- Bike Checks
There are hundreds of 5-inch travel trail bikes on the market, but none work like Yeti’s all-new 2015 SB5c. At the heart of the frame rests a new suspension technology called “Switch Infinity,” which builds off their years of experience working with linear rail systems. Paired with a 140mm fork this trail bike sports some aggressive numbers and a capable attitude.
When developing the SB5c, Yeti says they wanted to achieve a firm pedaling platform without giving up small bump compliance, as well as a firm mid-stroke without giving up mid-stroke compliance. To be honest it all sounds like the same marketing terms thrown at the majority of bikes these days, some seemingly contradictory, but the proof would be had on the trail. How does it ride? How does it work? What makes it special? We headed to Yeti’s Golden, Colorado headquarters to find out.
It may seem odd that just three years after the debut of the eccentric Switch Technology system Yeti is changing gears, and it begged us to question why. While the previous Switch system worked quite well, especially on the often praised SB66, the system would at times fight itself - a shortcoming only a few riders picked up on beyond Yeti’s hard charging employees and Pro racers. During successive hits, as the eccentric link tried to switch directions, it would sometimes stiffen up. Yeti knew they could do better, and it turns out they’ve been quietly working on the new Switch Infinity system since before the original Switch design came to market.
The key to Yeti’s Switch concept is that by changing the direction of the main pivot’s movement, they’re able to achieve certain antisquat characteristics and meet leverage ratio needs as the bike goes through its travel. At the beginning of the travel, the main pivot would previously rotate such that the wheel path was rearward, providing anti-squat. Now the Switch Infinity system moves upward. Once the Switch system reaches the inflection point, it reverses directions, preventing the chain force from adversely affecting the suspension performance and giving the suspension a controlled, bottomless feel.
While the concept is similar on both systems, how the switch is executed is the big difference. Previously the Switch system was essentially a very short link that changed directions quickly. This short link was less stable and harder to control kinematically, not to mention the tight tolerances required for it to work correctly. Because the new Switch Infinity system moves in a linear fashion, it’s far easier to tune the suspension behavior. It’s called Switch Infinity because you'd need a link of infinite length to duplicate the perfectly linear movement using a traditional design.
Chain forces are now perpendicular to the Switch Infinity system, allowing it to react to the terrain independent of pedaling inputs. Yeti says the movement of the system is also much more “free,” eliminating one of the drawbacks of the eccentric Switch Link. Because it’s easier to control, it’s easier to get what they want from the suspension depending on the bike’s intended use. They’re able to pretty much adjust bike’s antisquat and leverage ratio independently. Shock tuning is also easier thanks to a linear-shaped leverage curve, and the SB5c sees a little more progressivity built into the system than their previous SB line of bikes. All said and done, Yeti says the end result is better pedaling efficiency and small bump sensitivity when climbing, paired with plush, controlled travel when descending.
Those familiar with the Yeti 303 downhill bike will know that it also uses a linear rail system, albeit with a different design goal. So why not use a similar system? Weight and durability. While the linear rail car on the 303 helped prove part of their concept, it’s heavy on the scale and the maintenance schedule, even though things have improved in recent revisions.
By partnering with FOX, Yeti was able to bring FOX’s knowledge and expertise in off-road and mountain bike applications into the picture. The resulting Switch Infinity assembly uses FOX off-road bushings and seals, as well as a pair of Kashima coated stanchions. It saves 100 grams over the old Switch Link. Durability wise, it has been tested using various methods, including a demanding one million cycle dirt-slurry immersion test that's also performed on FOX’s forks. In the real world they’ve put three years of use on a single test mule and are confident in the system’s longevity. To protect it from wheel debris and to stiffen the rear end, the sleek carbon frame wraps both in front of and behind the system.
Yeti is well known for their long, low geometry, and the SB5c follows suit. The 67-degree head angle, 13.4-inch (340mm) bb height, and 17.4-inch (442mm) chainstay length combine to create a bike that’s capable and fun to ride. Add in a 72.5-degree seat angle and you’re in a good position to pedal.
Situated in Golden, Colorado, Yeti’s proving grounds are right across the street. Everyday from 11:30-1:00 you’re unlikely to find a single employee at their desk. Instead, they’re out putting in the miles. We had the opportunity to join them for a lunch ride aboard the SB5c.
Apex Trail is one of the rowdier options along the foothills of the Front Range of Colorado. It’s very rocky, and often times super dusty and sandy. You’ll also find some of the only roots in the area spaced perfectly to keep you on your toes. Finding traction isn’t always easy, especially on the steep, techy climbs.
Pedaling up several pitches to get to the top we couldn’t help but be impressed. We never bothered to put the rear shock in Trail or Climb mode - there simply wasn’t a need. The bike pedals incredibly well, both on smooth and techy portions of trail, and the traction made available by the active rear end was all we could hope for, which is a lot considering the relatively tame 2.2-inch Maxxis Ikon tire on the back. The bike strikes a great balance between efficiency and shock absorption. Notably, it’s a very quiet ride when leaping up and over obstacles, never pitching your weight around or making already hard moves harder like many other bikes do.
Once pointed downhill we were balls to the wall trying to keep up with Yeti’s own Dave Zeigman, a former DH Pro with a penchant for taking wild lines, all the while digging into our memory bank to recall the trail’s big hits and trouble spots. It’s no secret that today’s trail bikes are very good, and many of them are capable of being ridden much like a downhill bike. What surprised us was that we were able to do just that on our first ride out, recklessly abandoning any sense of safety literally just a few turns into the descent. The bike’s front to back balance is superb, making it feel very natural from the get go, and it rides like a well-tuned bike with an inch of travel more.
Hucking into the high speed gnar of the Enchanted Forest section of trail the bike continued to impress. It has a quiet nature to it, seemingly calming down the trail and letting you look further ahead. Changing lines at a moment’s notice was easy to do, as was picking up the front end for manuals or to jump. There was no harsh kickback at any time, even through the rocky bits. Pumping the terrain yielded good bursts of speed, as did pushing into turns or mashing on the pedals while standing or seated.
Yeti and FOX also nailed the shock tune, which provides a very supple ride with great damping and a smooth ramp towards the end of the stroke. We used full travel a few times, but the bottom was never very noticeable.
The only thing we'd change about the stock build are the stem and bars, opting for something in the 50mm range and with a bit more width. We might throw some meatier tires on too.
Are we gushing? Damn straight we are. The SB5c is that rad. We’d rate it among our top five 5-inch trail bikes, and we’ve pretty much ridden them all.
The SB5c is available today as a complete bike with SRAM’s X01 build kit, or with an Enve M60 wheelset as an upgrade. It will also be available with a SRAM XX1 build kit with an Enve M60 wheelset. Sorry aluminum lovers, the SB5 will come with a carbon frame only.
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