X-Lite X1004 and NCOM BX-5 review: Next-level flip-face sports helmet
I love my Nolan flip-face helmets, I really do, but Nolan has a high-end brand called X-Lite that makes similar gear using lightweight, luxurious materials and a sportier approach. It's time to step up and see what you get for a few hundred extra dollars with the flagship X1004 and BX-5 Bluetooth system.
I've been wearing Nolan flip face lids for more than 15 years now. My first was an N102E, which I banged on the road and replaced with another one. When I banged that one on the road I moved up to an N103.
When I saw the N104, I couldn't resist the upgrade. What a terrific lid. That's the one you'll see in just about all the bike review videos I've done in the last several years. The visor viewport on the N104 is so wide you can stand with your back to the wall and see both corners slightly behind you in your periphery. That's a massive advantage when it comes to lane changes and whatnot. In traffic, it rules supreme. I've had two of them and only banged one on the road.
But they're heavy, noisy, and they look a bit dorky, and Nolan has a high-end brand called X-Lite that makes similar lids, except using lightweight composite shells and fancy cool mesh materials, not to mention a sportier look. I felt after 15 years it was time to splash out and see what a few hundred extra dollars get you.
Well, for starters, the X-Lite X1004 is some 120 g (4.2 oz) lighter than the N104, which started off at 1.74 kg (3.8 lb) before I weighed it down further with noggin sweat, Sena headsets and spittle. While 120 g doesn't sound like a lot (well, not a lot of anything legal), you certainly notice the difference when you pick it up or stick it on your head, and I imagine it makes all the difference when you bang it on the road.
There's an ultra carbon version, too, that knocks another 100 g (3.5 oz) off the top for a bit more money. That sounds awesome but, according to Nolan, you can't use a Bluetooth headset with it because too much carbon interferes with your signal. I need Bluetooth headsets – and not just for recording bike videos. If I tried to commute without a podcast on every day to occupy my brain, I'd ride like even more of an idiot and probably bang more helmets on the ground.
Getting back to the X1004, it's far more of a luxury experience than the cheaper lids, being decked out with much nicer internals, including cool-mesh sweat-wicking fabrics, leather trims, netted sections and a huge top venting system that draws cool air through and over your scone.
One definite step in the wrong direction is the narrower viewport. But then, the N104 is a bit of an outlier in this regard, and the X1004 only feels restrictive in comparison to that. A slightly narrower viewport gives it a thinner, less bulky frontal profile and helps it look a bit sportier.
Like the Nolan lids, the X1004 is chock full of features to fiddle with. First up is the flip-up chinpiece, which operates with the same thumb-and-pinch mechanism the Nolans do for one-handed opening on the move. I have to say, the extra lining and fabric that gives the lid that deluxe feel can also get in the way when you're trying to close the chinpiece on the move, and it can take two or three goes to get it to click in. Perhaps this is something that will loosen up with time.
Next up is the internal sun visor, which flips up and down on a lever at the top rear of the lid. It comes down further than the N104's, covering pretty much your whole field of vision and single-handedly saving you from ever needing to switch to a dark visor, unless you're riding in some unholy combination of bright glare and misty cold.
Speaking of which, a new feature I haven't seen before is the X1004's "de-mister" mode, a button on the visor hinge that lets you bring the visor right down, but juts the side of the visor out sideways to break the seal just a peep and let some air come in. I haven't tried it yet, and to be honest I can't find the button for it when I've got gloves on. You'd hope for a bigger button, given that you're only using this kind of thing in the very worst weather when you're using the thickest gloves.
Either way, even without the demister, this lid isn't prone to fogging up in cold, wet, slow riding. That's because all Nolan and X-Lite lids come with anti-fog pinlock inserts that more or less eliminate visor misting until conditions get absolutely atrocious. Honestly, I don't know why every helmet doesn't come with them as standard.
The fit of the helmet is much cushier and closer than the N104, with lush pads up against your cheeks and a neck roll and chin flap keeping air and noise out from below. It feels much more luxurious, up until you tighten the micro-ratchet strap, which, even through the comfort liners, sits hard against your neck where the old D-loops were a lot softer. It feels nicer as I rotate the lid backwards on my head.
On the road, the X1004 feels light and comfy, but it's not as quiet as I'd hoped. There's a whistle that comes in sometimes at freeway speeds with the chinpiece or visor up, and you can definitely hear the top vent channeling air through in a muted roar. The flipside to that, though, is that ventilation is absolutely terrific with the chinpiece down and vents open. And even with the noise coming from the top, it's a fair bit quieter than my N104. It certainly helps that the noise is coming from a spot that's further away from my ears.
N-Com BX-5 integrated Bluetooth kit
One of Nolan/X-Lite's big selling points is that they make both helmets and Bluetooth kits, so they can custom build a headset to work perfectly with every lid. In the X1004's case, that's the NCOM BX-5, which the helmet's built to accommodate via a series of holes, channels and small cutouts in the guts of the helmet and the shell itself.
Installation was a solid half-hour job for me, made much easier by watching this video of the same process for the previous model X1003. It's fiddly, but the end result is a really nicely integrated system with only a thin set of buttons and antenna to change the aerodynamics of the lid, as opposed to something like the Sena or Cardo gear which pokes out more (and contributes to some jovial side-to-side buffeting that makes it very hard to see what your speedo is reading past about 280 km/h).
The audio signal is clear, crisp and loud enough – in fact, I've found myself running podcasts a step or two down from the max volume even with earplugs in. Partial credit has to go to the helmet itself, which is a bit quieter at speed than the N104.
Chatting on the phone works well. A couple of people have told me they had no idea I was on the bike, which is what you want. Others, though, said they could hear a fair bit of engine noise and with the chinpiece up the wind noise becomes noticeable. This leads me to believe that noise reduction is effective, but not as good as, say, the Sena 20S. No matter, it's still very good.
Intercom range isn't terrific compared to the competition at a claimed 500 m (1,640 ft), but realistically, it's adequate for most of what I use it for. The NCOM gear can talk to other brand intercoms using a universal connection, and you can program in up to six other headsets to talk to, but only one at a time, it seems, rather than a multi-way conference situation. If you're fond of getting out with a pack and having jolly big group chats in the straight bits, you'll need to look elsewhere.
But at the end of the day, the advantage here is the beautiful way everything's integrated into the helmet. There are places to hide the wiring away, tiny cutouts to keep the microphone in the perfect place, and a small charging cable that pokes out the back, or tucks back in under the neck roll. No wires poke out, the speakers settle snugly back into perfectly sized holes so they don't rub against your ears, there's nothing big hanging off the side of your head, and the whole thing just works.
The X-Lite x1004 retails for AU$799 in Australia, US$625 in the US, or slightly cheaper if you don't want the spunky graphics. The NCOM BX-5 integrated Bluetooth kit will set you back a further AU$379 (US$310). All up, I think it's more than enough of a step forward from the trusty Nolan N104 to earn its premium price tag, and a welcome addition to my helmet shelf. If I get an opportunity to bang it on the road, I'll let you know how it goes.