PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Santa Cruz Nomad
Words by Mike Kazimer, photography by Tom Richards
This is the fifth generation of the Nomad, a bike that’s been a mainstay in Santa Cruz’s lineup ever since it was introduced back in 2005. Like the previous version, the newest iteration has 170mm of travel front and rear, and 27.5” wheels. It’s received a few geometry and frame updates for 2021, but they’re more subtle than radical.
What’s new? Let’s start with the geometry first. The head angle now sits at 63.7 or 64-degrees depending on the position of the flip chip, roughly a degree slacker than before. The reach has grown, and now sits at 472mm for the size large in the low position, a 16mm increase.
• Travel: 170mm rear / 170mm front
• Wheel size: 27.5"
• Head angle: 63.7 or 64°
• Seat tube angle: 77.5°
• Reach: 472mm (lrg)
• Chainstay length: 436mm (size L)
• Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
• Weight: 32.6 lb / 14.8 kg
• Price: $7,399 USD
With the longer and slacker boxes checked, Santa Cruz significantly steepened the seat tube angle - it now measures 77.5-degrees in the low position, creating a much more upright riding position, and a shorter effective top tube than version 4.0.
When the new 5010 came out earlier this year it had size-specific chainstay lengths, and that trend continues on the Nomad. The length goes up by 5mm for each size, ranging from 426mm on the small up to 441mm on the XL.
Moving onto frame details, the most visible change is the addition of another swingarm upright, which means there’s now a support between the seatstays and chainstays on both sides of the bike. Less visible are the changes to the bike’s kinematics - the leverage curve is straighter, for a more consistent feel as the bike goes through its travel. It’s still compatible with both air and coil shocks, and Santa Cruz offers models with both options.
Other details include internal cable routing done the right way, a threaded bottom bracket, Zerk grease ports on the linkage to keep those bearing running smooth, and two paint jobs, one wild, and the other more mild. There’s a lifetime warranty on the bearings, and on the frame itself.
Prices on complete builds range from $4,499 to $8,699, and a CC frame and shock only is priced at $3,399 USD. The version I tested is the $7,399 XT Reserve, which has a Shimano XT 12-speed drivetrain, XT 4-piston brakes, Reserve carbon wheels, a Fox 38 Performance Elite fork, and a RockShox Super Deluxe Select + shock. All of those goodies added up to 32.6 pounds on my scale.Climbing
The Nomad’s climbing performance puts it neck and neck with the Propain Spindrift - both bikes feel quick and efficient, and do an excellent job of hiding how much travel is available for the descents. The head angle is slacker than the previous version, but the other geometry changes, especially the seat angle steepening, go a long way towards hiding that. In fact, I’d say that it’s easier and more pleasant to pedal than ever before.
For riders that enjoy technical climbs but don’t want to skimp on travel, the Nomad could be a good option. It seems to have an innate ability to find its way through tricky sections of trail, and it never felt cumbersome or unwieldy. There’s plenty of traction to keep the rear wheel gripping the ground, and the lack of unwanted shock movement meant I never had to use the climb switch.
The Nomad seems to be mellowing out a little as the years go by, morphing into more of a mild-mannered, do-it-all machine, as opposed to a purely gravity-oriented bike that’s only happy if you’re blasting down the trail as fast as possible. Don’t get me wrong - there’s a time and place for those long and fast speed machines, but it was sort of refreshing to take the Nomad out and not need to work that hard to have fun.
There’s a nimbleness to its handling that makes it well suited for hitting all the little bonus jumps, but when things get rough and rowdy it’s still possible to put your heels down and plow right on through.
My first ride on the Nomad ride took place after a heavy rain storm, which can be a recipe for scary levels of slipperiness, but I didn’t have any issues in my hunt for traction. The shock tune feels perfectly matched to the bike’s intentions - it’s nice and responsive off the top, with a smooth ramp up to avoid any harsh bottom outs.
Who’s the ideal candidate for the Nomad? I’d say it’s the rider who enjoys technical climbs and descents, someone would pick maneuverability over outright speed. Compared to the Norco Shore, the other 27.5” bike in this Field Test, the Nomad is an entirely different beast. The Nomad can eat up the miles without a fuss, and remains engaging even on mellower terrain. The Shore, on the other hand, is a more demanding ride, one that needs a steady diet of gnar to keep it happy.