Communication with the N-COM B3 Kit: Installation into a Nolan N86 helmet

Packing N-COM B3
Packing of the N-COM B3 Kit

Please note

I bought myself a new helmet in June 2018, which is not a Nolan helmet. Therefore I do not have the N-COM B3 anymore and might not be able to answer upcoming questions.

General

N-COM is Nolan's own communication system. It is the perfect choice for Nolan helmets since they are already prepared to fit in the N-COM. Due to the "Universal Intercom" it is possible for the N-COM to connect to communication systems of other brands such as Sena.  

 

For my Nolan N86 there is the B3 Kit. It contains:

  1. 3 key control panel (DOWN, ON and UP)
  2. Control panel socket with micro USB and speakers
  3. Pluggable microphone
  4. LiPo battery (1S 3,7V 800mAh)
  5. Wall plug power supply
  6. Holder for the microphone if used with a flip up helmet
  7. Velcro pads to fixate the speakers to the helmet
  8. Manual with pixelated pictures
  9. Micro USB cable

content N-COM B3
B3 Kit content without paperwork

Disassembly of the helmet

The helmet needs to be dismantled in order to build in the N-COM.


Nolan N86 left side
Nolan N86 helmet left side
Nolan N86 front
Nolan N86 helmet front
Nolan N86 right
Nolan N86 helmet right side

First, I took off the visor and removed the lining. After that I got rid of both N-COM covers on the outside and underneath the helmet. In addition to that I removed the foam pads that covered the speaker compartments. Be careful when loosening the plastic clips from the lining!

Nolan N86 lining
Taken out lining
Nolan N86 without lining
Taken out foam pads of the speaker compartments

Next the chin protection needs to be taken off to be able to remove the foam side parts. To do that I pulled the red lug at the chin area. I was worried about the chin protection breaking because of the one sided impact, so I pressed my fingers on the outside of the chin protection to slide it out of the helmet more steadily.

Nolan N86 chin protection
Chin protection with red lug for removal
Nolan N86 chin protection
Support the upper part of the chin protection with your fingers to prevent breaking
Nolan N86 without chin protection
After removing the chin protection

After removing the chin protection both foam pieces at the side can be taken off. Be sure to do that very carefully for they can break easily. I wiggled the side pieces slowly back and forth, pulled a little, until they almost came off by themselves.

Nolan N86 side piece
Wiggle the side piece carefully out to prevent breaking
Nolan N86 side piece
Taken out side piece with speaker compartment
Nolan N86 without side part
Where the control panel socket will be placed

As soon as the side pieces are removed you can go ahead and put on the adhesive Velcro pads.

Nolan N86 side parts
Placed Velcro pads in the speaker compartments

Assembling the N-COM B3

The control panel socket is attached first, following a functional test, before the headphones, microphone and battery are build in as well.

In order to start building in the control panel socket I plugged the micro USB port in the oval shaped opening at the lower part of the helmet. I then pressed the socket against the bulge until it snapped into the helmet shell.

Nolan N86 control panel socket
Building in the control panel socket
Nolan N86 control panel socket outside
The control panel socket has to snap into the helmet shell

Before continuing the assembly the B3 Kit should be tested. I plugged in the microphone and placed the control panel into the mount. Make sure the battery is connected, too. First, the N-COM needs to be paired with my smartphone via Bluetooth.

To do that, I pushed the N-COM's ON-button until all of the B3's LEDs were blinking. It is now ready to connect. I enabled Bluetooth on my smartphone. The "N-Com B3" should be listed as a Bluetooth device. If that is not the case, try disabling and enabling your Bluetooth a few times on your smartphone. After selecting the N-COM for pairing it was categorised as a device for calls and media playback. The B3 stopped blinking as soon as it was connected.

N-COM B3 laying in the Nolan N86
Before building in all the electronics a functional test should be made

If the B3 successfully passed this short function test, the assembly can continue. The microphone needs to be placed in the foam side piece. As the Nolan instructions state, it is important to pay attention that the yellow sticker is facing towards the mouth. Since the sticker was not put on very clearly I removed the foam from the mic in order to get a better look. You can then see that the N-COM logo and the microphone are facing in the same direction. Thus you should pay attention that the N-COM logo faces inwards or towards the mouth respectively.

Nolan N86 side piece with microphone
The microphone is put into the prepared canal of the side piece
N-COM B3 microphone
The microphone has to be build in with the yellow sticker or the N-COM logo facing towards the mouth
N-COM B3 microphone
else voice quality will suffer

After placing the microphone correctly into the side piece, it can be connected to the control panel socket and the side piece can be put back into the helmet. Next the speaker can be placed into the compartment with the help of Velcro tape. Its the cable can be guided through the cable guide.

Nolan N86 side piece with microphone
Align the microphone correctly when building the side piece back into the helmet
Nolan N86 side part with microphone and speaker
Built in microphone, control socket and left speaker

Now the battery can be build in the opposite side piece. To do that the LiPo needs to be latched to its mount and the cables can be placed into the cable guide in the foam. In my case, the cables were not guided ideally out of the battery pack which is why I needed to cut the plastic piece that should lead the cables off the battery mount. After doing that I could easily guide the cables upwards.

Nolan N86 side piece with battery
The Battery with its mount and side piece
N-COM B3 battery
The cable guide of the mount had to be removed
Nolan N86 side piece with battery
After removing the cable guide the battery cables could be positioned in the side piece

The battery was then connected to the control panel socket. The side piece including the battery is now ready to go back into the helmet. Keep in mind that the charge cable must be outside the side piece. Adhere the speaker to the compartment and hide the cables in the back of the neck area.

Nolan N86 side piece with battery
Leave the charge cable hanging out before putting the side piece into the helmet
Nolan N86 charge cable ledge
The charge cable can be hidden under the helmet's ledge
Nolan N86 neck cable
Keep the clip sockets at the neck clear of the cable

The N-COM B3 is now fully build in the Nolan N86. You only need to put the chin protection, the lining and the visor back in.

Nolan N86 without lining
Completely installed N-COM system
Nolan N86 chin protection with microphone
Watch for the microphone when attaching the chin protection
Nolan N86 with N-COM and lining
The cables and electronics are hidden behind the lining

The finished helmet and conclusion

When the helmet is fully assembled again, the N-COM is barely visible. The charger cable is hidden behind the linings and therefore protected against dirt or water. Looking at the helmet from the front, the control panel is not visible at all. It is well-fitted into the helmet so that it doesn't change the helmets shape and won't stand in the wind when riding.

Nolan N86 with N-COM B3 front view
You cannot see the installed N-COM in front view
Nolan N86 N-COM B3 side view control panel
Side view with control panel

Now about my impressions after a tour from Hamburg to Skagen along the Danish shore of the North Sea:

The journey there and back lastet about 12h each. Mainly we drove on country roads. In Germany a few parts included riding on the Autobahn. My fellow traveler had a Sena 10R installed in his Shoei helmet. Both, N-COM and Sena, were paired for Universal Intercom.

 

a) Connection between N-COM B3 and Sena 10R

Both systems were paired like described in the regarding manuals. After finding each other, the respective system was saved in the memory. After that you just have to switch on both helmets and they will find each other automatically so you can start communicating via intercom.

To start the intercom on the N-COM B3 side you have to press the ON button once. After that a call is started and the Sena helmet hears a ringing. The Sena accepts the call and both can start talking to each other until one hangs up.

At the Sena 10R side the N-COM is saved as an actual phone. So you have to make a real call to the "phone N-COM" to start a conversation. This is archieved by pressing one button a long time. In some situations this might be too long so we ended up with the following: I get a sign from my fellow that he wants to talk so I start an conversation via one short button press. On the other hand the Sena 10R supports accepting calls via VOX so he just has to blow into his microphone or say "hello" loud enough to accept the call and start talking. This is not supported by the N-COM B3.

Often times it takes a long time until both helmets find each other after power on. After turning on you can schedule about 5min until both helmets are ready to go.

 

b) Quality of Speech, Range, Speed Limit

Up to 100km/h (62mph) the quality of speech is very good. The Sena user was hearable loud and clear with and without ear protection. On Sena side my speaking was described as clear as well. On the Autobahn the speakers of the N-COM get to their limits. At 120km/h (74mph) and more, the surrounding noises got so loud that I couldn't understand everything my fellow was saying, even with highest volume settings. Of course this is also influenced by the loudness of your helmet (in this case an N86). On the Sena 10R side in a Shoei helmet I was understandable loud and clear nevertheless. Eventually the Sena side had to speak more slowly and clearly at high speed passages or we had to slow down for a moment.

For my purposes the range of the N-COM B3 is very good. On open road (north of Germany and Denmark) my fellow could get behind 200m and we could still talk to each other normally without any problems. We did not go to an disconnection range though. In city traffic with buildings, trucks etc. we had no problems either.

 

c) Hearing Music

The music comes from my smartphone via Bluetooth connection. My smartphone is placed in my jacket while riding. The volume, Play/Pause and skipping to the next track can be controlled with the N-COM control panel. For my hearing the N-COM has too much highs. So when riding without ear protection I raise the bass or decrease the highs on the smartphone equalizer. When riding with ear protectors the highs are dampened so far that I can ride without using an equalizer. Hearing music at higher speeds is the same as talking, after 120km/h (74mph) you don't understand that much even at maximum volume. But all in all I am very pleased with the quality of listening to music while riding with the N-COM B3 at my normal touring speed.

 

d) Battery Life

On my Denmark tour the battery life was about 7-8h. In that time I was talking via Intercom about 3h (2h continuesly speaking) and the rest of the time listening to music. When reaching the end of the battery life there comes a warning saying "battery low" regularly. You also notice this in sometimes stuttering music playing. This phase starts at the last hour of battery life. At this stage I often turn off the music and save my battery charge for important conversations with my fellow until we reach the next stop on our tour.

Then I could use my Powerbank modification (see also chapter 5) to give the N-COM a battery charge and help it lasting the rest of the trip. The Sena 10R by the way had an battery life of 10h at the same usage level. So only a battery upgrade would help the N-COM B3 to catch up with the Sena 10R.

 

All in all I'm very pleased with my N-COM B3. It fullfills its tasks and I don't want to miss the opportunity of speaking to my fellow traveler without stopping on a tour anymore.

Charging with a powerbank

Caution!

In this chapter I only describe my own approach. I do not give any warranty that my explanations are correct. Changes of electronics, especially changing charging electronics, can lead to the destruction of the device and have a risk of fire or explosion of the battery if done wrong!

I do not take any responsibilities for damages recieved by imitating my approach. The described changes are done at your own risk!

Update:

I had a comment by Ron on the german version of this article and he found a nearly out of the box solution for charging the N-COM via USB/ powerbank:

In the bay you can find a USB 1s LiPo charger, which looks like a big USB connector and delivers 500mA charging current. Since LiPo batteries usually can be charged with 1C this should be OK for the 800mAh battery of the N-COM. The chargers often have JST connectors for RC model batteries but you can easily replace them.

The N-COM B3 Kit has a power supply delivered with it to charge the battery via socket. If I take a tour that includes camping in the wilderness, there is no opportunity for recharging the NCOM.

power supply Nolan
Original power supply by Nolan
electrical characteristics power supply
Electrical characteristics of the power supply

I've got a powerbank with me to charge my smartphone, satnav and camera at the camp. The power bank itself is charged by my motorcycles on-board supply when riding during the day.

The issue with the N-COM battery is that it's a one cell LiPo battery which is charged directly. Powerbanks typically have an output of 5V with variable output current. A LiPo cell has a maximum voltage of 4.2V. When charged over this voltage limit it can bloat, smoke off or catch fire. That is the reason why the Nolan charger has an output of 4.2V and 400mA.

 

My consideration:

I use a voltage regulator which transforms the 5V of my powerbank to 4.2V and has a maximum output current of 400mA like the N-COM power supply has.

For this I ordered a charging module with a TP4056 IC on it. I got it from the bay for 3.50€. The TP4056 is an IC to charge one cell LiPo batteries. It regulates 5V at the input to 4.2V at the output. The needed maximum output current can be set by a resistor.

For input connection the charging module has a micro USB port. This way I can use my smartphone cable to connect it to the powerbank. For the output connection with the battery a coaxial power connector has to be soldered onto the board.

Mind the polarity of connector and board!

 

It is important to set the maximum output current of the charging module. The preset of the board is a 1.2kOhm resistor which sets the maximum current to 1000mA. This is too much for the N-COMs 800mAh battery. In the datasheet of the TP4056 you can find the formula to get the right resistor value for your desired output current.

 

R= 1V x 1200 / I_battery

 

Therefore you need a 3kOhm resistor to set the maximum output current to 400mA like the wall plug charger deliveres.

After recieving the charging module I changed the stock 1.2kOhm resistor to a 3kOhm one. On the board it's the resistor R3.

charging module TP4056 1 Euro for scale
Charging board with TP4056 and 1 Euro coin for scale
charging module R3 connector
Resistor R3 was replaced by 3kOhm and the battery connector was soldered onto the board

Next I checked if the output voltage is as expected when connecting my powerbank to it. For this I connected the powerbank via micro USB cable to the charging module and measured the voltage at the output without having the battery attached. With my multimeter I measured 4.17V which is acceptable. After that I connected the NCOM battery to the charging module. By the slowly rise of the voltage to a maximum level of 4.24V I could see that the battery was charged.

output voltage charging module powerbank
Output voltage without battery connected when powered by a powerbank
helmet battery charged by powerbank
Final voltage after charging the battery via powerbank and charging module

After passing this test I can use this charging module to charge my N-COM system with a powerbank. Finally I protected the charging module with a shrinking tube.

charging module shrinking tube
Charging module with shrinking tube as protection

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