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Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

A Rowdy 29er

Words by Dave Tolnai. Photos by Dave Smith.
November 27th, 2016

I’ve never ridden a bike that has stopped so many people in their tracks. At every trailhead or parking lot, at least one or two people saunter over to ask a few questions about the Yeti SB 5.5. Even jaded journalists can’t help themselves. I know, I know. None of this matters. How does it ride?  I’m just trying to explain that there is something special about this bike and, if anything, it created some pretty unreal expectations about how it should ride.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

The 5.5c was an object of envy and curiosity – more than any other bike Dave has tested.

The Suspension

I don’t think we talked much about the suspension design in the preview article. Yeti has shown us Switch Infinity on a number of bikes, but people still seem surprised by it. In my parking lot Q&A sessions, quite a few people gawked for a good 5 or so minutes before pointing at the Switch Infinity link and bellowing “what the heck is that!”  The simplest explanation is that Yeti created this little shuttle that makes analyzing their suspension system really difficult. Draw a line perpendicular to the shuttle shafts and imagine it’s a 40 foot long link and you have the best chance of understanding what is going on. Think a Maestro or DW Link (multi links rotating in the same direction) with a really, really long lower link.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

The Switch Infinity Link generated many conversations.

When we had the SB6c, I spent a few hours trying to model the suspension, but it proved to be very difficult. With so many things going on in such a small location, it’s very difficult to get accurate measurements. So, I took a trip over to our friend at the Spanish Linkage Blog. He tells us that this bike has pretty high anti-squat values that taper off at about 60% travel (which is very similar to what you’ll see with a VPP bike). And he tells us that the shock rate is pretty darn close to flat – an oh-so-slight rising rate that tapers off at the end.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Understanding the suspension on paper is not required: this bike loves to go down.

“In a straight line going down a hill, this is one of the most capable bikes I have ever ridden” – Dave Smith

This seemed to play out in the real world. The rear end was fairly quiet while pedalling, but I still found myself flipping that climb switch on long slogs up. Even with a fair amount more pressure than what Yeti is recommending, I still found that I was consistently using full travel. I played around with air pressures high enough to prevent bottoming, but I did not like what this did to the overall feel of the bike. As bottoming out never seemed harsh or problematic, I reverted to the softer settings. I think this bike could benefit from a smidge more bottom out resistance, either in the form of a leverage tweak or a shock tune or bottom out spacers.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Turquoise and this silver are your choices for either model of SB 5.5c (regular carbon or Turq).

Riding Up

This bike offers up a mixed bag of suggestions as to how it will climb. You have the good – light weight, big wheels, high pedalling efficiency. And the bad – slackish angles and a tall front end. This ends up adding up to the sum of its parts. A great pedalling bike that doesn’t take a lot of energy to get to the top but (I felt) one that tends to flop around a bit while you’re on the way. The pedalling efficiency and the traction tended to take you through the worst bits without much difficulty, but it took a bit of effort to keep the front wheel down and pointed in the right direction. Others who rode this bike strongly disagreed with me on this, agreeing with me on the points about pedalling efficiency and traction but suggesting I was out to lunch on the ability to control the front end. My only thought was that I am at the extreme end of the sizing spectrum on this bike and needed to run the seatpost at full extension, which perhaps upset the apple cart a bit.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Tipping it over.

No matter, grunting to the top on a dirt road or wide path is pleasant enough, and I generally found myself feeling like I’d expended less energy than I was expecting to. On more than one occasion I kept climbing to get an extra little bit of trail in. For me, that’s a great climbing bike

Riding Down

Of course, you don’t buy a bike like this to maximize your enjoyment of the ride up. You buy a bike like this to compensate for your sub-par skills on the way down. And…here it is:

In a straight line going down a hill, this is one of the most capable bikes I have ever ridden.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

The 5.5c loves it when things get steep.

Notice how I’ve left that sentence all off on its own. I really don’t know what else to say. This bike is a bump eating monster. It will annihilate anything in its path. Some combination of the large and capable fork, the big wheels, the angles and the rear suspension leaves this bike hungry to fly. The faster and gnarlier the trail is, the better.

Things get a bit interesting though, on that first ride, when you hit the first corner. Compared to my typical 650b bike, this thing wants to keep going in a straight line. Which must be comical to watch from afar – the idiot on the Yeti flying down the straights and then tip-toeing through the corners.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Dave’s adjusted riding style.

So I adjusted my riding style. I focussed on getting as far forward as I possibly could and I quietly yelled at my brain to be more aggressive. Once I did this, I was able to turn larger parts of my ride into magical endeavours. I’d hit swoopy sections of trail and cackle with glee, amazed at how much fun I was having. The bike just seemed to iron the trail out and make me a way better rider than I am. Eventually, that seemed to be happening pretty much everywhere. Once I adjusted, this became probably the most capable bike I’ve ever ridden down a hill (that is also capable of climbing its way back up).

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Shamed.

We talked about the spec in the preview and there’s not really much here to talk about. All the parts are as they should be on a bike priced like this. The SRAM XO1 shifts and keeps the chain in place. The Fox 36 is a dream, stout and supple, allowing you to plow through or over just about everything. The DT wheels held up well, even after a few heavy cases after Dave Smith shamed me into taking some drops that I didn’t want to.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Capable bikes breed confidence.

The bike did not show up with fresh rubber, and the semi-worn Maxxis Aggressor moved around a bit in the corners. Once we put a new Minion DHRII on the back, things were much happier.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Cackling with glee.

The Guide RSC brakes are wonderful. They’re firm and consistent and offer all the braking performance you would ever need. I do have a few grips about the levers. First, the reach adjuster gets stuck occasionally, requiring either a tool or hands of steel to get it moving again. That same reach adjuster seems to have a few sharp little bits that poke inwards, nipping away at your hands when you’re searching for an inboard place to put your hands on the climb up. Nothing major, but a bit confusing.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Good news bad news: excellent power and control but a tool-free adjuster that kept freezing up.

Next, let us talk about the grips. It’s great that companies are sending bikes into the world with lock-on grips. But why do most of them only have an inboard clamp? When you really wrench on them, you can feel a subtle twisting. It’s not something you notice when coming down a trail but you can definitely distract yourself with the movement on the climb to the top. I’d prefer it if they just specc’d something with a second clamp on the outside.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

” I’d hit swoopy sections of trail and cackle with glee, amazed at how much fun I was having.”

It’s pretty standard to complain about the travel offered up by the dropper seatpost. Nobody seems all that interested in giving taller guys on L’s and XL’s more seatpost travel than the same 150mm that the guys on the S’s and M’s get. Kudos to Yeti for supplying the bike with a Q/R seat collar, so it was relatively easy to drop the post that extra inch at the top of a downhill.

The last nitpick is the rebound knob. Satan himself would struggle to find a more devious location for this knob. Tools are pretty much mandatory for any sort of adjustment, and it’s never a good feeling to be poking a screwdriver into such a valuable area.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Uncle Dave’s curmudgeonly heart grew two sizes riding the SB 5.5c.

Conclusions

This bike leaves me in a tricky place. It runs counter to every “you don’t need to spend a fortune on a bike” argument that I’ve formulated in the last little while. This bike costs a mint, but I’m spending a lot of time convincing myself that I need to spend that money. It’s a fabulous bike that will make you feel like a better rider, and if you (or Yeti) put some work into tweaking the rear shock, it can only get better. You can talk all you want about commercialism and forced obsolescence and industry conspiracies, but I’m telling you, a bike that makes you feel this good when you ride it will put the lid on most of those arguments and cause you to totally ruin your retirement plan.


Perry Schebel’s thoughts

Camera-wielder Dave Smith, who was babysitting the 5.5c whilst otherDave was on vacation, asked me if I’d like to give it a go. Hell yes was my reply; here’s a few words based on a half dozen rides.

“It’s got a tight, poppy feel that screams high performance” – Perry Schebel

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

The reverse mullet.

The 5.5 sports a reverse mullet of sorts. With travel at 160mm front / 140mm rear, it’s party in the front, business in the back. The big Fox 36 inspires hooliganism while the shorter rear puts down the power efficiently, remaining surprisingly unphazed pushing hard through the chunky bits. The 66.5° head angle – a tick steeper than the current slackest of the slack wagon wheelers – provides a nice balance of stability and trail friendly precision.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Dave and Perry disagreed about the ramp up of the rear suspension.

I’m not going to wrap my head around the kinematics of the Infinity Link; regardless of the voodoo down there, I like what’s going on. A well supported pedaling platform with no discernable dead feeling transitional zones within the rate curve. It’s got a tight, poppy feel that screams high performance. Stomp and go, it puts the power down with no wallowing yet offers great traction. It also does a lot with the relatively limited rear travel, and inspires confidence in the chunder. Yes, it gets used fully, but does so undramaticaly; no harsh bottoming, and the chassis stays well composed. The Fox 36 fork plays an important role in anchoring said solidity. It’s a beautiful thing: stiff, well supported and supple. Love it.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

The 5.5c was the most popular bike in our test stable.

The bike is also a solid technical climber. The well supported rear suspension meant I felt no need to flip the shock into climb mode at any time. The seat angle could be a tick steeper for my preference, but my happy spot is reachable within the saddle rail adjustment range (albeit near max forward).

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Uncle Dave after figuring out how to turn a 29er.

Frame criticisms? Hard to knock such a gorgeous piece of work, but I have one: lack of proper water bottle location (dangling a bottle off the bottom of the down tube is sub-optimal). My loathing of packs runs deep, so this is a big deal to me. I recognize this isn’t an issue for you pack animals.

I also have a couple component quibbles – exceptions to an otherwise solid spec:

  • The wee 180mm front rotor needs to be bumped to 200.
  • The house brand single clamp grips twist a bit at the non clamped ends: annoying.
  • The SRAM X0 rear derailleur is now devoid of clutch. The clutch adjustment socket is pinned, making it more or less unserviceable (yes it can be done, but its a hack). SRAM – if you can’t make the clutch mechanism function for more than a couple weeks, at least give us the ability to adjust it, ok?
  • The Maxxis Aggressor rear tire was sucky. The 2.3 carcass is too narrow for the 30mm wide XM481 rim yielding a fairly square profile – in conjunction with smallish side knobs equals skittishness when leaned over. Also – sealant was oozing out the porous sidewalls at an alarming rate. I’m assuming this is just a defective tire; tubeless ready it is not. Dumpster food, this tire is.

-I’ve mentioned this previously with the Bronson review, but the inaccessible-by-human-fingers rebound adjust knob on the Fox Float X shock is dumb.

Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed

Uncle Dave is rarely so effuisve.

So – nitpicks aside, Yeti has built a fine handling bike. Race ready, but still nimble enough to be fun at a less than pinned pace.  It straddles the nebulous region between aggressive trail and enduro most excellently.

2016 Yeti SB5.5C - yeti_sb55c_geo_chart

Geo Chart. Click to expand.

Check out the first look here and our first sighting at Sea Otter here.

The base model SB 5.5c is priced at US$4799. The Turq frame with XO1 is US$7099.


Reverse mullet anyone?

  • Mitch Mason

    Sweet post. How does it compare to the Bronson?

    • Cam McRae

      That’s a tough one because they are different wheel sizes. Perry has ridden both though so I’ll see if he has some comments.

      • Jay Dicharry

        Great stuff guys – anyone with experience on how this bike compares to the SC Hightower….say run in a 150 front 135 rear….so pretty close. And yes, the 29 vs 29 versions. thanks!

      • Dave Smith

        I’ve ridden both this year while we had them in the NSMB test stable and found the Yeti a much better fit for me. Its a much more aggressivein every situation but I found the Hightower climbed a little easier. Personally, I always lean towards a bike that maximizes the fun I can have descending because I suffer on the climbs regardless. I will add that I got to look at pretty much everyone’s bikes this year and no other bike lit up my bike lust like the 5.5c. It is also the first 29r that I would want in my quiver.

      • Salespunk

        A Hightower with a 160 fork has virtually identical geometry to the SB55c. 66.3 HA, 345 BB, and shorter CS. Can’t go wrong with either one, but most people have not made this comparison.

      • Dan

        Rocking a ’16 Remedy 9.8 29 with a 160mm 36. Geo on the XL frame works great for me (though it is getting a 170mm Reverb soon to replace the OEM 125mm stroke Reverb).

    • Perry Schebel

      The numbers are fairly similar. I preferred the Yeti suspension a bit more. A little more pop / playfulness; slightly more support in the in the midstroke with the Yeti. The Bronson does feel a tad plusher (not surprising, given the 10mm more travel) .

      The biggest difference is of course the wheelsize. Wagon wheels + the 160mm 36 allow you to push the Yeti into some pretty chunky stuff without getting ragged. Hitting similar bombed out stuff on the shorter forked, smalled wheeled Bronson generally requires either smoother line choices, or more strength holding on through the holes. Yes, the smaller wheels hang up noticeably more. I was hitting new lines on familiar trails with the Yeti, and found the ride generally less fatiguing. This applies to rolling rooty terrain and tech climbs as well. Evidently I’m sold on the benefits of big wheels.

      That said, the Bronson is a great bike – very well sorted, and there are scenarios where the small wheels have an edge – pumping off features, quick corner transfers, etc.

      So – both great, yet different? Really best to take a test ride, esp if you’re considering two different wheel sizes.

      • Mitch Mason

        That makes sense. Thanks for all the info. Keep up the good work with reviews ect.

  • Vik Banerjee

    There is no doubt Yeti makes a nice looking bicycle.

    • Tehllama42

      Is it bad that I think the Fox Performance Elite (Black) equipped bikes are the best looking?

      • Vik Banerjee

        No you are entitled to any opinion. I don’t disagree. I like the murdered out bike look more than the Kashima bling. That said I’d get the best performing suspension for my needs vs. the best looking. I can’t see what colour my suspension is when I am riding anyways. 😉

  • Russell Morton

    You pretty much nailed it. I’ve been riding an SB5.5 since May and it’s hands down the best bike I’ve ever owned. Fast, fast, fast!!!

  • Wacek Keepshack

    As far as I can see this Yeti 5.5c runs exactly same setup as Yeti 6c… big fork, big tyres. If you flick the climb switch on 6c then you obviously have a better bike no? This short travel trend is so silly… 90% of people buying these, immediately replace filmsy tyres with big tyres and 140 fork with 160 fork – what’s the point then? So you want a 6″ bike with 5 inches of travel – that’s basically what you do.

    Here’s my suggestion: get a 160 bike (or keep your 160 bike) and get a decent shock for it (CCDB Coil, Float X2, Ohlins, EXT Storia, push). Then higher the cockpit by an inch. Here you go a bike that climbs better than 5″ bikes with 6″ componentry and rides down even better, so good that you can put some DH bikes to shame…

    WHere do I come with that? I did just that. Bought a 125 bike with 140 fork, light wheels and light tyres, after owning a 160 bike. Two years later that 125 bike had exactly same setup as I had on 160 bike… so I bought a 160 super bike.

    Don’t let that hormonal imbalance get you. Keep that 160 bike and get some herbs, Do deadlifts, lots of deadlifts. Will get your testosterone levels higher.

    • Tehllama42

      Everything about that first paragraph is why I like the 5.5c. I’m 6’2″, live somewhere where terrain is either open and flowing, or rocky mixed with loose – all strengths of wagon wheelers… so for me the 5.5c is the slightly better version of the 6c.
      The 5.5c won’t be better at stuff a true 6″ rig excels at, but for virtually everything else it’s a better bike (or at least as good as what’s out there), and because it doesn’t come with many throwaway components the value proposition is actually really decent.

      • Wacek Keepshack

        I totally get it! But considering everything you just wrote about your terrain: would you still put a 160 fork and big fat knobby tyres on it?

        What I mean is: If you are really into efficiency leave lightweight, fast rolling tyres on, and keep the fork low. Sprint like an idiot and hold tight in corners. But if you live in a place like Squamish then get a fricking Wreckoning or Enduro 29 and just plow with impunity. Get big, soft tyres with giant knobs , and just kill Pandas while eating puppies.

      • Tehllama42

        Without question 160 fork with a Minion up front. The slack front and depth of forgiveness is where I’m at.
        I’d like impunity for the rough sections, but I want something that can keep tamer trails when riding with friends and family interesting enough.
        To me, it’s the type of bike that can be that everything compromise: with Minions (SS rear) I can get in over my head and roll out rubber side down, SI and 140mm travel is about all the efficiency my fat arse requires, and 160mm of fork travel still makes sense at White Mesa, or AngelFire… but that doesn’t have a Wreckoning/E29/Slash/Mega290/Range29 out of the question either.
        My only real limitation is that I’m basically on a RockyMtn Instinct budget version of the NSMB Shremedy, and it’s damned good for the money.

      • Neal Brooker

        Is the Range 29 happening for sure???

      • Tehllama42

        I haven’t seen or heard anything definitive, but with the carbon Sight/Range alongside AL versions already out there, it’s hard to look at the two upcoming announcements on their site, the speculation from places like Vital, and the hints from some Norco dealers and not reach the conclusion that bigger wheel FS bikes make a lot of sense.

      • Cam McRae

        I should be able to let you know in a week or so Neal.

      • Neal Brooker

        I have a Range that I like alot but it would be wild in a 29er. Can’t wait to see the new one!

      • Vik Banerjee

        Yes. Specs have been leaked. Also a Sight 29er.

      • Neal Brooker

        Where have you seen the specs?

      • Tehllama42

        Without question 160 fork with a Minion up front.
        I’d like impunity for the rough sections, but I want something that can keep tamer trails when riding with friends and family interesting enough.
        To me, it’s the type of bike that can be that everything compromise: with Minions (SS rear) I can get in over my head and roll out rubber side down, SI and 140mm travel is about all the efficiency my fat arse requires, and 160mm of fork travel still makes sense at White Mesa, or AngelFire… but that doesn’t have a Wreckoning/E29/Slash/Mega290/Range29 out of the question either.
        My only real limitation is that I’m basically on a RockyMtn Instinct budget version of the NSMB Shremedy, and it’s damned good for the money.

  • Brad_xyz

    How does it do on tight slower technical terrain (egs. Ladies Only, Bookwus or Upper Oil Can)? I’m guessing from the review that this would not be it’s strength but I’m curious how good or bad it is when its out of its element like this.

    • Dirk

      I think you’ll definitely feel challenged for the first couple of rides, but once you start to understand the bike it will do fine. It’s definitely a bike that loves to go fast, so if your happy place is slower, technical trails, it might not be the best match. But it will do it.

      Ladies is the only trail of those listed that I rode on it, and I was pretty content. Rolled through the tight stuff okay and smoked the rough stuff through the middle part of the trail.

      • Brad_xyz

        Good to know. Tech is not necessarily my happy place; more like the opposite. 🙁 Strangely I still find myself drawn to trying to ride it on a semi regular basis though. The reason I asked is that I actually think the SB5.5c is aimed directly at my happy place but am still looking for that elusive one bike to do it all.

        I do find it strange that they didn’t go with a more progressive linkage in the second half of the stroke though, especially when working with only 140 mm travel.

      • Andrew Drennan

        check out canfield. I am on a balance and have only heard amazing things about the riot (i mean a 29er with 416mm chainstays?!)

      • Also check out the Banshee Prime, quite progressive at the end of the stroke… Super fun bike!

    • Perry Schebel

      I was quite happy how it worked on these types of trails. The not-so-slack head angle allows for decent precision in slower speed situations, but there’s still enough fork for the steep knarly rolls. And the big wheels are great in rooty knarfests (like the Bookwus switchbacks). A pretty great shore bike, imo.

  • Cam McRae

    I’ll just add my two bits here.
    I rode the bike three times – and primarily on very steep DH-worthy technical terrain. It did take some time for me to feel comfortable on the bike. And by some time I mean about 30 seconds. If felt immediately comfortable. The bike gets on the back wheel easily and can be bunny hopped more easily than most 29ers I’ve ridden. It readily changed direction and swapped sides of the trail. On the gnarly trails I was riding the 5.5 made me feel more confident than usual and I even hit a few lines I’d never attempted. Because I wasn’t testing the bike, I left the rear set up for Dave, who outweighs me by 25 lbs or so, and the quality of the travel was so good that the wheel wasn’t hanging up or bouncing me at all. (admittedly for the rides I did virtually all the weight was on the fork and I would have tweaked it for other scenarios). And yet for all its dh capability the 5.5 is a venerable pedaller. I did manage to sneak in a few tech climbs and it made life easy. Unlike some people I have no issues climbing slack bikes with big forks so it your results may differ. The SB5.5 is a winner.

  • Jay Dicharry

    great stuff guys! – —anyone compare this to a SC hightower? (forget the plus size compatibility stuff – just a 29 vs 29 comparison would be awesome – thanks!

  • Ben Lovie

    I have SB95C and your comment about cornering is bang on – I have to just get better at getting forward on those tight corners on fromme.

  • Morne

    Sizing question: I fit a XL nomad due to abnormally long legs. I’m 6′. Would a large or XL fit