Farther down, the trail went so buff and single you might find yourself double-checking the map to be sure it’s not a poach. The barely-discernible route twists and turns through dark forest via perfect cranking corners. If I weren’t miles into the backcountry, I’d swear at times I was in a bike park.
The Nomad absolutely shredded the corners, breaking nicely into its travel and with the super-stiff rear triangle tracking true. (It’s hard to believe it doesn’t have a rear thru-axle!) With a tug on the bars and a push on the pedals, the bike was bending into and rebounding out of corners like a carving ski. The center of gravity felt reasonable despite a somewhat high (compared with most recent geometry trends) bottom bracket. The harder I pushed on the Nomad, the more it just plain shredded corners. Again: nice!
The rest of the season confirmed my early impressions of the Nomad: It’s a pocket DH bike. It can get to the top, but in my experience, it prefers the climb to not take very long. I found myself gravitating away from some of my favorite, longer backcountry rides in favor of shorter jaunts that offer the best descending bang for my climbing buck. I didn’t expect this to be the weapon of choice for 50-milers, but I thought it might do a good bit better on the 20-30 milers.
On the Lunch Loops in Grand Junction (where the climbs don’t last long enough for the stoke of the previous descent to wear off and the rider to realize that, “my bike pedals like a pig”), the Nomad was spot on. I even rode a good bit of lift-served DH on this bike, which was super fun. The Nomad was balanced in the air on good-sized jumps and cornered on rails, but wasn’t the most stable at speed compared with others I have tried in this genre. Again, the travel would often get bucked before the VPP would attempt—just a little too late—to do its duties. Keeping the Nomad more jibby and playful than full-on pinning, though, was an absolute gas. The platform provided by the firm initial part of the stroke of the suspension provided a nice spring to ollie the bike from.
It’s worth noting that I repeatedly pushed the Nomad well past its recommended use and laid it down hard on a few good crashes. The bike took the abuse well, always felt well within its means, and the anodized finish showed very little evidence that it wasn’t brand new. This is a durable bike.
All in all, I was very happy with the stiff and sturdy feel of the Nomad, but I was less than thrilled with the way the VPP—coupled with the Fox DHX 5.0 Air—handled their duties on the descent. And I was completely disappointed with the way the setup took care of its climbing and technical pedaling business. I feel that other highly touted, all-mountain frames seem to use their long active travel to a climbing advantage by keeping the rear wheel tracking nicely while filtering out rider input and by keeping pedal bob to a minimum. The VPP/DHX Air setup holds pedal bob at bay until the moment of truth, but then, when it encounters any sort of adversity, it quickly feels deflated and surrenders both to the terrain and rider input.
My hope is that swapping out the shock for a Fox Float RP23 or, better yet, a Push’d RockShox Monarch or Vivid paired with the custom Push Upper Link might take care of some of my complaints. The fact that the latter product exists tells me that I am not the only one who hoped for more out of his or her Nomad’s suspension performance. The opportunity to improve may be there, but it takes time, comes at a price, and is a solution offered by another brand. My aim in this review was to discuss the bike as it comes from the dealer, and my hope as a buyer was that it would blow me away right out of the box. Unfortunately, it did not.
I think Santa Cruz has dialed the construction of the Nomad and created a beautiful machine with nearly perfect geometry that delivers confidence-inspiring strength and durability. Having ridden Santa Cruz’s Blur LT and experiencing similar suspension shortcomings, I suspect that my qualms with the Nomad lie in me just not being the biggest fan of VPP, though I haven’t put in enough time to try other shocks on the Nomad to make so sweeping a claim as to say that VPP is not a worthy platform. But in the end, I just was not jazzed enough on the positive features of the bike to put the time and coin into aftermarket parts in the effort to improve the suspension shortcomings.
In 2005, Santa Cruz and VPP wowed in shorter travel incarnations for pedaling like hardtails while delivering just enough suspension when things got hairy to keep a rider out of the hospital. In 2012, all-mountain bikes from a slew of brands are available that use their long travel as an advantage on both sides of the ride, and the Nomad did not readily deliver this complete package of suspension performance during my time on it.
This is, of course, just one rider’s perspective. With as many stellar reviews as this bike has received and as many enamored Nomad owners out on the trail, my view might seem a bit contrarian. I am certainly not saying that a prospective buyer should rule out the Nomad, but I wouldn’t recommend buying the Nomad based solely on reviews and without putting some miles on one.