Six-inch travel mountain bikes have been the design nemesis of many well-regarded manufacturers. In fact, the majority of all-mountain bikes we’ve tested should more realistically be called ‘all mouth, no trousers’. When you ride a bike as sorted as the new Nomad, that becomes more obvious. Other brands pay attention - part two of the long-travel trail domination lesson begins here.
The Nomad was already a standout hardcore trail/playbike. The new version is lighter, pedals more smoothly, spits traction less, sucks down onto the trail better, carves and holds lines more accurately, requires less shock fafﬁng to ﬁnd the sweet spot and runs a lot longer between bearing services than the old one.
Add any-size fork and chain guide versatility and this update makes an already great bike outstanding. You’re certainly paying for the privilege of getting this performance, but at a time when most hardcore 6in bikes are disappointing us, Santa Cruz has restored our faith and set a new benchmark for the species.
Ride & handling: Leaves other six-inchers in its wake
Few bikes live up to the do-it-all claims of the all-mountain tag, but the Nomad is certainly one of the exceptions. We took our ﬁrst one straight from the shiny lights of Eurobike and headed out into the Yorkshire dusk up one of the ugliest road hills we know. We’re not saying it was easy, but for a beefy 6in bike it pedals and gains height extremely well, even without ﬂicking the lockout lever. Its ﬁrm power application, impressive tracking across half-seen ruts and easy last-second hop-and-pop agility make upshifts more likely than braking.
Testing, technical descents transform immediate impressions of the Nomad from impressive to outstanding. With seat dropped and weight back, the ﬂatter shock rate and extremely well damped fork and shock mean you can just lean back and let go. Unlike every other sub-30lb big bike we’ve ridden recently, the faster you go, the safer it feels. The ample mainframe and chainstay length add stability and security, but it’s so stiff it has no trouble carving across or out of rocky, rain-ripped gulleys or ﬂowing across damp, moss-covered boulders.
The Nomad never seems to falter, no matter how quickly obstacles present themselves. You may need to spend a while fettling the shocks (we ending up running a very smooth but still bob-free and super grippy 30 percent sag at either end) but with suspension sorted, super-accurate brakes and the Nomad’s great overall balance, you’ll be cleaning those uber-tight rocky switchbacks you’ve been trying to get right for years.
As a testament to the Nomad’s all-round, all-mountain appeal, it copes as admirably in the scorched, rock-scattered desert terrain of Nevada as it does in the UK’s root-strewn singletrack. Even on zero tolerance terrain it feels uncrashable. However tight and toothy the trail becomes, it nails its lines and rails the berms, ripping big rooster-tail trails of dust and leaving other six-inchers in its wake.
Frame: Small tweaks make second generation VPP more UK-friendly
As with its shorter travel but equally impressive Blur LT revision, Santa Cruz hasn’t messed with the existing Nomad much, but what it has done is signiﬁcant at all sorts of levels. Structurally, the top tube has been switched from a two-piece welded clamshell monocoque to a hydroformed pipe in the same proﬁle. This helps save 150g and means a medium-size Nomad frame including shock now weighs under 3.1kg (7lb). Frame and Virtual Pivot Point link/axle changes increase stiffness too, while a 2.5mm shorter chainstay and 5mm lower bottom bracket alter ride feel slightly and drop travel 5mm to 160mm.
The OnePointFive head tube was introduced to the previous Nomad to give full big-fork compatibility, but the new frame gets ISCG chain guide tabs on the BB too.
It’ll still take a conventional front mech but the new VPP architecture is a lot happier pedalling in the granny ring. This opens up the possibility of ﬁtting Truvativ’s new HammerSchmidt two-speed chainset. Back to that VPP change – essentially what Santa Cruz has done is reduce the extremes of chain tug at the start and ramp-up at the end. It also changes the shock rate to a more linear, predictable response.
A single-piece carbon top link cuts weight, while the lower linkage now gets grease injection ports for the bearings. The new preloaded, angular-contact bearings are superbly sealed anyway and the oversized 15mm axles they run on can be whipped out for servicing without removing the chainset. In other words, Santa Cruz has worked hard to make the Nomad much easier to maintain.
Increased tyre space (it’ll now happily take a 2.7in rear) and replaceable gear hanger with bottle opener join the grease-gunned pivots in boosting the Nomad’s UK suitability. Tough anodized colours (£1,869) will be slate (grey) or jalapeno (green) and Santa Cruz has addressed previous paint issues with its new powdercoats (£1,699 in black, white, red, yellow, lime green and liquid blue).
Equipment: Three different builds to suit your wallet
The frame is obviously the big deal here, but Santa Cruz offers three kit builds – R, X and the X.O version here – all with a tougher, fatter tyre/bigger brake AM option for no extra cost. We’d also plump for the Lyrik upgrade, as a 140mm Pike is going to have its work cut out keeping up with the rear, and the geometry won’t be as sweet.
As it is, the Mission Control-valved Lyrik is a great, slightly ﬁrm but impressively well-damped match for the Monarch rear shock. Avid Elixir CR brakes are also extremely impressive in the most testing conditions and the Syncros Bulk bars are a great shape.
The bike we used for photos in the US came with a Crank Brothers Joplin adjustable post too, which is a really worthwhile upgrade – especially as cable guides for the remote lever are already ﬁtted to the frame. Sneaking the bike under 30lb does rely on single-skin Kenda tyres though.
Tester's thoughts: More bike than most riders will ever need
“Just when we were starting to think it was all over for 6in trail bikes, Santa Cruz’s Nomad has torn through my testing benchmarks like Genghis Khan. It climbs as well as any 30lb bike can yet comes back down with more poise, big-hit nonchalance and balls-out, big-grin fun than a lot of push-up-only bikes. I’m not sure most riders need this much bike, but you’ll never feel like you’ve not got enough performance when you’re on one.”