First Drive: 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad – Now Mixed Wheels

First Drive: 2023 Santa Cruz Nomad - Now Mixed Wheels
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Santa Cruz was on a roll this year, updating its catalog with geometry changes and in-frame storage compartments for each model. Next up is the venerable Nomad, the long-travel machine that has been a mainstay in the range since its launch in 2005.

The 6.0 version of Nomad retains 170mm of front and rear travel, but now uses mixed wheel sizes, 29” wheels at the front and 27.5” at the rear. Alongside the larger front wheel, the geometry of the new Nomad has been made looser and taller, although the changes aren’t too crazy. Once again, it’s about improvements rather than drastic revisions.

Nomad 6 Details

• Wheel size: 29″ front / 27.5″ rear
• Travel: 170 mm
• C and CC carbon frames
• 63.5º head angle (low)
• 77.6º seat tube angle (L size, low)
• 444 mm chain support (L size, low)
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
• Weight: 33.5 lb / 15.2 kg (L size, X01 AXS RSV)
• Price: USD 5,649 – USD 11,199

There’s also a glove box to house instruments and tubes inside the frame, and tweaks to the bike’s kinematics designed to increase the precision and consistency of the suspension.

There are 10 different builds available, with prices ranging from $5,649 for the R kit to $11,109 for the XO1 Reserve build.

Frame Details

Nomad’s frame has all the hardware Santa Cruz is known for. A threaded bottom bracket, tube-in-tube internal cable routing, chain-snap protection in the right places, room for a full-size water bottle, a universal derailleur hanger, grease ports for the lower link bearings – nothing really missing.

There’s also the Glove box, which has a small latch that gives access to the inside of the lower tube. A neoprene tool wallet and tube case are also included to aid organization and prevent items from swinging inside the frame.

There are two frame color options, Gloss Plaster and matte black, which is white / purple / gray depending on the lighting. The frame uses 230 x 65mm shocks and is compatible with air or coil options.


Compared to the previous generation, the Nomad’s head angle has been relaxed by .2 degrees and the reach numbers remain the same, but note that it now has a 29” front wheel. The wide reach of 472mm is slightly shorter than the 480/485mm number many other companies have decided on, but that isn’t necessarily a downside. Remember, there’s more to how a bike rides than a number or two on a chart.

There’s also a new XXL option with a reach of 520mm for all taller drives.

The most significant geometry change occurs in the chain supports – the length has been increased by approximately 8 mm depending on the size. This was done to improve the front/rear balance of the bike, especially since it now has mixed wheels. Chain support lengths get larger as the frame size grows, starting at 439mm for the small and up to 450mm for the XXL.

Suspension Arrangement

Unsurprisingly, the Nomad retains the familiar bottom link drive VPP suspension layout. Nomad’s initial leverage has been lowered and is actually slightly less progressive than before. It’s still coil shock compatible, but the changes will help provide more consistent performance throughout the entire travel range.

The anti-squat has also been reduced, which Santa Cruz says is done to reduce suspension stiffness and improve climbing traction.


R-Kit $5,649
S-Kit $6,799
GX AXS-Kit $8,499
GX AXS-Kit Reserve $9,799
X01-Kit (CC) $9,299
X01 AXS-Kit Reserve $11,199

Feature Check

There’s no getting over the fact that Santa Cruz’s prices are on the high end of the spectrum – this isn’t the place to look if you’re trying to stretch your dollar as much as possible. However, the parts in the various build kits are well chosen, and if a bike has a GX drivetrain, it has a full GX drivetrain, not just a derailleur to make it seem so. All bikes have some version of SRAM’s Code brakes with 200mm rotors front and rear, and all models also have bash guards.

Interestingly, build kits with coil shocks get Maxxis’ DoubleDown case tires and those with air shocks get EXO+. Maybe coil users are more likely to make bad line choices?

My only real gripe with the kits is the 175mm hydraulic Reverb on the big frames. I moaned a bit about this when the new Hightower came out, but in this case it’s even more relevant. The Nomad is actually a pedal-able DH bike – I want the seat to stay as far as possible on steep slopes and I know I’m not the only one. There are also many cheaper, cable-operated poles on the market that work better (or better) than the Reverb and have adjustable travel distance to boot.

Driving Impressions

this previous version The Nomad’s model was a fun-loving, relatively mild-mannered machine, a long ride, a do-it-all bike, and it didn’t matter if the terrain wasn’t always super steep and uneven. The new version still retains many of these easy-going features, but the revisions it receives take its capabilities to the next level, including this 29” front wheel.

Considering how similar Nomad’s geometry numbers were to Megatower’s, I wasn’t sure how much of a difference there would be on the trail between the two. They even share the same front triangle, so it really comes down to the Nomad’s smaller rear wheel and slightly different kinematics. As it turns out, all the subtle changes add up to something much more substantial.

To be honest, the newest Megatower didn’t really surprise me, and I’ve spent a significant amount of driving time on it this season. I would consider this a Very Good bike, but it just doesn’t have a little extra special dressing to put it in the Great category. That wasn’t the case with the new Nomad – after a few rides it’s now making its way to the top of my list of favorite bikes this year.

What is so special? For me, suspension is the way it allows to ride off the heels while still maintaining enough support for pedaling or pumping on flatter sections of the road. I haven’t had any hard bottoming out with the Float X2, and I’ve sent this thing extra deep more than once, mainly because it looks like it wants to be driven like that. I try not to use the phrase ‘reassuring’ more than once or twice a year since it’s become so cliché, but in this case it’s appropriate. The Nomad offers plenty of travel to deal with big bumps and rough terrain, while it has an extra level of speed that makes it an extremely addictive motorcycle to ride.

The Nomad’s suspension feels a little softer from above than on the Megatower, meaning I’m more likely to reach the climb key on softer climbs, but it stays calm enough that it’s entirely possible to leave it on all the time while pedaling.

While the Nomad’s reach numbers are on the slightly shorter side of the modern spectrum, this is offset by the loose head angle and moderately long chains that provide plenty of stability at higher speeds. Lately, my preference for mixed-wheel configurations on longer travel bikes has been increasing, and that continues with the Nomad. Besides creating more rubber-to-rear-end clearance, it feels easier to pick up and place the rear wheel, especially on steep slopes.

I wonder how the Nomad will hold up over a longer period of testing – considering its very high price tag you would hope it would be absolutely flawless. There are many more challenging miles in the future of this bike, including a few big enduro races and numerous bike park laps – I’ll give you feedback with a final verdict and comparisons to other bikes in this category once I’ve really gone through the trouble. .

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