The Santa Cruz Nomad is a True All Mountain Machine

The Santa Cruz Nomad is one of those bikes that needs no introduction. First introduced way back in 2005, the Nomad was and still is their big travel trail bruiser. Designed to be burly enough for big hits and days in the bike park but light and efficient enough to ride all day, the Nomad was an instant success and has always been a shop favourite. Redesigned with the lower link shock placement in 2017 Santa Cruz breathed new life into the Nomad and it gained an almost cult-like following for its revolutionary design. For 2021 we're now on the 5th generation of the Nomad and this time around it's more about small tweaks to keep it relevant rather than a massive overhaul.

Santa Cruz Nomad 5 Review

There's no big news for the Nomad 5 other the fact that Santa Cruz have simply refined a classic. Keeping the 27.5" wheels, because 27.5 ain't dead and still at 170mm travel front and rear because why change a winning recipe? Santa Cruz got it so right the last time, it's pretty tough to improve on greatness but there are a few things they've learnt along the way with other bikes that mean the Nomad can be brought into line with more modern machines. Things such as geometry, cable routing etc.


Still utilising their VPP suspension system to deliver all 170 millimetres of silky smooth travel, the leverage curve has changed somewhat, flattening off to give a more linear consistent feel through the travel with the classic ramp up at the end to avoid harsh bottom-outs. One of the main changes to the new Nomad is actually a series of small changes to frame details. Santa Cruz have really cleaned up their cable-routing in recent years, and the Nomad 5 is no exception. Where the previous iteration saw the rear brake hose routed externally for its entire length and rubber grommets at the head tube for the other cables, the brake hose now is routed fully internally and the rubber grommets are gone, resulting in a much cleaner look.

Santa Cruz Nomad 5 Review 

 Where the Nomad 4 had an asymmetrical rear triangle with an upright brace only on the non-drive side, the Nomad 5 has them on both sides again smartening up the aesthetics and resulting in a stiffer, stronger ride. Working back to the dropouts, the Nomad 5 still runs boost hub spacing so your wheels will still fit, and the derailleur hanger is now a Sram UDH (universal derailleur hanger) the same as the rest of the range, meaning you should be able to find a spare hanger no matter where you are. Other frame specs are much the same as previous years with a 31.6mm seatpost, a regular tapered steerer tube, threaded bottom bracket and ISCG05 chain guide tabs and with pretty much the same linkage and hardware as before which is super easy to service and has a lifetime bearing warranty along with the lifetime frame warranty. Sensible choices then with very few proprietary parts and easy servicing - signature Santa Cruz and very much a reason why we love them.


Geometry has changed a little for 2021, namely longer, slacker, steeper. Longer as in the reach has grown by 16mm to 472mm in a size L in the low setting. Slacker as in the head tube angle now sits at 63.7 degrees, almost a degree slacker than the Nomad 4, and steeper as in the seat tube angle now sits at 77.5 degrees - a full 3.4 degrees steeper than the last version. The Nomad 4 was a pretty contemporary bike for its time, and while some of the changes here, notably the seat angle, might sound big, they simply put the Nomad 5 within the range of other current bikes. The longer reach and slacker head tube angle provide a more stable ride, particularly on fast and steep trails, and that steeper seat tube angle means it retains a comfortable seated climbing position with the front wheel nicely weighted.

Santa Cruz Nomad 5 Review 

 Other geometry changes of note include the chainstays. Just like the latest Bronson and 5010, the Nomad 5 uses size-specific chainstay lengths. The old wisdom stated that shorter chainstays equals better, but recent developments in geometry have shown that it makes sense for chainstays to grow in length for taller riders the same way reach does. In a size Medium, chainstays are the same length as the previous generation at 430mm but between S and XL the chainstays vary from 425mm to 440mm in length with a Large falling at 435mm. In theory this should mean that everybody gets the same stable-yet-snappy handling characteristics from their Nomad regardless of size.

Who Is It For?

The Santa Cruz Nomad 5 is one of those bikes that doesn't pigeon hole itself as a one-trick pony. Rather it's a multi-talented bike capable of riding here, there and everywhere. Santa Cruz's VPP is well known as being a platform that pedals incredibly well, and the Nomad 5 certainly shares this characteristic, climbing extremely well for a bike with 170mm of travel. It makes short work of technical climbs and isn't a chore to spin to the top of the mountain much like its predecessor.

Santa Cruz Nomad 5 Review

 With 170mm of travel front and rear to devour the biggest of rocks and roots it's a comfortable and fast ride back down to the bottom, but it's not a race machine either by any stretch. A little ways off being the long and slack bikes that are unwieldy to ride at lower speeds, the Nomad is rewarding to ride no matter how hard you're pushing - because we're not all racers, and some days it's better to have fun without pushing too hard. The Nomad 5 is the ultimate all-mountain machine in the true sense of the word. Something you can comfortably ride, push or carry to the top of any mountain or trail and know that you're going to enjoy the ride down no matter how gnarly or smooth the ride down might be. Equally at home on Double Black trails like Ladies only and blue trails like Bobsled, it's a bike for all occasions.

Santa Cruz Nomad 5 Review 

Spec and Pricing

With no Aluminum version currently available, the Nomad comes with a Carbon C or CC frame option in a number of different build kits. Starting with the C R build kit at $6,649, this bike comes with a Rockshox Zeb up front and a Super deluxe at the back, a Sram NX Eagle 12 speed drivetrain and Guide RE brakes. Moving on up all other bikes come with a Fox 38 fork including the C S build kit comes with a GX Eagle drivetrain, Code R brakes and DT Swiss/Race Face wheels for $8,099. The C XT build uses a 38 Performance Elite fork, full Shimano XT groupset and has a choice of coil or air Super Deluxe shock for $9099. Moving on up to the CC frames all builds use a Fox 36 Factory fork and have a choice of a Factory Float X2 air shock or a DHX2 coil shock. At $11,099 the X01 build has a full Sram X01 mechanical groupset with Code RSC brakes and Industry Nine 1/1 hubs on aluminum Race Face rims. The top level X01 AXS build uses Sram's wireless X01 AXS drivetrain  and comes with the same I9 hubs on Reserve 30 rims for $13,399. 

Santa Cruz Nomad 5 Review