The iconic Nomad gets a new lease of life with mullet wheels, internal frame storage and well-tuned suspension

Product Overview

Santa Cruz Nomad C 2023


  • Supple, poppy suspension and playful handling. Wide size range. Well balanced. Useful frame storage. 


  • No surprise – it’s expensive. Shock tunnel makes setting sag difficult. On the heavy side.


Santa Cruz Nomad first ride review


Price as reviewed:


The Santa Cruz Nomad has long been one of the best enduro mountain bikes on the market, but the last version was a bit behind the curve with its 27.5in wheels front and rear. So has this freshening up brought new life to the evergreen classic?

Need to know

  • Santa Cruz’s iconic model gets MX wheels
  • Now with internal frame storage
  • Proportional chainstay lengths to maintain weight balance
  • Lightweight CC carbon frame along with cheaper C option
  • Five frame sizes offered and four colour options
  • Prices start at £5,499 and includes lifetime warranty
Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

We tested the £9k Nomad C GX AXS Coil RSV MX model. Trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?!

Work smarter not harder, so the saying goes. And while the midnight oil must have been well and truly blazing at Santa Cruz HQ this year, the brand has succeeded in redesigning three of its most popular models by this year by being shrewd as well as productive. Those new models are the Megatower, the Hightower, the 5010, the Tallboy and the Nomad being tested here.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

We have a feeling the coil will be a popular choice on the new Nomad, and for good reason.

Frame design

Such a hugely ambitious task required clever use of certain templates to speed up development. For example, the frames all get the same package of visual enhancements. From the slab-sided head tube to the kinked down tube and creased shock tunnel, there’s a formatted design language that ties all the models together.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

Internal frame storage as standard, and it’s a really useful feature that means you never need to remember to take tools and spares. Your £9k doesn’t stretch to a bottle cage though – you’ll need to supply that yourself.

Details like the frame protection, mudguard, flip-chip at the rear shock mount and the new Glovebox internal storage compartment are standardised to save time and money when it comes to upgrading older models. But the Nomad is trickier still, because it’s actually only half a new bike.

The front triangle is actually transplanted from the Megatower, which means it shares moulds, reduces engineering time and reduces costs. And the reason Santa Cruz has been able to share such a major component is because the new Nomad has gone from being a using 27.5in wheels front and rear to a mullet configuration.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

With the new MY23 RockShox suspension, you can dial the Hydraulic Bottom Out valve all the way in (our bike was already in this setting) and enjoy a really nice end stroke progression for those times when you’ve just got to go deep.

Not before time either. When the previous generation Nomad was released just over 18 months ago, I was surprised – shocked even – that it hadn’t been given an MX makeover. Leaving it as a pure 27.5in bike, when everything was moving towards 29in wheels and mullet bikes were starting to appear, seemed either brave or foolish. At the time I said “my biggest concern with the Nomad is that it has ended up lost in the wilderness”. With version 6 however, the Nomad feels like it’s found its way again.

Since the Nomad’s slate has been wiped clean, it’s probably more useful to compare the new version against the Megatower rather than its predecessor. Like the old Nomad, the new one boasts 170mm travel front and rear. That’s 5mm more at the back than the Megatower, achieved through a longer stroke shock (65mm Vs 62.5mm).

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

Flip chip has a small effect on geometry but also changes kinematics. The low position helps the bike sit slightly deeper into the stroke, improves small bump sensitivity and seems to really suit the characteristics of the coil shock.

Geometry and sizing

Both bikes get identical head angles (63.5º in the low setting), reach numbers are also the same at 430, 455, 475, 495 and 520mm across the five frame sizes, and the short seat tubes (again, shared between models) let you run a long dropper and get the frame out of the way for maximum agility.

Having said all that, running a tape measure and angle finder over my sample bike revealed a slacker head angle than claimed (63º in the low position), much lower BB (337mm against 343mm claimed) and shorter reach at 467mm for the size large.

If you’re familiar with the current Santa Cruz range, you won’t be surprised to hear it also has a flip-chip at the rear shock mount that adjusts the head angle by 0.3º and the BB height by 3mm. And while that might not seem like much (it isn’t) the effect on the kinematics pronounces the static variation when you’re riding and produces a worthwhile change to the ride characteristics.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

There are more than enough frame sizes to suit all rider heights, and the low standover and short seat tubes give more freedom to upsize.

Where the geometry gets interesting is the chainstay length. Santa Cruz actually gives the Nomad a longer rear centre than the Megatower, which helps balance out the rear wheel’s eagerness to turn in and reduces the mullet bike tendency to go light at the front on the exit of well-supported turns.

Naturally, proportional chainstays have also been adopted into the fold, with an 11mm difference in rear centre lengths across the size range, and all done by varying the relationship between the main pivot and the BB centre rather than using different swingarms.


I’d like to say that the new Nomad comes in a wide range of specs to suit every pocket, but that’s never going to be the case. Options are plentiful, it’s true, with four spec levels that can be personalised with Reserve carbon wheels and a choice of coil or air shocks depending on your budget, but at £5,499 you’ll need a pretty substantial pot to afford even the entry-level bike.

Given that comes with NX Eagle and a more basic dampers in the Zeb fork and Super Deluxe shock, it’s not really until you get to the GX AXS with Race Face alloy wheels at £7,899 that it feels like the quality of the components and the frame are on par.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

The tyre spec is enduro-worthy with Double Down Maxx Grip front and rear. These were amazing in the mountains, but hard work on most UK terrain.

Having given the bike a solid beasting in and around Les Gets and Morzine, a couple of things stood out for me. Delivering super solid, reliable performance were the Maxxis Assegai/Minion DHR II tyre choice. A great tread combo with dependable cornering grip up front and superb braking traction at the rear, Santa Cruz has sensibly specced Double Down casings front and rear.

I had zero issues in 80km of riding with 6,000m of descending. Normally I moan about the MaxxGrip compound, and while it definitely sucked on some of the climbs I rode, it more than compensated on the descents by delivering tons of grip, even on greasy clay berms dampened by overnight rain.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

We’d like to see SRAM’s new HS2 rotors on the Nomad as we cooked the rear disc in Morzine.

Even with 200mm rotors front and rear, I cooked the SRAM Code RS back brake. Yes, I probably should have just been braking less, but an upgrade to the HS2 design, and/or bigger rotors would probably be an idea if you’re doing a lot of alpine descending.

While it’s nothing new or original, Santa Cruz’s Glovebox storage is a really great addition to the Nomad. The hatch is easy to open and close through a robust alloy latch and, while not the most generous in terms of volume or aperture, the two included organisers let you stow a mini-pump, tube, tool and other small essentials so that you can literally grab your bike and go without worrying about packs or storage bib shorts.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

The Nomad is an easy bike to ride at your limits.

How it rides

Getting set-up on a bike with a coil shock is rarely straightforward, especially one with a shock tunnel like the Nomad. This makes it really difficult to measure sag without a helping hand. Normally I push the bottom out bumper along the shaft against the seal, then sit on the bike and use it like an o-ring. But the confines of the shock tunnel make it really difficult to to get a tape in to measure how much it’s moved. So the only way to really get an accurate sag figure if you go with the coil is to have someone measure the eye-to-eye while you’re standing or sitting on the bike.

It’s easier with a Fox Float X2 because the air can is at the opposite end, but it’s interesting to see Santa Cruz has introduced a sag window on its latest 5010 model to try and improve matters.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23


If the Megatower is pitched as a privateer enduro race bike where efficiency and speed against the clock is the priority, the Nomad feels very much like a seasonaire’s bike with a focus on being built for reliable fun over countless bike park laps. Without even looking at the press pack, it was obvious that the Nomad has a softer side to the suspension, where grip and comfort on rough, steep tracks comes at the expense of some pedalling prowess.

It’s not a nodding dog on the climbs by any means, but there’s more bob from the shock and more drag from the tyres and the bike sits into its travel more when the gradient steepens, so you end up a little further back than you would on the Megatower. Another reason why extending those chainstays was a good idea, as this stops the front going too light and the back wheel losing traction too easily.

Of course the climb switch is there to mitigate some of the drivetrain-induced suspension movement, and while it’s not in the most convenient position, it’s far from a stretch. Flicking the lever also helps sneak a touch more pedal clearance, which is helpful as it’s easy to clip a pedal on lumpy alpine hiking paths.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

By no means a big bike, the size large Nomad does a good job of balancing stability and agility.


Forget cranking along flat singletrack on this thing, but give it some gradient and the Nomad’s immediately cooking on gas like there was no such thing as an energy crisis. Balance front to back is excellent, and with the flip chip in the low position, the suspension sits a little deeper in its travel soaking up the beating while your heels scrape through the turns. But with the RockShox shock’s Hydraulic Bottom Out dialled all the way in, there’s also a nice rounded progression to catch any big hits.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

Fox’s 38 Performance Elite fork delivers plenty of front end support.

Plunging over root steps my feet remained planted on the pedals, and I didn’t experience any kicks under braking. In fact, traction was better while slowing down into corners than I can remember from any recent Santa Cruz. The 27.5in back wheel increased clearance off drops and helped me to rail tighter bucket turns, but adding that length to the rear centre meant the front end would stay planted on the exit rather than going light.

Santa Cruz Nomad MY23

Playful in the bike park, yet fast and confidence-inspiring on rough alpine enduro tracks – the Nomad blends the fun with exhilaration.

In other words, I think Santa Cruz has done a good job of walking the tightrope between making a pure party animal that’s fun for slapping turns but can feel unbalanced when taken out of its natural habitat, and building an out-and-out sled that changes direction like a cruise liner.


If the last Nomad was a little lost in the world of enduro/freeride bikes, its successor has definitely reorientated the map and found its way back to its natural breeding grounds. And those breeding grounds are rich in steep terrain, abounding in manmade features and well serviced by uplifts. Sounds idyllic. 


Frame:Carbon C, 170mm travel
Shock:RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Select+ (230x65mm stroke, 500lb spring)
Fork:Fox 38 Float Performance Elite, 170mm travel (44mm offset)
Wheels:Industry 9 hubs, Reserve 30HD rims, Maxxis Assegai/Minion DHR II 29x2.5/2.4in tyres
Drivetrain:SRAM GX Eagle DUB crank 32t, 170mm, SRAM GX AXS Eagle 12-speed shifter and r-mech
Brakes:SRAM Code RS, four-piston, 200/200mm
Componenets:Burgtec Enduro Mk3 stem, 42mm, Santa Cruz 35 Carbon Bar 800mm, RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post 170mm, WTB Silverado saddle
Weight:16.01kg (35.29lb)
Sizes:S, M, L, XL, XXL
Size ridden:L
Rider height:5ft 10in
Head angle:63º
Seat angle:69.3º
Effective seat angle:78.1 (@705mm)
BB height:337mm
Front centre:825mm
Down tube:755mm
Seat tube:435mm
Top tube:620mm