The Santa Cruz Nomad is a fabled bike that has shaped the all-mountain category since its debut in 2005. This roaming drifter could get you every place while never flinching any place. The Mk III rolled out on its tweener wheels in 2014 as one of the deeper, single-crown offerings in its class. Enduro racing was taking over the planet and for a time, the Nomad was king. “Nomad Killers” were bred to slay this noble steed but the ride quality of a Nomad has always remained elusive to its pursuers.
My Nomad Mk III was forever my pick for excursions to unfamiliar lands. Even if you didn’t speak the language where you landed, the Nomad could easily interpret the terrain and negotiate every turn. It was never my daily driver on our rolling Ontario trails, a Bronson or 5010 suits our topography best. But the Nomad was my choice for just about everything else. Whether it was heli-drops in Revelstoke, hike-a-bike missions in North Carolina, weekend road trips to Quebec or countless days pounding laps here at Blue Mountain, my Nomad did it all. No matter where I was or what was in front of me, I always felt like I had the perfect bike. Boundlessly willing for one more unseen, soul-crushing climb before nightfall or a puckering, blind descent. Paired, we were frequently one wrong turn away from the greatest adventures on a bike. It was very much a relationship and we eventually had to have the “it’s not you it’s me” talk. I would have happily kept my Mk III for a few more years but Santa Cruz had other plans.
The Mk III was already being dubbed a mini V-10 based on its copious travel and aggressive geometry alone. This Mk IV however, closes the gap between them by taking a page straight out of the V-10 kinematics playbook and driving the shock from the lower-link. While this new Nomad has many subtle improvements to its design, this move to the bottom rocker is what most defines its look and feel. The Nomad now sits right alongside the V-10 and draws a new distinction in the Santa Cruz lineup, between these new mates and the time-honored esthetics of the rest of the squad. But does that mean that the Nomad is now purely a pocket downhill bike and that it has outgrown its nomadic roots?
When the Mk IV launched, everyone asked about its climbing proficiency. This may seem like a pointless inquiry to those who see predominantly, a park bike. While it’s arguable that no other bike has forced the early retirement of full-blown downhill bikes more than the Nomad, it’s historically been capable of so much more. While the look of the Nomad has evolved over the years, its mission remains the same: push the limits of its downhill capability to the very edge while still preserving its trail fitness.
Nomading is about the journey between the peaks and the valleys more than any singular descent. Conceived for riders happy to toil up in exchange for the advantage coming down. If you wanted to know what lay on the other side, there was no better bike to find out on. Even if you had to shoulder the thing, you knew you had the right bike on the flipside.
The Nomad Mk III was roughly matched to the Bronson of its day when it came time to climb but decimated it when things got chunky. Santa Cruz set its sights even higher with the Mk IV, aiming for 5010-like climbing know-how with V-10 descending propensity. Santa Cruz keeps nudging the Nomad’s travel and angles towards a DH biased bike, even themselves amazed at what it can still ride with relative ease. Now boasting 170mm of travel front and rear with a 64.5° head angle in the low setting. It seems unlikely that it could so vastly improve at one end without comprise at the other, almost inconceivable it could excel at both. So, is this latest Nomad a one trick pony or a unicorn?
Frame and build details
Fork: RockShox Lyric RCT3 170mm
Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Air RCT
Shifters: SRAM XX1 Eagle
Rear Derailleur: Sram XX1 Eagle
Cassette: SRAM XG1295 Eagle 10-50T
Brakes: SRAM Code RSC
Hubs: I9 148×12 28h Rear Hub XD, I9 15x110mm 28H Torque Cap Front Hub
Rims: Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon Rim
Crankset: SRAM XX1 Eagle 32T (170mm)
Tires: Maxxis Minion 27.5×2.50 DHF 3C EXO TR, Maxxis Minion 27.5×2.40 DHR II EXO TR
Stem: Raceface Turbine, 50mm
Headset: Cane Creek 110 IS, Integrated
Handlebar: Santa Cruz Bicycles AM Carbon Bar 35×800
Saddle: WTB Silverado SLT
Seatpost: Rock Shox Reverb 150mm drop
MSRP: $12, 399 CDN
Weight: 28.17 lbs (without pedals)
The Nomad Mark IV reviewed here comes well-appointed with Santa Cruz’s CC level frame, SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain, Code RSC brakes and Santa Cruz’s new Reserve 30 Carbon wheels. Suspension is handled by a RockShox Lyrik RCT3 fork and Super Deluxe Air RCT shock. I opted for the Gloss Tan and Black colorway and am absolutely stoked after seeing it in person. It’s comparable to the Light Tan Quicksand Toyota Tacoma or a Desert Storm era Humvee. The new frame looks fast just sitting there.
Drawing on what Santa Cruz has learned developing the V-10 over many years, the rear shock now passes through the seat tube, just above the bottom bracket. The new linear-progressive leverage curve gained from this placement makes the bike well suited to run an air or coil sprung shock. Despite being prime real estate on a frame, Santa Cruz has ensured maximum shock compatibility. Things can get pretty caked down there and the small, bolt-on fender solution does a lovely job of keeping the shock mostly dirt-free. The compact rear triangle now uses a single, non-drive side vertical brace to keep it light and stiff. Connected by a long upper-link at the top tube and a short link below. Other notable improvements include an additional cable guide for the rear brake hose and a removable shuttle guard under the down tube. Best in the industry internal cable routing, collet-style pivot axles with grease ports and a threaded bottom bracket remain staples from Santa Cruz. The new frame design also allows for a full-size water bottle which now sits above the shock on the down tube, something I have really come to appreciate. No other bike in its class checks all these boxes. It all adds up to a well-engineered bike that is ready for anything. This heavyweight tips the scales in the middleweight division at 28.17lbs (without pedals). Santa Cruz have, in my opinion, the finest off-road carbon frames being manufactured today. Their lifetime warranty certainly backs that opinion.
Putting the individual components and this particular build aside for a moment, what Santa Cruz has delivered here is conceivably the ultimate chassis. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the build options offered. From an undecorated aluminum frame costing $2,749 CDN to the $12,399 CDN superbike tested here. The compatibility and quality of the rear travel make it a tinkerer’s dream. You can’t go wrong bolting parts onto this frame, there are only varying degrees of awesome. Basic or baller, the Nomad comes ready to play.
Riding the Nomad Mk IV
This MK IV isn’t a revisionary update, it is a completely new machine and I fully expected requiring some time to familiarize myself with it. At 5’7”, my medium Nomad Mk III was a nearly perfect fit. The changes I noticed most hopping on the medium MK IV were the increased reach (415 to 440m) and the wheelbase (1169 to 1192mm). The new geometry placed me squarely in the previous Mk III size large camp, an option I wouldn’t have considered at the time. It only took a day to feel comfy on the bike and like most of the new lower, longer slacker bikes, it’s about finding that revised sweetspot. Once you hone in on the correct position, it’s simply a matter of balancing the suspension to feel stable there. For me, that meant a slightly faster front end with slower rear. To tailor the fit, I trimmed the bars to 780mm and tossed on a 32mm stem.
The bike was quick to get sorted and I had reliable baseline settings after only a handful of rides. This is the simplest Santa Cruz bike I have ever setup. The RockShox suspension needs to run a bit slower on a DH track than it does on singletrack but in both situations it feels buttery smooth. The travel is incredibly supple off the top with progressive support across the entire range of travel. No unnatural transitions or dead spots are felt moving through the stroke. At roughly 30% sag, the suspension calms minor chatter and ramps up predictably across varied terrain. The suspension strikes a perfect balance between conforming and tracking. I’m going through all the travel on just about every run but the bottom out is gracefully controlled and not jarring. I’ll likely add another volume spacer to ramp it up a hair but it feels amazing as is. The RockShox Lyrik is well matched to the rear suspension but perhaps not as poised in the choppy stuff. The overall feel on the Nomad is lively, balanced and responsive with ample grip. The bike feels light and is easily placed or picked up anywhere along the trail. While I haven’t had the opportunity to try the bike with a coil shock, the ride on the air shock is faultless for my taste.
I spent a good amount of time testing the Nomad’s climbing abilities. Spinning up rather than riding the chair at my local hill or on road trips to bike parks without lift service. I believe the kids call this, ‘enduroing’. The Nomad made quick work of fire road climbs and I had no issues getting to the top of anything I wanted to go down. The 74.5° seat tube angle places you in an optimal climbing position with little fore and aft adjustments required. The climb switch was helpful in some situations while not needed in others. I generally preferred the traction in open mode. I even did a few days of climbing with the bike in the low setting, which markedly amplified front-end flop and pedal strikes but was still manageable. This was more about my wanting it in the slacker setting for the descent than testing it in that configuration. Motoring across rolling terrain was effortless. The new kinematics produce ideal anti-squat without any wallowing. The 170mm of travel, slack head angle and wide bars are the limiting factors more than the suspension when it comes time to scramble uphill.
But lets face it, climbing on a bike of this nature is about mental tenacity and fitness more than anything. These are missions. I trust the person buying this bike is determined to make it to the top and probably isn’t too troubled about having to walk a section to get there. Complaining while climbing on this bike might actually be grounds for revoking your Nomad Club Card, best to check the manual on that one. Whether you rode it, carried it or pushed it up, once at the top, the Nomad is ready to shine.
I haven’t ridden my downhill bike since I got this thing. The feeling descending on the Nomad is that of confidence, inspiration and wonder. The difference between it and the Mk III is apparent. While the Mk IV did climb noticeably better than the Mk III, the advances weren’t nearly as pronounced as its unmistakably superior downhill proficiency. The low-swung Mk IV displays improved cornering, control and flawless composure down the nastiest tracks. With every run you are looking to push that edge. It took a few cracks to get used to the longer wheelbase but once that clicked, I was railing turns all day – laying down my fastest times on anything but the roughest tracks.
The updates made to the geometry are spot-on. The bike became more stable while still remaining, maybe becoming even more, flickable. The bike is much stiffer but you don’t feel like you’re rattling your fillings loose. You feel the trail under you through the contact points with only the edge carefully blunted. The bike is very reactive and raw with just the right amount of muted feedback. Reinforced with the sweet auditable, dull thud at the wheels, letting you know you’re in the zone.
The comfortable ride is greatly due to the new Reserve 30 Carbon rims. They provide the ultimate balance between stiffness and compliance. The Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR Wide Trail combo has an optimal profile on the 30mm internal rims. I haven’t had to touch a nipple on these yet, despite running lower than usual tire pressures. These wheelsets are now available aftermarket starting at $2,099 CAD and come backed with the same lifetime warranty as their frames.
The Bottom Line
Is this bike right for you? That’s more of a soul searching question that a numbers game. Practically speaking, a Hightower LT or Bronson likely fits the bill for most riders but neither come close to the Nomad going down. The determining factor would be how much you value the descents.
Nothing can replace a dedicated DH bike but the Nomad can handle anything you put in front of it. I prefer its nimble manners at the bike park and on days I want to earn my turns, it’s up to the task if I am.
This Mk IV Nomad continues its legacy and delivers a superbike with nearly purebred downhill bike prowess, coupled with improved trail manners all around. The quality of the travel is unparalleled. There is nothing I would rather loose elevation on than this Nomad.
Apparently, only a Nomad can follow a Nomad.