SANTA CRUZ NOMAD – AN EVOLUTION IN ENDURO
When you want to talk about the Santa Cruz Nomad, you are not just discussing a bike, but the evolution of a whole riding and racing genre. A bike that manages to be simultaneously one of the most cutting edge, technologically advanced machines on the market and an icon of modern mountain biking. Before we get there though, a little bike history for you.
Deep in the mists of time, people rode bikes up hills and then they rode them back down the hills again. Their bikes were made of steel. Their bikes had rim brakes that used a cantilever or u-lever system. Their bikes were fully rigid. Their bikes were, and it pains me to say this, not very good.
Then people started adding suspension, better brakes, lighter materials. All sorts of goodness. Some bikes were built to be even better at going up the hills fast and along the flat bits fast, at the expense of being particularly quick downhill. Some bikes were built to push up the hills and ride insanely fast back down again. Some bikes weren’t particularly good at either of these – but looked great. Santa Cruz wanted none of this nonsense. They always wanted most their bikes to be capable of almost anything. They did, however, recognise that the market had space for some machines that could take huge knocks without necessarily being dedicated downhill bikes, but without needing to be amazing on the climbs. Thus a new breed of bikes began, ever so slowly, to evolve. It went a bit like this…
First came the Bullit, a play on the film and a big hitting, slope style monster. This polished aluminium beast was designed to take serious knocks, while making use of the single pivot’s pedaling advantages in between jumps and drops. It did a great job on the downs and in bike parks, but riders wanted a little more, they demanded DH style handling, a bike you could pedal and more progressive suspension feedback. One attempt to answer this demand for DH style performance was the Driver 8 – again, this machine really took downhills in its stride. Many riders even kitted it out with (not exactly warranty friendly) triple clamp forks and raced smaller courses against full on 200mm DH bikes. But, again, the up hills beckoned for some and the Driver 8 was just too much of a drag, even on fire roads. Weight needed to come down, travel had to be balanced out and suspension performance improved to allow for climbs, varying terrain and the capabilities of rapidly improving air shocks.
Finally, in 2005, Santa Cruz unveiled the Nomad. At the time it was hailed as a mini-DH bike that you could pedal up the other side. Singletrack magazine put it in the ‘winch and plummet’ category, but riders did something unexpected – they just rode it. Spinning up big climbs (with the occasional push) before racing their mates down the other side. The sport of Enduro was born and with it the Nomad entered mountain biking folklore.
Simply put, the Santa Cruz Nomad was a masterclass in looks as well as performance. With a fully hydroformed main frame, the new bike was simply stunning, turning heads wherever it went. Cheaper than internal butting and allowing weight saving never before seen on longer travel bikes, hydroformed tubes could be molded from the inside to any thickness and shape desired. The distinctive kinked top tube of the Nomad kept the front end stiff while giving shed loads of stand over height for the rider. A similar down tube kink meant that fork clearance was not an issue and helped kick the head angle out a few degrees for superior handling. The approach was quickly picked up by other manufacturers, but nothing ever grabbed people’s attention like the Nomad.
Utilising the, now tried and tested, VPP (virtual pivot point) suspension system borrowed from the XC and trail bike, the Blur, allowed Santa Cruz to really explore the limits or the S-shaped curve on a pedal friendly, big hitting platform. In no time at all, the Nomad was showing up in the domestic DH scene, as well as bike parks, technical trail centres and local woodland singletrack that had never been ridden so fast. Alpine holiday companies reported seeing more Nomads than any other new bike and the very first Enduro races were packed with the new Santa Cruz.
The second generation bike, in 2009, dropped travel to 160mm, but upped the fork rating to take advantage of offerings such as the Rock Shox Lyric and other new 36mm stanchion freeride forks. Moving to VPP 2 suspension gave a more progressive spring rate and a true ‘bottomless travel’ feel. A carbon version joined the ranks, proving that plastic doesn’t snap when you subject it to hardcore riding. Popularity rocketed and the first serious Enduro series races saw ever greater numbers of Nomads tackling the times sections and transitions with equal ease.
This was the essence of Enduro and the reason for the Nomad’s success. Essentially, riders are timed over flowing sections of mostly downhill singletrack. The race courses can undulate, however and, unlike downhill, can include overall segments of half an hour or more. There are generally 3-4 segments per day, sometimes over several days. The quickest overall segment combination wins. But that is not all. Unlike either DH or XC, riders are expected to travel to the start of every segment under their own steam. These long climbs (usually on fire roads or Tarmac, but sometimes ascending technical singletrack or switchbacks) are not timed, but they have to be completed within a time limit or riders risk penalties or even elimination. Which is where the Nomad comes in. While a big travel mini-DH bike might be fine for the timed segments, making up for slower pedalling with greater confidence through the technical descents, there is no way that riders can push such a bike to the top in sufficient time to make the cut. Pedalling is the only way to climb fast enough and the Nomad did and does that beautifully – feeling more like a 130mm bike on fire roads than a 160mm trail taming beast.
Then came 650b wheels and the third incarnation of what was, by now, a classic mtb in every way. Keeping travel at 160mm, but adding the 27.5″ tyre’s ability to roll over bigger bumps and drops, as well as climb better and grip more, the Nomad 3 took the Enduro world by storm, winning more pirvateer races than any other bike. Available in two carbon variants, including the super light CC version, the Santa Cruz Nomad stands out as a one of the true greats of the modern mountain bike era, but with a heritage second to none.
Today, well into its 3rd incarnation yet looking as fresh as ever, the Nomad is the go to bike for enduro privateers, alpine singletrack lovers, mega avalanche addicts and riders wanting a bike with all of the extras. Whether you want to start from the CC frame up or select one of the build kits available on the C or CC frames, Biketart will help you to choose the right Santa Cruz Nomad for all your riding, enduro or not.