Santa Cruz Nomad Review

I was introduced to mountain biking in 1999 by a crazy group of local free riders. This was when hucking to flat and sketchy ladder bridges were all the rage. Riders were pushing there bikes to new limits and manufacturers were scrambling to make better, stronger and more capable huck machines. Freeriding took the mountain bike industry by storm and was soon the focus of MTB media and manufacturers. In my opinion, this new era of mountain biking did more for the advancement of MTB technology than anytime before it.

I was immediatetly bitten by the MTB bug. What I loved most about MTB was DH. I loved flying downhill at Mach speeds and eating up steep, technical terrain. As my skills progressed I fell in love with Freeriding and began seeking out opportunities to feed my craving for big hucks and ladder bridges.

What I quickly learned was that free ride/DH bikes were big and heavy. It was not unheard of for early bikes of this genre to push 60 pounds ! Obviously this made for bikes that were not very fun to ride up hill or carry speed on trails that were less than 15% grades. However, I never hesitated to pedal or push my pig of a bike everywhere and anywhere there was a trail. Climbing and pushing my 50 pound beast around made me stronger and fitter than I had ever been in my life up to that point.

Over the years my riding style changed. My ever increasing need for speed and a lack of  local free ride trails began to alter my choice of bike. It’s quite clear that most of the trails in southern Oregon do not require 8 inches of travel and 50 pound bikes. For this reason my bikes were becoming lighter and sported less travel than my previous choices. I found that I could carry much more speed and honestly have a lot more fun on our local trails with less travel and weight. It seemed that the industry was also evolving with us aging free riders as bikes were becoming lighter and much more capable.

Even though I now primarily ride “trail” bikes. I still love DH and Freeriding. I have always had a suitable bike in my garage. It may not see as much use as my “trail” bike but when the occasion calls for it I have it in waiting. However over the years, even my “DH” bikes were losing travel. I was having a hard timing justifiying a full on DH/Freeride sled in my garage. So I swapped out my DH bikes for lighter, less travel Freeride/All Mountain bikes of around 170mm of travel. Bikes of this travel seemed to fit my style of riding well as I am pretty light weight and tend to ride light on the bike.Obviously not as capable as full on DH bike. I am still able to handle most DH terrain on this type of bike.

I owned a Giant Reign X from 2011 until 2014. It was my mini DH bike. I absolutely loved the bike as it handled DH duties and was still a pleasure to climb. I have also been riding a Santa Cruz Blur TRc since 2012 as my main go to “trail” bike for our local trails. I absolutely love the TRc. With its stout build, it is truly a downhillers XC bike. I will probably keep this bike for quite some time as it is truly the most  capable all around bike I have ever owned. And I have owned a few.

I have always been a bit of a bike whore. I have gone through bikes like I went through girlfriends in high school. Too many. Not as bad as Uncle Cliffy. But pretty bad. Sorry Cliff 🙂 Because I love my TRc so much. I decided that I would sell my Reign X frame and give a 2013 Carbon Nomad frame a try and swap the parts over from the RX.

Unfortunatley I was very disappointed in the Nomad. It had nowhere near the DH capability of the Reign X. It felt too much like my TRc and was not the mini DH bike I was hoping for. I was pretty upset that the bike did not meet my expectations so I sold it a few short weeks after building it up. Don’t get me wrong. The Nomad performed well as a trail bike. It just lacked the DH performance I was looking for.

Now. I have been without a capable long travel bike for a year. I am craving the need to monster truck over rough terrain at high speeds. I have been looking at several long travel bikes including the new Nomad. Since the release of the newly redesigned Nomad it has been at the top of my list to test ride. Even though I was disappointed with the previous model Nomad. I liked the changes they made to the new version and I figured that they had to have improved the Nomads descending ability.

This is where Unreal Cycles comes in. The guys at Unreal informed me that they would  be having a Santa Cruz demo fleet coming. I initially was stoked that I would be able to try the new Nomad. Unfortunately for me, it appeared that a busy work schedule and plans for Memorial Day weekend would keep me from trying the Nomad.
I stopped by the shop to drool over the Nomad and throw my leg over it.  I told the guys that I would love to demo it but my schedule would not allow me the time. It was early afternoon and I had gotten off of work early with the hope of being able to ride the bike later that afternoon. They informed me that the bike had already been booked for a demo ride. However, much to my surprise. They offered to shuttle me and the Nomad right then and there ! We had a couple of hours before the demo fleet was scheduled to go out. So I rushed home and grabbed my gear.

I was pretty stoked that I was going to be able to test ride the bike and get shuttled !

My first run was down Secret Squirrel to Deadman and Granite trail. The rear end was so controlled and compliant. It was firm yet plush. It gobbled up the steep, rutted and rock strewn trails with stable confidence. The fabled Pike fork performed well and was also very controlled staying high in its travel with no notable dive. It was also stable and firm yet plush. However,  it felt as if the rear of the bike was out performing the front. Maybe some more tweaks were in order ? That being said. I think I would prefer a slightly longer fork since the bike would be set up for DH duty. I think a 170mm fork would balance the bike out a little better on steep and rough trails like the Squirrel and Deadman. The taller fork would also help with the  BB height as I had several pedal strikes running 28% sag. The new Nomad performed much better than my expectation. After a couple of suspension and tire pressure tweaks the bike performed amazingly. This bike is FAST !

My second run was down Diabolical. Those of you that have ridden Diabolical know that it is a steep and loose trail filled with moto and rain ruts. Constant line choice is paramount when descending this trail at speed if you want to keep the rubber side down. With the Nomad line choice was of no concern. Typically with my TRc I am constantly making line choices hopping from one side of the trail to another.  With the Nomad. Just point and shoot. The bike gobbled up ruts and confidently flattened them out. The bike was so freaking fast that I was going thru sections quicker than I ever had before. So quick that it got me in trouble a couple of times as I was not used to traveling so quickly thru those sections. This bike screams on the DH !

My last run was on the new Hobo trail and down Granite. This is where the bike is a little bit out of its element. Still very fun to ride. I definitely noticed a bit of laziness on slower speed sections. It was not as quick accelerating or as quick handling as my TRc is on those same sections. But of course you really shouldn’t expect it to. The Nomad is made for eating rough technical trail at mad speeds.

After riding the new Nomad I can confidently say that this new version destroys its predecessor hands down when it comes to DH capability. It also perfomed better than my beloved Reign X. Because I was shuttled and did not climb the bike extensively. I can not give you my impression on its climbing ability. However it climbed just fine in and out of the saddle on the short bits out to the trail heads. For a bike that is made to lay waste on DH runs I am sure it is more than capable of getting you to the top. After only 3 runs it is apparent that the new Nomad is built for DH speed and eating rocks. But. Can also be built as an Enduro trail slayer as Nathan Riddle proved with his trail oriented setup at this years Spring Thaw.

Long story short. I have found my new mini DH bike. Now, can I borrow somebody’s credit card ?

Mike Bronze

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