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Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

Twenty-niners are becoming the dominant wheel size for mountain bike speed but Santa Cruz’s recently refreshed Nomad proves that 27.5in wheels are the most fun

Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

Undeniably pricey but an outstanding mix of long travel Trophy Truck suspension, surprisingly playful pop, practical detailing and lifetime warrantied frame and wheels make the latest Nomad a total riot on the rowdiest trails

For

  • Outstanding suspension
  • Powerful drive
  • Surprisingly agile
  • Lifetime warranties
  • Extensive practical detailing
  • Sorted spec

Against

  • High cost
  • Kickback on long descents
  • X01 version is better value

Santa Cruz’s Nomad was already well sorted when it came to dynamic long travel, mid-wheel size fun. Subtle changes right through boost practicality and playfulness to make this refreshed version an addictive riot on the raddest trails.

Design and geometry

From a distance, it’s hard to see what’s changed on the Nomad as the overall low shock layout is unchanged. Up close though the shock tunnel in the seat tube is sharper-edged with reinforcing ribs creating a deep trough under the shock and there’s an extended web behind the head tube to add stiffness there too. The head tube is also slightly taller, while seat tube lengths get shorter so you can run a longer dropper or size up for more stretch. There’s also a more regular ‘inch per size’ reach increase from the 500mm XL down to the 425mm small. The Nomad inherits the clever lower link position shift from other recent Santa Cruz bikes, which gives different effective chainstay lengths while still using the same rear swingarm. The big bearing shock mount bolts into eccentric chips which change geometry by 0.3-degrees and BB height by 4mm. As were primarily attacking steeper terrain we generally ran it low for a 63.9-degrees head and 77.9-degrees. The suspension geometry has also been changed slightly to work with a longer stroke shock, reducing overall leverage but adding more ramp in the last 10% of the 170mm of rear-wheel travel.  

The shock gets its own fender and the frame also has an extra rubber armor pad on the down tube to protect against pick up truck uplifts. There’s more 3D armor on the rear stays to stop chain damage as well. Cable routing now runs through the head tube face so you can run brakes either way round without paint rub. Santa Cruz has always championed screw-in BBs and they’ve kept an ISCG chain guide mount on the shell too. The lower link gets a Zerx port for injecting fresh grease into the bearings between strip downs and the bearings and frame get a no questions asked lifetime warranty.

That's true for both the C version and the pricier CC which have the same stiffness/strength and colors too, with the C version we tested just being around 230g heavier depending on size. 

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Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

Headtube routing avoids damage to the paint (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

The shock gets a little mudguard to keep the worst of the dirt off (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

Santa Cruz has managed to tweak the suspension setup to fit a longer stroke shock (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

There is a rubber pad to protect the downtube from truck shuttling (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Components and build

Nomad pricing starts at $4499/£4499 for the Carbon C R with SRAM NX and a basic version of RockShox ZEB fork and Super Deluxe rear shock, the $5499/£5399  S gets SRAM GX Eagle with a Fox 38 and then there are air and coil versions of the $6199/£6099  Shimano XT version we tested and the SRAM X01 version. This gets the CC frame and Fox Factory 38 and X2 air or DHX2 coil options for $7499/£6599  which if you are shopping in the UK seems well worth the extra £500 to us. 

Every bike in the range gets premium Maxxis triple compound tires with a super sticky MaxxGrip compound Assegai upfront and a DHR at the rear. Air shock bikes get lightly reinforced EXO+ tires, while the coil shock bikes get heavier duty DD rear rubber. 

While Race Face rims are standard issue both XT and X01 versions add the option of Santa Cruz’s lifetime warrantied Reserve carbon rims on DT Swiss hubs for an extra £1000 (normal RRP £1599) *which our bike came fitted with. XT and X01 bikes also get Santa Cruz’s own carbon fiber riser bar and Burgtec’s new forged Enduro MK3 stem. All bikes get a chain guide too, an E13 top block on the R, or a full One Up bash guard on the others.

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Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

The Nomad is available in builds with RockShox or Fox (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

The groupset is from Shimano's XT range (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

The handlebars are Santa Cruz carbon attached using a Burgtec stem (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

Customer's can upgrade to the Santa Cruz Reserve wheels which come with a lifetime warranty (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Ride, handling, and performance 

That says a lot about the level of use/abuse that Santa Cruz is expecting Nomads to receive and with 170mm of travel on either end it's undoubtedly a phenomenal park play bike. The new kinematic and shock changes mean the rear suspension handles big hits better than before, with the VPP axle path helping to take the sting out of initial contact. While the tactile chain referenced feel in the early part of the stroke is great for managing grip, the mid to end stroke is a ‘Trophy Truck’ triumph. While older ‘high shock’ VPP bikes tended to sulk around in the mid-stroke, lower shock bikes (with recently improved high-speed compression flow shock tunes, not the old Megatower) have consistently been more responsive. The Nomad feels the best yet though with the 170mm of movement a massive bandwidth of super reactive suppleness and blunt force trauma absorption without ever losing cornering support or UHD tire feedback as soon as you look for it. The only time you might notice more leg ache and cumulative impact speed decay compared to a more neutral system is if you’re blasting a VPP bike down a very long, blown-out Alpine descent. 

What you get as a return though is a remarkably enthusiastic pedal response for such a long-travel bike. Not just a ‘hmmm, this doesn’t bounce much and I’ve not been sick in my mouth/completely given up’ vibe but a proper eagerness to chase other bikes hard uphill, kick full gas out of every turn or keep cranking up over crux moves long after most bikes in the category will have you pushing. Even our heavier C Carbon framed test bike still came in at a respectable 14.6kg too so it’s only the audibly sticky Assegai that threatens to make extended road/gravel grinds a real chore.

As well as the snappy response you get through the cranks, the big-legged forks and extra frame flanges, chunky Burgtec stem, damped but accurate Reserve rims etc. mean every other bit of ride information seems to be amplified in terms of brightness and engagement. So while the wheels are doing this crazy dance over whatever rocks or randomness, you sit laughing like a maniac in this hovering cloud of high definition composure where it seems you turn sharper, flick further, grip better and just exude effortless steeze in situations you’d normally be soiling your shorts. Again and again, during testing the best way we could describe each run was like a ‘Trophy Truck’ blasting through some insane Baja desert landscape with wheels going everywhere but the body in perfect slo-mo poise.   

Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV review

The Nomad feels like a 'Trophy Truck' with the suspension absorbing all sorts of trail craziness (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

The Fox 38 Performance Elite gets all the damping sophistication and air release valves of the top-level Factory fork - just not the Kashima gold coating - so that’s more than happy chewing on chunks all day long too. The ‘if you break them we’ll replace them’ cover on the carbon Reserve rims also adds psychological and physical confidence to completely lose your normal nerves and inhibitions and totally trust in the ride of the bike.

Having consistently ridden 29ers recently the agility and friendliness of the 27.5's was a real reset too. Whereas bigger wheels can sometimes seem determined to punish lousy line choices by ignoring your attempts at last second saves, the Nomad consistently tucked wayward front wheels in just in time, popped rather than slammed and just tidied up all our mess and made us look and feel a whole lot better than our riding deserved. The really interesting thing is that while 27.5in wheels - especially with a very sticky front tire - don’t roll as well as 29ers the extra suspension, forgiving agility, upward spiral of self-belief and the fact that we were having a damn fine time rather than cursing small mistakes meant that Nomad blasted through the roughest, most technical terrain seriously quick. We did split the Exo+ rear tire not long into testing though, so while we appreciate why Santa Cruz save the heavy duty DD carcass for the coil bike, we’d rather it came on both versions.

Verdict

To be honest with access to the Alps and big bike parks shut down by Covid right now, we thought testing a 170mm travel bike on local trails would be an underwhelming exercise in over biking. The Nomad brings so much pop and playful responsiveness to any trail and charges back up for another go so well we’ve been riding if far more than strictly necessary for test purposes. For a bike this fun and with mid-sized wheels it’s also seriously quick when things get mental too and the lifetime warranty on frame, bearings and upgraded wheels invite you to make the most of every opportunity to get wild. All this does come at a high cost (and we reckon the CC X01 is a better buy than this C XT version) and the outstanding pedal response can mean punishment on the longest, lumpiest descents. The extra practical details and overall ride performance means that if you’re prepared to invest in overkill in all the right ways the Nomad is a proper pedal-powered trophy truck.

Test conditions

  • Temperature: -1 to 8+ degrees
  • Surface: Man mad red and black trails, natural woodland and rocky trails

Tech Specs: Santa Cruz Nomad C XT RSV

  • Price: $7,399.00 / £7,099.00
  • Discipline: Trail/All Mountain/Enduro
  • Head angle: 64-degrees
  • Seat angle: 78-degrees
  • Sizes: S-XL (L tested)
  • Weight: 14.9kg
  • Wheel size: 27.5 inch
  • Frame material: Santa Cruz ‘C’ carbon fibre composite
  • Suspension: Fox 38 Performance Elite 170mm travel, 44mm offset fork/RockShox Super Deluxe Select 170mm travel rear shock
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XT 12-speed gearing, shifter and 11-51T cassette
  • Cranks: Shimano 32T chainset with OneUp Bash chain guide
  • Brakes: Shimano XT brakes with 203 and 180mm rotors
  • Cockpit: Santa Cruz Carbon Rizer 800mm bar Palmdale grips and Burgtec Enduro MK3 40mm stem
  • Wheelset: Santa Cruz Reserve 30mm rims and DT Swiss 350 hubs
  • Tires: Maxxis Assegai 27.5x2.5, 3C, MaxxGRIP, EXO+, TR front tire and Maxxis Minion DHR II 27.5x2.4, 3C, EXO+ rear tire 
  • Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth 170mm dropper post
  • Saddle: WTB Silverado Pro saddle
Guy Kesteven
Guy has been riding mountain bikes since before they were mountain bikes and is right handy on an offroad tandem (of course he is).