Several different aluminum prototypes were created during the design process of the Nomad, including this version that had the shock passing through a split in the seat tube.Geometry and Frame Design
|Santa Cruz's Nomad Gets a Makeover|
Last February, a handful of Santa Cruz Bicycles' employees headed to South America for the Andes Pacifico, a four day enduro race that, as the name suggests, begins in the Andes Mountains and finishes on the shores of the Pacific. They returned home with stories of exciting trails, incredible views, and plentiful pisco sours, so when it came time to choose a spot for the official launch of the new Nomad, Chile was the chosen destination. What better spot to release an all-mountain bike than in a country whose entire eastern border is a mountain range?
The name and the amount of travel may be the same, but this is an entirely different beast than the previous versions, a model that was first introduced all the way back in 2005. The revised Nomad was in the works even before last season's well-received 150mm Bronson, but according to Joe Graney, Santa Cruz's engineering director, “We struggled for a really long time, not trying to actually make the bike, but trying to figure out what the bike was going to be.” Santa Cruz wanted to be sure that the new Nomad existed for a specific reason, rather than rushing to release a warmed-over, 27.5” version of a design that had become a bit long in the tooth.
• 165mm VPP suspension
• Full carbon frame and swingarm in S, M, L & XL sizes
• 27.5” wheels, with new carbon ENVE M70 option
• RockShox Monarch Plus Debonair or Vivid Air RC2 shock
• Frame weight from 6.2 lbs (2.8 kg)
• Complete from 27.1 lbs (12.3kg)
• Colors: aqua/magenta, stealth black
• Pricing from $6,599 USD complete for SRAM X01 build
• $2,999 frame only
During the Nomad's development, aluminum-framed test mules were created for both 26” and 27.5” wheels using several different suspension configurations. One mule even used a V10 style linkage, with an interrupted seat tube and the same shock rate as Santa Cruz's World Cup winning DH bike. “We were looking at improving the geometry to make it a more all-round bike. We made a lot of different mules around the 165mm travel amount, and found that if you go beyond 165mm that the leverage ratios get a little weird and there aren't as many shocks available,” said Graney.
According to Nick Anderson, Santa Cruz's senior design engineer, "One of the overarching goals of this project was to really improve the fit of the bike, with a steeper seat tube angle and longer top tube; moving the whole front of the bike forward, but also shortening the chainstays so the bike wasn't this big huge long pig. I think there were some complaints in the industry about the previous Nomad sitting into its travel too far, so we wanted something that rode a little higher, offered more mid-stroke support and had better small bump compliance. The reality of it is because of the steeper seat tube angle and lightweight construction it actually climbs really well - if you take the shock out of the bike the frame weight is more or less the same as the Bronson, but because of the low BB, short chainstays and slack head tube angle it descends a lot better."The Nomad's lower link has been moved to a higher position in the frame, a change made possible by the decision to do away with the front derailleur. The bike also has internal cable routing, a departure from Santa Cruz's past designs.
The extended development time let the Nomad take full advantage of the new technology that's become available over the last few years, particularly the availability of 1x11 drivetrains. By making the decision to base the bike around a single ring setup, Santa Cruz was able to focus more on geometry numbers without making any of the compromises that finagling in a front derailleur often requires. The lower link of the Nomad has been moved to a higher position, a change that allows the chainstays to be shortened to 433mm, as well as making the linkage less vulnerable to rock strikes. Along with being designed around a 1x11 drivetrain, the Nomad is also meant to be run with a 6 inch dropper post. To accomplish this Santa Cruz switched to a 31.6mm seat tube diameter and altered the rear shock mounting position. Instead of sitting in between two extensions from the frame, the upper link now sits on both sides of the top tube, a change that let Santa Cruz lower the seat tube height for all frame sizes. The upper link now sits on both sides of the top tube, which allows for a lower seat tube height. The internal carbon tubes used for the cable routing are visible in the cutaway at the bottom right.
Santa Cruz has a strong set of design principles, and they've historically been reluctant to add features simply to fit in with the current trends. Press-fit bottom brackets are one example of this, which is why the Nomad has a threaded bottom bracket as opposed to jumping on the press-fit band wagon. When the idea of internal cable routing was brought up, Santa Cruz's designers wanted to make sure it was executed as perfectly as possible and didn't create any extra hassles that would lead mechanics to fits of rage. The solution they came up with is a continuous carbon tube that runs the length of the frame that's added during the layup process, a tube that ends up becoming a structural component of the frame. The routing has also been altered so that the housing doesn't contact the head tube where it exits the frame, a nice touch to keep the carbon from being scuffed up by housing rub.
We were able to get in three days of riding in aboard the Nomad, two of them spent shuttling on the tracks used for the Andes Pacifico near Santiago, and the other day on the course of the Enduro World Series' first stop in Nevados de Chillan, located seven hours to the south. Many of the trails were covered with an ankle-deep layer of fine dust that exploded skyward every time the bike slid into a berm, and the quick direction changes and careful cornering required by those steep and loose trails immediately shone a light on the Nomad's snappy handling. You'd expect a 165mm with a 65 degree head angle to be a handful at slower speeds, but the Nomad is more versatile than the numbers suggest, and its playfulness never faded, no matter how tight and twisty the trail.
Our rides were mainly shuttle assisted, or had climbs that were spent pushing rather than pedaling uphill through deep volcanic soil, so we'll reserve judgement on the Nomad's technical climbing performance until we've spent more time on the bike, but out of the saddle sprints up the short climbs we did come across were rewarded with a satisfying leap forward. The Nomad is one of those bikes that encourages active rider participation, a bike that makes you want to put the hammer down and sprint, rather than coast out of corners and on straightaways. It certainly pedals better than a slack, 165mm bike has any right to - something the light weight helps with, but the VPP suspension design also lends a hand in preventing the bike from feeling like a waterbed on wheels during hard pedaling efforts.
On steeper sections of trail where there were continuous hard impacts during heavy braking the stiffness of the front end was especially noticeable, leading to more arm pump at the end of the run than we would have expected. The combination of a 35mm diameter carbon bar and stiff carbon wheels is probably the culprit here, but once again, we'll need more time on the bike to come to a definitive conclusion. Other than that little extra arm pump, the Nomad sucked up the big hits like a champ, charging forward without getting sucked into the deep ruts and holes that punctuated the trails. The Nomad was more than happy to get airborne whenever we wanted room between our wheels and the ground.
Santa Cruz worked closely with RockShox to develop the correct tune for the bike, and is offering the Nomad specc'd with either a Vivid R2C or a Monarch Plus Debonair. We're more accustomed to seeing the Vivid on DH bikes rather than all-mountain rigs, but after spending time with one on the Nomad it was easy to see why it's included as an option. We tried the bike with both shocks, and found that the Monarch Plus gave the bike a little more lively, poppy feel, while the Vivid had better manners on the really nasty bits of trail, allowing for more straightlining through the jagged volcanic rocks that jutted up from the ground. The Monarch Plus's three position compression lever does make it more usable on trails that have multiple ups and downs - in the end, choosing the rear shock will come down to what type of terrain you'll most often be riding the Nomad on. Does your riding mainly consist of fire road climbs with gnarly downhills at the end? Lift served or shuttle riding? Go with the Vivid. Riders looking for more pedaling efficiency will find the Monarch Plus to be a better match.
Our time in Chile left us impressed, both with the Nomad's performance and with the trails we took it on. As fun as the Nomad was to ride, the terrain and the riders we met heightened the experience even further. We managed to bring one back to the Pacific Northwest with us where the volcanic soil of Chile will be replaced for the organic loam in our backyard to evaluate this aqua and magenta ride's long term performance.The sun might have set on our Chilean adventure, but we brought the Nomad home for long term testing. www.santacruzbikes.com