Photos by Justin Steiner and Gary Perkin/Santa Cruz Bicycles
The April 1 announcement of Santa Cruz’s new Nomad brought with it much anticipation. Many of us were wondering; how will this retooled icon would translate to the real world? Fortunately, Santa Cruz invited us to Santiago, Chile, to sample what this aqua and magenta bomber has to offer.
In case you missed the introduction, see our post for geometry information and initial commentary. But, before we jump right into the ride impressions, here’s a bit of back-story and perspective. Surprisingly, development of the Nomad began in early 2011, well before that of the Bronson, despite the Bronson’s release a year earlier.
“We struggled for a really long time, not trying to actually make the bike, but trying to figure out what the bike was going to be,” said Santa Cruz Design and Engineering Directory Joe Graney. “It was probably one of the hardest projects we’ve ever had for that.”
Six test mules were built and rigorously tested; three with 26-inch wheels and three with 27.5-inch wheels, including two completely different suspension designs. Initially, Santa Cruz Owner Rob Roskopp wanted a V10-like design with the shock mounted to the lower link, but that project was later shelved.
“The overarching goals of this project was really to improve the fit of the bike,” said Senior Engineer Nick Anderson. “With the steeper seat tube angle, longer top tube and slack head tube angle, if you think in terms of front center, really just moving the whole front of the bike forward. But then also shortening the chainstays so the bike wasn’t this big huge long pig.
One of the prototype test mule bikes.
“Overall, I think there was some complaint in the industry about the Nomad, the one before this, sitting into the travel a little too deeply, so we wanted something that rode a little bit higher and offered a little bit more mid-stroke support and had better small bump [performance].”
Viewed in person, the subtle frame details are every bit as cool as the marketing materials purport. Internal routing for the dropper post and rear shift cable is aesthetically and mechanically simple. Tubes formed right in the carbon provide simple housing changes and prevent rattling. RockShox’s new quick connect fastener for the Reverb Stealth makes installing and removing the seatpost a breeze. However, the rear brake is not routed internally to keep things simple to service. The new recessed lower link really cleans up the design and protects the link from impacts. The single grease fitting on the lower link now services all four bearings.
We spent two days shuttling the dry, dusty trails in of the Chilean Costal Range, west and slightly north of Santiago, Chile. The trails were a mix of extremely dry, dusty terrain with a slippery silt-like dust covering or decomposed granite that had a consistency much like that of deep kitty litter. Regardless of surface, all of the trails demanded a capable, forgiving bike and a loose riding style. Fortunately for us, the Nomad fit the bill quite nicely, even if I didn’t always hold up my end of the bargain.
All of that extra front center length certainly adds a great deal of confidence and capability when descending. Despite the slack 65-degree head tube angle, the Nomad is no slouch in slow, tight corners either. The rider-forward position helps to keep weight over the front wheel for cornering traction, and the 17.1-inch chainstays keep the rear end feeling lively.
Though it sounds too good to be true, Santa Cruz simultaneously improved both the climbing and descending prowess of the Nomad. The new riding position is so much more pedaling-friendly; it felt wonderful to be up over the pedals and able to put the power down.
A very short ride aboard photographer Gery Perkin’s Bonson helped to shed light on how composed the Nomad is in unforgiving terrain. The Bronson is a capable bike, but the Nomad is head and shoulders more capable. On paper, these bikes are separated by just 15mm of rear wheel travel but don’t let that fool you. Their on-trail personalities are far more divergent. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the Nomad a mini downhill bike, but it’s an awfully capable descender that’s a pleasure to pedal.
Over our two days of riding, I sampled both of the available RockShox shocks: Monarch Plus Debonair and Vivid Air. The Monarch Plus offers a more lively, progressive ride where the Vivid Air trades a little bit of that liveliness for incredible small bump sensitivity and a more linear, nearly coil-sprung feel. The choice here seems pretty straightforward. If you’re coming from a cross country or trail background the Monarch is the logical choice. If you’re coming from a gravity background, you’ll really appreciate the capability and plushness of the Vivid Air.
Weight is truly impressive, measuring just a touch over 27 pounds with SRAM XX1, the Monarch Plus Debonair and the ENVE upgrade. Alternatively it is 28.5 pounds with XO1, the Vivid R2C and aluminum WTB Rims. Prices are similarly impressive; ranging from $9,995 to $6,599.
Granted, I have just two days of riding logged on the Nomad, but it proved to be a very impressive two days. This is a very forward-looking bicycle that is easy to love and difficult to fault. Sure, in terms of geometry, spec and pricepoint, this is a bike for experienced and committed riders, but in that regard it certainly delivers.
I’m excited to swing a leg over the Nomad on familiar terrain for further perspective. Look for our long-term review this summer.