to the one used on the N85. It 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 relatively large indent for the nose. It is also possible to hold the sun visor in an intermediate position due to its friction-based manual system, which is a plus.

The clear face shield on the N86 appears to be lifted directly from the N85 and that's a good thing in this case. It has the same 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 -- same as the N85.

The eye port gasket on both helmets seals tightly against the face shield and both the N85 and N86 passed our "Leak Down Test" without a problem.

The face shield removal system installed on the N85 and N86 also appear to be identical. A spring-loaded button in the center quickly and easily releases the face shield for removal and replacement.

Overall, the face shield on the N86 is very good but appears to have just slightly less outward visibility than we remember on the N85 for some reason. We had rated the N85 as "Excellent" in the table below.

webBikeWorld Eye Port Visibility Estimator: Nolan N86
Visibility Poor Below Average Average Above Average Outstanding
Top to Bottom
Side to Side

Score: The Nolan N86 visibility gets a "Very Good".

Nolan N86 Top Vent System
Nolan N86 top vent and rear exhaust vents.
Nolan N86 Chin Bar
Revised chin vent on the Nolan N86.
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Nolan N86 Ventilation and Air Flow

Probably the most significant revision from the N85 is the new N86 ventilation system. The top vents, chin vent and rear exhaust vent have been changed -- unfortunately not all for the better.

The vents operate with a better and more precise feel than before, with the chin vent now having an easy-to-find slider that opens the two vertical slots on either side. The top vents operate independently with large ridged sliders that are also easy to find.

The chin vent provides a slightly above average volume of air that flows up on to the back of the face shield along the top of the chin bar. There are no direct vent ports through the chin bar on the N86.

The top aren't quite as successful. The newly designed forward-facing vents are supposed to flow air down through large vertical holes in the EPS near the forehead, then through large channels molded into the EPS along the top of the head. But the liner design seems to prevent a lot of the air from being directly felt by the wearer and the air must first flow down vertically and then make a 90-degree turn to get through the channels along the top. This may also be part of the problem.

We tried several bikes and seating positions but just don't seem to be able to feel the air coming through the helmet. It does -- there's no doubt about it -- but it would be nice to have that refreshing wave of air that you can feel on the top of your head with the better designs.

So the N86 drops slightly here also in our ratings. It's not that the system is weak; indeed, it's probably better than most helmets at this price point or higher. It's just that the N85 seemed to have better all-around performance...

webBikeWorld Opinionator: Nolan N86 Ventilation
Location Poor Below Average Average Above Average Outstanding
Top/Upper
Chin/Face

Score: We'll rate the ventilation system of the Nolan N86 as "Very Good" overall.

Nolan N86 Sun Visor
The internal sun visor and eye port on the Nolan N86.
Nolan N86 Face Shield Removal and Sun Visor
The basic face shield removal system on the N86. Note the Nolan N-Com intercom receptacle cover.
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Nolan N86 Sound Levels

Not much difference between the N85 and N86 when discussing noise control; both are about average. The top vents on the N86 generate some 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.

Riding behind a windscreen that blocks most of the air results in a fairly quiet ride, but air that flows on top of or along the sides of the N86 bring the noise levels up to average to slightly louder than average in our opinion.

Some overall wind noise just seems to come from around the helmet in undefined areas. The overall helmet shape and aerodynamics are good and we have not noticed any exceptional buffeting when wearing the N86.

webBikeWorld Opinionator: Nolan N86 Noise Levels
Location Very Quiet Quieter Average Louder Very Loud
Upper
Lower

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 earplugs (even when evaluating motorcycle intercom systems) and (usually) a helmet liner. It is strongly recommended that hearing protection is used when riding a motorcycle.  See the wBW Earplugs and Hearing Protection page 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 N86 a "Very Good" rating for average noise control.

wBW Video: Nolan N86 Helmet
Helmet Weight

The N86 comes within a whisker of the N85 with a weight of 1598 grams for this size XL. The same size N85 weighted in at 1578 grams (3 lbs., 7-5/8 oz.). Both are good results 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 (XL) at 1570 grams; the Nolan N43 (Modular) (XL) at 1579 grams; the Arai Vector (XL) at 1583 grams; the Schuberth S2 (ECE Version, XL) at 1591 grams; the Arai RX-Q (L) at 1597 grams and the Bell RS-1 (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 N86 as "Outstanding" for its relatively low weight and good balance.

Nolan N86 Rear Exhaust Vent
Redesigned exhaust vent on the Nolan N86.
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Miscellaneous

The Nolan N86 has the Nolan "Microlock2" chin strap retainer, which works well. The padding is adequate and long enough to protect the rider's neck. The N85 sold in the U.S. meets the DOT standard and helmets sold in Europe meet the ECE helmet safety standard. Also, the N86 has a chin curtain installed.

webBikeWorld Overall Opinionator: Nolan N86
Picks...
...and Pans
  • Outstanding overall quality.
  • Comfortable liner.
  • Excellent face shield optical quality.
  • Easy to fit intercom and speakers.
  • Defogging position on face shield.
  • Excellent value.
  • Slightly louder than average.
  • Upper ventilation seems a bit weak.
  • Eye port doesn't provide the visibility we remember on the N85.
Conclusion

The Nolan N86 is a relatively modest update to the N85, which was a ground-breaking helmet when it was released in 2012. Perhaps we've become a bit spoiled since then, but the N86 doesn't seem as revolutionary.

That's not really a reflection on the value the N86 represents though; we still think it may be one of -- if not the -- best helmet bargain at the $250.00 or so mark that you're likely to find. The combination of Nolan quality and features is hard to beat for anyone with a "Neutral" to "Slight Narrow" head shape.

N86 owners probably won't have a reason to "upgrade", but motorcycle riders who are new to the Nolan family and who want to move to a higher-quality helmet will find a lot to like.

More wBW Motorcycle Helmet Reviews  |  wBW Reviews Index

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wBW Review: Nolan N86 Helmet
Manufacturer: Nolan (Italy).
U.S. Distributor: Nolan USA
List Price: $249.95 (solids) to $299.95 (graphics).
Sale Price: $186.99 here.
Colors: Solids (black, white, silver) and graphics. Made In: Italy
Sizes: XS to XXL. Shell Sizes: 1 (unconfirmed) Star Rating (1-5): Four Star Rated
Review Date: September 2013
Ratings Scale: For reference, our ratings scale is subjective and ranges from Unacceptable to Poor, Neutral, Very Good, Excellent and Outstanding.
Note: Item was provided by a retailer, distributor or manufacturer with these Terms and Conditions.

Note: For informational use only. All material and photographs are Copyright © webWorld International, LLC since 2000. All rights reserved. See the webBikeWorld© Site Info page. Product specifications, features and details may change or differ from our descriptions. Always check before purchasing. Read the Terms and Conditions!

Your Comments and Feedback

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Comments are ordered from most recent to oldest.
Not all comments will be published (details).  Comments may be edited for clarity prior to publication.

From "J.Q." (October 2013): "I enjoyed your recent review of Nolan's N86 full-face helmet, but I wished you would have urged the company to make it available in a higher-visibility color, as you have often done with other hats. Nolan's N104 modular helmet proves that they do keep a supply of yellow paint around the factory!

I wrote to Nolan USA about this and got a quick response; the official said he would notify the company that customers (well, at least one potential customer) were asking for a hi-viz option. I had been looking at (the) Shoei GT Air (review) (which does come in yellow), but it's a bit beyond my budget these days. The N86 might be a reasonable alternative - if it was a bit brighter."


From "G.K." (September 2013): "I've been reading your reviews for a few years now and appreciate all the work and apparent arms-length opinions and real world reports. Every time I read a helmet review a thought flashes by: "how would my glasses fit into this helmet?".

Right now my HJC flip allows the arms of my glasses in be-grudgingly with it flipped up. This effort will eventually bend the arms. (Decades of experience talking here).

I'm asking you to include a rating of ease of use for glasses wearers. For instance: like no helmet there, slides in fairly easily, struggle but still possible, must chop out helmet liner, not humanly possible. Keep up the good work."

Rick's Reply: Note that we did comment on the eyeglass fit with the N86. But, like many things I've discovered in nearly 14 years of doing these detailed evaluations and reviews, the answer is "It all depends" -- another way of saying "there is no black and white here".

Eyeglass fit is correlated to helmet fit -- another reason to make sure your head shape matches the helmet internal shape. For example, my "Round" head doesn't fit correctly in the "Slight Narrow" N86 helmet. This makes it even more difficult to fit my eyeglasses. Others with a correct head shape match for this helmet don't have the same problem.

I have several reviewers who help with the helmet evaluations, and some don't wear eyeglasses, which also makes this feature difficult to evaluate. And it also depends greatly on the eyeglass type. I can usually squeeze a pair of the Randolph Engineering Aviator eyeglasses (review) into any helmet, because they have strong, straight temples covered in thick flat plastic.

Many times, I can not come close to fitting a pair of "normal" eyeglasses with curved temples, but the Randolph Engineering glasses will fit (although sometimes with a lot of pressure if the helmet has a narrow shape.

So you can see (sort of a pun) that this is a very difficult feature to evaluate. I'd love to be able to say -- about many things -- something like "this is the best helmet" or "this helmet has the best ventilation" or "eyeglasses will fit in this helmet". But if we did, surely someone would disagree and we'd basically be back to square one.

Ah, problems...The life of a reviewer isn't just all fun and games with brand new stuff to play with! ;-)

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