You could say that a true nomad is at home everywhere and nowhere. That's certainly true of this Nomad. For the fourth generation of its 27.5-wheeled enduro bike, Santa Cruz has lengthened, lowered and slackened the frame's geometry and increased front and rear travel to a freeride-worthy 170 millimeters. That travel is delivered by a V10-inspired VPP linkage that passes the shock through the seat tube.
Three of the 27.5 enduro bikes we tested blew us away with their climbing efficiency: Specialized's Enduro, Devinci's Spartan and the Nomad. This is undoubtedly the most competent climber of the Nomad lineage, despite also having the most travel. There's no getting around the bike's 65-degree headtube angle and 1,217-millimeter wheelbase on steep, technical climbs, and its seat tube sits at 74.5 degrees in the 'High' setting, which isn't all that steep, especially compared to the Enduro. Thankfully, the suspension stays high in its travel under pedaling forces, and doesn't exhibit the pedal feedback or hang-up sensation that some testers experience with VPP linkages.
To sum up the Nomad's disposition on descents, one tester wrote "Asked to be ridden harder and harder, but didn't need to be pushed." Even set at 30-plus-percent sag, the Nomad remained high in its travel through small hits and in response to rider inputs. This made for a supple feel over chattery bumps but allowed for a more poppy feel than the Enduro or Spartan provided. When the hits got bigger, the Nomad shrugged them off. When the speeds got higher, the Nomad wondered why we were covering the brakes. There was nothing we could do to put this Santa Cruz out of its comfort zone, which allowed us to step out of ours.So Santa Cruz made a bike that's both capable and versatile. Big whoop, you might say. But the California brand also nailed the details on the Nomad, with touches like a threaded bottom bracket, internal cable routing with guide tubes and even a shuttle pad that protects the frame's downtube from rubbing against tailgates. Our high-end CC carbon frame (we recommend the C-level frame for all but the flushest of buyers) was sprung by a RockShox suspension package consisting of a Lyrik RCT3 fork and a Super Deluxe Air RCT shock. The Nomad is also compatible and available with a coil shock, but our tester who rode a coil-sprung Nomad preferred the customizability of the air spring. This, after all, is an incredibly versatile bike, and it would be a shame to give that up. Besides, the Nomad is already plenty capable--wherever it may wander.
Q&A with Josh Kissner, product manager for Santa Cruz Bicycles
Given what a capable climber the Nomad is, how should riders decide between it and the Bronson?
Both bikes climb without suspension bob, so your speed uphill really depends on the build (weight, tires, etc). I’d think more about the downhill to determine which would be the best choice for you. The Nomad is incredibly capable, but might be a bit bored in mellower terrain. The Bronson is a more nimble frame and will feel more alive on flatter or tighter terrain, at the expense of ultimate stability and rock-smashability.
What's the difference between the CC and C frames?
The CC frames use the best carbon material available to us, and a very time-consuming intricate layup. This costs more, but saves about 300 grams per frame compared to the C frame. Stiffness and strength requirements are identical for both though, so they’ll feel the same when riding.
The Nomad's 74.5 seat-tube angle isn't exactly slack, but we like really steep seat tubes. Why not go steeper?
Effective seat angles can vary a lot between frames, as the measurement is taken at a pretty arbitrary spot on the seat-tube (at the height of the top of the head tube). Because of this, our 74.5 effective seat angle is steeper than many bikes that have a steeper number on their chart. It’s an imperfect measurement for conveying where the saddle will be at pedaling height. Of course, some people may still like something different than what we made, but we feel like it’s in a good spot for most riders and terrain. Just take that particular spec on geometry charts with a grain of salt …
What’s the reasoning behind the new linkage?
The Nomad 4 uses the lower-link to drive the shock, which gives us a leverage curve more similar to the V10. This curve keeps the bike supportive and lively, even with 170 millimeters of travel--while erasing small trail chatter and giving DH bike levels of traction.