This didn't turn out like we planned. We thought the Specialized Enduro would be the one up there duking it out with the Santa Cruz Nomad. But like so many things, that match made more sense on a spreadsheet than it did in real life. We found that the Enduro's suspension tune made it a race-oriented speed addict, while the Nomad is sort of down for whatever.
That happens to be precisely how we described the Devinci Spartan. Both bikes are suited for trails of any category, but they carry their similar travel and geometry in subtly, but significantly different ways. The Spartan is a little more businesslike. You can set it up to be an ultra-comfortable, ultra-capable marathoner that hugs the ground on the descents. The Nomad's versatility, on the other hand, comes with some delightful volatility--it wants to sprint and jump and slide whenever the trail lets you, and sometimes even when it doesn't.
These particular bikes are at vastly different price points, but models are available with comparable builds that offer proportionate but unique bangs for your bucks. Each bike features adjustable geometry, but in a way that we found distinguished them more than it united them. And most importantly, neither bike was an obvious favorite over the other.
Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01-Build With Reserve Carbon Wheel Upgrade
In certain social circles, the first generation Santa Cruz Nomad earned the nickname 'Slowmad.' Sure, it was a big bike you could pedal, but that didn't mean it pedaled well. Each update has improved on that, but none as significantly as the one we saw in 2017.
The new linkage allowed for a straighter, but still progressive leverage curve. There's no hammock-like feeling as climbs get steeper or sag gets deeper. That's slightly less true when riding in the frame's 'low' position, where the bike lengthens and the rather unremarkable 74.5-degree seat angle leans back to 74.1. In that setting, there's no mistaking you're on an enduro bike--although it will still maintain the current iteration of VPP's noticeably improved balance between supportiveness and traction. On the other hand, in the 'high' position, it reminded us of a trail bike, but one that's got some extra travel to work with. It also reminded us of the Devinci Spartan, but one that's set in its 'low' position.
Both bikes have similar fit and comfort on the uphills, but their suspension behaves differently. The Santa Cruz tends to rest higher in its travel, especially for testers running no more than 30-percent sag. By contrast, the Spartan relies on Devinci's signature progressivity, which offers a defined supportive platform, but one that's deeper in the travel. Depending on your setup, this gave the Nomad an advantage in seated climbing, but the tables turned when we put the Devinci in its 'high' position. We'll get to that later, though. First, we descend.
We tested these bikes in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. If you haven't ridden there, the terrain is more legit than you'd think. Plenty of trails are rowdy enough to merit owning a Nomad, and plenty of sections are steep enough to set it in its 'low' position. But those sections don't last long. One tester who spent most of Crankworx Whistler aboard a Nomad felt the iconic B.C. terrain begged for lower and slacker, but we unanimously preferred the 'high' position out in Marquette. There was minimal compromise in its capability, and it paired well with its poppy rear suspension. But it's not quite as supple off the top as the Spartan. We noted that although the Nomad enjoyed being ridden hard, it didn't demand it. You can tune your Nomad to hug the ground, especially if you opt for a coil shock, but we liked it how it was, light and lively.
It also was the $8,400 CC frame with X01-build and Reserve carbon rim upgrade. It should be light. Our Spartan costs an even $5,000. The more comparable $5,300 GX build on the Nomad C frame would still be a good choice for players who are gonna play.
Devinci Spartan GX Eagle
Just before it launched this past August, the Devinci Spartan spent some warm late summer evenings with veteran gear nerd and Bike senior writer, Ryan Palmer. The review he submitted inspired some doubt among the editors in the Bike mag office. Not because of the dad-level cornyness of his many puns, but because he had literally nothing negative to say about the bike. We told him he must have made a mistake. "Wait 'til you ride it at Bible," he told us. Sure enough, we had a hard time finding anything we didn't like. The color maybe, but it also comes in black.
For 2018, the Spartan got just as severe a redesign as the Nomad. The seat tube shortened by nearly an inch, the reach grew by even more, the head angle slackened by 1 degree, the seat angle steepened by 2, the fork grew taller, and the bottom bracket dropped lower. We'd say it's a totally different bike, but it's still got Devinci's signature progressive rear suspension. A platform emerges mid-way through the stroke, and it makes the Spartan a rocket under aggressive pedaling. In the saddle, the Santa Cruz Nomad's more consistent support gave it an edge, but not if the Spartan was set in its 'high' position.
Neither of these brands made the leap to 76-ish-degree seat angles like we wish they had, but the 74.9 degrees of the Spartan's climb-friendly setting was close enough. The half-degree of steepness and half-centimeter less travel had it resting in just the right place within its travel to give it a subtle edge over the Nomad on long slogs up a mountain. And the slightly steeper head angle also makes the Spartan a little less of a battle to navigate slow technical climbs, where its linkage also happened to excel. The Nomad's VPP is still an asset on the smooth more than in the rough. The simple Split Pivot on the Spartan behaved exactly how we wanted on our test loop's chunky climbs. One tester noted that, although an XC racer might say the Spartan climbed like a pig, an enduro racer would say it climbed like an XC bike.
Neither would say it descended like an XC bike. Though the classic Devinci ramp-up makes for some firm mid-stroke support, that early stroke is is constantly liquefying the ground beneath it. It's as sensitive off the top with its Super Deluxe Air as the Nomad is with a coil. And it's long. About 10 millimeters longer in the reach than the Nomad. The Spartan seems to be bred for the races, though to a lesser extent than the Specialized Enduro.
If it matters to you, this bike is a head turner. The Nomad and the Enduro are status quo. You might say, they're the establishment. But brands like Devinci aren't here to win a popularity contest. They're not out to please everyone, but the Spartan comes close.