Is this the end of freeriding? The new Santa Cruz Nomad drifts into the new season with a mixed wheel setup, replacing the small 27.5” front wheel of its predecessor with a big 29” wheel and is supposed to cope with everything from rough natural trails to chunky bike park lines. But does the latest incarnation of Santa Cruz’s freeride evergreen retain the rowdy freeride character of its predecessor?
Santa Cruz are on a roll, releasing new bikes like there’s no tomorrow. Now the Californian brand has just unveiled the updated version of their freeride evergreen, the Nomad. The most striking innovation is the mixed wheel setup, which sends the full 27.5” wheel configuration of its predecessor into a well deserved retirement. As a result, the entire gravity line-up of the Californian manufacturer now rolls on a 29″ front wheel – except for the 5010. In addition, the engineers updated the geometry and suspension system slightly. Like the other two new 2023 Santa Cruz models, the Hightower and Megatower, the new Nomad features a storage compartment in the down tube. Apart from that, the latest iteration of the bike, which retails between €5,799 and €11,799, shares very similar key data with its predecessor, generating 170 mm travel both front and rear and tilting the scales at 15.4 kg. On paper, the new Nomad shares the same travel and geometry as the latest Megatower, which you can read everything about in this first ride review. But how does it compare to its enduro sibling on the trail?
The new Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01 AXS RSV 2023 in detail
The 2023 Nomad CC X01 AXS RSV is available exclusively with a carbon frame and, in typical Santa Cruz fashion, in two versions called C and CC. The high-end CC frame relies on a larger proportion of higher strength fibres, allowing Santa Cruz to achieve the same degree of stiffness at a lower weight. The big novelty for 2023: with the latest Nomad, the engineers have adapted the stiffness of the frame to the respective size, meaning that small frames, which are generally used by lighter riders, should offer slightly more lateral flex.
The new Nomad features a generously-sized seat and chainstay protector as well as a shuttle-guard/TPU-plate combo on the downtube. All cables are routed internally and run inside the frame through guide sleeves, which are meant to prevent rattling noises and make cable replacement easier. Another inconspicuous but very practical feature are the guide sleeves in the swingarm, which should facilitate bike setup and maintenance too. For 2023, Santa Cruz are clearly declaring war on backpacks, integrating their proprietary Glovebox storage compartment into the down tube of the new Nomad, thus allowing you to carry all your trail essentials inside the frame. The compartment comes standard with two pouches that can be used to organize items and is closed at the bottom to prevent your contents from disappearing into the depths of the frame. The closing system is intuitive and easy to use even with gloves and holds the flap securely in place.
Models and spec variants of the 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad
The new Santa Cruz Nomad is available in six versions. The gateway to the new Nomad dimension are the R and S entry-level models, which retail for €5,799 and €6,799 respectively and come equipped with a RockShox air shock. With all other models, you’ll get to choose between air or coil for your shock. All bikes with coil shock come standard with robust tires in MAXXIS’ tough DoubleDown casing, both front and rear. The spec variants are defined by the drivetrain: there are two SRAM GX AXS models and just as many SRAM X01 versions, with prices ranging from €7,999 to €11,799. All GX models come equipped with a RockShox shock, while X01 variants employ a FOX shock and lighter high-end CC frame. All models and spec variants are available in either matt black or Gloss Gypsum.
The spec of our 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01 AXS RSV test bike.
For this test, Santa Cruz sent us the Nomad CC X01 AXS RSV flagship model. While our test bike came with a FOX 38 Performance Elite fork, the production bike will be delivered with the high-end Factory model. That being said, both forks employ FOX’s high-end GRIP2 damper, thus delivering the same excellent performance on the trail. A FOX X2 shock controls 170 mm travel at the rear and offers countless adjustment options, allowing you to finely tune the rear suspension to suit your riding style and terrain.
Shifting is taken care of by a wireless 12-speed SRAM X01 AXS drivetrain, whereby Santa Cruz employ a smaller 10-50 cassette instead of the more popular 52-t version. However, when pedalling in the biggest 50-t sprocket, the smaller 27.5″ rear wheel covers a shorter distance with each crank spin than a 29” wheel with a 52-t sprocket. As a result, it requires less effort to climb steep ramps despite the smaller range. Four piston SRAM Code RSC brakes with 200 mm HS2 rotors front and rear do stopping duties. The high-end RSC model features tool-free reach and bite point adjustments and SRAM’s SwingLink lever, which was developed to minimise deadband and thus improve modulation. While the RockShox Reverb dropper post on our test bike has 175 mm of travel, the production bike will be delivered with its 200 mm counterpart, which should ensure sufficient freedom of movement in all sizes. Santa Cruz also deliver the new Nomad with a bashguard to match the character of the bike.
Santa Cruz also employ a few of their own components, including the 800 mm carbon handlebars and Reserve 30HD rims, which are laced on Industry 9 hubs. For the tires, the Californians rely on fellow MAXXIS, combining an ASSEGAI with soft MaxxGrip rubber compound and EXO+ casing at the front and DHRII with harder MaxxTerra compound and robust Doubledown casing at the rear. However, all production models with an air shock will be delivered with a thin EXO+ casing at the rear, which is rather thin and thus more prone to punctures and pinch flats. With such a powerful bike, it would make sense to spec the robust Doubledown tire across the entire range and not just on coil shock models, mainly to protect the expensive carbon rims from nasty impacts.
Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01 AXS RSV
Fork FOX 38 Performance Elite 170 mm
Rear Shock FOX X2 Factory 170 mm
Seatpost RockShox Reverb 175 mm
Brakes SRAM Code RSC 200/200 mm
Drivetrain SRAM X01 Eagle AXS 1x12
Stem Burgtec Enduro MK3 45 mm
Handlebar Santa Cruz Carbon 800 mm
Wheelset Reserve 30HD 29"
Tires MAXXIS ASSEGAI MaxxGrip EXO+/MAXXIS Minion DHR II MaxxTerra Doubledown 2.5/2.4
Size S M L XL XXL
Weight 15.4 kg
The geometry of the 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad
The Santa Cruz Nomad is available in 5 sizes, S to XXL. A flip chip in the shock mount allows you to alter both the geometry and the progression of the rear suspension. The slacker setting lowers the bottom bracket by 3 mm, slackens the seat tube and head angle by 0.2° and 0.3°, respectively, and at the same time ensures more progressive rear suspension kinematics. In the three most common sizes (M, L and XL), Santa Cruz deliberately rely on a short reach to prevent “in-betweeners” from getting stuck on the fence. Our test bike in XL combines 492 reach and a 460 mm seat tube. In the big sizes, the seat tube is rather long, somewhat limiting the choice of sizes. As the frame size grows, the chainstay length increases and the seat tube angle steepens up, which is meant to provide consistent handling across all sizes.
The geometry of the 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad in the low setting
|Seat tube||380 mm||405 mm||430 mm||460 mm||500 mm|
|Top tube||577 mm||594 mm||613 mm||638 mm||667 mm|
|Head tube||90 mm||100 mm||115 mm||135 mm||150 mm|
|Chainstays||440 mm||441 mm||444 mm||447 mm||451 mm|
|BB Drop||30 mm||30 mm||30 mm||30 mm||30 mm|
|Wheelbase||1.209 mm||1.240 mm||1.270 mm||1.302 mm||1.337 mm|
|Reach||427 mm||452 mm||472 mm||492 mm||517 mm|
|Stack||618 mm||627 mm||640 mm||658 mm||672 mm|
The Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01 AXS RSV 2023 on the trail
As soon as you swing your leg over the saddle of the Santa Cruz Nomad, it becomes clear that you have a lot of travel at your disposal. However, once you get going, the rear suspension feels pleasantly efficient, bobbing slightly when pedalling but only requiring the climb switch on long boring tarmac uphills. The climbing position is comfortable and the front always remains planted on the trail, allowing you to get to the trailhead in a relaxed fashion.
However, the Nomad really comes to life when you point its nose back down into the valley, preferably on very steep terrain. Handling is lively and intuitive and the small rear wheel lets you flick the back-end from side to side, making it easy to carve your way through fast consecutive corners. When the going gets rough, the Nomad still feels composed and doesn’t get impressed by nasty rock gardens and root carpets. The rear suspension eagerly releases its travel, though without feeling like a sofa, thus providing decent feedback from the ground and good support in nasty compressions.
At the same time, the Nomad provides plenty of pop but requires a little physical effort to take off on jumps and small ledges. Once you understand its character, the Nomad works discreetly in the background and lets you focus on the descent, only feeling a little underwhelmed on flat and flowing trails – but that’s not what it was designed for in the first place.
In typical Santa Cruz fashion, the new Nomad features several clever and well-thought-out detail solutions, including the Glovebox storage compartment. Moreover, the geometry, sizing and adapted stiffness should ensure a good fit for many riders and consistent handling across all sizes. The new Nomad doesn’t shy away from rough terrain and takes on anything you throw at it, inspiring tons of confidence and developing its full potential on steep and rough terrain.
- Well implemented frame details, such as the Glovebox storage compartment
- Inspires confidence downhill
- Agile and yet composed
- Versions with air shock come with puncture prone tires
You can find out more about at santacruzbicycles.com.
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Words: Simon Kohler Photos: Max Schumann