“Forget any preconceived notions about 29ers…,” says Yeti Cycles on introducing the newest addition to their SB lineup. But what about unbiased, confirmed notions, Yeti? Been there, done that, and I’m just not at all sold on full squish 29ers.
To be fair, it was Moab, 2013, the last time I threw my little legs over a long-travel, full suspension 29er (Niner RIP 9) and, although I managed to clean everything any average trail rider could expect to (and then some), I walked away from my time on the long-legged wagon wheeler confused. On wide-open, desert trail bombing 25+ mph, sure, the more bike the better. But at 5’8″ (barely), I just couldn’t picture throwing the bouncy big wheels through tight forest, twisty-turnies, and the like. Fortunately, tank-like handling 29ers seem to be a thing of the past (so they say) thanks to changes in geometry, suspension engineering, and that fantastic plastic.
With an upcoming Yeti Cycles demo at the Sandy Ridge Trailhead in Oregon, featuring the new SB5.5c, it was time for me to try my “post-conceived” notions and give a long-travel 29er another shot.
Bottom Line: the Yeti SB5.5c is as close to a dedicated downhill bike as you can get short of an actual dual crown rig. Equipped with 29″ wheels, a 35mm cockpit, top shelf Fox suspension, and a stiff, carbon chassis, the SB5.5 is built like a tank without riding like one.
- Travel: 5.5″ (140mm)
- Sizes: MD, LG, XL
- Colors: silver, turquoise
- Bottom Bracket: PF92
- Front Derailleur: N/A
- Frame Weight: 6.0 lbs (2.72 kg)
- Wheels: 29″
- Rear Shock: 7.875″ x 2.25″
- Rear Hub: 148mm x 12mm (Boost)
- Seatpost: 30.9mm
The Yeti SB5.5c boasts 140mm (5.5″) of rear wheel travel optimized with their prided and patented Switch Infinity suspension platform. The frame is full carbon fiber with a solid Boost 148mm rear triangle and is designed to run an ungodly 160mm of front fork. And if you hadn’t already guessed, it has 29″ wheels. Aesthetically, the SB5.5c is hard to beat with simple-yet-beautiful lines; integrated cable routing; and rear axle, derailleur hanger, and composite frame guards on the downtube and drive side rear triangle.
Build kits from Yeti include SRAM GX ($5,699), X01 ($6,999, reviewed), or Shimano XTR with ENVE wheels ($10,599). If you have specific tastes, Yeti offers the SB5.5c frame for $3,500. Each kit varies here and there in terms of cockpit, bottom bracket, wheelset, and cranks (see Yeti Cycles for details), but each comes with a Fox Factory 36 fork, Fox Factory Float X shock, and a SRAM Reverb dropper post.
I rode the SB5.5c for a total of 9.4 miles over 1.5 hours climbing a total of 1,632 feet which, while hardly enough time to gather a conclusive opinion on any bike, was more than a fair shake given the intensity of terrain Sandy Ridge has to offer.
I began climbing singletrack with the Fox shock and fork in their “descend” mode thinking at some point (for the sake of a thorough comparison) I would toggle between “trail” and “climb”, but alas, I forgot. Not because I’m forgetful… rather, because I didn’t need to. I gathered that between the responsiveness of the Fox Float X, supportiveness of the Switch Infinity pivot, and tracking prowess of the 29″ DT Swiss wheels, the Yeti SB5.5 just doesn’t need additional damping. With this bike, it’s set it and forget it.
Although some agility was lost through tight corners and technical terrain, the SB5.5c was no klutz. It favors a point-and-shoot style of riding and those who understand how to steer with the chest in a neutral attack position. For better or worse, the Fox fork is pure muscle. The 36mm, Kashima-coated fork never felt undergunned, but, as another rider commented, “felt incredibly jostled through high speed bumpy sections.” To Fox’s credit, a fork of this stature and complex engineering takes weeks of riding to dial in and is rarely ride-ready out of the box.
As far as downhill capability, you will never want for a trail bike more resolute in manner than the SB5.5c. Equipped with a 35mm bar and clamp, tried-and-trued DT Swiss wheels, 66.5º headtube angle, and the biggest, stiffest trail fork on the market, the SB5.5c feels as close to a dedicated downhill rig as you can get without stepping up to a dual crown fork. Oh, and 29″ wheels probably didn’t hurt, either.
I wanted so badly for the Yeti SB5.5c to fall far short of my expectations. I wanted it to be a handful to handle, awkward in the air, and just be a bad time. I wanted it to fail miserably and to just be another long-travel, full suspension 29er reconfirming my previous opinion about long-travel, full suspension 29ers–“they pretty much suck.” Alas, the SB5.5c did not and, as opposed to my previous attempt three years ago, I walked away from this trial aboard a big wheel, big travel bike with two thumbs up instead of scratching my head.
It’s really cool. Long 29er became a must bike.
Sounds like a Specialized Enduro?
What was it like lifting the front wheel on slow drops? That seems a bit of a challenge with these LT 29ers……….
Suprisingly, quite easy lifting it and there is actually a difficult rock drop pictured in the article where I and two other riders cleared relatively easy. What you cannot appreciate from the photo is that about 10 feet prior to dropping, you come out of a hard left-hand turn and over a root so getting aligned and stable enough for the drop can be a bit of a challenge and you can’t get up to speed. We (two expert riders and myself) sessioned this same drop several times with slightly varying outcomes, but we all “cleared” it. Great question, thank you. The SB5.5c has a pretty high stack measurement which may favor getting the bike up quicker.
You’ve missed some great bikes if this is the only 29er you’ve thrown a leg over since ’13.