That’s right… With nothing much else to do than sit around and look straight ahead full time, I thought it appropriate to bring you another massively non-impartial ‘shit I happen to own’ review. Getting the treatment in this edition? The whale of them all: The Santa Cruz Nomad 3. Usual disclaimer given I have been sitting around, #Bracelyfe, this article is as long as fuck just quietly, but it has been a year in the making. Grab a coffee before reading.
As it transpires, its not so much a review as it is a sequel to the ‘Notebook’, except with one main character change and a whole lot less crying and shit:
Before you can ask WTF about the train driver cap, lets move on. Its taken me an unusually long amount of time to get around to writing up this gear rant on the Nomad 3, and I suspect that there are a few reasons for that:
- This bike is famous – Yup, its legend goes back a long way… And, as such that makes it not only a heavily sought after beast, but also highly reviewed by people and websites who are Neck Level (as I like to say now) in riding ability, not to mention their ability to convey how a bike works into words. Doing a review on one then feels a little bit like me asking Chris Ball to start me in the top 30 at an EWS round so I can get better photos for my race report
- I’m slightly biased – Perhaps I was a Colombian Judge in a past life, but if it has the words ‘Santa Cruz’ on it anywhere, then I’m going to snort that shit up and rule in favour of it faster than you can indict me for corruption. I have heard rumours that there are other bike companies out there, which is cute, but as Christopher Lambert taught us: There can be only one.
- I’m a bit slow – It usually takes me a while to not only work out a product, but then convey that scenario into words that end up providing zero technical insights. Whilst I’m ruthlessly quick to judge humans and any bike that doesn’t have an SC sticker on it, I like to take my time to get to know a carbon beauty before talking about it with my homeboys.
However, I’ve now clocked 1,784km’s on this awesome machine in the year we’ve had together, across some of the who’s who of ENDURO locations, where its endured almost as much variety as Charlie Sheen’s cock:
- Singapore (doesn’t really count…)
- Mt Buller
- France – Sospel, Maratime Alps, Roubion
- Italy – Finale Ligura x 2
- Spain – Zona Zero
Turns out that, embarrassingly, I had 232 photos across these various locations of the blue beast, making it quite difficult to find the right motherfucking montage set up:
Its time for a review where everyone gets their say… I get that this is one of the most reviewed bikes on the planet, but no one ever really takes the time to consider what the machine itself may think about all this. So, to help get us all used to a future where we’re going to be working for machines, I’ve injected the Nomad 3 perspective where relevant. Yes, that’s weird and a little bit crazy, but bikes are people too. (watch horrified dog owners strenuously object). Stand back as I get busy blurring the lines between a ‘Review’ and hero worship.
Tell us the story about how you two met!!
Ah… 2014… Life was good… I was in love with the Nomad 2 and we had just finished our Dirty summer holiday together which included the full Mad Markus South Island tour. It was the height of Dirty Nomad fever and as you may recall, I was at the pinnacle of hating 27.5 wheels which had landed on our 26 coast line and were making a concerted push inland to rape and pillage our fun, wallets and common sense.
And then Herr Doktor got his one… Actually, that almost didn’t happen as he had some sort of seizure and almost replaced his old 26 inch Jekyll, a bike I utterly loathed, with a new Jekyll – Yes, like divorcing your partner to marry their weirder sibling. Only after a prolonged and at times violent intervention, which required us to present massive volumes of scientific data, Das Wolf and I finally convinced him to join Club SC and improve his quality of life significantly. Given he was the first to break bread and rocks with the new Nomad, it wasn’t long before the patented Dok peer pressure artillery barrage commenced bombardment on my location:
“Cunt, you’ve gotta get rid of that green thing and fucken get on this“
I took this as the ramblings of a crazy man who had been lost in a single pivot/weird proprietary air shock desert finally getting his first taste of Santa Cruz goodness. How could it be so much better than my much loved Nomad 2? I had sort of ridden that weapon down the Meribel World Cup Downhill course after all… Our bond was strong, I didn’t need to jump on any bandwagons here.
But my T-Rex arms are also made of rubber, as my #DNglobalcollective comRADes and most girls know, and as such it wasn’t long before I was eating my 27.5 words smeared in liberal amounts of wasabi mayo. I was highly sceptical that the Nomad 3 would be such a massive step forward over the then current 2, a notion my luddite inner child danced around when the first outing was, well, less than spectacular shall we say? I knew it was a good bike, but the debut at Kunt Ridge was hardly a worthy outing of such a machine… Unfortunately it would take some time for me to understand what I had on my hands…
Nomad 3 Perspective – “Our first date and he takes me to Kunt Ridge? What the actual fuck? Did Tom Brady take Gisele to Subway and then give her herpes for dessert? I think not… You don’t take a Ferrari Enzo to a Ikea carpark to test it out do you? I put it down to an awkward first encounter on terrain unbecoming my radness and that he was on the rebound from that older model for the confusion”
The sum of its parts
Before we delve into that world of discovery, first lets check out this things curves and goodies. So given this is a mongrel build, I’m really just reviewing the frame ultimately and even that can end up telling different stories based on what shock you decide to bolt on. And there has been a lot of changes in the parts department:
Don’t worry, I’m not going to numb your brain any more than I already have with a part by part review of changes, how about just the big points of interest… AKA, the only things people really give a fuck about:
Shocking – This is perhaps the main point of interest when people look at the bike. The rear shock. First order of business was to fuck the SRAM Monarch off before the frame was even built and bolt on the Cane Creek DB Air CS. The same very one that was run on the Nomad 2.
Initially this seemed ok, but it never really quite met expectations. It wasn’t that it was bad per se, it was just a nagging gut feeling that it wasn’t quite right. After experimenting with spacers, a switch from the XV Can to the Normal Can (the only time in my life I have ever endorsed smaller cans) yielded a major improvement in performance. There is a whole lot of science behind this, with words like ‘spring rate’ and graphs etc, but if you’re running one of these shocks on a Nomad, the normal can seems to be the way to go.
However, the main problem I had was getting lost on set up… Yes, like sticking me in front of a cupcake buffet, I had no idea which way to go on set up and tuning to find a good overall tune, let alone adapting it to specific areas or terrain. Thank fuck then I ran into Davide in Sospel who got shit sorted for Trans Provence with his tuning magic and the super soft saggy set up.
Again, not often that sagginess gets endorsed, but running that bad boy at 40% seemed to do the trick, unless of course you asked my XTR cranks. Yes, running that low rider set up keeps you on your toes or puts you on your ass if you get lazy. Even though some serious steps forward had been made with the Cane Creek, I still wasn’t convinced that I had reached the shocking nirvana I craved.
It didn’t help that I was a coil shock child and still viewed air shocks as an industry conspiracy theory. As such, when Jordi bolted the 2016 Fox DHX2 coil shock on as a low cost way to deal with a fingered shock bushing on the Cane Creek, I knew that my search for the holy suspension grail was finally over:
The biggest disadvantage of putting this piece of art on your bike is the sudden surge in people standing around looking at it like they wanted to steal your rig. Not a great way to go if you’re paranoid about security.
Having this shock on is a reminder of why I love coiled steel. Life is just straight up better. Specifically the DHX2 is smoother, makes the Nomad sit a little higher in its travel but feels bottomless, takes hit better and in the biggest surprise I think: Pedals and climbs a LOT better than before. I am still getting used to the fact it doesn’t sag as low as the CCDB, but the upside is less pedal strike stress and better pedalling. I can’t tell you a whole lot about the settings as Jordi from Fox just turned dials and handed it over, but I will say I am yet to feel like I need to make any adjustments, no matter where I’m riding.
I did end up in a ‘conversation’ with Chris Porter from Mojo suspension where he talked at my face using a whole lot of words about suspension tuning and technology which sounded really neat but meant nothing to me. His summary, I think, was: That’s probably a really good option to put on the Nomad over the air shock. The Dirty Nomad view? This shock is fucking rad and I can recommend having it on the top of your shopping list if you’re a Nomad owner or lover.
Shocking the sequel – I started out with a Fox 36 160mm Talas on board, but after never using the travel adjust feature and being told by pretty much everyone who knows whats UP, I swapped that out courtesy of Das Wolf for a Fox 36 160mm Float. This bike doesn’t need travel adjust, unless you’re really nerdy about your climbing (in which case you probably aren’t shopping for this bike), its just a redundant feature. Is the Float better? Absolutely. Can I really elaborate with useful data? Fuck, you know I can’t. Its smoother and simpler (less shit to go wrong) and really that’s all we should give a fuck about.
Wheels – Perhaps its a sign of the Nomad 3’s ferocious appetite for gnar destruction and high speeds that explains the wheel situation we have found ourselves in. Worth noting, prior to this, I had only ever broken one MTB wheel, a syncros DH rim at Whistler, which doesn’t even really count as no one can explain how that wheelset ended up on my bike. Yes, we have had a few partners on the wheel front:
- Mavic Crossmax ENDURO – They’re yellow for a reason, because they’re like butter. Look as cool as fuck, but made for little French dudes who win EWS races and appear to levitate over terrain. The rear one is always the first to impersonate Ronda Rousey’s face the morning after a night out in Melbourne
- Enve M70 with CK hubs – As regular readers may know, after destroying two of the rims in the rear (you would get some epic results if you copied that sentence into Google), First in Finale and then on day 1 in Spain, the general judgement is perhaps we won’t be trusting this product any more. Were Enve awesome about the warranty? Yes. Would I run them if I lived somewhere with soft dirt? maybe. Will I ever travel with them, race on them or go anywhere rocky ever again? Fuck no.
- Mavic Crossmax XL – Used on the rear only for Trans Provence… Super solid, worked beautiful and no dramas. When I got home though I did find that the rim had more flat spots in it than a bad first date. Its still kind of true, but it will never be quite what it was. #sparewheel
- Stans Flow EX rims with CK hubs – Still early days on this set up, but the rear survived EWS Finale ok and the front has only had 2 rides on it… One of them infamous. Trying to not be superstitious about that. The CK hubs continue to be utterly beautiful of course.
Drivetrain – Only 2 things to say here and the first one is important: Holy fuck, this bike needs 170mm or less length cranks. If you like eating shit you can run the 175’s, but that may ultimately be incompatible for your collarbones. 175mm cranks are soon to be phased out to pasture in 29er hardtail land, so make sure you go short on your build. Secondly, I think that this is the smoothest drive train i’ve felt on any mountain bike EVER. I suspect the culprit here is the Chris King BB, but fuck it feels like its gliding. The XTR Groupset works perfectly with the SRAM X01 cassette and I even prefer the feel and shifts over the XTR cassette, even if the pricing is quite cunty.
As a general rule of thumb – Unreliable parts have been pushed out and dependability has been drafted in. DX pedals a great change as well.
What’s to love about its body though?
I’m not going to waste our collective time by wanking on about the technical aspects of the Nomad 3 construction, all the other reviews do a better job on that any way. All we need to worry about is how fucking cool this thing is.
And I mean cool in a beautiful way. Not in that high maintenance “I only drink Dom Perignon and I don’t date anyone who doesn’t own a Maserati” kind of way either. The lines and details on this frame are exquisite. Even if long travel hell machines aren’t really your thing, its hard to not admire the way this bike has been crafted and finished. It looks how a mountain bike should look. In summary – Stiffy inducing, even for girls.
Gone is the squatting dog action of the 2, the new stretched out 3 visually slaps you in the face and announces its ready for action, even if you aren’t. But its the subtle stuff that is stiffy inducing. Joe G, SC head magician and general design legend had the massive rad balls to say Adios motherfucker to the front derailleur, one of the first to do so and commit to a 1 x world. A few years ago this would have seemed insanity, but Joe and the team know how shit rolls.
Add to that beautiful internal cable routing that even bike mechanics love, newly recessed VPP linkage that makes the NORAD bunker looks like its sticking out and that sweet inbuilt rubber protection system that even Mr Sheen would approve of and it all adds up to one ruggedly beautiful looking outcome. Evokes the same response as seeing Scar Jo playing Black Widow… Yeah, you know it.
I’m not very good with numbers in any sense, but there are only two worth giving a fuck about here – The 65 deg head angle and ‘whatever it is’ seat angle. The first one is rad as holy shit, it makes everything feel so easy, planted and confident on the steep stuff obviously. The latter quite handy as it makes getting up to access that steep stuff a whole lot easier. Yes, I know there are a host of other changes that all go into the recipe to make the Nomad 3 a massive upgrade on previous models, but these are the two I suspect most of us will notice.
Talking of noticing, does it even register that this is a 27.5 bike? Nope… The sum of all its radness all adds up to a slapping for anyone that wants to waste your time with boring wheel size debates. A good bike is a good bike, period.
What makes your relationship work so well?
Just like any awkward feedback session at work, the handbook says that we need to start with the good stuff before we move on to the ‘Constructive Feedback’ (That’s cuntspeak for why you think someone is a fuckbag). Yes, this means I am now finally going to talk about how the bike rides.
Like any relationship where the partner is better than you are, this bike can do things you either can’t or aren’t willing to do. And let me say, its not often I can say that for the latter. Following that dumb debut mentioned above, it wasn’t until I finally got this beast to Perth and on to some real terrain that I realised just what I had between my legs. Being in amongst some ‘proper’ riding brought the Nomad to life and all those changes and 3 years of development suddenly made absolute sense.
This is the Steve McQueen of bikes… It gives approximately zero fucks about where you’re pointing it and you had better just hope that you have the same level of capability as it does, as this thing has potential to burn. How capable is it? Well, in a case study of perhaps why I may be selling my DH bike now, take a look at what this dude could do on one in Whistler, yeah, would love to say this is me, but clearly it ain’t:
Yeah, so that dude can ride the fuck out of Whistler bike park in a way that I can’t even manage on my DH Bike. That aside, and returning to a more realistic level of riding skills, where does this bike shine in my ‘just outside the EWS top 200’ view?
Gnar field disposal squad – Hideous rock strewn gnar fields of death? Long rocky steep sections littered with trail side bombs? Tracks that want to snap your normal bike in half and give you stitches? The Nomad doesn’t give a fuck YO. It loves arriving in sections that are bad ass and calmly go about cutting which ever wires it needs to in order to defuse that shit and not only keep you safe, but make you look like a fucken hero. Point it down some hideous terrain and it will lap it all up like its that feral feline you saved off the street even though it only had half a tail. Even works in Sam Hill’s backyard:
Flat out as fuck – If going really really really fucking fast on an MTB makes you slightly nervous, then getting a Nomad 3 could be just what you need… Or not. Firstly, its pretty well educated in going fucking fast if you let it like a horny horse, so that may not encourage you to swipe the visa. But, the good news is that once you get up to a speed where it feels like your brain may melt, there is a calmness and stability that you may not have experienced in a bike before.
On Stage 10 in TP there were sections that were so fast it felt like an out of body experience (would have been if you got off line), but the Nomad just loved that shit. Like a dirt nymphomaniac it will just keep demanding for more and faster… You’ll feel inclined to surrender your better judgement and partake, and you’ll be more than rewarded for it.
Mind melting steep – Just so happens that the 3 loves steep technical shit as much as I do. As such, we love hanging out together on shit that makes you go “hmmmmm”. The new Geo makes this bike so beautifully composed and confident on terrain that even the older bike may have paused on. Every time I get down something that scares the shit out of me I have that inevitable ‘that was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be’ moment. It probably actually wasn’t, but just a reflection of how the bike loves to eat that stuff up.
Those specific aspects aside, one of the greatest things about this bike is its odd combination of poise and loyalty. Bear with me, as yes, I am still talking about a bike here. In many ways, the Nomad 3 is like a Saint Bernard – Big, burly, dependable and will absolutely get you out of the shit when you’ve miscalculated conditions. And indeed, this is one of its best features, its inbuilt get of jail free card.
At least a few times a trip I have arrived in a section that was either too feral, or I was going too fast and you have just enough time for the “oh fuck me hard” danger scenario to register on your radar. On the old Nomad, it would have probably ended in tears, but on the new one? Hold on, take a deep breath or just don’t breath and somehow like the Millennium Falcon it will get you out of what appears to be an impossibly fucked situation. I can specifically recall these moments from either down Ants trail at Queenstown bike park or any number of stages on Trans Provence. One second its utter doom, the next you’re somehow through and hollering involuntarily with the joy that comes from still being alive.
No matter what I’m doing or where I’ve been, or as is topical, even when I’ve crashed, I always have total trust and faith in this bike. Call it legit, call it solid, throw in a #realtalk if you like – It just has a feeling of reliability and confidence about it that whilst may be intangible or made up in my own brain, I consider to be a priceless attribute for a bike. If you think I’m mad, spin it around and think about the times you’ve been out on a bike you didn’t trust or have complete faith in… Horrible feeling isn’t it? Nags at you… Not something you’ll have to worry about with a Nomad 3.
That theme of reliability also extends to maintenance – Not a single issue with the frame, bearings, pivots or linkages. Its had about 3 decent services in that period, so that will help, but its been silent, tight and ready for action the whole time. Love that shit.
Oh… And don’t think I’m getting through the gushy part without using the F word. Yes, aside from all the above superlative rimming I’ve just managed, this thing is just straight up FUN. Its a blast to ride, you look forward to heading out for a session on this thing like a good time with your best friend. Every single time you drop into a trail, you can’t help but commence smiling at what’s to come. Whilst we can wank on about its trail crushing ability, confidence inspiring geo and super sweet suspension action, the thing worth noting the most: Its as fun as fuck to ride.
Nomad 3 perspective: “Hoky fuck… Cunt is gushy isn’t he? Happens to be 100% right though people…”
Tell us about times you two don’t get along
This may be predictable, so stop me if you’re heard it before, but the caveat with this bike is the usual Formula 1 predicament. An F1 car doesn’t work properly (tires, brakes, aero) unless you’re fucking pinning it. Drop below that and all of a sudden its benefits fall off a cliff and no, not in a rad Rampage kind of way.
Yes, to get the most of the bike you need to smash it or at least let its do its own thing instead of imposing too many of your views on it, like braking all the time. The risk for some of us Nomad owners is we may be the factor that limits ever seeing the bike’s full potential.
That aside, this big bad motherfucker doesn’t like flat or slow terrain. It will do it, don’t get me wrong, but you may at times feel like there is a feeling of being slightly bogged down on that tight little snaking climb through awkward trees on tacky mud. Yes, just like Stage 2 in Finale as a case study!
The Nomad 3 loves to hit wild, fast and flowy anything… And yes, it climbs better than you ever expect it to. But when the terrain feels a bit dead, twisty, slightly up and just generally slow, it won’t feel that rewarding. Oddly, since putting the Fox coil shock on, it had improved in this scenario, but its never going to be a champion in this realm. Mind you, that’s not what you buy one for.
Its also too simplistic to say that it doesn’t climb well. For a bike of this size and category it climbs a shit load better than the old one. Its ability to climb a major step up and if you have a patient climbing style then you won’t have any issues. Its no XC rig, but comparisons like that are a waste of time anyway. Day 2 on Finale EWS saw us having to grind out a 2 hour road climb to start stage 5, not a barrel of laughs on any MTB really, but something I was fine doing on the Nomad. Oddly, the Fox DHX2 coil shock makes it climb better… voodoo shit.
Oh yeah, the 150mm Reverb stealth post you need on this bike will shit its pants around 9 months in, no matter what you do. Its still functionally the best post available right now, just don’t expect it to be your Best Post Forever.
Nomad 3 perspective: “He’s the one that really holds us back… I can pretty much eat up all the shit that he freaks out on and rides like a clown, but you try being rad when there are a couple of saint levers being pulled in like he’s trying to stop a freight train. As for him criticising me about that flat stuff, what can I say? Baby got back, if you want flat love, date an XC chick”
Who should swipe right for the Nomad 3?
As a generalisation, most of the Nomad 3 owners I have met have one of two distinct characteristics:
- They love mountain biking and have been doing it for a really long time – Its part of who they are
- They love having the most fashionable bike of the moment
Important to note that the two points there aren’t connected either. But, for the most part when you see someone on one of these bikes, they’re a baller. I’ve been lucky enough to see people doing some fucking amazing riding on these bikes, all over the world and the consistent theme is that its a bike for people that like to go bike and shred the fuck out of everything they see.
Like the time Ben Shayler rode past me like I was a marshall at the Queenstown 6 hour super D when I thought I was pinned. Or trying to follow Sven Martin down Spanish Mountains… Or shredding Sam Hill’s backyard with Dok… Or sliding down cutties with Annika… Or breaking minor municipal laws with #Squidfacedboy… Or getting amongst EWS action with Great Rock and Simon:
If you love big terrain and want something with seemingly endless capability and don’t care too much for how fast you climb, then you’re either already an owner or in the queue for one of these things. Someone once said to me that these things are a ‘Dentist’s bike’, meaning only dentists can afford them… Yes, we all know or have seen a few XTR/Enve/CK Nomad’s out and about here and there not getting abused in the way they prefer, but I think these are the exception and not the rule.
Nomad owners want something that they know will take everything you can throw at it, wipe its mouth clean on your finest linen and then casually enquire as to whether or not that’s all you have? Like the name suggests, its the bike to have if you’re going to head to new places and have no idea what’s in store, other than that its going to be rad and you need to be prepared for anything.
Nomad 3 perspective: “Stop it… I’m blushing… But yes, my Tinder account has blown up, good luck hooking up with me in a size and colour you so desire, I’m massively in demand. If you don’t like using a safe word, then perhaps may I suggest getting a Tallboy instead?”
Do you love ENDURO racing together?
Fuck yes we do… And judging by what I saw at 3 EWS rounds and TP in 2015, so do a lot of other people. I think where we loved racing the most was Trans Provence. The terrain was more epic, runs were longer and generally there was less climbing or flat spots in stages – Its BIG crazy terrain that seems to somehow suit the Nomad’s personality. We’ve now ticked off 11 ENDURO type races in 12 months, so clearly we’ve developed a bit of a taste for it as a team.
I have a sneaking suspicion that as of the last few months, if you were after a pure ENDURO race bike, then the new Bronson 2.0 is going to be moving back up the list for a lot of people and not just because it has a bitchin paint scheme either:
The Rodfather already has his one and is loving it, recently describing it as a mini Nomad with a bit more pop and playfulness. I think then in the ideal world of ENDURO racing that you would have a Nomad and a Bronson and, perhaps even whatever new long travel 29er I suspect Santa Cruz are going to be releasing next year. Yes, my policy of “Spend less, Ride more” gets a golden shower when it comes to allocating funding to Santa Cruz procurement.
Whilst this BroMad combo makes no sense to sensible people who like to own one bike, having the choice between the two and having one built up hardcore (the Nomad) and one perhaps a bit livelier (the Bronson) would give you quite the ENDURO arsenal.
Will I be changing? Fuck no… I would love to add a Bronson to the portfolio, but aside from the obvious branding issues I would have (‘Dirty Bronson’ just conjures up images of Charles Bronson doing nasty shit), I’m in love and intend to remain completely faithful… It may be only a year in, but we have history together:
Nomad 3 perspective: “I don’t consider myself a race bike, but if its good enough for Iago, Cedric and the Nomad’s then who am I to debate it? As long as we’re going fucking fast and smashing turns I give little to no fucks. I’ve checked his browser history and know he’s been checking out that new Bronson, but he knows where his bread is buttered, my chassis is too hot and he was dumb enough to colour code his entire riding wardrobe, badly may I add, to my hot blue frame colour – So he won’t be playing away from home any time soon”
And there we have it – One of the longest and least informative Nomad 3 reviews available on the internet. We can go on and on about numbers, construction, set up, build quality, how it goes around a corner, how it goes up or down and even if you like it more than a lot of humans you know. But ultimately the best way to judge or sum up a bike is by the places you get to go and the experiences you have with it. In that regard, the Nomad 3 is probably the greatest bike I have ever owned… I can’t wait for our second anniversary…