2010 Santa Cruz Nomad

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.

Santa Cruz Nomad, Blister Gear Review
Santa Cruz Nomad.

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.

5 comments on “2010 Santa Cruz Nomad”

  1. Rob, you absolutely should have tried a different rear shock. The DHX Air is terrible on that frame. RP23 is pretty good, but the Monarch RT3 is amazing. A much more efficient and predictable use of travel.

    The Push link is designed to make the Nomad’s current VPP setup work better with coil shocks and moves the needle back towards more DH performance. This incarnation of the VPP on the Nomad is optimized to work with air shocks to make the bike more of an All Mountain destroyer. Unfortunately the DHX Air sits in the middle…not a predictably good air shock, but not a plush coil.

  2. Hi, I came to your website because I was looking for reviews on the Panaracer CG AM AC, and stumbled across this review of the Nomad Mk 2. While there may be some shortcomings with the DHX-A 5.0, I feel that perhaps you need to fettle with the shock a bit more. I had an alu Nomad with the DHX RC4 couple with a Ti coil, and is currently riding the carbon Nomad with the DHX-A. My current set up that can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.389744174370136.100076.100000036705817&type=3
    weighs 30.4 lbs. For AM duties, I really feel that DHX-A does a better job than the RC4. I am using a Float RC2 upfront and the bike feels well balanced. Take some time to dial in your boostvalve and bottom-out control, because if you do it right, the DHX-A can feel bottomless on this frame with the revised shock rate. An RP23 is inherently a progressive shock while the DHX-A is built to be as linear as possible (for an air shock). Coupled to the fact that the new Nomad has a flatter shock rate (not-so falling rate to not-so rising rate), one should be able to set up the DHX-A to match the new shock rate. A good starting point is to find the right sag, followed by opening up your bottom-out control fully, and pumping a boostvalve psi that matches your main spring. If the shock feels overdamped, the drop boostvalve in 5 psi intervals until you can get full travel based on the riding you do. If the bottom-out feels harsh, then close the chamber by half turns. Get comfortable with what each setting does and how they co-relate to each other and you should be able to find a set up that works for you! I’m sorry if I talk too much but I want you to enjoy the Nomad as much as I do!
    By the way, I bought the Panaracer CG AM AC based on your recommendation :) and they really are good!

  3. I’ve got a 2008/09 Nomad Mk2 that I am still riding as my winter/backup bike. Except for its portliness [average build] it still rocks compared to the latest greatest bikes.

    The stock DHX Air was awful. I sent mine to Avalanche Racing for a custom rebuild and it transformed the bike. It’s now as good a climber as a descender. Without a doubt this was the best money I ever spent on a bike upgrade in my riding career.

    I keep trying to kill my poor old Nomad, but it will not die.

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