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Review & Photos by AJ Barlas

Early in 2014 Santa Cruz released the long awaited update of their staple all mountain slayer, the Nomad. Previously, the Nomad had gone through a range of what was for the most part minor amends. The earlier models had a characteristic 'hunch' near the headtube, which was later mellowed, there was a 1.5" straight headtube that was later updated to a tapered version; pivot hardware was updated, the suspension saw amends, and then there was the carbon.


The Nomad wasn't just a frame that was ahead of it's time, and one of a few that made it through, it was also the frame that set the bar for both the durability and quality of Santa Cruz bikes carbon process. Everyone has seen the videos of carbon Nomad front triangles being smashed against concrete blocks, only to come out mostly unscathed (and if you haven't, look them up). Not only can Santa Cruz pat themselves on the back for the efforts taken to prove the strength of the fantastic plastic in mountain bikes, but a lot of other bike manufacturers can actually thank them for convincing a large portion of the market that it was a viable material.


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So how do they improve on an already well followed frame, a model that had its own brand and following behind it for years. A bike known for its capabilities on the trails and durability under riders the world over. Overhauling such a bike was always going to be risky and things like bumping up the wheel size, amending the carbon layup and even some internal routing were somewhat expected by many. However, Santa Cruz made a number of amends that were unexpected and although some were small, they make for big changes on the trail or when working on the bike, and we've been riding the Nomad for close to a year to see how the updated frame gets on.


Nomad 3 Highlights

  • Carbon CC Frame andswing arm
  • 27.5 inch wheels
  • 165mm (6.5 inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3 inches) front
  • Forged upper and lower links
  • Tapered head tube
  • 65-degree head angle
  • 74.2 degree effective seat tube angle
  • 31.6 seatpost diameter
  • 340mm (13.4 inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • Threaded bottom bracket
  • Single grease port on lower link
  • Internal carbon tubes for ease of maintenance and no noise
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size XL): 28 pounds, 7 ounces (13kg)
  • $2999 USD (frame and Debonair shock)


Initial Impressions

We tend to have a penchant for black bikes, especially bikes that have some attitude like the Nomad, so when the it was released with the gloss on matte black colour treatment we knew we had to have it—even if the other colour wasn't baby blue and pink (no, it's really not magenta…). Not shy of putting effort into the little details, Santa Cruz even went the extra mile and had the spec shock decals on either colour model done to suit the rest of the frame. If buying the full bike, the fork decals are also completed in an appropriate manner.


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Frame weight is a little more than their closest model, the Bronson, which weighs in at a claimed 5.3lbs—the Nomad comes it at a claimed 6.2lbs (2.8kg)—but for the stout build and rough-housing the frame is designed to endure, it's still among the lightest in its category. The frame also comes with integrated, moulded rubber chainstay and downtube protectors to help fend off chainslap and stray rocks, further adding to the frames durability.


The move to internal cable routing is one that Santa Cruz had previously steered clear of, but once they went for it with the Nomad, measures were put in place to make sure it was done right. The bike features internal routing for the dropper post and rear gear cable, while the brake line remains external for easy maintenance; a move that we think is smart for a number of reasons. The difference with Santa Cruz's first foray to internal cable routing was the addition of internal tubes constructed out of carbon, making setup and maintenance a piece of cake, while also keeping the bike quiet, removing any chance of the cables rattling about inside the frame.


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Moving the lower pivot up above the bottom bracket, similar to that of the V10, was another welcome change in the new design. This refinement is one that not only creates a nicer looking frame, but also keeps the link out of harms way and allows for a shorter rear end. To achieve this Santa Cruz did away with the front derailleur, a move made more attainable thanks to the recent popularity of 1x11. They also adjusted the position of the rear shock to allow for a bottle cage inside the front triangle, another welcome update.


Built up the bike looks like an absolute weapon. The stock builds, which this test bike is similar to with only a couple of small changes, are made to be strong and durable. The parts are sensibly chosen for what the bike is intended for; charging down trails and mowing down everything that stands in its way. So how does it perform on the trail? We're glad you asked.


On The Trail

We received our Nomad in late May, 2014 and minus an injury that slowed us down a good amount of the summer months, have been riding it hard ever since. The bike has seen action on everything between Vancouver's North Shore and Pemberton's dry and dusty tech, as well as on trails throughout Washington State, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. It's seen a lot of vert, a lot of variety in terrain, and all conditions imaginable.


Initial rides in Squamish, B.C had us bewildered by the bikes climbing abilities, with many armchair critics touting that a bike with a head angle as slack as the Nomads simply can't climb—how wrong they were. Despite the bikes slightly bulkier stance from previously owned rides, technical and not so technical climbs have been easier than expected and at least close to those achieved on much more ascent oriented frames.


 

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Now we'd be lying to say that a little extra body english isn't required, because it is, but once a rider realizes how best to utilize the nice and steep, 74.2º seat tube angle to their advantage, it opens up a whole world of possibilities. It's certainly not going to win any uphill races against lycra clad and shawn XC riders, but it will get any rider capable of a climb up it, and show the pilot a far better time heading down than any XC weenie thinks they're having. If issues are had with climbs aboard the Nomad, it's time to reassess technique and strength, more-so than placing blame on the bike.


Some might argue, "what's the point in paying good money for a bike that isn't going to make me better?", and at times we may empathize a little with that sentiment. In regards to the Nomad; once the beast is pointed back down the hill you're sure to force that question from the frontal lobe altogether!


Despite the Nomad's very capable climbing abilities, it's the descents that the bike really shines on. It's a good thing really, with many looking into a bike of this nature most likely seeking the best time possible while coasting down hill, whipping by trees and roosting up dirt. While there are a lot of bikes in this segment nowadays, the Nomad is hard to beat with its very capable climbing coupled to its death defying descending.

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The bike excels in steep, rough terrain, granting the rider superhuman abilities and leaving mere mortals feeling like world cup DH veterans. Feeling is the operative word, but who cares, because the sensation that you are riding like Brendog or Blinky is enough to hook anyone in, regardless of whether you resemble them in any way. This is helped along by the Nomads ability to exhibit a lot of the traits that existed in downhill bikes only 5–10 years ago—the angles, travel and the way it rides down, only even better. Thanks to advancements in great technology like VPP suspension and rear shocks, it's incredibly capable of being peddled about the local trail network all day.


In saying that we have spent a number of days riding the Nomad in the Whistler Bike Park—a move brought upon by the realization of its capabilities. It has shrugged off trails like Original Sin, had us giggling all the way down In Deep and inspired confidence on Goats Gully. The Nomad is capable of holding it's own on rough downhill trails and under the right rider, has potential to come very close to what most are able to achieve on an 8" travel downhill bike.


The bikes ability to chew up rough terrain, but remain nimble enough to pick up and move about—part of which is thanks to the commendable weight achieved from the builds—is perhaps the most surprising trait of all. The geometry grants confidence coming into steep fast corners and the slightly shorter rear in combination with the stout frame make snapping it through tight situations a breeze, despite its wheelbase being longer than some on paper. In the air it is stable and when (not if) things go slightly sideways, the geometry and buttery suspension will more often than not come to the rescue.


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Attacking off-camber sections of trail result in the Nomad holding onto lines like a champ. It's rare to feel it getting thrown off-line and often when it does, it's more the fault of the rider, whether the result of hesitation or simply getting it wrong and if a line is set with confidence, the bike will usually make it happen. The stiff chassis is a large contributor to this, preventing the bike from wandering in these situations, but giving enough not to be pinged off course.


Given the Nomads aggressive geometry, there is one downside. It does require more effort on flatter trails. Those willing to put that effort in will have a great time and wont be bothered by the slacker headangle and extra travel, but for those that want to sit back and let gravity take them on a ride, the same enjoyment won't be had. We don't see this as a negative, as the bike was never built with the intention of nailing flat flow trails, but nonetheless, we think it's worth noting.


Build Kit

We opted for the Rockshox Debonair frame and have been very impressed. The shock has excellent small bump sensitivity, granting bucket loads of traction over chatter and in loose terrain, but ramps up very well as it progresses through the travel. Mid stroke support is also excellent, especially coupled with the platform provided by the VPP suspension.


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We also run a Cane Creek Double Barrel air from time to time and will be using this on bike park days in the future. It creates a very predictable ride, but does lose some of its mid-stroke support and a little of the zip achieved from the more trail oriented setup with the Debonair. Both work well, but do change the personality of the bike somewhat. We've also found the CCDBA to be more consistent on long, drawn out and rough descents.


The Pike up front has been a great match for the Debonair in the rear, while also remaining balanced with the CCDBA. Front and rear this setup has granted us a ride that performs as well as recent downhill bikes and the reason that we began seeing what it was capable of in a downhill bikes playground.


We do commonly run a set of the ENVE M70 series wheels on our Nomad, and while we really enjoy their ride qualities, they can be a pain to work on, especially when it comes to tightening spokes, which require removal of both tire and rim strip, and a special spoke key to access the nipples. We've also been happy running a set of SRAM Rail 50 wheels, which are a great set of alloy wheels!


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The drivetrain and components on our Nomad are largely rounded out using SRAM parts, with the X01 drivetrain performing well in a range of conditions. The Avid X0 Trail brakes do a fine job, but aren't perfect, requiring a little more maintenance to keep them feeling great. The icing on the cake is the 31.6 diameter Reverb stealth seat post. The added girth in the seat tube allows for a 150mm drop post, granting riders an additional inch of clearance when dropping the seat and allowing for more room in hair raising situations. Its refreshing not to have a seat smack you in the chest at the most inopportune moment in technical terrain.


Things That Could Be Improved

It's hard to fault the Nomad if looking at it with the right point of view. It isn't an everyday trail bike for everyone, but if the terrain is suitable or a rider is looking for something that will grant them more confidence in hairy situations, then it is hard to beat.


The only place that could see improvement currently is down by the lower link, which is susceptible to debris loading up within the opening in the frame that houses the link. With soil and pine needles it's a non-issue, but there have been occasions where rocks have gotten in there and with the wrong timing, get caught between the link and the seat tube of the frame as the bike moves through its travel. If the brace bridge between the seat and chain stay were a tad taller, acting more as a fender in a similar fashion to the V10, it would pretty well eliminate this from happening.


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We do also find the rubber grommets for the internal cable routing difficult at times, being a little tricky to get them to sit into the ports when a cable is in place. These are both minor gripes, but worth noting nonetheless.


Long Term Durability

After close to a year beating on the Nomad, we're very pleased with how the frame has worn. The pivots have needed the least amount of maintenance of any Santa Cruz that we've ridden, which equates to none. They've remained stiction free with no wear on the axles to date, which is a big feat for this test rider. The stout frame takes punishment in its stride and the integrated rubber mouldings are doing a great job of protecting it where needed.


What's The Bottom Line?

The Nomad is a bike that demands to be ridden with confidence and the more aggressive the better. It laughs off the roughest of trails and seeks more steep chutes than any trail bike we've ever ridden. The difference over many other bikes in this popular segment is that despite its aggressive stature, the Nomad climbs well—a characteristic attributed to the combination of steep seat tube, VPP suspension and light weight.


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Bikes that inspire this much confidence and generate a genuine excitement to ride are a blessing in disguise. With the new found confidence riders can find themselves getting into more trouble as the bike begs to be pushed more, but it will also get them out of just as much trouble. Bikes are supposed to be fun and we think the Nomad will do a good job of blowing the socks off almost any rider willing to ride it the way it wants.


For more on the Santa Cruz Nomad 3, check outhttp://www.santacruzbicycles.com

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