TESTED - 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad V6 12

A mixed-wheel bruiser that is ready for anything.

When one Santa Cruz bike in the line gets an update or new features, it has become expected the rest of the line will follow suit one at a time. Though that much can be virtually relied upon, what always remains a mystery is which bike will get the treatment. This April, we saw the Megatower get a host of updates, including the Glovebox (in-frame storage). Next up was the Hightower with its foreshadowed changes. Today, it is the Nomad's turn but with quite a bit more to it than just a hole in the frame for your Twinkies. Let's dig into the new mixed-wheeled monster's finer points.

JUMP TO OUR LONG-TERM REVIEW OF THE NOMAD V6

Highlights

  • Mixed wheel only - 29-inch/27.5-inch wheels
  • 170mm (6.6-inches) travel front and rear
  • Carbon frame - C and CC level construction
  • In-frame storage (Glovebox)
  • Size-specific geometry and carbon layup
  • Threaded bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • Universal derailleur hanger
  • Boost 148 hub spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Lifetime frame warranty
  • Lifetime bearing replacement
  • Coil shock options with DoubleDown tires on most builds

The biggest news with the Nomad is about 1.5-inches. Namely the front wheel. Just as we saw with the Bronson, the new Nomad is now a dedicated mixed-wheel bike. This is perhaps not massively surprising but it is a departure for the Nomad lineage. It does maintain the same 170mm of travel front and rear. As we are seeing with other models from Santa Cruz, the Nomad now features the Glove Box, an in-frame storage option to house various sundries.

Updated Suspension

High-level details aside, Santa Cruz did some tinkering with the Nomad's suspension characteristics. Uncharacteristically, they've even shared some graphs and curves and such. Santa Cruz lowered the anti-squat value of the Nomad 6 when compared to the V5. The V6 also has a reduced leverage rate and progressivity. 

Straight from Santa Cruz:

Anti-Squat: Like most of our recent projects, a big part of increasing suspension sensitivity lay in the anti-squat and pedal kickback values. By having lower anti-squat, we were able to remove suspension harshness triggered by square-edge hits while descending. The reduction of anti-squat also allows the rear wheel to maintain better traction while climbing. 

Leverage: Our goal was to make the suspension platform consistent throughout the stroke. We found that by reducing the starting leverage we were able to improve body-weight influenced geometry stability, while reducing progression allowed the suspension to have consistently better tracking qualities throughout the stroke.

Geometry Changes

Sure, the new Nomad is predictably longer in the reach department, but only slightly so. The same can be said of the slacker head angle and size-specific seat angles. What is noteworthy, however, is the longer, size-specific chain stay lengths. Size small Nomads have a 439.8mm chain stay in the "Lo" position and that number grows with each size all the way to 450.9mm with the XXL frame. On the topic of size-specific frame qualities, Santa Cruz is calling out its unique carbon layup for each size to offer everyone a similar ride quality.

The Lineup

There are essentially five parts kits available for the 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad. Things kick off with the R and S builds that feature SRAM NX or GX (respectively). From here, things get a little tedious - The GX AXS build comes with a Reserve wheel option as well as an air or coil shock option. The coil option nets you Maxxis DoubleDown tires. The X01 build can be kitted with the same coil option but is not delineated with a Reserve option. At the top of the heap is the X01 AXS RSV (only with Reserve wheels) in an air or coil option.

Santa Cruz Nomad R - $5,649

The Nomad C R uses a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain and SRAM G2 RE brakes with 200mm rotors. It comes with a RockShox Zeb R fork and RockShox Super Deluxe Select rear shock. There is an SDG Tellis dropper in 125-175mm drop lengths depending on frame size. RaceFace AR 30 wheels and a Maxxis Assegai and DHRII tire combination round out the kit.

Nomad C S - $6,799

Next up is the Nomad C S build. A SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain and SRAM Code R brakes make the Nomad go and stop. The fork is a FOX 38 Performance mated with a RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ rear shock. The seatpost bumps to the RockShox Reverb with 125mm-200mm of drop depending on frame size. The wheels are still RaceFace AR30 hoops with an upgrade to the hubs.

Nomad C GX AXS - $8,499

The Nomad C GX AXS is the top offering of the C frame line. As the name indicates, it uses SRAM's wireless GX AXS drivetrain with SRAM Code RS brakes. The fork bumps to a FOX Performance Elite 38 with a RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ rear shock. Wheels move to the RaceFace ARC hoops with i9 hubs. At this level, riders can select the Reserve wheel upgrade ($9,799, 30HD) as well as choose air or coil (RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ coil.) As noted earlier, the move to coil does net riders Maxxis Double Down tires (Assegai front, DHRII rear.)

Nomad CC X01 - $9,299

The Nomad CC X01 build gets the obvious upgrade to the lighter frame but runs cables to shift its gears in the form of SRAM's X01 drivetrain with SRAM Code RSC brakes. FOX's factory 38 and X2 rear shock handle the suspension. Wheels are RaceFace ARC with Industry Nine 1/1 hubs. Santa Cruz is evidently not offering the Reserve 30HD upgrade package at this level. Riders can still opt for either an air or coil (FOX DHX2) rear shock.

Nomad CC X01 AXS RSV - $11,199

Lastly, is our test bike, the Nomad CC X01 AXS RSV Air (coil option in Gypsum color shown above). The name pretty much outlines the parts selection on the bike - X01 AXS Eagle drivetrain with SRAM Code RSC brakes. This particular build kit is only available with the Reserve 30HD wheels with Industry Nine 1/1 hubs but comes with either a FOX X2 (tested) or DHX2 coil shock.

First Impressions

Vital very recently took possession of our test bike and have only had it on a few outings. Our tester immediately gelled with the bike and found it easy to ride. His initial impressions were summed up in the first mile of downhill, "This bike rips." Coming from a full 29er, the ability to create sharper turns in steep or loose scenarios was appreciated given the very blown conditions of a heated summer in the Sierras. Vital will be racking up the miles and chairlift rides with our test bike for a full review later this year.

Long-Term Santa Cruz Nomad 6 Review

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The first Santa Cruz Nomad launched way back in 2005 was one of the most iconic bikes of its era. With over 160mm of rear wheel travel and a single crown fork, it gave riders a glimpse of a future where heavy-hitting, descent-thirsty bikes could also be pedaled comfortably to the top of the hill. Now almost two decades later, the sixth-generation Nomad released in August brought few features that we would consider 'original.' Two of its most-heralded changes — a mixed-wheel configuration and in-frame storage — are not exactly novel ideas in 2022. And with the same suspension layout that mirrors most Santa Cruz bikes, the latest Nomad fostered minimal shock or awe when it arrived at our front door.

But does a bike have to be original or revolutionary to be great? If you answered 'yes' to this question, the Nomad 6 might force you to re-examine your thinking. 

Highlights

  • Carbon fiber front and rear frame
  • Mixed wheel configuration
  • 170mm (6.7 inches) of rear wheel travel // 170mm (6.7 inches) of fork travel
  • Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension design
  • 63.8 or 63.5-degree head tube angle
  • Size-specific geometry (chain stay length and seat angle)
  • Glove Box internal frame storage
  • Internally guided cable routing 
  • Threaded bottom bracket with ISCG 05 mounts
  • 148 x 12mm Boost rear hub spacing
  • Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 33.18 pounds (15 kg)
  • Sizes: S to XXL
  • MSRP: $5,649 -  $11,199 USD
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Strengths

Weaknesses

  • Phenomenal cornering characteristics
  • Incredibly nimble, light and responsive for an enduro bike 
  • Suspension invites (practically begs for) aggressive riding
  • Climbs with the efficiency of a bike with much less than 170mm of travel
  • Spec short-comings for the price
  • Between the suspension and the brakes, this quickly became a noisy bike

When the Nomad 6 launched in August, we covered all of its finer details with our report at the top of this article - from suspension kinematic updates to size-specific carbon layup. Since then, we've been giving our test bike a proper thrashing to see how the subtle updates translate to on-trail performance. 

We tested the top-of-the-line air-sprung CC X01 AXS RSV Nomad build that retails for a significant $11,119 price. With a frame wrapped in a subtle matte black finish, the Nomad arrived looking ready for business. We couldn't stop at a trailhead without being berated by compliments from fellow riders. There is something about a bright white Santa Cruz logo on a dark down tube that demands attention.  

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While the VPP suspension design produces some complexity in the shock area, overall, the frame has a refined, sleek profile. The rear shock is hidden mostly out of sight, slung low in the frame, putting it closer to the elements than other designs. Luckily, a small fender extends over the lower shock eyelet to minimize grit from working its way into the shock and lower link. The downtube is noticeably larger than the previous generation thanks to the new Glovebox internal storage. Admittedly, we scarcely used the storage during testing, but it was nice to have it when we did.

The flip chip at the lower shock eyelet was convenient for easy geometry changes. We rode exclusively in the "Low" position for this test for reasons we'll get to below. The frame's 63.5-degree head angle (in the low position) is contemporary but not overly daring for a 170mm, descent-focused bike. The 472mm reach (also in the low setting) on our large frame might feel conservative to some, but our tester noted that the bike felt no less spacious than the 485mm reach bike they tested before the Nomad. Luckily, if you're worried about ending up with a small-feeling Nomad, XL or XXL frame options exist.

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Setup

Finding a suitable air pressure on the Fox Float X2 Factory shock was easy. We started with 33% sag and ended up leaving pressure the same throughout testing. The bike routinely used all but the last few millimeters of travel and never bottomed harshly or wallowed in the least. 

The FOX 38 Float Factory fork required slightly less pressure than the sticker on the lower leg recommended for our 155-pound tester. It wasn't harsh at that setting, but there was always a half inch of unused travel, even when riding trails that we would categorize as demanding. Reducing the pressure just a tad allowed us to reach full travel.

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On The Trail

The Nomad spent most of its test days in chunky, steep terrain in the Sierra Nevada mountains, including some days at Northstar Bike Park. It also had a few outings at mellower foothill spots to test its versatility.

If you remember one part of this test, remember this: from the get-go, the Nomad 6 made us want to push harder than ever on our local trails. And without a doubt, the biggest contributing factor to this immediate confidence was the Nomad's undisturbed suspension platform. The VPP linkage design and FOX Float X2 shock were a perfect symbiotic match that made us feel like we could take virtually any line without consequence.   

But, to be clear, the Nomad wasn't a plush, magic-carpet ride, and we've ridden plenty of other bikes that offer slightly less feedback. The magic of the Nomad's suspension was that nothing seemed to unsettle it. While we felt some of the bumps, the bike never reacted to them in a way that took our focus off the line ahead. Santa Cruz recommends 29-32% of sag, and even though our 33% sag was a mild departure from their baseline, it did improve ride comfort by softening trail feedback over exceptionally bumpy terrain.  

That said, most long-travel bikes soak up chop pretty well nowadays, so the suspension performance only partially explains the Nomad's impressive capabilities. The other standout characteristic was the bike's unmatched cornering prowess. Simply put, the Nomad rails corners with minimal input. There are a few possible explanations for this:

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  • Relative to a full 29-inch setup, the MX wheel configuration enables easy rear-wheel steering (a preferred approach for our loose testing conditions in the Sierra Nevada Mountains).
  • The low-slung nature of the frame, which is only enhanced by the low center of gravity facilitated by the shock placement, provides incredible grip and maneuverability. This is why we never bothered with the "High" geometry setting: The thought of compromising the Nomad's shifter-kart handling for even one ride was too much to bear — even though pedal strikes were fairly common.
  • The low weight of our high-end build made positioning the Nomad very easy. We experienced less fatigue during long descents and enjoyed being able to influence the bike to generate speed. While the internet has come to accept enduro bike weights that rival the heft as a downhill bike, riding a lighter 170mm-travel machine made us question whether we should continue to accept this premise. The difference isn't striking in every situation, but our build weighed just over 33 pounds (without pedals), which is impressive. 

Additionally, Santa Cruz's size-specific geometry deserves credit for making the Nomad feel balanced and composed regardless of trail pitch. The bike also jumped exceedingly well, with a highly predictable feel. That said, it's been a while since we rode an enduro bike that felt skittish in the air. 

Yes, of course, the Nomad is a class leader on descents. But the original Nomad was a noteworthy climber, dawning the reputation as a self-shuttling bike. Did some of that original lineage bleed through in the latest generation? With the build kit we tested, ascending was aided by the bike's low perceived weight. When paired with the VPP suspension's calm pedaling platform, it was hard to distinguish the Nomad from a shorter-travel bike on many climbs. Comparing our times up various trails confirmed that Nomad 6 had retained its ability to scurry up hills.  

However, one aspect of our build caught our attention regarding climbing performance: Santa Cruz's choice to spec our build with Maxxis' lighter EXO+ casing tires seemed like a potential attempt to lower rolling weight and improve climbing efficiency. We did not experience any tire slashes or flats (even at Northstar), so we can't harp on the tire spec too hard since it faired well during our testing. But for a bike that can be ridden at downhill bike speeds and would benefit from some extra sidewall support and rim protection, EXO+ still seems like a risky choice.

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Build Kit

Our $11,199 test bike was decked out with plenty of bells and whistles that complemented the abilities and intended use of the Nomad. However, for a bike with a jaw-dropping price tag, a few aspects of the build came up a little short.

The FOX suspension proved remarkably capable across various terrain, and as noted above, getting the Nomad to deflect or feel overwhelmed through rough terrain was practically impossible. We did, however, have an issue with the upper shock hardware. When we would lift up the rear of the bike, it sometimes felt like we had a moderately loose shock bolt, and we could feel a slight wiggle when we placed a finger between the D.U. bushing and the frame. But upon inspection, all the suspension bolts were torqued to Santa Cruz's specifications. Then we'd take another few runs, and the play would seemingly vanish — only to return a few runs again later. It was unlike anything we had encountered. Fortunately, Santa Cruz was highly responsive and sent new shock hardware to address the issue. We haven't ridden the bike enough since the swap to be positive that this will solve everything in the long term, but the bike feels as it should again with the new hardware installed.

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When it comes to the SRAM Code RSC brakes, we found ourselves battling a lot of noise in dusty conditions. And despite having lots of power and modulation, the Code's simply didn't provide the immediate stopping bite we've come to expect from other brake brands. The factory bleed was excellent, though, and required no attention whatsoever (unlike some Shimano brakes we've tested lately).

Spec'd with a SRAM AXS X01 drivetrain, we were disappointed our build didn't feature an AXS Reverb dropper as well considering its hefty price tag. It is the X01 AXS RSV build kit, after all. While the fluid-operated Reverb Stealth dropper functioned without fault during testing, we don't suspect we are the only ones surprised to see a third cable on such an expensive bike.  

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The Santa Cruz Reserve 30 | HD wheels were our favorite part of this build. After exploding another brand's carbon rim just before this test, we were pleased with the amount of abuse the Reserves withstood without requiring any spoke adjustment or showing signs of wear. The Maxxis Assegai front tire and Minion DHR rear tire were also the perfect rubber for our testing conditions. Just remember to ride with glasses because the Assegai can toss up handfuls of dirt, and the modest FOX fender does little to minimize face shots. 

Long-Term Durability

The Nomad was still performing well at the end of our test, and the only area of concern was how loud the suspension pivots had become. We did spend a considerable amount of time in moondust-esque dirt, which is notorious for bringing out creaks in any bike. However, the Nomad began making noises at a concerningly quick rate. Chatting with longtime Santa Cruz riders, re-greasing the linkage hardware is the hot trick to limit how quickly the linkage begins making noise. Luckily, Santa Cruz's lifetime frame and bearing warranty erase most long-term concerns. Throw in the lifetime warranty on the Reserve wheels on this build, and we fully expect our Nomad to be throwing roost in its current configuration for years to come. 

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Value

Deciding where to score the Nomad 6 in the "value" category was tough. If you focus on its lack of novel features and admittedly painful price tag, dismissing the Nomad 6 X01 AXS RSV build we tested as the domain of wealthy Santa Cruz fans alone is easy. But generally speaking, you'll pay more for the other build kits in the Nomad lineup than comparably specced bikes from other brands. However, purchasing a Santa Cruz does come with not only outstanding warranty and maintenance support but a ride quality and on-trail performance that is class-leading. You can have loads of fun on much cheaper bikes, but the extra money spent on the Nomad does yield incremental fun and speed over time.

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What's The Bottom Line?

If you're looking for an enduro bike that boasts lots of never-before-seen features or offers exceptional value to riders on a budget, the latest Nomad 6 might not be for you. But if you want a bike that will elevate your confidence on challenging trails, you will be struck by its raw capability, peerless cornering abilities, and light-on-its-feet nature. And once pointed uphill, Santa Cruz has successfully maintained the heritage of the Nomad's dominant climbing abilities. Just make sure your checking account is ready to take a hit because the barrier to entry is high, regardless of the build kit.  

To learn more about the new Nomad, head to SantaCruzBicycles.com


View key specs, compare bikes, and rate the new Santa Cruz Nomad in the Vital MTB Product Guide.

____________________________________________________________________________

About The Reviewer

Robert Beaupre - Age: 41 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Height: 6'0" (1.83m) // Weight: 155 pounds (70.3kg)

Robert began riding motocross bikes when he was 5 and raced for several years as a local pro in Nevada and California. He mostly avoided mountain bikes until he was 27 because long stems and skinny tires made these machines unattractive relative to a CRF450R. He jumped on the bandwagon once these bugs were worked out, however, and later achieved modest success as a Category 1 and Vet Pro downhill racer. Today he most enjoys attempting novel lines on fast and loose Sierra Nevada trails, sneaking in moto sessions when the ground is wet and dirt jumping with his many daughters.

 

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