#1: Santa Cruz Nomad
No one is as surprised as me that the Nomad came out on top. Singletracks readers may have given the Bronson the edge over the Nomad in our survey, but it still ranked #3 overall which says a lot about the quality of this bike. As the more aggressive sibling to the Bronson, the Nomad is potentially seen as too much bike for a lot of riders (even among those who enduro), but I found it to be very rideable and fun as hell.
Unlike the Bronson, the Nomad’s shock is mounted to the downtube like their V10 downhill bike, giving it a shock rate that is “almost completely linear.” This was the burliest bike in my test, offering 170mm of travel front and rear.
Not only that, the Nomad features the slackest head tube angle in the test (65°), and the shortest chainstays (430mm), shorter than even the Bronson. Among the bikes I tested, the Nomad had the second-longest reach (490mm) which made it feel super stable on fast descents.
I tested the X01 build of the Nomad, which aside from the suspension components and wheels, is nearly identical to the Bronson I tested. The Nomad features a RockShox Lyrik RCT3 fork and a RockShox Super Deluxe RTC shock. Officially the X01 build is specced with E13 TRS+ wheels, but the wheels on my test bike were the optional Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon wheels. Opting for them adds $1,200 to the price. Of course the Minion DHF and DHR tires are there, as is the RockShox Reverb dropper post with the trigger-style remote.
On the trail
This should go without saying, but the Nomad was a blast on the descents, every one of which left me wanting more! The Nomad is a true hot rod on the trail, stable at speed, in the air, and through the corners. As I pushed my limits further and further, I had an interesting thought that honestly never occurred to me in 25 years of riding mountain bikes: this is a bike that almost doesn’t need brakes.
Sure, everyone will tell you that you need good brakes to go fast, and that is absolutely true. But aboard the Nomad I found myself heading into corners at speeds I normally wouldn’t even consider, only to find the bike (and tires) held firmly to the ground, carrying me safely through to the other side. Ditto for steep slopes, techy sections, and small kickers. I was able to allow gravity to push me as fast as she wanted, and the Nomad just sorted out of the details.
The 170mm of rear suspension absolutely soaked up every small bump, lending the entire ride a cloud-like feeling. The long reach, paired with short chainstays, made the Nomad a pro at both cornering AND high speed drives through wide-open sections of trail.
To me, enduro is all about riding fast on the descents and pedaling (often by any means necessary) up to earn the downs. For that reason, I weighted descending capabilities more heavily than climbing in my scoring for these tests. The Nomad was hands down the best bike I found for descending, but would it choke on the climbs?
In short, no. I never felt like the suspension platform was working against me on any of the climbs, though as the specs clearly show, the Nomad is not designed to climb as well as some of the other bikes on this list. The good news is I felt like the front wheel tracked well even through the steep ups, and the light weight of the X01 build didn’t weigh me down.
Perhaps the craziest thought I had after my test ride was that I could see myself riding the Nomad on my local trails–trails very similar to those at the US National Whitewater Center–without feeling like I was pushing around too much bike. This is an aggressive bike for sure, but it’s only as aggressive as the rider wants it to be.