Santa Cruz Nomad Review — Should This Be Your Next Enduro MTB?
The Santa Cruz Nomad first appeared on the scene in 2005 and has since completely transformed while preserving its fun and creative spirit. The newest update for this year has improved uphill capability, extra stability, and enhanced ride quality.
The Nomad is a testament to the fact that 27.5″ bikes aren’t going anywhere even though 29ers and mullet mountain bikes are gobbling up more and more market share. This exciting enduro bike offers unbeatable ruggedness, agility, and room for expression on the trail that larger-diameter MTBs cannot achieve.
This Santa Cruz Nomad review will cover the key updates on the newest model, the different builds and their shared features, and where it excels, finishing with our verdict on whether or not you should choose it for your next bike.
A playful, nimble, and durable 27.5-inch MTB, perfect for creative riders who want a bike to handle the harshest terrain.
- Premium VPP Suspension
- Plenty of build options
- Efficient climber for a high-travel 27.5-inch bike
- Surprisingly fast
- Suspension is easier to set up than similar bikes
- Expensive without an aluminum option
Santa Cruz Nomad Main Features
- Frame: Carbon C or CC
- Wheel size: 27.5″
- Tires: Maxxis Assegai 2.5″ / Minion DHR II 2.4″
- Suspension: VPP. Coil or Air options on XT, X01, X01 AXS builds
- Front and rear travel: 170mm
- Drivetrain: 12-speed
- Brake rotors: 200/180mm (SRAM) / 203/180mm (Shimano)
- Seatpost: 175mm dropper
- Weight: 35.27 to 33.66lbs (coil) / 33.54 to 32.25lbs (air)
The Nomad by Santa Cruz used to be the brand’s jack-of-all-trades choice. It was ultra-capable, handling any mountain terrain you could throw at it and doing so with finesse. However, the new mixed-wheel Bronson gives the Nomad a comparatively specialized role.
This small-wheel enduro bike is still one that suits a diverse range of riding styles. Of the Santa Cruz lineup, it’s the most fun, agile, and creativity-inspiring choice.
The Nomad is capable of taking a beating on fast, technical singletrack and pumping back to the top to do it all again. The VPP suspension platform gives a wonderfully progressive feel to the suspension on descents and helps you preserve your energy going uphill.
Of course, as a 27.5″ model, the Nomad won’t break any speed records, but that’s not what it’s designed to do. Instead, you’re sacrificing rolling speed and stability for excitement and versatility.
Santa Cruz Nomad Review
Santa Cruz Nomad is the brand’s most fun model. This bike is perfect for those who enjoy thundering down technical singletrack, taking the most creative lines on the way, and spinning your way back up.
Each design characteristic and component choice contributes to the Nomad’s playful spirit, and the team at Santa Cruz are experts in creating outstanding ride qualities.
Now, let’s take a look at all the updates for and the individual features of the Santa Cruz Nomad that help make it what it is.
What’s New for 2023
The newest release of the Nomad is a big improvement to the Santa Cruz Nomad 2021. It’s now more efficient and comfortable going uphill, more stable at speed, and proportional geometry means each rider gets the same exceptional ride quality.
As with the other new Santa Cruz 5010 and Bronson, the Nomad’s chainstay lengths increase 5mm with each size. Again, the proportional geometry ensures all riders have consistent handling and ride quality.
The Santa Cruz slackened and lengthened the geometry of the Nomad; the reach is 16mm longer, and the head angle is almost a degree slacker. These changes provide a more stable feel while riding fast downhill. However, the seat tube angle is steeper to create a more comfortable climbing position.
The suspension platform also received an overhaul. The Nomad has extra progression at the end of the travel, a longer shock stroke, and a lower leverage ratio to provide more traction and composure when taking big hits in succession. In addition, the VPP is tuned for more stiffness while climbing, providing a more efficient pedaling platform.
Finally, Santa Cruz introduced new carbon fiber handlebars (R and S builds use alloy). These improve comfort through greater compliance. However, some riders may not like the 35mm rise.
Carbon Fiber Frame
Santa Cruz’s renowned Carbon C and CC frames are the only choices for the latest Nomad, doing away with the aluminum alloy option.
These frames have outstanding ride characteristics and durability thanks to the rigorous design, testing, and quality control. In addition, Santa Cruz backs up their carbon with a lifetime warranty and free bearing replacements, so you have a frame for life.
Both the C and CC frames are equally stiff and strong. However, the premium CC build is roughly 0.6lbs lighter than the C.
Finally, the Santa Cruz Nomad frame has sleek internal cable routing, a mud flap to protect the shock, and rubber downtube and swingarm guards to protect from strikes.
Overall, the geometry of the Nomad is optimized for agility and liveliness. The latest model is more stable than previous iterations, but this doesn’t take anything away from the bike’s ability to rip.
As mentioned, it has a more comfortable climbing position from the steeper seat tube angle. Additionally, the geometry is proportional to the size, ensuring consistent ride quality for all riders.
Each aspect of the Nomad’s geometry facilitates technical and playful riding. The short chainstays and reach, small BB drop, and lightweight design ensure maneuverability in tight spaces and liveliness in the air.
Finally, the Nomad has a geo flip chip which slackens the geometry and lowers the BB in the low position. However, we’d recommend sticking to the high setting for the extra bottom bracket clearance.
Small-diameter wheels aren’t as common as they used to be, but they’re an excellent choice for manufacturers who want to cater to a wide range of riding styles.
Again, the smaller wheels complement the Nomad’s geometry, selecting agility and liveliness over speed. As a result, this bike can easily rip around corners and take the most unorthodox lines on the trail.
Finally, an extra benefit of these wheels is the superior acceleration compared to 29ers. This characteristic makes climbing technical trails easier and allows you to blast out of corners.
Lower-Link VPP with Coil or Air Suspension
The Lower-link VPP suspension technology seen on full-suspension Santa Cruz models is one of the primary factors distinguishing their bikes from the competition.
The engineering team at Santa Cruz can fine-tune the VPP platform for each bike, selecting the desired characteristics. For example, on the Nomad, the increased pedaling efficiency and better bottom-out resistance.
Santa Cruz offers the top three builds of this bike with coil or air suspension at the same price and with the same spec. Air suspension is lighter and easier to tune, making it ideal for most riders. Additionally, air suspension makes the bike feel more playful and provides more pop. In contrast, coil suspension gives a firmer feel to the suspension, which suits park-style riding.
How Does the Santa Cruz Nomad Perform on the Trail?
Again, the Santa Cruz Nomad is a super playful and fun bike that allows you to ride confidently on technical descents and feel capable of handling steep climbs.
Being a lightweight, high-travel bike with small wheels, you’ve got enough versatility to handle various scenarios out on the trail. However, this bike performs best for riders who enjoy getting creative and showing off their trail flare.
Cornering and Descending
The 27.5″ wheels and tight and low geometry of the Nomad make it ideal for whipping around tight corners. Additionally, it’s quick off the mark for a long-travel bike thanks to the efficiency of VPP suspension and the small-diameter rims.
This bike allows you to be as creative as you want when descending. Riding on harsh terrain is where it shines. The premium suspension and frame provide enough room to smash big obstacles and tackle jumps and drops without batting an eyelid.
The Nomad will undoubtedly leave you grinning from ear to ear and keep coming back for more no matter what you throw at it.
Santa Cruz significantly improved this bike’s descending capability for this year, especially the stability at speed. They achieved this mainly by slackening the head tube angle and lengthening the wheelbase. Nonetheless, if you’re accustomed to 29ers, the Nomad won’t be able to match that stability.
The Santa Cruz Nomad is also an impressive climber for an enduro bike. Modern full-suspension MTBs are becoming more versatile and well-rounded with each passing year, which is clearly on display here.
Of course, you’re not going to keep up with low-travel XC or trail bikes, but compared to other 27.5″ long-travel models, the Nomad is efficient enough that you feel like you’re getting somewhere. In addition, the climbing position is greatly improved in the new model thanks to the steeper seat tube angle.
Again, the uncharacteristic efficiency is primarily down to the fine-tuned VPP platform, which reduces pedal bob on climbs. You also have the option to lock out the suspension components for climbing.
What Can be Better?
Overall, it’s hard to find fault in the latest Santa Cruz Nomad. Speed is the one area where it falls short, and this isn’t down to poor design or componentry. Using 27.5″ wheels will always put you at a speed disadvantage compared to 29ers, but this is the tradeoff for agility and liveliness.
Again, removing an aluminum entry-point model for this year is another disappointment but seems to be the direction that Santa Cruz is moving and is something we will have to get used to, unfortunately.
Santa Cruz Nomad Builds
For this year, Santa Cruz has given us five builds, three of which are available in coil or air suspension. The prices for this bike start at $5,499 and rise to $10,949.
The ‘cheaper’ Carbon C models include the SRAM-based Nomad R, S, and the Shimano XT, priced at $5,499, $6,699, and $7,549, respectively. The Santa Cruz Bicycles Nomad Carbon R mountain bike is the most distinct with its dual RockShox suspension (Zeb fork and Super Deluxe Select shock). In addition, it has an SDG Tellis dropper, NX Eagle drivetrain, and Guide RE brakes.
The Nomad S is upgraded with a GX Eagle drivetrain, FOX 38 Float Performance fork, Super Deluxe Select+ shock, Code R brakes, and a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper. The XT adds to that with Carbon bars, Industry Nine hubs, and a FOX 38 Float Performance Elite fork.
The two premium Carbon CC models cost $9,049 (SRAM XO1) and $10,949 (X01 AXS RSV). Both sport a FOX 38 Float Factory fork, an X2 Factory shock, and Code RSC brakes. Finally, the top model has carbon fiber Reserve 30 rims.
Santa Cruz Nomad Sizing
The Santa Cruz Nomad frame is available in five sizes, from XS to XL, fitting a huge range of riders from 4’8″ to 6’5″.
- XS – 4’8″ to 5’1″
- S – 5’1″ to 5’5″
- M – 5’5″ to 5’9″
- L – 5’9″ to 6’1″
- XL – 6’1″ to 6’5″
If you fall between two frame sizes, the best thing to do is find a Santa Cruz dealer near you and test-ride both frames to see which one you prefer. Alternatively, measure the frame (reach and stack) of your current full-suspension MTB and compare it to the Nomad to see which matches closer.
People Also Ask
Bottom Line: Should You Buy a Santa Cruz Nomad?
The Nomad by Santa Cruz is undoubtedly one of the best bikes in its category. Long-travel 27.5″ bikes like this aren’t as common as they used to be, but the Nomad’s fun and exciting ride quality is a testament to why they are still loved by so many.
If you’re a mountain biker who loves the thrill of gravity-style riding and enjoys being creative on the trail, this could be the perfect bike for you.
Of course, you’re not going to set any speed records going up or down, but the Nomad can tackle long climbs when needed and excels in tight and technical downhill situations.
Unfortunately, Santa Cruz doesn’t offer the Nomad in an aluminum build, but if your budget can accommodate it, we’re sure you’ll be smiling wherever the trail takes you.
Where to Buy Santa Cruz Nomad?
Buy from Backcountry Buy from evo.com