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#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.

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# Comments

  • Rebus

    Good article! I’ve always been a fan of the Nomad, going back to the humpback days. Man, that was a pretty bike.

  • mongwolf

    Hey Jeff. Thanks for the write up and thoughts on each bike. It was an interesting set of bikes. I understand that you were at the Fall Cyclofest, but how did you come up with this particular set of bikes, besides the fact that they are all in the “enduro” category? Did you use any particular criteria? I hope GA riding is getting pretty nice about now. I’m guessing you all are hitting your peak season for riding … … as we start to freeze over in Mongolia. The inevitable “plunge” into the depths of the Mongolian winter has begun.

  • Jeff Barber

    Glad you enjoyed it.

    There were actually a lot of enduro bikes that I decided not to test at Cyclofest. My goal was to test as many of the top 10 enduro bikes from the readers’ choice list we published a few weeks ago. The Bronson and Nomad were obviously up there (#2 and #3 on that list, respectively.) I really wanted to get on a Specialized Enduro (#1 on the readers’ choice list) but sadly Specialized only brought the electric version of the Enduro. I skipped the Pivot Switchblade (#8) because Greg reviewed that one already, and the Ibis Mojo HD4 (#10) because Greg has that bike in for a long term review.

    As for the other choices, as I mentioned the Wolf Ridge and Tracer were both “most innovative” bike picks according to Singletracks readers, and no one on our staff had ridden those bikes. I was curious about Mondraker since they’re new to the USA. It turns out Aaron just got one in for a long term review so maybe I could’ve skipped that one.

    I also rode the Specialized Stumpy 6Fattie but it’s not really an enduro bike. I’ll be posting a separate mini review of that bike soon.

    Personally, I feel like peak riding season is just getting started! Well, maybe not exactly, but summers are really hot and humid here so I do find myself riding more and bigger rides in the fall/winter/spring.

    Do you have a fat bike? Would such a thing even make riding during the Mongolian winter possible?

    • mongwolf

      IMO, a fattie would not extend the riding season so much here. December and January are just too cold to draw me out for riding. I shut it down due to the temps, not the snow. A fattie would help the riding a little on some days, but not increase the number of days I would ride. In February there are usually a few days that are warm enough to ride, but not so many. In February and March I do ride on some snowy trails that are packed down by hikers. Again, a fattie would improve the quality of those rides, but with so few rides during those times, I’m content just to ride my enduro rig.

  • Caren Villaroman

    I fully understand why Santa Cruz Bronson always comes up on top of the list. Practically ridden it in almost every terrain and it did not disappoint. If i need to buy another bike it will definitely come from Santa Cruz. Highly recommended! I’ve ridden giant, trek and yeti bikes to compare it with, my Bronson is just perfect.

  • CW1KKSHu

    I was also disappointed Specialized didn’t bring the Enduro to Cyclofest. Kudos to the Santa Cruz team for providing the best demo experience and I’ve put their Hightower LT as #1 on my list.

  • tkrumroy

    So I’m currently riding a 2018 Bronson c R build (large). But I’m 6’1” (almost 6’2”) and I feel like the bike is just a tad too small for me. Unfortunately I can’t afford to simply go buy an xl.

    If I’m going to change I’m considering a 2018 stumpjumper carbon coil or a YT capra. Any thoughts on those those?

    I had a guy ready to buy my bike tomorrow we but I buy my bike tomorrow but i just delayed it I won’t find another bike that makes me so happy.

    My current trails are central NC like us whitewater center. I typically ride 10-15 mile trails and a hoping to ride the 50 mile oramm Pisgah race next spring. My budget is now down to $3k if I sell the Bronson. What are your thoughts?

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