We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that the Santa Cruz Nomad was the first true “enduro” bike, built at a time when the word had no meaning. The original version of the bike, built back in 2007, featured a very progressive geometry with—gasp—a choppered-out, 67 degree head angle and a dirt-scraping, low bottom bracket. It was designed to run a short stem and wide handlebars. To say it was ahead of its time is an understatement, because it was also the first bike we can remember that made sculpted hydroformed tubes stick. This bike was the forerunner of every enduro bike out there—and it’s still at the forefront in riders’ minds.
Schralping the corners: “Schralping” is about the only verb we can use to describe how fun this bike is when the trail gets twisty. The Nomad is quick and nimble, yet not afraid of high speeds, either. Truly a dialed machine for your next all-day enduro adventure.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The newest Nomad stays true to its roots as a very aggressive bike built to handle equally aggressive trails. It will be the first choice for Santa Cruz enduro racers on the most technical tracks, boasting an extra 10 millimeters of travel and a slacker geometry than its little brother, the Bronson. With a fairly lightweight carbon construction matched to a lightweight build kit, the Nomad is designed with some climbing in mind, although this bike best suits the rider who is willing to sacrifice a little climbing efficiency to gain big confidence on the descents.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The 165-millimeter-travel frame is built around 27.5-inch wheels and uses full-carbon construction, with the exception of the forged aluminum upper and lower links. The suspension rides on angular contact bearings for both stiffness and durability and uses a collet axle system to keep everything snug without the use of pinch bolts. Nice touches include internal routing for the derailleur and dropper post cables and molded protectors on the chainstay and downtube. The bike also features a 142-millimeter rear axle, tapered head tube and ISCG-05 tabs should you want to mount a chainguide. When we asked why Santa Cruz opted for a con- ventional 73-millimeter bottom bracket shell rather than a lighter Press-Fit option, their response was simply that the threaded BB doesn’t creak as much. Coming from guys who ride as much as the Santa Cruz guys do, we appreciate the no-nonsense approach.
Our favorite detail: This bike whips around tight corners better than any other in recent memory, and it’s largely due to the dialed geometry with very short-feeling chainstays.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Santa Cruz is essentially a frame and kit company, which gives riders a little bit of flexibility when it comes to building their Nomads. Our bike fits right in as the Goldilocks build with SRAM’s X01 drivetrain, a Pike RCT3 fork and Monarch Plus shock; all are proven performers on the trail. Santa Cruz offers opportunities to flash out the bike, including options for Enve carbon wheels, Fox suspension, and higher-end SRAM XX1 drivetrain components. The Nomad is also available in a more basic package, starting at a fairly reasonable $5600 without losing much in performance.
The Santa Cruz carbon handlebar stands out as an exceptional house-brand component. It’s super wide and has an excellent feel for the aggressive riding this bike is built for.
Sleek lines: The Nomad uses a combination of internal and external cable routing to achieve the ultimate in streamlined looks and is easier to work on for home mechanics.
Carbon throughout: Santa Cruz doesn’t skimp by building a carbon front triangle mated to an aluminum rear end. This bike is carbon throughout. The Shimano XT brakes are always welcome on any of our test bikes.
Boostin’ it: The Nomad’s fun and flickable feel proved to be the standout characteristic that put the bike on our short list of enduro rigs. We simply had a hard time keeping the tires connected to the ground…in a very good way.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
What’s the deal with the carbon? The latest generation of the Nomad comes in two distinct versions that share identical tube shapes, and hardware. In fact, the two versions—the Carbon and the Carbon C—look identical and are even available in the same colors and graphics packages. The only visual difference between the two is the number of Cs on the top tube, but the real differ- ence is in the construction and materials used. The base Carbon model tested here comes in at 28.3 pounds. The Carbon C version uses higher-modulus carbon construction to shed about a half a pound (250 grams), but will set you back several hundred more dollars.
VPP, we love thee: Santa Cruz has more experience designing with VPP suspension than anyone we know of. Their latest Nomad uses two counter rotating rockers to provide 160 millimeters of rear-wheel travel.
Suspension setup: Santa Cruz takes much of the guesswork out of suspension setup with an easy-to-use pressure chart on its website. We followed the guidelines and landed at roughly 25-percent sag, which worked out quite nicely. We matched the fork to the same 25-percent sag, set the adjusters to the middle of their ranges and hit the trail.
Moving out: The Nomad fits very true to size with a modern geometry that’s true to its roots, feeling roomy enough in the top tube that a rider can use a short stem and not feel cramped. The standover height is reasonably low, making fit a non-issue.
Relatively slack: Santa Cruz was the first company we know who went for the ultra-slack geometry that’s become standard on the current crop of enduro bikes.
Out of the gate: This bike has a playful feel our test riders noticed immediately. The rear wheel tucks nicely, close in under the rider, and with the short stem this bike is easy to manual, hop and flick about.
More always-welcome components: The X01 kit we rode with this bike provided rock-solid shifting and snappy performance. If you want to spend more or less, Santa Cruz can help you with their several kits to choose from.
Climbing: The Nomad certainly puts descending at the top of its priority list, but it is far from a gravity-specific bike. With the right technique and enough gumption, the Nomad will climb almost anything. The rider’s position on the bike is fairly rearward biased, but the climbing switch helps keep the shock high in its travel to assist with both weight distribution and suspension movement for long, grinder climbs. On short and punchy climbs, the Nomad feels right at home with an out-of-the-saddle attack position, as the 6 inches of travel gobble up any obstacles along the way.
Decent for transfers: While not its first design goal, it’s clear the Nomad was built to satisfy the needs of a true enduro rider, one who needs to point the bike uphill before shredding down. Be sure to tune the suspension and use the on-board controls to get the most while climbing.
Descending: This is the Nomad’s domain. The relatively slack and low geometry, along with a very active and supple suspension design, makes for a bike that gobbles trail chunder with ease and keeps the rider feeling completely in control. Our testers typically shy away from taking the steepest and most technical lines on the first few rides with a new test bike, but we dove in head first with the Nomad. The geometry inspires confidence immediately, with a nice balance between a stable and fun, flickable feel. Not only does the Nomad make it down the hairiest of descents, it doesn’t give up the lively feel to do it. Whereas other enduro-specific bikes can feel like toned-down gravity sleds, the Nomad feels more like a beefed-up all-mountain bike.
Cornering: This is the attribute that impressed us most about the Nomad. Thank the short chainstays, balanced geometry or anything else you want, but the Nomad is great at cornering. It navigates tight switchbacks like a ballerina with a caffeine addic- tion; it’s precise, light on its “toes” and really fast. Thanks to the rest of the geometry, high-speed cornering is also well-balanced and confidence-inspiring.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
The pressure guide for setting up the suspension will put most riders pretty close to an ideal setup, but we experimented with pressures lower than what’s recommended and gained even more plush performance—although at the cost of some of the bike’s playful nature. Small adjustments here make noticeable differences, so start with the recommended pressure, and then experiment with pressures up to 15 percent higher or lower to find the right match for your riding style and terrain.
The external cable routing for the rear brake caused a slight rub spot on the seat tube. This is easily prevented by using the clear protector stickers included with the owner’s manual with all Santa Cruz bikes. Be sure to install these before your first ride.
The e*thirteen chainguide provides extra security for chain retention. If you’re riding the Nomad the way it’s intended, that’s a great thing; however, it does make noise in some of the lower gears and when the chain bounces over rough stuff. If you’re not an overly aggressive rider, consider removing it.
The Nomad is an exceptional-handling bike with many build-kit and configuration options to satisfy the needs of a wide cross section of aggressive riders. The bike is happiest on big mountain enduro adventures, but will also work as an occasional heavy-duty cross-country bike or light-duty gravity bike. The handling strikes an impressive balance that the whole Mountain Bike Action crew was impressed with, thanks to a playful nature that can shred the steeps and still make the climb to the top of the mountain. Thanks to a wide array of component and frame material choices, it’s also suited for budgets from the ultra-high-end race crowd to the mid- priced enthusiast. The Nomad is an aggressive bike and needs a strong and skilled rider to extract the best attributes from it, but for that rider, it will be an excellent trail companion.
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