by Jeff Brines
Some fifteen years ago Moab served host to the start of the downhill season for those in the greater Rocky Mountain region. Racers far and wide would descend on the desert, sporting new race bikes only to pilot them with more heart than skill, crushing them into concert-like ledges, hucks to flat, and slippery corners. I’ll never forget leaving Moab year after year with wheels that resembled octagons, a handlebar that had lost its symmetry, and a creak or two that no amount of grease would ever take care of. In those days, Moab could change a bike for good.
Fast forward to early April, 2016, where I again found myself in the desert aboard a shiny new bike with a propensity to write checks my skills can’t cash. Yeti chose Moab to unveil its latest brawler, which in my mind shows a bit of confidence on the company’s behalf. On paper, Moab is the perfect environment for Yeti’s new 140mm travel 29-inch wheeled mountain bike aimed squarely at aggressive trail riders and enduro racers alike. In the company’s words, the SB5.5c is where all-mountain and gravity intersect.
Yeti SB5.5c Highlights
- 140mm (5.5-inches) rear travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front travel
- 29-inch wheels
- High modulus carbon fiber frame
- Switch Infinity suspension
- FOX Float X Factory DPS rear shock
- Progressive leverage curve compatible with coil shock
- Collet pivot axle system
- Internal cable routing
- PF92 bottom bracket
- ISCG05 tabs
- Tapered 44/56mm headtube
- Boost 148x12mm rear axle
- Custom downtube protector and chain guards
- Not compatible with front derailleur or 27.5+ tires
- 6.0-pound (2.72kg) frame weight
- Silver and turquoise colors
- Available early May, 2016
The fourth bike in the company’s SB lineup, the SB5.5c, follows very similar lines as Yeti’s other models while also featuring the company’s patented Switch Infinity suspension system. To even the trained eye, it’s hard to tell much difference on looks alone when comparing the bike to its little brother, the SB4.5c.
While the SB4.5c may be more of a sports car, the SB5.5c is more of a trophy truck, sporting slightly more travel, a heat dissipating piggyback shock and more aggressive geometry. Where precision is paramount on the SB4.5c, the 5.5c seems more intent on a bit more dice-rolling and chance taking.
The SB5.5c was developed through Yeti’s EWS team seeing the potential for a longer travel 29-inch bike on certain tracks. After the concept was introduced, the bike went through Yeti’s tried and true development process, including abuse by some of the fastest in-house testers and the race team testing and retesting before it went to production.
Before hitting the trail on the $6,999 SB5.5c X01 build, I caught up with Chris Conroy, President of Yeti Cycles, to chat about the new ride. Listen in:
Build Kits & Pricing
The SB5.5c is available in three build kits priced at $5,699, $6,999, and $10,599, respectively. Vital had the pleasure of testing the X01 build kit. A frame and shock option is also available for $3,500.
Sizes medium, large and XL are available. Note that a size small will not be made as there is not enough room for the piggyback shock.
At 6’2” (1.88m) tall with longer arms and legs, I usually spring for a size XL of whatever frame I’m testing. After taking a spin on both the L and XL frame, I again settled comfortably on the XL. Yeti has long been an advocate of “long and low” geometry, and while the bike is both, Yetis are no longer the outliers of “long and low” they once were with the rest of the industry seeming to subscribe to similar geometry standards.
The SB5.5c’s chainstays are short at 437mm (17.2-inches), but aren’t super slammed as you’ll find on some of the latest big-wheeled bikes. At 66.5-degrees the head angle is slack, but not full-on DH bike status.
Yeti is doing an extremely good job with the details. Many other bikes come with throw away tires, bar, and stem. Not the SB5.5c. The X01 build features a 2.5-inch Maxxis Minion DHF up front and a 2.35-inch Maxxis Aggressor in the rear, an 800mm (31.5-inch) wide Easton carbon bar and a 50mm stem. Though the bike doesn’t come stock with any sort of chainguide, it can be fitted with one, unlike the SB4.5c. Despite the advancements in narrow-wide chainrings, many (such as myself) still feel a guide is still a requirement for racing at the top level of the sport.
I found two shortcomings while inspecting the bike, the first of which was the bike’s inability to accommodate a 200mm rear brake rotor. This is hardly a deal breaker as the bike comes spec’d with 180mm rotors and few will want to go with the larger 200mm version, but my larger size has always gravitated (no pun intended) toward the bigger stoppers for increased heat dissipation, better pad wear, and marginally better power - especially on big wheels. Second, though there is absolutely nothing wrong with the suspension package, I would like to see Yeti offer a version of the bike with a FOX 36 RC2 fork (versus the FIT4 version) featuring independently adjustable high and low-speed compression, and a FOX Float X2 shock considering this bike’s intended purpose.
On The Trail
Right away the bike showed very good pedaling characteristics, with energy going to the back wheel without undue suspension movement. Though we don’t have antisquat numbers, Yeti’s previous Switch Infinity systems are upwards of 100% in all gear combos at sag, which is to say it should pedal well as our on trail impressions validated.
While climbing the bike felt balanced and intuitive. At 346mm (13.5-inches) the bottom bracket height isn’t the lowest in the game, but was appreciated in Moab. Any lower and I would have suffered on a number of the ledgy climbs. The larger wheels rolled over awkward holes and found traction on slippery bits while the suspension stayed efficient and actively tracked the ground. Worth nothing, Yeti is spec'ing semi-wide rims (30mm internal) on the X01 build which does yield a modest increase in traction and sidewall stability – two things my 200-pounds (90.7kg) appreciated in the desert. The bike rode very sprightly without a second thought being given to heft.
When the trail turned downhill the bike was an absolute monster. Millimeter for millimeter, many comment on 29ers feeling like they have more travel compared to 27.5 or 26-inch bikes. This remains true on the SB5.5c as I often felt I was aboard a bike with much more travel. The bike’s 160mm front end felt in harmony with the 140mm in the back, and to be honest I would have guessed the bike had 150-155mm out back. The combination of Yeti’s Switch Infinity system, 140mm of travel and the larger wheels made for a bike that never seemed to hang up in the holes Moab is famous for. “The faster you go the better it gets,” expressed one tester. This isn’t to say the trail wasn’t felt - it certainly was - but there was seldom a time I felt a ledge, bump or hole hang up the bike. When I compare it to my 27.5-inch FSR driven steed I’ve been on for a year, the SB5.5c performed notably better in the same terrain when it came to carrying speed in desert chunder. Simply put, I found myself riding faster with less effort in chunky terrain.
Cornering is tough to comment on in Moab. Not to say one doesn’t turn, but the dirt is funky (and often rock) with awkward obstacles on the inside of your line (rocks, bushes, or trees trying to kill you) making it harder than it might otherwise be to really get into a corner. Moab-awkwardness aside, it was still easy to see why Yeti's 27.5 variant is often featured atop the podium at EWS events - the rear end of the new ride is also extraordinarily stiff and the majority of the weight low enough to keep the bike planted and predictable when changing direction.
Surprisingly, the bike remained extremely playful. Yeti did a good job balancing the bike’s leverage ratio, geometry, travel, and weight. Though the bike was stable and forgiving when I got off line, it was easy to put jump and seek out every natural ramp and transition the trail had to offer. Come up short? No big deal. Even when using full travel the bike remained forgiving and predictable.
Long Term Durability
Durability is nearly impossible to comment on in two days of riding a bike. That said, the second day of testing we found ourselves in snow, mud and varied trail conditions on Porcupine Rim. This is something I actually was looking forward to. Creaks drive me nuts and if there is one place I can get a bike to creak, this is it. Besides getting nostalgic and doing a few hucks to flat which rattled my headset loose, the rear end of the bike stayed 100% silent despite the grit and grime of the desert working its way into every nook and cranny of the frame. Obviously more time is needed to see how well the bike holds up through weeks of abuse, but many other frames would begin to make some sort of audible noise in these conditions - the Yeti stayed silent.
When asking Yeti’s Matt Fisher about what kind of maintenance the Switch Infinity system needs, he simply replied to apply grease via the needle fittings once or twice a season depending on where and how often you ride. Easy enough.
What's The Bottom Line?
So who is this bike for? That may be the hardest question to answer. It's not cheap at $6,999, but most fun things in life aren’t cheap. Second, Yeti has four bikes that overlap substantially. The truth is a lot of “what’s best” is going to come down to what kind of rider you are and where you most often find yourself. For a taller guy like myself who likes to find the fastest point from A to B, the SB5.5c seems hard to beat. It's an excellent execution of the long travel 29er.
Simply put, Yeti's SB5.5c is one of the best bikes I’ve ridden in Moab's terrain. That’s really the only problem with our first look - Moab is an outlier of riding conditions. We’ll be testing this steed for an extended amount of time in the near future, at which time we’ll be able to further comment on durability, cornering prowess, and objectively note if the bike rendered faster lap times on our home trails. Until then, it goes without saying we were impressed. The SB5.5c shows promise of being a great fit for the aspiring enduro racer or trail brawler looking for a do-everything big-wheeled beast.
Visit www.yeticycles.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. He lives in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming.