The 2021 Santa Cruz Nomad 5 is the underdog of this group test. It is the only bike that rolls exclusively on small 27.5″ wheels. Simply writing the bike off because of that wouldn’t do it justice – it still makes for an exciting option for some riders.
For an overview of the test fleet head to the group test: The best enduro bike 2021 – 13 models in review
“We just see that there is still a lot of demand for 27.5″ bikes and we want to serve it.” With these words, Santa Cruz justify the further development of their long-running Nomad. For the new season, the bike offers a whopping 170 mm front and rear travel, relying on the well-known lower link suspension system and fundamentally revised geometry with a tailored chainstay length for every frame size. Typical Santa Cruz features such as the completely internal cable routing and the extensive frame protectors have remained, keeping the frame nice and quiet and free of paint chips. The Nomad is available as an air and coil version and, depending which you choose, comes with lighter EXO+ or thicker Doubledown tires respectively. The geometry can also be adjusted in two positions with the help of a flip chip in the shock mount. Furthermore, the bike has a threaded bottom bracket for easy maintenance, the bearings of the rear linkage are all in the rocker arms instead of the carbon frame and the SRAM UDH derailleur hanger can be quickly and easily replaced if necessary.
The components of the Santa Cruz Nomad X01 Reserve – Well thought out, durable and consistent
In times when the bikes of some manufacturers cost well over € 10,000, the new flagship Nomad almost seems a deal at € 8,999, especially when you consider that you get a lifetime guarantee on the frame, bearings and carbon wheels. There’s nothing wrong with the components on the X2 air shock build apart from the tires, which may be too puncture prone for some riders. Both variants feature a precise X01 drivetrain, reliable CODE RSC brakes with 200 mm rotors and a 175 mm dropper post. We would recommend having the wide handlebar cut down to 780 mm before you leave the shop.
Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01 RSV
Fork FOX 38 Factory GRIP2 170 mm
Rear Shock FOX FLOAT X2 Factory 170 mm
Seatpost RockShox Reverb Stealth 175 mm
Brakes SRAM Code RSC 200/200 mm
Drivetrain SRAM X01 Eagle 32/10-52
Stem Burgtec Enduro Mk3 40 mm
Handlebar Santa Cruz AM Carbon 800 mm
Wheelset Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon
Tires MAXXIS Assegai MaxxGrip EXO+/MAXXIS Minion DHR II MaxxTerra EXO+ 2.5"/2.4"
Size S M L XL
Weight 14.62 kg
The geometry of the 2021 Santa Cruz Nomad 5 – Longer and slacker
With the new Nomad, Santa Cruz have focused on balance, adapting the chainstay length for every frame size. However, the US brand doesn’t use a different rear end for each size, instead adapting the chainstay length via the position of the pivot points on the main frame. The new Nomad is longer and slacker than its predecessor. The reach has grown to 472 mm (size L in the low setting) and the head angle is now 63.7°. On paper, the 77.5° seat tube angle should offer good climbing characteristics. The chainstay length is 436 mm in size large.
|Seat tube||380 mm||405 mm||430 mm||460 mm|
|Top tube||552 mm||582 mm||610 mm||644 mm|
|Head tube||115 mm||130 mm||140 mm||165 mm|
|Chainstays||426 mm||431 mm||436 mm||441 mm|
|BB Drop||14 mm||14 mm||14 mm||14 mm|
|Wheelbase||1,186 mm||1,223 mm||1,257 mm||1,298 mm|
|Reach||422 mm||447 mm||472 mm||497 mm|
|Stack||603 mm||617 mm||626 mm||648 mm|
Sprint up the climbs? No thank you! The Nomad prefers taking the uphills easy!
The 2021 Santa Cruz Nomad offers a comfortable riding position right from the start. Though the seat tube angle feels a bit slacker than stated, you’re placed centrally on the bike. The suspension is clearly tuned for traction and the chain doesn’t do much to counteract this. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to use the compression lever on longer climbs. Those who like tackling technical ascents will find the small wheels to be at a disadvantage. They don’t roll over obstacles as easily and get hung up more frequently, which demands more of the rider.
Why do some riders still prefer small wheels? They appeal most to riders who are looking for particularly playful handling and high agility. The latter is particularly noticeable with the Nomad – physics just can’t be ignored. The bike is very quick and direct as it changes direction. Left, right, left, right – things can’t go around the corner fast enough for the Nomad.
Direct, fun, controlled – The Nomad is loads of fun downhill!
But if you suspect that automatically also makes the bike very playful, you’re wrong. The new Nomad is hungry for speed and sticks to the ground. It is very balanced and intuitive to ride and is a master of control. However, this comes at the cost of the lively character that its predecessor had. Manuals require a lot of power and if you want to catch air, it’s best to use speed to your advantage and preload the suspension as you approach the lip or obstacle you want to pop off. That’s not to say the Nomad is sedate, but it is very controlled and it requires steep terrain and high speed to unleash its potential. It offers a lot of traction and also lots of reserves. The bike performs best for full-throttle bike park action with big jumps and monster berms.
How does the Santa Cruz Nomad compare to the competition?
Santa Cruz Nomad or Propain Spindrift Mullet? Both bikes are super exciting options for riders who like blasting through corners as fast as possible. Although the Nomad offers less travel, it offers more traction and control than the Propain, which is less composed at high speed despite the large front wheel. The Santa Cruz also scores with a higher quality and quieter frame, but you pay for it too.
Tuning tips: the air shock version also deserves robust tires
The brand new Santa Cruz Nomad 5 is for those who are constantly out to push themselves in the bike park, hitting the biggest jumps and railing berms at Mach 10. It offers high cornering speeds and quick direction changes, triumphing with its terrific suspension. But it’s not the super playful 27.5″ bike par excellence. If you are looking for a versatile all-rounder, you’ll be better off with a 29er like the Megatower.
- very agile when quickly changing direction
- excellent suspension, offering lots of traction and reserves
- well-thought-out frame
- limited all-round capabilities
- climbing is only a means to an end
- not a super playful bike
You can find out more about at santacruzbicycles.com
The test field
For an overview of the test fleet head to the group test: The best enduro bike 2021 – 13 models in review
All bikes in test: Canyon Strive CFR (Click for review) | COMMENCAL Meta AM 29 Öhlins (Click for review) | GIANT Reign Advanced Pro 0 (Click for review) | Ibis Ripmo V2 (Click for review) | Nukeproof Mega 290 Alloy Pro (Click for review) | Propain Spindrift CF Mix Custom (Click for review) | Rocky Mountain Altitude Carbon 90 Rally Edition (Click for review) | Santa Cruz Megatower CC X01 Coil RSV (Click for review) | Santa Cruz Nomad CC X01 RSV | Specialized Enduro Expert (Click for review) | Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper EVO (Click for review) | Transition Sentinel XT (Click for review) | Trek Slash 9.8 XT (Click for review)
This scale indicates how efficiently the bike climbs. It refers to both simple and technical climbs. Along with the suspension, the riding position and the weight of the bike all play a crucial role.↩
How does the bike ride and descend? How spritely is the bike, how agile is it through corners, how much fun is it in tight sections and how quickly can it change direction?↩
Is the bike stable at high speeds? Is it easy to stay in control in demanding terrain? How composed is it on rough trails? Stability is a combination of balanced geometry, good suspension and the right spec.↩
This is all about how balanced the bike is and particularly about how well it corners. Balanced bikes require little physical effort from the rider and are very predictable. If a bike is unbalanced, the rider has to work hard to weight the front wheel to generate enough grip. However, experienced riders can have a lot of fun even with unbalanced bikes.↩
How sensitive is the suspension over small bumps? Can it absorb hard impacts and does it soak up repeated hits? Plush suspension not only provides comfort and makes a bike more capable, but it also generates traction. The rating includes the fork and the rear suspension.↩
This aspect mainly comes down to the suspension. How much pop does it have, does it suck up the rider’s input or is it supportive, and how agile and direct is the bike?↩
We don’t calculate value for money in an excel spreadsheet or based on how high-end a bike is specced. We are more concerned with how a bike performs on the trail and how the bike benefits the rider. What good are the best components if the bike doesn’t perform well on the trail? Expensive bikes with a lower-end spec can offer very good value for money – provided they excel where it matters. Just as supposedly cheap bikes with good components can get a bad rating if they don’t deliver on the trail.↩
No, it’s not about racing, it’s about efficiency. Fast, fleet-footed and efficient – those who want to speed along flowy singletrack and gravel roads need a defined and spritely bike that accelerates with ease and efficiency. Nevertheless, reliable components are important too. We interpret XC more like the Americans do: big back-country rides instead of a marathon or XC World Cup with the ultimate in lightweight construction! Uphill-downhill ratio: 80:30 (not everything has to be 100%!)↩
...also known as mountain biking. Classic singletrack with roots, rocks and ledges – sometimes flowy, sometimes rough. For this, you need a bike with good all-round qualities, whether climbing or descending. Uphill-downhill ratio: 50:50↩
Even more extreme and challenging compared to Trail riding, riddled with every kind of obstacle: jumps, gaps, nasty rock gardens, ruts and roots. For this, you need (race)proven equipment that forgives mistakes and wouldn’t look out of place on a stage of the Enduro World Series. Climbing is just a means to an end. Uphill-downhill ratio: 30:70↩
Strictly speaking, a 200 mm travel downhill bike is the best choice for merciless tracks with big jumps, drops and the roughest terrain. Those would be the black or double-black-diamond tracks in a bike park. But as some of the EWS pros (including Sam Hill) have proven, it’s the riding skills and not the bike that define what you can ride with it. Climbing? On foot or with a shuttle, please! Uphill-downhill ratio: 10:90↩
Words: Christoph Bayer Photos: Christoph Bayer, Valentin Rühl, Markus Frühmann