Technology

First Ride: 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad – Now with Mixed Wheels

Santa Cruz has been on a roll this year, updating its catalog with geometry changes and in-frame storage compartments for model after model. Next is the venerable Nomad, the long-travel machine that has been a mainstay in the line since its introduction in 2005.

The 6.0 version of the Nomad retains its 170mm of travel front and rear, but now uses mixed wheel sizes, with a 29-inch wheel up front and 27.5-inch in the rear. Along with the larger front wheel, the new Nomad’s geometry has been made a bit slacker and longer, although the changes aren’t too wild. Again, these are more refinements than drastic overhauls.

Nomad 6 Details

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

There’s also a glove box for storing tools and tubes inside the frame, and tweaks to the bike’s kinematics designed to increase suspension sensitivity and consistency.

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 version.

Frame details

The Nomad’s frame has all the amenities that Santa Cruz has become famous for. A threaded bottom bracket, internal tube-in-tube cable routing, chain guard in all the right places, room for a full-size water bottle, universal derailleur hanger, grease holes for the bearings of lower arms – nothing is really missing.

There’s also that glove box, which has a little latch that allows access to the inside of the downtube. A neoprene tool holder and tube purse are also included for easy organization and to prevent items from shifting around inside the frame.

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

Geometry

Compared to the previous generation, the Nomad’s head angle has been slackened by just 0.2 degrees and reach remains the same, but keep in mind it now has a 29er front wheel. The 472mm reach of a size large is a bit shorter than the 480/485mm number several other companies have settled on, but that’s not necessarily a downside. Remember, there’s more to how a bike rides than a number or two on a chart.

There’s also a new XXL option in the mix with a 520mm reach for all taller riders.

The biggest geometry change occurs at the chainstays – length has been increased by approximately 8mm depending on size. This was done to improve the front/rear balance of the bike, especially since it now has mixed wheels. Chainstay lengths increase as frame size increases, starting at 439mm for the small and going all the way up to 450mm for the XXL.

Arrangement of suspensions

Unsurprisingly, the Nomad retains its familiar lower-arm-driven VPP suspension layout. The Nomad’s initial leverage ratio has been decreased, and it’s actually slightly less progressive than before. It is still compatible with coil shocks, but the modifications should contribute to more consistent performance throughout the travel range.

Anti-squat was also decreased, which Santa Cruz says was done to reduce suspension harshness and improve climbing traction.

Prices

Kit R$5,649
Kit S $6,799
GX AXS Kit $8,499
GX AXS-Kit Reserve $9,799
Kit X01 (CC) $9,299
X01 AXS-Kit Reserve $11,199

Verification of specifications

There’s no denying that Santa Cruz prices are on the higher end of the spectrum – it’s not the place to look if you’re trying to stretch your dollars as much as possible. That said, the parts for the various build kits are well selected, and if a bike has a GX drivetrain, it has a full GX drivetrain, not just a derailleur to make it look that way. All bikes have a version of SRAM’s Code brakes with 200mm rotors front and rear, and all models also come with bash guards.

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

My only real gripe with the kits is the 175mm hydraulic reverb on the tall frames. I moaned a bit about this when the new Hightower came out, but in this case it’s even more relevant. The Nomad is essentially a pedalable DH bike – I want the seat to be as far back as possible on steep hills, and I know I’m not alone. There are also many cheaper cable actuated poles on the market that perform as well (or better) than the Reverb and have adjustable travel to boot.

Journey impressions

The previous version the Nomad was a fun, relatively smooth machine, a long-travel, do-it-all bike that didn’t seem to care if the terrain wasn’t always super steep and rough. The new version still retains most of those laid-back features, but the revisions it received, including that 29-inch front wheel, take its capabilities to the next level.

Considering how similar the geometry numbers of the Nomad are to those of the Megatower, I wasn’t sure what difference there would be between the two on the trail. They even share the same front triangle, so it really comes down to the Nomad’s smaller rear wheel and slightly different kinematics. It turns out that all the subtle changes add up to something much more substantial.

In all honesty, the newer Megatower didn’t really blow my mind, and I’ve spent a lot of time riding it this season. It’s what I would consider a pretty good bike, but it doesn’t have that extra bit of special sauce to push it into the Excellent category. That hasn’t been the case with the new Nomad – after a few rides it is currently heading to the top of my list of favorite bikes this year.

What’s so special about it? For me, it’s how the suspension allows you to plow your heels down while still maintaining enough support to pedal or pump through flatter sections of trail. With the Float X2, there was no hard bottom, and I’ve sent this thing really deep on more than one occasion, mostly because it seems like that’s how it wants to be driven. I try not to use the phrase “inspiring confidence” more than once or twice a year because it’s become such a cliché, but in this case, it’s appropriate. The Nomad has plenty of travel to deal with big hits and rough terrain, with an extra burst of speed that makes it a very addictive bike to ride.

The Nomad’s suspension is a little softer at the top than the Megatower, which meant I was more likely to reach for the uphill switch on softer climbs, but it’s still quiet enough while pedaling that I let it open all the time is quite doable.

While the Nomad’s reach numbers may be slightly shorter on the modern spectrum, this is compensated by the slack head angle and moderately long chainstays which provide great stability at higher speeds. Lately my preference for a mixed-wheel setup on long-travel bikes has increased, and it continues with the Nomad. In addition to creating more space between the rubber and the rear, it is easier to grip and place the rear wheel, especially on slopes.

I’m curious how the Nomad will hold up over a longer-term testing period – given that exorbitant price tag, you’d hope it would be absolutely flawless. There are many more hard miles in the future for this bike, including some big enduro racing and plenty of bike park laps – I’ll report with a final verdict and comparisons to other bikes in this category once it really gets through the wringer.


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