First ride: 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad – now with mixed wheels

Santa Cruz has been on the cutting edge this year, updating its catalog with geometry changes and in-frame stowage compartments for model after model. Next up is the venerable Nomad, the long-travel machine that has been a mainstay in the lineup since its introduction all the way back in 2005. The Nomad’s 6.0 maintains its 170mm of front and rear travel, but now works with mixed wheel sizes, with a 29-inch wheel up front and 27.5 inches in the rear. Along with the larger front wheel, the new Nomad’s geometry has been made to the touch and longer, although the changes aren’t too wild. Again, it’s about improvements rather than drastic revisions.

Nomad 6 details

• Wheel size: 29″ front / 27.5″ rear
• Travel: 170 mm
• C & CC . carbon tires
63.5° head angle (low)
• Seat tube angle 77.6º (L, L)
• 444 mm chain mounts (size L, low)
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
• Weight: 33.5 lbs / 15.2 kg (L size, X01 AXS RSV)
• Price: $5,649 – $11,199
• santacruzbicycles.com

There’s also a glovebox to stash tools and tubes inside the frame, and a bike kinematics mod designed to increase suspension sensitivity and stability.

There are 10 different build options, with prices ranging from $5,649 for the R kit all the way up to $11,109 for the XO1 Reserve build.

Frame details

The Nomad Frame contains all the tools that Santa Cruz has been famous for. Threaded bottom bracket, internal cable routing in the tube, sequencing protection in the right places, space for a full-size water bottle, universal hook-up hanger, lubrication ports for the lower linkage bearings – there’s really nothing missing.

There’s this glove box as well, which has a small latch that allows access to the inside of the down tube. A neoprene tool purse and tube purse are also included to help organize and prevent items from wiggling inside the frame.

There are two frame color options, glossy gypsum, which is a bit white/purple/gray depending on the lighting, and matte black. The frame uses a 230 x 65mm shock, which is compatible with air or coil options.

Engineering

Compared to the previous generation, the Nomad’s head angle has been slowed down by 0.5 degrees, and the arrival numbers remain the same, although keep in mind that it now has a 29-inch front wheel. The large 472mm is a bit shorter than the 480/485mm figure many other companies have settled on, but that’s not necessarily a downside. Remember that how you ride a bike is more than one or two numbers on the chart.

There is also a new XXL option in the mix with 520mm reach for all the taller riders out there.

The most fundamental engineering change occurs in the chainstays – the length has been increased by about 8 mm depending on the size. This was done to improve the front/rear balance of the bike, especially since it now has mixed wheels. Chain strut lengths grow as the frame size increases, starting at 439mm for the junior and going up to 450mm for the XXL.

Comment layout

Not surprisingly, Nomad retains the familiar lower-link-driven VPP suspension layout. Nomad’s initial leverage ratio has been lowered, and it’s actually a bit less advanced than before. It is still compatible with the coil shock, but the changes should help achieve more consistent performance throughout the entire travel range.

Squatting resistance has also been reduced, which Santa Cruz says was done to reduce suspension roughness and improve traction.

the prices

R-Kit $5,649
S-Kit $6,799
GX AXS-Kit $8499
GX AXS-Kit Spare $9,799
X01-Kit (CC) $9,299
X01 AXS-Kit Spare $11,199

Specification Check

The fact that Santa Cruz prices are at an all-time high cannot get around – this is not the place to look if you are trying to maximize your dollars. However, the parts on the different build kits are well chosen, and if the bike has a GX drivetrain, it has a full GX drivetrain, not just a drop scraper to make it look that way. All bikes have some version of SRAM’s Code brakes with 200mm rotors front and rear, and all models get bash guards, too.

Interestingly, the build kits with coil shocks get Maxxis’ DoubleDown casing tires, and those with air shocks get EXO+. Maybe file users are more likely to make poor font choices?

My only real gripe with the groups is the 175mm hydraulic frequency on the oversized tires. I complained a bit about this when the new Hightower came out, but in this case it’s more relevant. The Nomad is a pedaling DH bike—I want the seat as far out of the road as possible on the slopes, and I know I’m not the only one. There are also plenty of less expensive cable-operated posts on the market that perform as well (or better) than the Reverb and have adjustable travel to boot.

Ride Impressions

The previous version of the Nomad was a fun-loving machine, with relatively mild demeanor, long travel, and an all-you-can-do bike that didn’t seem to mind if the terrain wasn’t always so steep and rough. The new version still retains most of those comfort features, but the revisions it has received, including that 29-inch front wheel, take its capabilities to the next level.

Given how similar the Nomad’s engineering numbers are to the Megatower, I wasn’t sure how much of a difference there would be between the two down the road. They even share the same front triangle, so it really comes down to the Nomad’s smaller rear wheel and slightly different kinematics. As it turns out, all the subtle tweaks add something more substantial.

In all honesty, the latest Megatower didn’t really amaze me, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time riding on it this season. It’s what I consider a very good bike, but it doesn’t have a bit of a special sauce to push it into a great class. That wasn’t the case with the new Nomad – after a few rides, it’s currently working its way towards the top of my list of favorite bikes this year.

What distinguishes it? For me, this is how the suspension allows for high-heeled plowing while also maintaining adequate pedal support or pumping through flat sections of trail. With the Float X2, there’s never been a hard bottom, and I’ve sent this thing extra deep on more than one occasion, mainly because that seems to be the way it wants to crash. I try not to use the phrase “inspire confidence” more than once or twice a year because it has become cliched, but in this case it is appropriate. The Nomad has plenty of travel to handle big hits and rough terrain, with the added dash of speed making it a very addictive bike to ride.

The Nomad’s suspension feels softer than the top of the Megatower, which means I was more likely to hit the climb switch on smoother climbs, but it remains quiet enough while leaving it unlocked the whole time is entirely possible.

While the Nomad’s reach numbers may be on the slightly shorter side of the modern spectrum, that’s balanced by the slack head angle and fairly long chainstays that provide plenty of stability at higher speeds. Lately, my preference for a mixed-wheel configuration on longer travel bikes has grown, and it continues with the Nomad. Besides creating more rubber clearance to the rear end, it’s easier to pick up and put the rear wheel, especially on slopes.

I’m curious to see how the Nomad will hold up over a long-term test period – considering the sky-high price you had hoped it would be absolutely flawless. There are plenty of tough miles into the future of this bike, including big enduro races and plenty of bike park rides – I’ll be back reporting the final verdict and comparisons to other bikes in this class once you’ve really gone through the wringer.


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