Full Review

2021 Santa Cruz Nomad V

Words Trevor Hansen
Photos Deniz Merdano unless noted
Date Apr 19, 2021

Are long travel 27.5” bikes dead? In my mind they were when Cam asked me to do a long-term review on the fifth edition of the Santa Cruz Nomad. It’s been four years since I rode anything less than 29” other than a few fat bike rides, a pile of E bike rides and many mulleted rides on my Enduros. Okay so I guess technically (and literally) I have not been monogamous in my 29er relationships; but a big travel enduro bike with 27.5" wheels front and rear has not been on my ride list for a long time.

Initially when Cam offered me the new 170mm travel Santa Cruz bike to test, I said sure. I rode the Hightower test bike a few times and loved it. And I remember Roggey aka Pete Roggeman crediting the Nomad IV for getting him to a point where he could almost keep up to me on the steeps. When I got to NSMB HQ, I had visions of riding an even better Santa Cruz. But when I saw the wheel size I cursed the wheels and had a hissy fit and reneged on my offer to test it. However, after plying me with his cheap beer that he saves for biker guests and moochers who don’t bring beer to post-ride tailgates, (Eamonn) and then going on and on about how fun it was on some of our favourite trails, and how I would love it, I relented. After all does does size really matter?


Full highlights of all models are outlined in Cam’s first impressions.


He has always been a better poser than me.


I can only try to be as good.

What struck me right away was how good it looked in the sweet Ox Blood colour on the carbon frame. In addition, the intricate and smooth VPP suspension design, the top of the line Fox 38 and X2 suspension and the XO1 drivetrain had my interest piqued; oh, and the super sexy Reserve 30 wheels were the cherries on top of what was going to be a fun bike to test over the long term.

nomad climb.jpg


The first thing I needed to do to the Nomad was to make up for the lack of SWAT I have been used to on my two Enduros over the last four years. To make fake swat happen I did what my buddy Roggey always does during conversations at the Dumpsters, I One-Upped it. Rather than inane dad jokes I got some sweet OneUp gear: an EDC Lite tool was popped into the stem, an EDC pump with plug and pliers kit was attached to the bottle cage and my tube and a CO2 cartridge were EDC gear link strapped to the frame. To one up my one upping I put on a set of OneUp oil slick pedals to go with the Ox blood frame and installed my climbing cheater: a One Up oval ring. I wanted to use my OneUp bar but I forced myself not to so I could give proper feedback on the feedback the Santa Cruz carbon riser handlebar gave me.

The other adjustment was the addition of Tannus inserts front and back because I am now fully addicted to the benefits of these inserts. The best part of this adjustment was that Cam had already done the install.

The adjustment I could not make has something to do with the mullet-shod elephant a in the room. I thought this bike would be a perfect mullet by throwing on a 29r fork and wheel but alas Santa Cruz strongly advises against it. In the Tech Support section for the Nomad the question, ’Can I mullet my Nomad?’ has the answer below:

We don't recommend this. The Nomad is designed around a 170mm 27.5 fork. A larger diameter front wheel and longer (axle-to-crown) fork would significantly change the geometry we worked hard on. It would certainly slacken the headangle but also raise the BB height, shorten the reach and slacken the seat tube angle, which would negatively affect the handling of the bike. If you were deadset on doing it you'd be best off using a 150mm-travel 29" fork, but that would mean unbalanced suspension feel.

I used to hear stories of epic parties at SC HQ; I guess the Nomad is a party in the back pooper (that doesn’t sound right). I have seen a few Nomad mullets; some look weird but this one seems nice.

My love of mullets comes from my experience mulleting my 2017 and 2020 Specialized Enduros. I shoved my saddle forward to help with the slacker STA, I put the BB in the high position on the 2020, and I lowered stem stack height to help with the slacker head angle. I’m guessing these changes weren’t so great for the way the bikes were designed but I sure enjoyed riding them mullet-style. There wasn’t any more ass buzz, wheels hooked up better into corners and it gave me more desire to pop the bike. It may have been a bit less forgiving in bomb holes but the other benefits outweighed the negs. I will be testing a mullet yoke from Williams Racing on my Enduro this spring. The yoke is designed to account for all the issues Santa Cruz mentions as well as keeping the progression curve similar to that of a 29er. Santa Cruz is no stranger to mixed wheels sizes with Bullit/Heckler eMTBs and the V10 DH bike. Maybe a mullet will be on the horizon in one or two of their enduro/trail bikes?


Photo - Mike Wallace.

Suspension Set Up & Performance

I followed the Santa Cruz-recommended settings at first for the Fox X2:

205 psi
LSR 11 // HSR 6*
HSC 7 // LSC 14

They felt great but I figured I should probably play a bit to see if it would feel even better. Nope – I went back to the originals and rode the rest of the test like that. I did enjoy the beefy feel of the Fox 38 compared to my Lyrik but I still like the suppler feel of Rock Shox forks over the stiffer feel of Fox forks. The 2021 X2 played well. I cannot comment on the difference between the 2020 X2 on my Enduro and the 2021 as they are two different bikes. I can say it felt great, sucking up big hits, reducing chatter at high speeds, and everything in between.

*all measurements taken from fully closed, ie. Low Speed Rebound (LSR) 11 = 11 clicks out from fully closed.


The Nomad climbs well for a 170 squish-bike. Initially I got the comfortable centered body position feel I had when climbing the Hightower. However, the easier climb characteristics I noticed were not as noticeable probably due to the extra weight and suspension on the Nomad. It did handle the harsh tech up-hills well. I even did a back to back comparison on a section of a trail from Wade’s pick a part. I attempted the wheelie up and over rock and roots with my Enduro then grabbed the Nomad Cam was riding for his initial impressions piece and I tried the same line. The Nomad was a bit more agile in the tight corners than my big wheeled Enduro but the traction on the tech was the same for both bikes: excellent. I did experience a lot of annoying banging on the OneUp bash guard in the low BB setting. The difference between low and high settings is only 13.39" vs 13.54" so I don’t get why it was so noticeable other than the smaller wheel size but it was enough to bug me and get me to switch it to high. When in the high setting the guard bang went bye-bye. I experimented with climbing with the X2 in open and closed positions. In open, traction was significantly better but BB bangs were more prevalent. I usually did all my climbs in closed and still had excellent traction; except when my one-crash-too-many-brain would forget and I would descend in closed wondering why the suspension was feeling harsh.

nomad climb1.jpg

Climbing was surprisingly efficient for a 34-pound 170mm travel beast of a bike.

nomad climb2.jpg

I never felt like the Nomad was making me struggle on the climbs more than other bikes.

As an experiment I kept the suspension closed on a couple of our smooth flow trails. This made for more pop in the FPP but less fun in and out of corners and on straights as the traction was diminished.

nomad jank.jpg

How She Handles, Eh?

Okay this is what it all comes down to: how does the bike perform going downhill and (sort of) how it behaves going up; but in the end do we really care all that much about the ups if we are into this type of riding? More on the boring climbing part later. More on the best part now: if you’re down with FPP (fun, playful and poppy) and/or not OPP this bike is for you. On my first ride I was popping every little feature I could see. The bike wanted to be airborne. I found myself seeking out anything on the side of the trail as if I was snowboarding, doing side hits all the way down the mountain. I have learned to be a bit cautious with this side hit seeking style as I had a bit of a blow-out years ago following Wade Simmons as he carved side to side all over the trail. I had never witnessed anybody ride like that. He is still at it 15 years later. The style of riding was so much like my snowboarding style I attempted to mimic his lines on a few of his side hits only to go flying off of the trail to a big crash on the next one. Turns out the skill set for that kind of riding was (and now definitely is) outside my set. Regardless, the Nomad had me seeking the sides, the mini-doubles, anything with a bit of launch-ability.

nomad side.jpg

Side seeking whenever possible was par for the Nomad's course.

nomad pop.jpg

It was always wanting to pop every chance available.

I immediately noticed how fun it was to carve turns - snapping in and out of corners. The bike was balanced and responsive rolling steep rocks and stunts. And a big bonus was no more butt buzz with the smaller rear wheels.

On my favourite steep trail I went out charging and didn’t let up. I kept thinking I might be slowed down but that was not the case; the Nomad plowed through the steeps, the chundery chutes, and the drops and rolls, all the while keeping the FPP on full. My feet stayed securely planted on the pedals at speed over rocks and roots. It was love at first ride.

nomad speed1.jpg

The Nomad performed well at speed.

nomad speed2.jpg

When speeds hit full blast on bumpy rocky rooty sections the Nomad drifted a little and had to be held on course. It was never a problem but it was the main reason why I felt my Enduro was more suited to my riding terrain and style.

I had forty-nine rides from mid-December through mid-March. I rode in the snow, mud, and sort of almost dry dirt; I hit flow trails, steep and gnarly trails, old school jank trails, and even some almost XCish trails. I gave the bike a thorough beating on all my favourite, sort of favourite and friends dragging me down their favourite trail trails on all three of the North Shore mountains.

nomad skinny.jpg

I spent the first dozen-ish rides in the low BB setting and the rest of the test in my preferred high BB setting. I figured I would lose traction and stability at speed in the high position but I didn’t notice losing either of them. I did notice the annoying BB bangs go away though. That’s why I kept it in high after the required reviewer time to try in order to compare rule.

nomad snow.jpg

Bars, Rims, Grips, Frame Durability & Protection

This Ox blood frame not only looks good it sounds great too. The bike was quiet the entire time – no cable rattling, chain slapping nor any other annoying sounds (other than rides with my buddy Chambré behind me prattling on about commuters, comics and conspiracies). The frame is protected well with extensive chain guards on the top and bottom of the chain stays. I like how the top guard continues up towards the chain ring to stop scratches in the event of chain drop. There are two small down tube protectors that I think should be a continuous protector as I have a number of scratches on the tube between the two pieces. Another protector is strategically placed on the swing arm for even more bash guarding. The best protection of all is the Santa Cruz lifetime warranty in the event anything does go wrong on the frame, bars, bottle cage, bearings and Reserve wheels.

The bars felt excellent. I am used to OneUp bars which reduce my forearm and wrist fatigue. The Santa Cruz bars gave me the same feeling as the One Ups, filtering out harsh feedback. I like the SC grips as well. They were not too squishy and had a great feel under winter and spring gloves. The Reserve rims stayed true, tracked well and even though they felt stiff they did not give any harsh trail feedback. For more info check out AJ's long term Reserve wheel review.


Bars, grips and a whole lotta face moss.

nomad climb3.jpg

The Reserve 30 rims performed without a flaw the entire test period.

nomad rock.jpg


I kept thinking this bike might be my new ride after each ride on it. Maybe it was better than my Specialized Enduro aka my favourite bike of all time. After my dusty lilac/strawberry smoothie bike sat lonely for three months I decided it was time to see if the Nomad would usurp the Enduro's throne. On the first ride I got sucked in by Cambition: a state where Cam convinces all riders that the snow is going to be epic. I started in some perfect snow only to augur my front wheel sending me flying over the bars. No problems until neck pain kicked in four days later. I went to the wonder-worker Colin Miller for some body pin cushion IMS rehab and after two sessions I was good to go.

Back to the first ride: when the snow finally ended and I was back onto dirt that old Enduro love connection kicked in. The smooth feel and excellent ground traction feel was back. Let me steal words from Roggey’s Nomad IV review to describe that feeling: it is like a fresh cinnamon bun - it's gooey and makes the rear wheel stick to everything. In addition, when I hit high speeds I absorbed all the bumps and contour changes with comfort and ease. The Nomad did these things but not as well as the Enduro; I found the Nomad wandering a bit and feeling just a hair under full control. Hitting the same lines on the same trails I rode the day before helped me realize how much better the Enduro handled most aspects of the riding I like. These feelings helped my feelings of confidence and made me ride more aggressively than I did with the Nomad. The FPP of the Nomad is still a bit better than the Enduro but I realized FPP is in the mind. Now that I was all about the pops and side hits I started seeking them out more on the Enduro. On my last ride I was popping everything in sight only to have buddy riding behind me accuse me behaving like a teenager.


My baby in its natural habitat. 29" front and back. Photos - Cam McRae.


I was still annoyed by the big tire bum buzz on the Enduro but that will be remedied when I get it in mullet mode. The Nomad weighs the same as my Enduro (34 lbs with pedals + Tannus inserts) but climbs with a bit more ease. I’m not sure how much better that will be with the mullet but whatever, I don’t ride bikes for the ups. I don’t want those ups to be too cumbersome and neither bike cumbered my some.

The Nomad V is an excellent long travel bike that will appeal to anybody seeking flow trail lines, jumps, play times whenever possible, bike park laps and fun times on trails.

This model retails for $9599 USD but hey you're worth it. More info here: Santa Cruz Nomad V

Trevor Hansen

Age - 57

Height - 5'9"

Weight - 175lbs

Ape Index - 0.992

Inseam - 31"

Trail I've been stoked on lately - Bukwus

Bar Width - 780mm

Preferred Reach - 465-480mm

Related Stories

Trending on NSMB


+6 Deniz Merdano Mammal Lu Kz DadStillRides Pete Roggeman grambo
Ryan Walters  - April 19, 2021, 7:30 a.m.

> "I don’t ride bikes for the ups. I don’t want those ups to be too cumbersome and neither bikes cumbered my some."

Haha, I can relate! Statement of the year so far I think. I lol'd.


+2 Deniz Merdano DadStillRides
Allen Lloyd  - April 19, 2021, 9:21 a.m.

Has anybody done tests to determine if it is better to shrink the rear or grow the front to mullet a bike?  I have a Hightower and would like to try it with a smaller rear wheel.  I tried a Nomad with a 29 up front and it rode decent, I thought it felt better than a both small wheeled Nomad.


+2 Lu Kz Tremeer023
Deniz Merdano  - April 19, 2021, 9:38 a.m.

I'm on the "grow the front" train.

It is easier to keep the geo consistent that way. Unless of course you have means of keeping the BB where it was with frame adjustments. Than, you can shrink the rear.


Lu Kz  - April 19, 2021, 6:48 p.m.

As a completely armchair mullet-er (hate to say it but I'm kinda with Peter Verdone on this one), I'll agree with you Deniz. Shrinking the rear maybe makes sense if you want to park-bike-ify a slayer or something but for a pedal bike? No sir! Too many compromises with geometry whereas if you pick up a bike that was already over-forked, just run closer to the same travel front and back with a 29er front wheel and you're probably laughing.


Trevor Hansen  - April 19, 2021, 9:42 a.m.

I couldn't find any tests but I'm not sure how you would control for that unless you had a 27.5 and 29 with the exact same specs. The collective wisdom seems to be to put a 29" fork on a 27.5 bike and lower the fork travel instead of using a 27.5 wheel on a 29r.  I have 5 rides with a 27.5" wheel on the back of my Enduro using the Williams Racing mullet link and after a few adjustments to the shock I am loving it. If you can find an after market link for your Hightower I would recommend it. If not, try the stuff I did before swapping for the Williams link: seat forward, stem stack lower, BB in high. A Hightower with a mullet and 160 fork and that link that puts it to 148 would be a super fun bike.


+1 Cam McRae
Andeh  - April 19, 2021, 9:58 a.m.

It really depends on the starting geometry and travel.  In general, starting with a 29 will let you keep the travel the same, but drastically slack it out and drop the BB.  Starting with a 27.5 will raise the BB and slack it out, but you can mitigate that if you drop the fork travel slightly.

Someone on Vital came up with a nice website tool that lets you model this:  https://geo.syn.bike/

I started a thread over on RideMonkey discussing what bikes are good candidates for mulleting here:  https://ridemonkey.bikemag.com/threads/mullet-madness.291264/


+2 Stretch AndrewR
Ceecee  - April 19, 2021, 10:05 a.m.

Cascade tested and reconfigured HT.2 for both MX and 29. Based on my experience with Bronson.3, progressiver rocker is highly desireable and makes OE inferior. In stock. No, I'm not affiliated with them


+3 DancingWithMyself 4Runner1 Pete Roggeman
Mike Wallace  - April 19, 2021, 9:28 a.m.

49 rides.   Dang.   Impressive.


+1 Pete Roggeman
Trevor Hansen  - April 19, 2021, 9:44 a.m.

I try to ride 4.9 times as much as you per week.


+2 Lu Kz Pete Roggeman
Deniz Merdano  - April 19, 2021, 9:39 a.m.

Look at that face moss!!!


+4 Jerry Willows Lu Kz DadStillRides Pete Roggeman
Trevor Hansen  - April 19, 2021, 9:43 a.m.

The photographer used a special geriatric lens for that one.


+1 4Runner1
Moritz Haager  - April 19, 2021, 10:24 a.m.

I'm surprised so many people like the mullet set up. I had a Banshee Scream in the early 2000s that came with a 26 / 24 mullet setup and I really didn't like the feel of how it cornered.  I thought it might have been that the different sized wheels have different turning radii. Also I know it's vain,  but i just don't like the look.


Pete Roggeman  - April 19, 2021, 4:02 p.m.

Your 26/24 Banshee Scream mullet has nothing to do with this one, in terms of performance! Lots and lots has changed since those days (just ask Trevor, he owned one).


+2 Pete Roggeman AJ Barlas
Trevor Hansen  - April 19, 2021, 8:27 p.m.

It's true I had one and it sucked. Changed it back to 26 and liked it way better. These mullets are a whole new ride - just like 27.5's and 29's.


+3 Grif 4Runner1 Pete Roggeman
RNAYEL  - April 19, 2021, 11:30 a.m.

I love how this review started and ended being about the Nomad but had a love letter written in the middle to the Specialized Enduro.


+1 Pete Roggeman
Trevor Hansen  - April 19, 2021, 12:44 p.m.

Fooling around on your partner only to run into them again and reunite?


RNAYEL  - April 19, 2021, 1:16 p.m.

A true love story Trevor


+1 Pete Roggeman
Reed Holden  - April 19, 2021, 6:25 p.m.

Thanks for the review. I suppose it says something that you enjoyed a 27.5 despite being so turned off them in the beginning. I also note that you say you can ride your 29er in a playful way "I realized FPP is in the mind. Now that I was all about the pops and side hits I started seeking them out more on the Enduro." But it wasn't until you rode 27.5 that you even realized how much of the FPP you were missing. I think that says a lot about the difference in the natural ride characteristics between the two wheel sizes. One does let you ride faster and with more confidence,  where as the other opens doors to other fun zones that you don't even know you are missing on a 29er.

As for some of the questions around mullet - I've done a few. I think a 27.5 bike that is designed for 20mm longer fork travel than rear works best. A 29er fork with 20mm less travel will feel balanced and your geo numbers are within 0.5 degrees.


Trevor Hansen  - April 20, 2021, 8:44 a.m.

Reed I like that insight and how you wrote that way better than I did - I expect help on my next review, no pressure.


Reed Holden  - April 21, 2021, 6:33 a.m.

As long as I get to ride the demo too ;)


Cam McRae  - April 19, 2021, 10:17 p.m.

A little addition from me is that I didn't find the Nomad inferior to the bike I was riding most at the time - the Trek Slash. I was happy going in both directions. When I went to the Nomad, the quicker handling could get me out of most of the trouble its willing nature got me into, whereas with the Trek it matter less I I got into trouble, but these were subtle differences and my confidence wasn't boosted significantly on one or the other. A consideration here is that I'm certain I would have liked the XL Nomad even more than the large, considering my feelings about the XL Bronson, and that could have tipped the needle toward the Nomad. I have not however ridden the Enduro...


Trevor Hansen  - April 20, 2021, 8:47 a.m.

It might be time to wrestle the S Works off Roggey for a day or two of Enduro riding.


Pete Roggeman  - April 20, 2021, 10:58 a.m.

I think you wrote Bronson a few times at the start of that comment when you meant Nomad?


Andy Eunson  - April 20, 2021, 8:49 a.m.

I wonder how much of the ride feel on a mullet bike that wasn’t designed to be a mullet is caused by the change in geometry? And how much is wheel size related?


+1 Andy Eunson
Andeh  - April 20, 2021, 10:51 a.m.

I experimented with less-than-ideal mullets a couple times before finding a setup that worked on my current bike.  A lot of the ride feel can be attributed to the geometry, as you'd expect.  The first couple times I did it (on a Sentinel v1 and a GG Smash), it got very, very slack and low (like 63 HTA, 330 BB height) and behaved like you'd expect.  It railed berms but had pedal strikes on everything, and the front end got super floppy.  But when I did it on my current bike (GG Megatrail, with short headset cup and 160 fork), all the pieces clicked.  The geometry feels like a normal enduro bike, the rear end is easier to move around under my shorter legs, and the bigger front wheel rolls over chunk and holes easier.  It also carries momentum better on straight-aways better than 27.5.


+1 AndrewR
Reed Holden  - April 21, 2021, 6:40 a.m.

That's a good question. I have ridden a couple of bikes where I dropped the travel from 170 to 150 when I mulleted the bike, which ends up keeping the geometry pretty similar (within 0.5-1) degree. The ride quality changes significantly. I'd say about 70% of the playfulness is in the small front wheel. I'd say 70% of the cornering quickness is in the small rear wheel. 90% of the easy roll over is in the big front wheel. At the end of the day, my impression of a mullet is you get something with 70% of the cornering quickness, 30% of the playfulness and 90% of the roll over. Oh and 0% of the tire buzz!


Kenny  - April 21, 2021, 9:07 a.m.

Sounds about right. I have a mullet hardtail and recently got an Ibis HD5 which has similar geometry to the Nomad, except it is 170/153 travel, and several pounds lighter. 

It feels shockingly "smaller" than my Ripmo AF does despite being slacker and having more travel. 

It does not quite carry speed over chunder like the ripmo does, and you cannot just stuff the front wheel into holes in the trail with reckless abandon, you need to pay attention in that regard. 

A 150 front fork and 29er is something I might try, but although ultimately slightly less capable, the HD5 is a breath of fresh air in just how light and zippy and agreeable it is. 

With the ripmo AF it feels a little like I'm dragging it anywhere that's not pointed down.

I think these modern longer travel 27.5 bikes make an interesting argument when measured against more mid travel 29ers - aggressive trail/all mountain category. Enduro sled type comparisons where climbing is simply endured, the big 29ers have no rivals.


Reed Holden  - April 21, 2021, 6:41 a.m.

This comment has been removed.

AndrewR  - April 22, 2021, 7:26 a.m.

I am interested in how tall the mullet converts are? I am guessing there is a window of 5'8" to 6" (and possibly riders with shorter inseams) that are really going to feel a benefit. 

The pfaff of the technical issues of mixed wheel size (spare tyre stash, emergency wheel set) probably out weigh the benefits for the taller rider. 

My 'one arse buzz' per stupid steep trail feature per week is not enough to convince me that a mullet would be better than the trail rolling perfection of my 29" Sight.

A design 'standard' that said all XL frames should be able to accept a 200 mm dropper post (and Rockshox adding a 200 mm AXS Reverb to the inventory)  and a stand over height of 700 mm or less would be of more benefit to me (or would give me more choice of bike frames).


+1 Sandy James Oates
Andeh  - April 22, 2021, 9:30 a.m.

I'm a 5'8" mullet convert, and have short legs for my height to boot.  I think your guesstimate of 6'+ to feel equally comfortable with 29" in the back sounds about right.  Maybe 5'11" depending on inseam.

It's funny, I was going through my closet the other day to find old jerseys and shorts that I don't wear often to sell, and the 2 pairs of shorts I found from last year (when I was on full 29) have permanent tire buzz marks on the ass.  And I realized I haven't had a single buzz in 3 months since going mullet.


Reed Holden  - April 28, 2021, 12:52 a.m.

I'm 6'2" and like the small rear wheel, not for the buzz clearance but for the handling. The smaller rear wheel makes the bike corner on a smaller arc. The buzz clearance is nice too though.


Please log in to leave a comment.