Photos by Justin Steiner and Emily Walley
We’ve arrived at version 3.0 of the venerable Nomad, a bike that’s pushed the boundaries of pedal-friendly long-travel bikes from its inception. It comes as no surprise to see this new Nomad further redefining the capability and versatility of the all-mountain category, this time with 27.5-inch wheels.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this new Nomad (Miami Vice paint job aside) is the radically progressive geometry: 65-degree head tube angle, 74.2-degree seat tube angle, 13.4-inch bottom-bracket height, 17.1-inch chainstays, and a 46.1-inch wheelbase.
The new bike is substantially slacker, lower, and shorter in rear center, yet longer in wheelbase. Naturally, these changes point to improved down-hill prowess, but that’s only part of the story. Santa Cruz also revamped the pedaling position by steepening the seat-tube angle while maintaining top-tube length. This change places the rider up over the bottom bracket for an efficient pedaling position, increases reach to provide a roomy cockpit, and increases front-center length for stability.
This new carbon frame is gorgeously executed with clean lines and a purposeful aesthetic. Everything from the new, recessed lower link to the genius internal cable routing is an inspiring blend of form and function. Two thin, carbon fiber tubes are molded inside the down tube, so the rear shift cable and dropper-post line can simply slide right through the tube. The rear brake line is run externally so you don’t have to bleed your brakes when installing or removing. Other neat touches include an ultra-short seat tube to accommodate 150mm-travel dropper posts and built-in down tube and chainstay protection. It’s worth noting this bike has no accommodation for a front derailleur.
The new Nomad’s suspension has been tuned to ride higher in its travel and provide more mid-stroke support. Some folks criticized the old Nomad for often using too much mid-stroke travel. The new bike does indeed ride higher in its travel and feels very well supported. While the RockShox Monarch Plus DebonAir does an admirable job of providing small-bump sensitivity, I wouldn’t necessarily call the Nomad plush. “Composed” and “responsive” are better descriptions of the suspension feel.
Under pedaling, there’s very little suspension movement, even with compression damping on the minimum of its three settings. Both additional settings add firmness without harshness, making them very useful on smoother terrain or during high-intensity pedaling sessions. Santa Cruz’s tuning choices are spot on for the Nomad’s new personality.
Up front, the Nomad is designed for 160 to 170mm forks. RockShox’s awesome 160mm Pike is the base option, or you can upgrade to the new 160mm Fox 36 for an additional $140. Both forks feel great on the Nomad, with the Pike being a little more plush on small bumps and the 36 delivering more damping for hard-charging applications, even tuned on the plush end of the spectrum.
In addition to the SRAM X01 kit on my test bike, an X1 kit is available for a build price of $5,899, as well as the high-end XX1 kit for $8,299. Buyers also have the option to upgrade to the RockShox Vivid Air R2C for an additional $230.
In my brief ride aboard the Vivid Air at the press launch, it was notice- ably plusher on small bumps and gave the Nomad more of a DH-bike feel without much downside in terms of pedaling performance. It’s an upgrade worth considering if your Nomad will spend significant time pointed downhill, particularly for long runs where the Vivid Air’s increased oil volume will better dissipate heat.
The last and most grand upgrade is the $2,000 Enve carbon wheel option. Clearly your wallet will dictate whether or not that’s an option for you. We ordered our Nomad with the stock WTB Frequency i23 rims and DT Swiss 350 hubs, but currently have a pair of Enve M70 rims with DT Swiss 240 hubs to test the value of the upgrade. Look for the review in an upcom- ing issue, but I’ll give you the facts now. Total weight savings: 197 grams.
X01 and XX1 kits ship with Santa Cruz’s newly launched Carbon 800 handlebar, featuring 800mm width, 20mm rise, 9 degrees of sweep, and a 35mm clamp diameter in a 200-gram package. It’s a nice-looking bar with good sweep and plenty of stiffness.
Hop on the new Nomad and one of the first things you’ll notice is the neutral riding position. No longer do you feel behind the pedals and over the rear wheel. As confidence inspiring as that position can feel downhill, it doesn’t help forward propulsion. On this bike you feel centered, ready to attack both climbs and descents.
Turn the pedals uphill and you might think you’re on a Bronson. I’m blown away by how well this bike pedals. Seated, you see very little motion in the rear shock, and only a touch more standing. It’s definitely one of the best-pedaling bikes I’ve ridden in this class.
True to form, the Nomad really shines when pointed downhill. The long front center, slack head tube, and low bottom bracket provide a ton of confidence at high speeds and on steep terrain. The faster and steeper, the better; this bike eats it up. That low bottom bracket and the awesome High Roller II tires make the Nomad incredibly confident while cornering; crank it over and rail.
The well-damped chassis is very predictable and forgiving. The Monarch Plus handles big hits without breaking a sweat. I can’t say I consciously felt the bike bottom out once throughout the test, which is rare for me. The end of the stroke ramps up pretty quickly to bottom out, leaving the feeling there’s always a little left in reserve if you do something stupid.
Downsides? Just two I’ve found, and they’re caveats at worst. One, the bottom bracket is low. If you bash your pedals a lot or hate pedal strikes, this bike is not for you. However, if you simply time things so you don’t smash into rocks and roots, it’s a non-issue. And two, in very high-load situations such as g-outs where you might have the bike leaned over just a touch, I perceived just a hint of flex. This is, after all, a frame the weight of a Bronson but with geometry that encourages you to ride it much harder.
From my very first shuttle run at the Nomad press launch to my first trail ride on familiar stomping grounds, it was clear I was going to like this bike a great deal. The Nomad offers an insanely potent combination of descend- ing confidence and capability with incredible pedaling efficiency at a weight that’s hard to argue against. Put it this way: The Nomad pedals nearly as well as the Bronson, but is in a league of its own when the trail points downhill.
For those coming from the gravity realm, the Nomad offers Bronson-like efficiency in a mini-DH package. It might just be the perfect all-around bike for someone who spends a lot of time on a downhill bike. For riders from the XC/trail spectrum, the Nomad offers incredible descending confidence in a versatile package. Its ability to comfortably and efficiently tackle all-day trail rides one day and rally the bike park the next is largely unmatched. It’s a hell of a bike. Only question left for me: Aqua/Magenta or Stealth Black?
This review originally appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #180. To make sure you never miss a product review, order a subscription and help support your favorite mag.