Words: Sam James
Video: Anthony Chopin @44thelement
It's new bike day, once again, and this time we're looking at an all-new Santa Cruz Nomad - the Nomad 6. That number 6 is important, that means that this is the 6th iteration of this bike, which really says something. The Nomad has been in Santa Cruz's lineup for a long time, since 2005 to be exact, and while it's seen a number of major changes in that time, what it does hasn't really changed.
The Nomad has always been Santa Cruz's long travel big trail slayer, the perfect winch and plummet style bike. Capable of pedalling to the top of the biggest mountains, and even more capable pointed straight back down them, whilst also being perfectly at home in the bike park. We use the term all-rounder a lot, and really that means different things to different people, but the Nomad is the gravity lover's all-around bike. With 170mm of travel front and rear, it's still up to party with the best of them, but has some updates that prove you can teach an old dog new tricks.
The previous generation Nomad 5 was only released around 18 months ago, and while that was an amazing bike, Santa Cruz decided that the bike needed a bit of an update to keep it in line with current trends. To that end, there are some major changes, but some things have also stayed pretty much the same - for example some aspects of the geometry.
The biggest change to the Nomad is the fact that it now sports mixed wheel sizes. We don't want to say that 27.5" wheels are dead, but they certainly are less popular than they once were thanks to the increased popularity of 29" wheels. Mixed or 'mullet' wheels then are the perfect compromise - with the stability and bump-eating prowess of a 29" front wheel and the playfulness and clearance of a 27.5" rear wheel. The Nomad now makes a little more sense within the current Santa Cruz lineup - big sibling to the Bronson, and less race-focussed than the Megatower.
Also new on the Nomad and entirely expected given the recent changes to the Megatower and Hightower are a whole bunch of new features including the Glovebox in-frame storage, size-specific seat tube angle, size-specific stiffness and slightly tweaked suspension. Let's break those things down a little starting with the easiest - the Glovebox. With an integrated spot to stash a tube, tools or anything else you can think of, it means there's no need to strap things to the outside of your beautiful new ride.
Let's talk about all the size-specific stuff next. It's obvious that bigger riders need their bike to do things a little differently than smaller riders do. The good folks over at Santa Cruz know this, and so have made some changes through the the whole size range. The old way of doing this would be to simply increase the reach and make the seat tube taller for a bigger rider, but not happy to simply stick to dated frame design methods, the chainstays also get longer with frame size, to keep the handling balanced across each size, which was also the case on the previous bike. Add to this size specific seat angle to put each size of rider in the optimal seated position for comfortable and efficient climbing.
Finally and maybe most interestingly is the size-specific stiffness. Because taller riders are also typically heavier than shorter riders, each size has a different carbon layup for different stiffness qualities. What this means is that each size should have exactly the same ride and stiffness characteristics, so if you're tall and heavy you're not riding an overly flexy frame, and if you're small and light you're not riding a bone-shakingly stiff frame. Awesome!
The Nomad 6 is coil compatible
Beyond the size-specific numbers geometry has only changed a little, most notably in the chainstays and stack. Stack has increased by around 15mm, mostly due to the larger front wheel. Chainstays have actually grown by 8mm across the range to balance the feel of the bigger front wheel, and actually are slightly longer than the current Megatower. Of course the bike has been given the longer, slacker treatment, but only slightly. The head tube angle has had 0.2º knocked off putting it at 63.5º and 63.8º. Seat tube angle hovers between 77.2º and 77.9º. Reach is the same at 475mm in a size large. The BB has come up by three millimetres to 343/346mm.
Of course the Nomad 6 uses Santa Cruz's legendarily good VPP suspension platform, utilizing a lower link-driven shock, nothing new here and for good reason. Rather the changes are more subtle than that. As with the changes we saw on the Hightower 3, the leverage ration and anti-squat have been tweaked slightly. With about 10% less anti-squat, the Nomad 6 should have more grip on the climbs, less pedal kickback and less harshness over square-edged hits. Given the nature of VPP meaning it climbs exceptionally well, we welcome a little extra grip if it still pedals well.
The Nomad's leverage curve has also changed slightly, with a lower starting leverage and ending in roughly the same place Santa Cruz say they have improved body weight influenced geometry stability and the reduced progression has given the bike better tracking throughout the stroke.
What Hasn't Changed?
There are many things that we love about Santa Cruz bikes, and one of them is their no-nonsense approach to bike development and keeping things simple wherever they can. That's why the Nomad 6 still features a threaded bottom bracket, a boost 148 rear axle, a Sram Universal Derailleur Hanger (but their own CNC'd version), fully guided internal cable routing now including the rear triangle, metric shock sizes, coil compatibility, IS headset, ISCG05 chain guide mounts and 180mm post-mount brake.
I managed to get a couple of rides on the Nomad 6, and it's obvious that Santa Cruz know what they're doing. Since the Nomad 4 became their first lower link driven trail bike back in 2017 the brand has gone from strength to strength, and what was a flagship model has faded into the background somewhat. Truth be told I've always loved the Nomad, and I still love it for many of the same reasons. While I haven't spent enough time on it to get fully acquainted, it still has a very familiar feeling, whilst being different enough to make sense.
The Nomad 6 retains the classic Santa Cruz climbing prowess, climbing far better than a bike with 170mm of travel has any right to. Not as sprightly as the Hightower, it still crests hills with ease, and honestly anyone winching 340 combined millimetres of travel up the hill probably isn't going to be in much of a rush. That said, they'll likely be pleasantly surprised, and probably have more in the tank than their buddies once they're at the top. With little in the way of pedal-induced suspension movement that I could notice and plenty of grip the Nomad is a breeze to climb on whether on technical singletrack or a smooth fire-road, and as usual we did not feel any need to reach for the cheater switch on the shock.
On the way back down the hill, the 29" front wheel added an appreciable amount of traction and monster trucking ability that I've grown to love on so many 29er bikes. Rocking a pretty slack head angle the front wheel can feel pretty far out front and it's clear that this bike is meant for steep and fast trails. While more mellow trails still work better than on many other bikes, the Nomad 6 is certainly a more aggressive beast than previous generations and we found ourselves running a little less fork pressure than Fox recommended simply to allow the fork to sit into its travel a little.
The Nomad might sport 170mm travel out back which is ample for big gnarly trails, but isn't delivered in big plush dollops like you might expect from an FSR bike for example, despite the lower starting leverage, and it still retains that familiar VPP platform, meaning it rewards riders pushing hard, but doesn't feel sluggish on smoother trails. Instead it gives the confidence to push into lips, boost jumps and hit gnarly lines knowing that there's more left in the tank without a harsh bottom out. Those that want the extra plushness that a coil shock provides likely won't be disappointed.
The bottom line? I'm impressed. The biggest takeaway from the short test ride was just how stable the bike is now, it felt noticeably more comfortable at speed, pushing me to ride faster and harder. I like it and can't wait to spend some more time on the bike.
Build And Spec
Currently the Nomad 6 is available with C and CC carbon frame options in frame sizes Sm through XXL and two colours - Matte Carbon and Gloss Gypsum. With six build kits and coil options on the three highest, there's something for almost everyone.
Nomad builds start at the R kit with a Rockshox Zeb R fork, Super Deluxe Select shock and NX Eagle drivetrain. Moving up to the S kit it comes with a Fox 38 Performance fork and GX Eagle drivetrain and hub upgrade to DT Swiss 370. The GX AXS kit of course comes with Sram's GX-level wireless drivetrain, 38 Performance Elite fork and hub upgrade to Industry Nine 1/1, with an option for Reserve carbon wheel upgrade and/or coil shock. The X01 build rocks the top of the line Fox Factory 38 and Float X2 fork and shock with I9 hubs and X01 mechanical drivetrain again with a coil option. Finally the X01 AXS Reserve build upgrades that to wireless and with carbon wheels and that coil option again.