October 23, 2018

By Jonathan Fey

It's always exciting when Yeti shows up with new bikes!

 

Yeti first struck gold in the professional cross-country world in the very early 1990s, but more recently have fallen on the enduro end of the trail continuum. So this bike might not be for everyone. Yeti is unapologetic in its opinions about What A Mountain Bike Should Be, and it has ruffled feathers. Who remembers Yeti’s attitude toward 29-inch wheels in the mid-late 2000s? Water under the bridge, as far as I’m concerned, as long as they keep making really good bikes, which they've done here with the SB100.

For context, Yeti discontinued their perennial cross country favorite, the AS-R, somewhere in the 2016-2017 model year. This bike was a very light, very simple single-pivot bike with 100mm of rear wheel suspension travel. Given that the bike came equipped with a 120mm fork, it was something of an anomaly for the category. It also had a degree or more slacker head angle than most cross country race bikes at the time. Still, it suffered from some of the same things that plague the humble single-pivot design, poor small bump compliance or bigger hit stability, depending on how much pressure you ran. It pedaled okay in the trail setting, well in the climb (lockout) setting, but who wants to reach down and play with shock settings in constantly changing terrain? The bike had a cult following for Yeti fans on the XC side of the continuum, but as it quietly disappeared from Yeti’s catalog, endurance mountain bike racers (read: Leadville 100) shifted toward other brands. But for those who’ve waited patiently to Yeti’s answer to the modern XC segment will be rewarded with a fast, fun, Christmas-in-July sort of gift with the SB100.

Here are the things you’ll notice in a quick drive-by glance at the bike. Yeti’s linchpin suspension technology Switch Infinity linkage gets tucked out of sight. The bike has a noticeably longer stance than other bikes in the category. Furthermore, each build kit comes more aligned with the trail segment: aggressive tires, Fox’s brand new Step Cast 34 fork, dropper seatposts, and 35mm stem and bar. Overall it’s a very clean looking bike, with low standover clearance and straight lines that bend into gentle curves. This bike represents a small design departure from the original Switch Infinity configuration, but retains that recognizable Yeti look.

Standard Switch Infinity link on left, SB100 link on right.

 

So where did they hide the Switch Infinity platform? In a clever reorientation of the Switch linkage, along with reducing the overall size of the system, the linkage faces the rear wheel and sits above the bottom bracket. It now has a dust-cover to keep the system clean. While accessing the Switch linkage for general maintenance will be just a little bit trickier, this reorientation allows Yeti to put a large water bottle inside the front triangle. Yeti’s past designs for SB bikes kept the water bottle on the underside of the downtube. Riders who would prefer to do long endurance rides, or those who do longer rides with no pack might be disappointed that the bottle bosses on the bottom of the frame have disappeared though. I suspect that this second set of bosses went away because of front wheel clearance issues with the new, tighter downtube. Regardless, moving the water bottle cages inside the frame is an improvement over the previous design.

I rode this bike over the course of a week in both Fruita and on the Front Range. I did a handful of rides ranging in length, technical challenge, and elevation profile over that period. I’m not the most technically adept rider per sé especially when adjusting to a new bike. It usually takes me more than one ride to build confidence in my handling capabilities in steep terrain on an unfamiliar platform. Given that, the bike felt extremely composed in relatively challenging terrain, especially in the context of its shorter rear wheel travel. I was more confident steering the bike through rougher, trickier bits of singletrack than on any other cross-country bike I’ve ridden, and even a few more dedicated trail bikes.

WRC Alumni, Yeti Sales Rep, and all-around good egg Phil Cramer clinics up the staff.

 

The bike pedals uphill like you would expect, that is, fast. I found that I kept the bike in the open adjust setting for just about everything, except uphill gravel road segments. Even then, I only switched the bike to its trail setting, finding that the small amount of compliance kept the wheel stuck to the ground, even when I stood up to pedal hard. Pedaling hard. This is where this bike excels. The bike is responsive under high torque pedaling efforts. I was able to ride more challenging punchy, tricky, uphill technical terrain as I built momentum leading up to these sections. I rode parts of Horsethief Bench in Loma that would typically have me dabbing a toe and hiking. Slow and high speed handling characteristics felt very well balanced. Where some riders on either extreme of the XC to Enduro spectrum might find they need to adjust their body positioning for this slacker front end geometry, I found that it rode very naturally, banking into bermed-in corners or punching up steep boulders.

I was surprised by the bike’s willingness to get up into the air. In this sense, the responsiveness I felt under the pedals meshed well with its responsiveness to boost up, over, and through ledges and rock gardens. The bike handled choppy, staccato bumps with hardly any loss of traction. I was able to ride the bike through some broken-up off-camber sections with a sort of planted, surefootedness totally out of character for the cross-country segment.

I attribute much of this composure to the magic of the Switch Infinity platform. Others have written at length and better than I could about what’s going on down there, so I’ll leave you to your favorite search engine to understand the mechanics of it. But suspension is only half of the story. A good deal of the descend stability follows from its fairly progressive geometry. At a mere 67.8 head tube degrees, this bike sits fairly close to one of Yeti’s other big-wheel bikes, the SB4.5. Having ridden both bikes on varieties of terrain, the SB100 feels like a more natural progression for a cross country rider looking for a more fun every day cross-country bike. Yeti’s selection in tires proved integral to my experience on the SB100. While fairly heavy, the Maxxis Minion DHF and Maxxis Aggressor combination provided more than ample grip and hooked up nicely in the terrain I rode. Some riders might opt for a slightly lighter tread for long days in the saddle with less loose terrain in order to save weight.

See our MTB tire breakdown here

 

One place where Yeti’s trail ethos and mine align is in their attitude toward bike weight. This bike is not exactly feathery. I owe this to the bike’s workhorse build kit. Still, it's not heavy either, and the advantages this bike affords you for the descent more than make up for the weight penalty.

I talked about responsiveness earlier. The other side to the responsiveness coin is more trail feedback through mid-stroke hits. I’d like to separate this from non-compliance, because the bike didn’t seem to buck or rebound too fast. Even under medium to large size hits and square edges, the bike kept its composure. But for long rides, or for rides with very long, fast descents and lots of big subsequent hits, this bike will transmit a little more of the trail’s shape to the rider’s body. That is, the ride is not what I would call particularly cushy. This bike might not like being thrown into the kind of big terrain you find at a bike park, but I think it would hold its own in the kind of high alpine, long climb, long descent riding in Colorado’s central mountains, with a moderate amount of rough terrain. I am anxious to take this bike out on grueling, day-long rides in Colorado’s alpine high country, over mountain passes with primitive singletrack.

Of course, Yeti also provides the SB100 with the Beti treatment for the lady shredders.

 

Since a review isn't complete without addressing those few nagging little quirks, one thing I found a little bothersome was that the bike tended towards making a ticking noise in the down tube as I turned the handlebar or stood up to put in bigger pedaling efforts. Yeti does have a solution to this known problem and it should prove to be a non-issue moving forward. Some riders will wonder about running plus-sized 27.5 inch wheels and tires. This bike won’t accommodate them, but that’s hardly a problem in my book. Most riders at this end of the trail are fully on-board with 29-inch wheels.

The bike is not remarkably light, so again, cue the Leadville crowd, this may not be the bike for you. It’s not that the bike won’t ride the Leadville route well, -- it will -- but it’s not a dedicated race rig if you’re chasing grams and is more at home on fun singletrack than on dirt roads. If, however, you want a fun XC bike that can hammer through a rough course, this one will do it better than many offerings on the market. I suspect that the new Switch Infinity linkage will require more frequent cleaning, in spite of its new shield, purely due to its location near the rear wheel. Taking the thing apart, though, is fairly simple. Final note, this bike would do well to retain that second bottle cage for longer adventure-style rides.

Comes in stealth-mode matte black, too.

 

Still, I can take all of these things and be extremely pleased with Yeti’s fresh approach to this category. While some other brands have taken smaller steps to beef up existing frames for the XC application (see Specialized’s Epic Evo, or Santa Cruz’s Blur Trail), the SB100 tracks a more fundamental change in attitudes toward this category. Yeti says that some people call it the “downhiller’s cross-country bike.” I think they're redefining the cross country category altogether.