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2021 Santa Cruz Nomad Review

A few years ago, Santa Cruz released the fourth iteration of the Nomad and brought with it their lower-link-driven VPP suspension platform. Proven on their world-cup-level downhill bike, the V10, this was a welcome departure from the bike’s previous upper-link VPP. Santa Cruz, after seeing much success, took this lower-link suspension platform and applied it to its entire lineup, creating an arsenal of bikes that had better small-bump compliance, better traction whilst braking, and better mid-stroke support. Now for 2021, they have taken what they have learned and updated the Nomad to be a more refined lower-link VPP trail smasher.

The 2021 Nomad follows the prevailing industry trends, getting longer and slacker. The reach has increased by around 12mm across all sizes and the head-tube angle has been slackened from 65° to 64° in the high setting and from 64.6° to 63.7° in the low setting. This longer and slacker front end makes the bike feel more stable at speed while allowing it to plow through sections that you once may have shied away from. These changes make the Nomad more confidence-inspiring while pointed down the hill, but Santa Cruz hasn’t forgotten about the climb.

The new Nomad has a steeper seat-tube angle than the previous iteration. Across all sizes, the seat-tube angle has increased by more than 3°. Aside from new angles, the updated Nomad also features an improved leverage curve, a stiff reduced-offset 170mm fork, size-specific chainstays, and SRAM’s universal derailleur hanger. While promoting the confidence to ride big lines and then pedal back to the top, these changes add up to create a bike that is lively, efficient, and consistent across all sizes.

2021 Santa Cruz Nomad Key Features

•27.5-inch wheels 

•Improved leverage curve and twin swingarm uprights 

•170mm of lower link driven VPP rear travel + 170mm fork •37mm fork offset (reduced offset) 
•64-degree head angle and 78-degree seat angle (Med frame in Hi setting) 

•Available with coil and air shocks

•Size-specific CS lengths •Increased shock tunnel size for more compatability 
•C & CC frame & Reserve 30 carbon wheel options •SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger 
•Sizes: S, M, L, XL •Lifetime warranty 

Technical Details - The 2021 Santa Cruz Nomad


The 2021 Nomad’s head tube is around 1° slacker in both the low and high setting and the seat-tube angle has been increased more than 3°. These geometry tweaks paired with the longer reach truly make the bike feel more confident from the moment you throw a leg over it. This confidence translates clearly out on the trails as you can comfortably go faster and further than before.

Many of the changes to Nomad are more subtle than major geometry tweaks, but the improved leverage curve, larger diameter and reduced offset fork, size-specific chainstays, and the universal derailleur hanger all add to the bike’s appeal. The newer leverage curve is smoother and more supple off the top, yet ramps up nicely and in a consistent manner, allowing the back end to track exceptionally well and keep bottom-outs soft. The new Nomad also features twin swingarm uprights, giving the back end a stiffer and more predictable feel.

Builds, Components & Fit

All builds also come with one of the new 38mm stanchion options from RockShox (the ZEB) or Fox (the 38) and use a reduced 38/37mm offset. These bigger stanchions give the rider the ability to hold lines and the reduced offset allows for the bike to be slacker and longer without making it harder for the rider to weight the front end of the bike. Another subtle, yet standout feature are the size-specific chainstays because it means that all frame sizes will have a consistent back-end feeling at speed and in the corners. Santa Cruz did a great job with the small details on this bike. It features bumpers in the bottom of the rear triangle near the bottom bracket to protect it from rocks and the occasional stump hit. The use of SRAM’s universal derailleur hanger is a great addition to see as it will hopefully make it easier to find replacement hangers in the future.

I was fortunate enough to get out on the ultra-high-end Nomad CC XO1 Reserve version to ride and review, which has all of the bells and whistles that even the most particular riders would find hard to dislike. This bike is certainly not for everyone with its $8,699 price tag, but for the spec that it’s equipped with, it’s hard to beat.

I’m 5’9”, 170 pounds, and the size M Nomad fits me perfectly. I am a relatively physically strong person and this shows in how I ride, as I enjoy muscling the bike down rougher sections of trail. This makes suspension setup and capability very important to me. That said, the adjustability and performance of the 2021 Fox Float X2 and the Fox 38 was incredible. The XO1 drivetrain is the ideal drivetrain for this bike as it delivers consistent, crisp shifting, and its durability makes it a worry-free groupset. SRAM’s Code RSC brakes keep this monster in check and give you all the stopping power that you would need on even the longest and steepest of descents. Lastly, the Santa Cruz Reserve wheels laced with DT Swiss 350 hubs were the icing on the cake. The Reserve wheels offer the perfect balance of stiffness and flex all in a lightweight package and the DT Swiss 350 hub is a no-nonsense hub that offers fantastic durability. The rather large price tag of this bike is backed up by it being the complete package.

About the Reviewer

Name: Daton Nestlebush
Job Title: Service Shop Lead at evo Seattle
Age: 22
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 170 lbs.
Size Reviewed: M
Riding Style: Aggressive and quick, and sometimes heavy. I enjoy throwing myself down sections and muscle the bike through them at times.
Shop the 2021 Nomad

Ride Impressions

Climbing & Uphill

While the Santa Cruz Nomad is no racehorse on the way up, it’s by no means the slug that most 170mm bikes used to be. With the supportive back end and the steep seat-tube angle, this bike is an efficient climber. The rear end of this bike tracks the ground flawlessly without excessive pedal bob, allowing you to find tons of grip even on those wetter and more loose days. This bike is efficient and lively on the ups without requiring you to lock out or stiffen up the suspension.

Descending & Downhill

In the PNW, you don’t have to look hard to find rough and steep sections as well as jumps that will send you to the moon, and on this bike, you can do it all with ease. Most of the days I took this bike out I had rather ideal PNW conditions, which kept me looking to hit the roughest of sections at full speed, and to my surprise, the Nomad took them all in stride. The way this bike smashes through roots and rocks will have you ripping down trails at sometimes alarming speeds. The more modern geometry paired with the suspension this bike is equipped with makes it difficult to feel the end of its capabilities as human fear is likely to take over before the bike even begins to flinch.

This bike came to life when jumping as the back end has a surprising amount of pop given its large amount of travel. Nomad gave me the confidence to hit jumps bigger than I left the car thinking I would do. This is a testament to the updated leverage curve and the softness upon bottom out. When leaving lips on this bike, you can load it with tons of energy and it will deliver it all back to you in the form of a smooth and predictable pop, making large jumps a breeze. Even if you overcook the jump and completely miss the transition, this bike will leave you smiling and laughing about the experience instead of dealing with the whiplash that normally would have occurred. Having hit bottom a few times on this bike, it was only indicated to me by the maxed out sag ring; even in bottoming out this bike it was neither abrupt nor jarring. The 2021 Nomad is not only up to the challenge of being ridden faster and harder, but it wants to take you further and higher.


  • Highly capable at speed and in steeps
  • Back end tracks well and ramps up nicely
  • Good pedaling performance for a 170mm bike


  • Carbon-only build options raise the price
  • Must be ridden hard to show its true ability

2021 Santa Cruz Nomad Review - The Bottom Line

The new Nomad sits in a unique category, considering many people have moved toward long-travel 29ers as their “big bikes”, but for those that enjoy the nimble feeling of smaller wheels and still want a bruiser of a bike, this is a hard one to beat. It won't be your uphill rocket like a Tallboy and it's not going to be your EWS race bike like the Megatower, and it’s not trying to be. This bike is unapologetically itself, a bike that wants to be ridden hard, whipped around, and tossed down the spiciest of lines. This is a big bike that can hit big features and still pedal around the whole mountain searching for fun. The 2021 Santa Cruz Nomad won’t automatically make you a better rider, but it will inspire you to try new lines, hit new jumps, and play on the trail wielding a massive smile.

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2021 Santa Cruz Nomad Geometry Chart

SizeS (Lo /Hi)M (Lo/Hi)L (Lo/Hi)XL (Lo/Hi)
Reach422 / 425mm447 / 450mm472 / 475mm497 / 500mm
Stack603 / 601mm617 / 615mm626 / 623mm648 / 646mm
 Head Tube Angle63.7 / 64°63.7 / 64°63.7 / 64°63.7 / 64°
Seat Tube Length380mm405mm430mm460mm
Front Center760mm792mm821mm857mm
Height340 / 344mm340 / 344mm340 / 344mm340 / 344mm
BB Drop14 / 10mm14 / 10mm14 / 10mm14 / 10mm
Wheelbase1186 / 1185mm1223 / 1222mm1257 / 1256mm1297 / 1296mm
Chainstay Length426 / 425mm431 / 430mm436 / 435mm441 / 440mm
Head Tube Length115mm130mm140mm165mm
Top Tube Length552mm582mm610mm644mm
Seat Tube Angle77.9 / 78.2°77.7 / 78°77.5 / 77.9°77.2 / 77.6°
Standover706 / 710mm727 / 732mm728 / 733mm727 / 734mm