On July 17th Yeti shook up the mountain biking world with the announcement of Switch Infinity suspension, a double-barreled Kashima-coated revamp of the wildly popular Switch suspension found on bikes like the venerable SB66 and SB95. Singletracks described the suspension here, but I was fortunate enough to take the bike designed with and for this suspension, the new Yeti SB5c, out for a spin in the Colorado High Country.
Living close to Yeti world HQ has its perks, and one of which is being able to demo this bike technically before it even goes on sale. Golden Bike Shop held a massive bike demo event at the Buffalo Creek trail system, and they were fortunate to score a few of these 5c’s to offer out for a day on the trails–to anyone.
Although I would normally ride a Medium, I was given a Small frame because of availability, which was initially disappointing despite the reassurances that the long top tube (22.6″) made it feel like a bigger bike. And, although I still feel like I would choose a Medium if I were to purchase this bike, I felt right at home on the small. Surprisingly, the small frame never felt uncomfortable.
Aside from the unusual and irresistible aesthetics, the very first thing I noticed about this bike was the weight. It seemed amazingly light, right around 26lbs, complete with a Thompson dropper post. My demo came spec’d with top of the line components, but as I climbed effortlessly up Shinglemill I could not help but realize that swapping the aluminum hoops for some carbon ones and “upgrading” the XO1 11spd drivetrain to it’s lighter XX1 brother would make this bike even lighter. That, my friends, seems insane for a 127mm trail bike of this caliber, that also came with a Fox 34 140mm fork and fairly beefy Maxxis Ardent tires. Furthermore, this bike looked really clean, and it is obvious that the three years that Yeti spend proto-ing the SB5c gave them time to scrutinize every line, curve, color, and graphic on the bike. It’s almost too pretty to get dirty. Almost.
Coming from a slightly-heavier 29er with similar geometry and travel, this bike accelerates faster than my own steed… and even other 650b bikes that I have pedaled. It kept its momentum, and I found myself surprised by all of the riders I was passing on the way to the top–a phenomenon that doesn’t happen very often. I’m not slow, per se, but I like to save my energy for those long Colorado climbs. With this bike, however, I did not feel like I had to, and out-of-the-saddle climbing felt natural, grabbing a handful of traction when I stood up and stepped on the gas.
Riding a new bike is always nice, and this was no exception. The 5c shifted crisply and the suspension was quiet and supple. It tackled steep pitches with relative ease, and was nimble over uphill technical sections like no other trail bike I have ridden. Having smaller 650b wheels (compared to 29er wheels) facilitates this, but the 5c seemed to have something extra. Several times when I instinctively started to downshift on a steeper section, my mind and muscles told me to keep it in the same gear. To my utter shock, this bike allowed me to muscle up those sections without feeling like I just spent my last molecule of O2. I still put it in the granny gear sometimes, but less often.
I used the Fox CTD climb setting for the forest service climb to the Shinglemill trailhead, but I found that the “trail” mode was preferable for singletrack that had an occasional chunky section. “Trail” just seems to offer a little more traction, without hemorrhaging efficiency. I rode in the “trail” setting for the majority of my ride, both up and down.
On the flatter sections at the top of my route, which is the Colorado Trail that connects to Shinglemill at about 7,900ft, the Yeti came alive. A second, very impressive thing that I noticed, is that this bike is both pedalable and pumpable, allowing fast and flowy riding even on winding, undulating terrain. There is no doubt that the Switch Infinity is targeting this small window of suspension, honing the rougher bits better than the original Switch, perfecting an already capable system.
I will say this: the first rock garden that I rolled through on this bike, about 15-20 feet long, felt like I was riding over a waterbed. It was strangely muted without subtracting from the fun you get from plowing over basketball-sized pieces of granite. In a word, it was “trippy.”
After climbing for an hour, and pondering just how impressive this bike was when working for me uphill, anticipation was building to see what it had when things got steep in the down direction. The 5c did not disappoint. It rallied the fast and flowy, sometimes rocky, Nice Kitty section of Buffalo Creek. Granted, there are rowdier sections of Colorado to test this bike in (and Yeti did), even in the immediate vicinity, but I worked with what I had access to, and the 5c was killer. The bike accelerated out of corners with speed and precision, though the Maxxis Ardents were working overtime to grab the decomposing granite “kitty litter” trails.
I had to plant my foot on several occasions, which was a result of the decreased traction–and increased speed–that I pushed this bike through. The bike is so light, and so well balanced, that it was eerie on some of the more technical drops and corners, because I simply picked up the front–or the rear–and swung the bike around through tight and gnarly rocks, just waiting to gobble up carbon or ankle flesh. Fortunately, this never happened.
The SB5c was a breeze to ride, and nimble both in the air and when planted on the trail: agile without being twitchy. In fact, if this bike has one fault, it is this: you will have to learn to adapt to the way this bike was engineered–it will probably be lighter and more responsive than what you are already riding.
Jumps and Rollers:
I didn’t have the opportunity to test this bike on any major jumps or long rollers, but I went out of my way to find the steepest, tallest obstacles that I could. The 67 degree head angle inspires confidence, and I have no doubt this bike can take a lot more than what I threw at it.
I agree with other reviews I’ve read, which state that the SB5c rides like it has more travel than 127mm. Proof of concent: before this weekend, Yeti said this bike (and Switch Infinity) had never been raced. Richie Rude rode the SB5c at the Colorado Freeride Festival this weekend, proving that a “mere trail bike” can handle the brutality of Trestle Bike Park in the Enduro World Series (EWS). He took second place immediately behind his friend and teammate, Jared Graves, who rode a similar prototype: a longer-travel 157mm bike with Switch Infinity, that is likely to become an SB6c at some point in the future.
The SB5c has already been called a “game-changer” by some reviewers, and has also drawn the ire of many armchair engineers. Of course, no one can speak to a bike’s ability until that rider actually throws a leg over said bike and takes it for a spin. Yeti amassed a small amount of criticism for making such a “short travel” bike, ignoring riders pining for a SB66 replacement or longer-travel “Enduro” bike. (Hint: it’s coming.)
But after riding the SB5c–albeit a very short ride–I am convinced that Yeti is smarter than critics give them credit for. Unless you are in the market for the absolute lightest cross-country bike, or want a mostly-dedicated gravity bike, the Yeti SB5c is designed for almost everyone in between–and I suspect they will sell a lot of them. In the end, that is a how a small bike company gets the capital to make bigger and better bikes in the future. So, kudos to Yeti for making such a capable “everyman’s” trail bike that any rider can grow with over the years, but not easily outgrow. Just ask Richie Rude.
Thanks to Golden Bike Shop and Yeti for an early release demo and for a sweet bike.
Great review! Very cool to hear about how it rides IRL. Also interesting to see how small the Switch Infinity piece really is.
Can you hear the Switch cycling or feel/see it moving, or is the movement so minimal that it’s hard to discern and tell the difference between that and the rear shock?
That is the weird part. This bike is really quiet. I don’t think you’d be able to hear the Switch cycle even if you put your ear up to it.
As far as the way it rides, it is hard to explain. On the one hand, it doesn’t feel like any other bike, with one notable exception: it is very, very supple. Almost like riding on a pillow, and that is not an exaggeration. I have never ridden suspension like this before. Who knows if that feeling will hold up after a few hard rides. I told the Yeti rep my concern about hucking it off 4-5 drops; he assured me that it could take it, that it was tested. Then I saw a photo of Richie Rude launching the 5c at the Winter Park DH course, and that convinced me.
Yeti told me that it has less maintenance than a chain. It needs to be cleaned a couple of times a year, and there is an easy to access grease port on the side. The Yeti rep told me that they purposefully did not service the suspension on the prototype they have been abusing for the past three years, and have had no problems with it.
“The Yeti rep told me that they purposefully did not service the suspension on the prototype they have been abusing for the past three years, and have had no problems with it.” Now that’s impressive!
This sounds absolutely awesome. I’ve been thinking of upgrading my epic for something with a little more travel. Sounds perfect! Going to have to demo one of these when they hit my LBS 🙂
Oh man, does that look like a sweet bike. I’m looking at getting a new bike this fall. I was quite content with a few models from a few companies for the 2012 and 2013 years. So I was feeling good about settling on something used and saving some money. Maybe I’m not so content and not feeling so good about a used bike now. LOL. WOW. Actually, I think I still might get a used bike for now and wait and see what Yeti comes out with as they apply the Switch Infinity to a longer travel suspension.
There are soooo many good bikes out there right now. Just limiting things to trail/AM and in the last couple of years, I immediately think of the Canondale Jekyll, the Kona Process 134, the Evil Uprising, the Specialized Enduro the Yeti SB66, just to name a few. These are all sweet, sweet bikes, but this new Yeti could be the creme of the crop. I can’t wait to test ride one of these.
First of all, it appears that you too suffer from insomnia because you are so amped up about bikes.
Seriously, though, you are absolutely right. There are so many good bikes, and a lot of them are similar. Finding the right one is tricky, which is why you have to ride them first. The Kona 167 looks sweet, as does the new Trek Slash carbon, Santa Cruz Nomad, and let’s not forget the new offerings from Intense and Ibis. There are ton of bikes to choose from, and truthfully, you probably can’t go wrong with most of them. When you are saving your money to buy a $5,000 (or more) bike, I think the hardest part is deciding what kind of bike you want. They haven’t *yet* perfected the true one quiver bikes, but the SB5c is getting close if 650b is your thing. I think a lot of folks are excited about the 6c, but if you start looking at photos of Richie Rude riding it hard at Trestle, you’ll realize just how far this bike can be pushed. Granted, he could probably beat any of us on a steel klunker, but still…
Re: insomnia: bravesdave is located in Mongolia, so I assume it’s just the time difference 🙂 Delphinide, you gotta check out some of the photos that he’s posted: http://www.singletracks.com/gallery.php?type=photo&c=u&i=73504
Yes, I think the SB5c is more than enough bike for me, and I like that it is fairly light. I’d like to see a RS Pike on the front of it.
Thanks for a great review.
Maybe, if I start putting my pennies in a jar right now, I’ll have enough for a 6c when it hits the street.
How does this compare to the Ripley? They sound similar.
I have not ridden the Ripley, though all of the reviews are positive and a friend of mine recently demo’d it and loved it. I suspect that the Yeti is lighter and more nimble just because of the 650b wheels, and the Yeti has a little more suspension. The Ripley probably rolls over things faster like any 29er–and I hear it is great climbing–but probably not as flickable downhill. In the right hands I would simply guess and say they both great downhill for all mountain/XC riding, with the 29er having the advantage on flats straight and even chunky stuff. But I think the Yeti definitely has the upper hand if the trail gets really tight and technical with a lot of switchbacks. I think the Yeti can probably be pushed a little harder with drops and gaps…again due to wheel size. Lopes did great on the Ripley, of course, but not only was he an anomaly, he often chose a 26 or 650b for the riding I just mentioned. Just a generalization, but probably an accurate one. So, choose the bike depending on how you want to ride.
I pre-ordered a SB5C and can’t wait any longer (I pray, dream and wait) for the shipment to arrive. Now I have time to write and read all your comments I’m sure that will be another story when I get my SB5C.