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

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

Version 6.0 of the Nomad keeps its 170mm of front and rear travel, but it’s now running mixed wheel sizes, with a 29 ”wheel up front and 27.5” in the back. Along with the bigger front wheel, the new Nomad’s geometry has been made a touch slacker and longer, although the changes aren’t too wild. Once again, it’s more about refinements rather than drastic revisions.

Nomad 6 Details

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

There’s also a Glovebox for stashing tools and tubes inside the frame, and tweaks to the bike’s kinematics designed to increase the suspension’s 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 USD for the XO1 Reserve build.

Frame Details

The Nomad’s frame has all of the accoutrements that Santa Cruz has become known for. A threaded bottom bracket, tube-in-tube internal cable routing, chainslap protection in the right places, room for a full size water bottle, a universal derailleur hanger, grease ports for the lower link bearings –there really isn’t anything missing.

There’s that Glovebox too, which has a small latch that allows access to the inside of the downtube. A neoprene tool wallet and tube purse are also included to help with organization and keep things from rattling around inside the frame.

There are two frame color options, Gloss Gypsum, which is sort of a 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 a scant .2-degrees, and the reach numbers remain the same, although keep in mind that it does have a 29 ”front wheel now. The 472mm reach of a size large is a little shorter than the 480 / 485mm number that multiple other companies have settled on, but that’s not necessarily a negative. Remember, there’s more to how a bike rides than one or two numbers on a chart.

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

The most substantial geometry change occurs at the chainstays – the length has been increased by around 8mm depending on the size. This was done to improve the fore / aft balance of the bike, especially since it now has mixed wheels. The chainstay lengths grow as the frame size gets larger, starting at 439mm for the small and going all the way up to 450mm for the XXL.

Suspension Layout

Not surprisingly, the Nomad retains its familiar lower-link driven VPP suspension layout. The Nomad’s initial leverage ratio has been decreased, and it’s actually slightly less progressive than before. It’s still coil shock compatible, but the changes should help make for more consistent performance throughout the entire travel range.

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

Prices

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

Spec Check

There’s no getting around the fact that Santa Cruz’s prices are on the higher end of the spectrum – this is not the place to look if you’re trying to stretch your dollars as far as possible. That said, the parts in 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 seem that way. All of the bikes have some version of SRAM’s Code brakes with 200mm rotors front and rear, and all models get bash guards as well.

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

My only real gripe with the kits is the 175mm hydraulic Reverb on the size large frames. I moaned a little 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 as far out of the way as possible in the steeps, and I know I’m not the only one. There are also plenty of less expensive cable-actuated posts on the market that work just 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, relatively mild-mannered machine, a long travel, do-everything bike that didn’t seem to mind if the terrain wasn’t always super steep and rough. The new version still maintains most of those easygoing traits, but the revisions it’s received, including that 29 ”front wheel, take its capabilities to the next level.

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

In all honesty, the newest Megatower hasn’t really blown me away, and I’ve put in a significant amount of ride time on it this season. It’s what I’d consider a Very Good bike, but it doesn’t have the little extra bit of special sauce to push it into the Great category. That hasn’t been the case with the new Nomad – after a handful of rides it’s currently making its way towards the top of my list of favorite bikes this year.

What’s so special about it? For me, it’s the way the suspension allows for heels-down plowing while also maintaining enough support for pedaling or pumping through flatter sections of trail. With the Float X2 there haven’t been any harsh bottom outs, and I’ve sent this thing extra-deep on more than one occasion, mainly because it seems like that’s the way it wants to be ridden. I try not to use the phrase ‘confidence inspiring’ more than once or twice a year since it’s become such a cliche, but in this case it’s an appropriate one. The Nomad has plenty of travel for dealing with big hits and rugged terrain, with an extra dash of speed that makes it a highly addictive bike to ride.

The Nomad’s suspension does feel a little softer off the top than the Megatower, which meant I was more likely to reach for the climb switch on smoother climbs, but it remains calm enough while pedaling that leaving it open all the time is totally feasible.

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

I am curious about how the Nomad will hold up over a longer term test period – considering that sky-high price tag you’d hope that it would be absolutely flawless. There are a bunch more hard miles in this bike’s future, including a couple of big enduro races and lots of bike park laps – I’ll report back with a final verdict and comparisons to other bikes in this category once it’s truly been through the wringer .


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