-170mm Front and Rear Travel
-Carbon Frame Only
-Build Tested Includes Reserve Wheel Upgrade
-Premium Suspension Package
-Distinct Handling Characteristics
-Won’t Appeal to the Race Crowd
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Of the eight testers we had at The Beta Tests, only one calls a 27.5-inch wheel bike his daily driver. The rest of the crew decided long ago that those days were done. And then, almost every year, it happens. One or two 27.5-inch-wheel test bikes enter the mix, and we can’t wipe the smile off our faces. This was certainly the case with the Santa Cruz Nomad. Damn you, Santa Cruz!
Among our fleet of long-travel test bikes, the Nomad was the only small-wheel contender. And categorically, it was a bad match up. The trails in Ely, Nevada, are raw and rugged. Sharp, jagged, awkward rocks want to grab those small wheels and slam your body to the floor. On paper, the Nomad was at a big disadvantage.
But yet again this Nomad proved that there is a home for a long-travel 27.5-inch-wheel bike on this type of terrain, as well as in the Santa Cruz line up. At 170 millimeters of travel front and rear, the bike has a surprisingly lively personality underfoot. You’re probably not going to be inclined to look for the fastest line from point A to point B like you might do with a big-wheeled bike. Rather, the Nomad will encourage you to find the most creative line down the mountain. It brings out your inner kid. It’s such a nimble handler, even on the roughest and most terrifyingly rocky terrain our test lap served up.
The Santa Cruz Nomad is its own animal, never really feeling like its goal is to go head-to-head with the more race-ready rigs in the test, but rather do the opposite. It offers a distinctly different ride quality, aiming at creativity over speed and encouraging pop over planted-ness. It got one tester rethinking the one-bike quiver that modern design and technology have finally made possible. The new Nomad offers so much pure fun that it doesn’t feel like it would be redundant in any garage. Just different in the best kind of way.
That snappy handling was thanks in part to the Nomad’s fairly conservative reach at 472mm on our size large. Plus, at just a hair over 32.5 pounds, it doesn’t ever feel unwieldy despite its stout silhouette, and still offers a slack head angle at 63.7 degrees, which really shined on this rugged track. Think short but slack and pretty damn light.
We did have one of the more premium builds offered in the Nomad line up, so it better be pretty damn light. At $8,700, you won’t need upgrades. Fox Factory suspension, Santa Cruz Reserve 30 wheels along with the beautiful Reserve Carbon handlebar, and a SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain are notable highlights on this premium build package, though it’s approaching the pricepoint where we could have reasonably expected to see SRAM AXS.
This redesigned Nomad benefits from the steeper-seat-angle trend. At 77.5 degrees, the bike is not a chore to pedal at all. Flip the climb switch on the Fox Float X2 and just settle in. This isn’t just a shuttle rig, and it can stand on its own two feet for whatever adventure you throw in front of it.
Although the Nomad might seem niche in this modern big-rig landscape, there’s still a broad appeal for a bike like this. It will appeal to aging members of our test crew who may be past their prime, but still seek every opportunity to put a smile on their face. The fun factor is off the charts on the Nomad. And of course, it will also appeal to the younger generation pushing the limits of what’s possible with a modern, dare I say it, freeride bike. It’s unapologetic in its intention, and that’s the beauty of it.
There’s no aluminum Santa Cruz Nomad this year, so the lineup starts with the R Carbon C build at $4,500. Its frame is heavier, but by less than a pound. It’s specced with a SRAM NX drivetrain, which has a narrower-range cassette, sporting an 11-50 spread, not 10-50, or 10-52, like higher-end SRAM options. The brakes are SRAM G2, which are usually found on shorter-travel bikes, so they may be underpowered. The rear shock is a RockShox Super Deluxe Select that has the same chassis and similar guts to the high-end Super Deluxe shock, but lacks external compression damping adjustment and there’s no lockout lever.
The fork is RockShox’s new 38-millimeter-stanchion ZEB fork, which has a sturdier chassis and nicer damper than many ‘entry-level’ forks. Like the rear shock, this Zeb lacks external compression damping adjustment, but can accept air-volume spacers for more support and the damper can be upgraded. There are no deal-breakers on this build that would need to be upgraded immediately. But if you wanted something a step up, the highlights on the $5,500 S Carbon C Nomad are the three-position compression-damping adjustment on the Fox 38 fork, the addition of a lockout lever on the upgraded RockShox Super Deluxe rear shock, the wider-range 10-50 cassette, more powerful SRAM Code R brakes and more advanced Rockshox Reverb dropper post.
Find it at santacruzbikes.com/nomad
Photos: Anthony Smith