By National Geographic Adventure Contributing Editor Steve Casimiro, editor of The Adventure Life
The race to build a better bike always come down to one goal: efficiency, which might be achieved through lightening the bike, or stiffening it, improving the suspension, or making it more comfortable. The reason bike builders love carbon fiber is that it usually nails two of those methods with one swoop. If an engineer is already pretty happy with the suspension and the comfort, carbon becomes the silver bullet, which why you’ve been seeing Santa Cruz developing so many carbon models, including the new Nomad Carbon ($2,499 frame only, $4,000-$6,400 complete): The basic designs are pretty well dialed.
Like many of Santa Cruz’s best known models, the Nomad uses what’s called the Virtual Pivot Point full suspension, which requires a Cal Tech degree to understand fully, but essentially does a fantastic job of maximizing pedaling efficiency while maintaining active suspension in both big and little bumps. In the case of the 6.3-inch Nomad, generally bigger. This freeride-ish bike can be built light enough for all-day epics and its pedaling is much closer to XC than downhill, it’s really aimed at high speeds, monster ruts, and big air. You know, freeride.
So, how does the carbon Nomad compare to the aluminum? Most important, it’s just under a pound lighter and 20 percent stiffer, which leads directly to better climbing, turning, and handling. It’s whip-fast and razor sharp and holds its line like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, the Nomad Carbon blows away Santa Cruz’s burlier downhill models for strength. And yet built light, it tips the scale under 27 pounds.
With that kind of weight and proven performance, in my mind the debate isn’t whether to get an aluminum or carbon Nomad--it’s whether to get a carbon Nomad or the carbon version of Santa Cruz’s excellent cross-country Blur LT. Both are lighter and stronger than their aluminum counterparts, both use VPP, and both have broad performance envelopes to satisfy nearly any rider. The Nomad, however, is currently the strongest frame Santa Cruz makes. So the answer that will tip the scales is whether you want slightly more freeride or slightly more XC. My heart says both. Unfortunately, budget does not. I’ll let you know how it’s resolved.