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Santa Cruz Nomad

By MBT Staff

The wait is over in many regards: Not only has the gap between Santa Cruz’s Blur and VP Free models been filled but Mountain Bike Tales has finally quit procrastinating in the hardware testing department. We’ve finally had an opportunity to log some miles on the impressive new Santa Cruz Nomad.

Lets Talk Terrain

As versatility is clearly one of the Nomad’s main selling points, we took our test model across a wide plethora of conditions in effort to asses where it excels and where it comes up short. Our test began on elevation-less single track of powdery sand, twisties, and grassy flats. It then progressed to flooded gullies laced with shale and stagnant streams, before we finally loaded it up and took it to the foothills of the Alleghany Mountains where the elevation was steep and loamy.

Speaking of Specs

The rear of our Nomad was graced with a Fox DHX Air 5.0 shock while the fork duties are handled by a burly Fox Talas 36RC2. The result is six-plus inches of Fox suspension travel at both ends of the beautiful silver powder-coated 6069 T-6 aluminum-frame. Observant readers will notice that the Nomad makes use of Santa Cruz’s virtual-pivot-point (VPP) linkage, one of our personal favorites in “pedal bob” reduction while remaining terrain sensitive.

Our medium-sized frame felt a bit tight initially, but after a few minutes in the saddle, the rather tight cockpit lay-out began to grow on us. The riding position is definitely All Mountain inspired, from its more upright riding position and gradual angles (68 degree head angle, 71 degree seat, and 43.5 inch wheelbase).

Rounding out our test bike configuration were an SRAM XO rear derailleur, SRAM XO triggers, Shimano XT cranks, front derailleur and cassette, Kenda Nevegal 2.1 folding tires, and finally hydraulic brakes in the form of Avid Juicy 7's (160mm rotors).

Raving about the Ride

Weighing in at 31 lbs, the Nomad may be a bit too beefy to attract the attention of the gram counting cross country crowd. As such, we had little in the way of expectations in the initial portion of our test where the ground was flat as was terrain. Needless to say, we were surprised immediately. The Nomad carries speed with alarming efficiency. Feedback is more precise than it has any right to be considering the long travel suspension. Likewise the VPP system is simply dazzling. Ours is an industry flooded with gimmicks, buzz words, and fancy acronyms that often mean nothing out on the trail. Santa Cruz’s VPP is definitely the exception, not the rule. The Nomad all but eliminates even the slightest hints of pedal bob or frame flex, transferring each crank rotation into a burst of forward power.

Our next leg of the trek involved a bit more elevation as our lake-side single-track emptied out into a series of deep erosions with exposed jagged shale, shallow pools of algae ridden water, and small to medium sized drops. The loose stony base couldn’t sway our course as the suspension absorbed even the slightest imperfections without transferring any impact through the bars. The Nomad feels lighter and more nimble than the specs would have you believe, in fact with a little momentum behind us, we were able to pop up out of the steeper gullies while riding a slight wheelie onto the flats. If the first test surprised us, the second had impressed us. The Nomad came to life with a light, flickable nature and suspension that never so much as flinched.

Our second and final day with the Nomad was intended to expose some of the charming bike’s weaknesses. Labeling the elevation of the mountain-side trail system “steep” is certainly an understatement. We took the Nomad up to shuttle-run only territory and started it off toward a solid twelve minute descent that would cover rain wash outs, square edge bumps, sharp switch backs, and endless loose powder.

The only modification we performed to the bike was a few clicks of the compression damping knob on the shock to exchange pedaling efficiency for a bit plusher ride (since pedaling would be minimal).

Here the Nomad was nothing short of awe-inspiring; our attempts to locate a chink in the armor had failed with grins of sheer excitement. The method of pointing and shooting the Santa Cruz around formerly tricky s-curves and near stopped switchbacks became an addicting all-day affair. Somehow the Nomad manages to capture the best traits of being both nimble yet stable at speed. Traction was never an issue either, despite locking the rear wheel up on some of the loose sandy corners. The bike managed to fly a true course right back into the power. The third test had confirmed we had begun to suspect all along, the Santa Cruz Nomad can handle just about any conditions a rider throws at it.

Confirming Our Conclusions

It is very rare that a bike should come along and not only live up to the manufacturer’s claims, but actually surpass them. In the case of the Santa Cruz Nomad, the term All Mountain takes on new meaning. Are we simply adding to the hype? In a word: No. Our angle on this bike test was to find a weakness and to exploit it, unfortunately despite our flogging, none appeared.

So is the bike for everyone? Maybe not everyone, but it is definitely for most. About the only crowd who may find flaw in the Nomad is the extremely weight conscientious, who would likely seek a bike with less suspension travel anyway. Aggressive trail riders, weekend warriors, gravity event entrants, and even those who simply wish to tool around on a do-it-all rig, will find much to rave about here.

If we were to purchase a Nomad, it would likely be near identical to the version tested here, perhaps with the only exception being the coil-over version of the Fox shock and the (All Mountain) build kit. The set-up options are mind-boggling. If you are considering a Santa Cruz Nomad (and we recommend that you do) head over to the following address and prepare to spend at least a week slapping together spec combinations, material selection, component options, even paint schemes: Santa Cruz Bicycles