I’m pretty sure that Santa Cruz was the first mountain bike company to spout the “one bike” line when they originally released their do-it-all Nomad back in 2005. Since its release, the allmountain, six-inch travel market has blown up and every mountain bike company worth its Taiwanese phrasebook has the words “one bike” somewhere in its marketing literature.
This is the second Nomad I’ve owned. The first was a 2008 model, which was different from the original release only in that it had a 1.5-inch head tube. For 2009 the changes have been a lot more noticeable. The VPP suspension platform has been revised, grease ports have been added to the lower linkages and the upper link has been redesigned and is now made of carbon. The front triangle has also had the redesign treatment and now fits longer travel forks without the need for a high-stacked headset. The chainstays have been shortened, ISCG 05 tabs have been added to suit more gravityoriented builds that require chain guides, and cable routing has been refined to accommodate a height-adjustable seatpost. The attention to quality and finer details is just as you would expect from the $4000+ price tag for the frame and shock. The new Nomad even sports a bottle opener!
The Nomad I’ve been testing was supplied as a frame only with a Fox DHX Air shock. It’s also available with a Fox DHX coil or RockShox Monarch. Mine was built with a modest kit: 160 mm Fox Float R forks to match the rear Fox DHX 5.0 Air (although you can run up to 180 mm forks); Avid Juicy 7 brakes with 203 rotors; Gravity Light handlebars and stem; a mixture of WTB rims and Hope Pro II hubs; SRAM XO rear derailleur and a drivetrain split between a Gravity GAP dual ring set and Truvativ’s HammerSchmidt.
It’s not the lightest build in the world but it has been a reliable and bulletproof one, surviving nine months of all 103 kg of me. My rig tips the scales at 15.7 kg, but you could easily build it up ultra-light and beat the snot out of an elite field of cross-country riders.
The new Nomad has even greater pedalling efficiency than its predecessor. Engaging the pro pedal on the Fox DHX Air makes pretty much no difference at all when ascending, and this can be attributed to the shortened chainstays, new bearings and the revised VPP linkage. Combined with reduced chain growth, this results in suspension that feels stiffer in the first stages of travel and far plusher than the previous model in the later stages. It sounds clichéd, but the Nomad’s 160 mm of travel feels like a lot more.
On the trail the Nomad is an extremely responsive and agile bike that is as much fun to get to the top as it is to point back down. I suspect my weight adds to its ability to hold traction while climbing the real rough stuff, but on the whole the firmer beginning of the shock’s travel makes the bike a little susceptible to losing grip. Of course, that may also be because you’re going way faster than before. When climbing, you’ll easily forget you’re riding a bike with 160 mm of travel; I’m a set-and-forget kind of guy and have had absolutely no qualms about pedalling up big hills. But if you don’t mind stopping and tinkering then an adjustable travel fork would definitely suit.
Descending with the Nomad is what it’s all about. The slack 67º head angle, combined with a 71.5º seat angle and spot on geometry, ensure that the bike is balanced, fast and predictable on technical terrain… make that all terrain. The Nomad encourages you to throw in that extra pedal stroke before that once-hairy corner, and it rewards you by tracking predictably, not flinching at all and sending you out the other side with a massive grin and more speed than you know what to do with.
The revised VPP comes into its own on the downhills. The rear suspension feels bottomless as it eats up square-edged bumps like roots, rocks and small vertical drops. In fact, the Nomad is so predictable and solid that it’ll have you trying far more adventurous lines than ever, as well as hitting corners and technical sections with more speed and control. Even though I’ve been riding an XL model, the standover clearance isn’t an issue and the bike is a breeze to manoeuvre on tight and tricky singletrack.
Sure, there are lighter bikes in the 160 mm allmountain class, but they don’t share the Nomad’s stiffness and bottomless ride. There are also stiffer bikes in this class, but you guessed it––they carry a larger weight penalty and very few pedal like the Nomad. Santa Cruz has got it right, making something that was already great even better. The 2009 Nomad is definitely still the ONE bike to own. CALEB SMITH
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