2023 Yeti SB160 T1 Full Review
In the increasingly-crowded enduro category, there are orcs and there are elves. The burlier bikes edge closer to downhill bikes while on the other end of the spectrum there are bikes that often behave more like long-legged trail bikes. Like orcs and elves in Tolkien's world, both can be effective but they need to be handled differently.
For more on the SB160's angles and this version's spec. check out my first impressions article.
Some bikes that have the reputation of manoeuvring with brute force are the new Trek Slash, the Norco Range, Santa Cruz Megatower and the Specialized Enduro. The SB160 is more scalpel than mallet. It is capable in the rough stuff but you are more likely to evade peril with finesse than brawn. It wants to be ridden actively and aggressively while some bikes can be piloted more from the back seat while the suspension does the work.
For me the best part of this surgical character trait is versatility. The SB160 loves to go fast but it's not bad when things get slow, tight and technical either and it's a blast on lower angle trails where some burlier bikes might feel like a bazooka at a water fight. It's rare to feel over-gunned on the SB160 and considering it has 170/160mm of suspension travel and a pedigree to match, this is a unique capability.
Hopefully anyone buying a bike with this much travel has access to some long and challenging downhill trails, because, as good as it is almost everywhere, this Yeti shines even brighter when either the speeds pick up or the trails tip down, or both.
Almost every time I saddle up the SB160 I'm impressed by how quiet it is. It's got a solid state feel and it seems the improved frame protection on the driveside chainstay, with shark teeth on the top and bottom, amplifies the silence, even in the boniest circumstances.
As mentioned above, this bike rewards an active and mobile pilot who isn't afraid to get some weight up front. It's not surprising that this riding position is emphasized considering the bike is longer and a little slacker than the SB150, and the bike really starts to sing once your weight is on your hands.
The biggest difference I notice between it and the SB150 is in g-outs at the bottom of rockfaces. It handles these situations with much more composure and I often find myself waiting for a bang that doesn't come.
In the steeps, the control I'm able to have on the SB160 makes it feel like everything is slowed down. I find myself able to manoeuvre into tight spots or lift up when it's called for on moves where I'd be more inclined to grip tight and hold onto a bad line on other bikes. It almost feels as though it makes the trail wider because of this responsiveness and the ability to hit sniper lines.
An SB160 aptitude I've tappped into more recently is its cornering ability. It's a bike that tips down easily and smoothly, once you adopt the aforementioned aggressive stance. It feels almost like a mullet in this regard. Riding with legs extended and hands weighted helps this bike everywhere and as I've leaned into this more, I've been getting lower in the corners and with more control. I feel able to angle the SB160 more dramatically than other bikes and this has given me the confidence to increase my entry speed, which has improved my exit speed. I'm not dragging bars like Matt Hunter, but it feels like I'm getting low by my standards, and it's a blast. This has had me seeking out twisty bits and bermy trails more than usual.
In line with its elven character, the 160 doesn't demand perfect arcs with berms banked by the gods. The North Shore is famous for squared off corners and tight spots to get out of and the SB160 is right at home in these situations. It responds well to body english and the subtle inputs which are required for janky circumstances and sniper exits. More sled-like machines are less happy doing this kind of riding, on trails like Bookwus on Mount Fromme or Pangor on Seymour.
With just enough anti-squat to keep the bike stable when you are cranking rhthmically on a fire road, and good responsiveness when things get chunkier, the Yeti SB160 climbs as well as the SB150, and the 150 is an excellent climber. I've never felt bogged down by this bike's 160mm of rear travel and I rarely feel the need to use the lockout. It is efficient and pleasant to climb and it often surprises me by getting to the top of tough singletrack sections. It climbs as well or better than any 160mm travel bike I've ridden.
Despite this being a big step forward from the SB150, There are a few things I'd like to see on this bike going forward, particularly considering its premium price tag.
- Shuttle guard - you don’t need to be a shuttler to own a truck and if you hang your bike over the tailgate, that protection is important. Yeti sells one of these as an accessory, so why not throw one in the box?
- In frame storage - who doesn’t want this? Companies are doing this on aluminum bikes now and if you are paying a premium price, why not have that extra space to keep storage off your body and the outside of your bike?
- Angleset compatibility - particularly because the frame will accept up to a 190mm fork without upsetting the warranty police.
- A fender at the rear to protect the Switch Infinity Link. This is an expensive little gizmo when out of warranty and if you live in B.C. or Oregon or Sheffield etc. keeping that sucker out of the muck is essential. We Are One includes a great little carbon fibre bolt on rear fender with their bikes but something less elaborate would do. I made one for the SB150 that worked pretty well but I haven't tried with the SB160 yet. Again, this is something Yeti has made for some models of their bikes and it would be welcomed by many riders.
Complaints Addressed/Improvements Made
- Switch Infinity improved for better bearing sealing - but only on Turq models.
- New cable ports secure the entry and exit points of cables and house
- Better routing of hose and housing at bottom bracket to prevent frame wear.
- Better tire clearance in swingarm to accomodate up to a 2.6" rear tire. Some 2.4s would rub on the frame of the SB150.
- All bearings pressed into replaceable links rather than expensive carbon fibre components
- All tolerances in suspension linkages seem dialled.
- Frame is tested and found certified to the DH level.
Servicing the Switch Infinity
The new Switch Infinity linear bearing appears to have larger bearings and it now has dust seals covering each cartridge. Previously the collet axle rotated, every so slightly, on the actual bearings, and it was machined to press fit precisely between the bearings. Now there is a sleeve with shoulders to support bearing races that is pressed between the bearings and the axle, while the previous sleeve floated between the bearings. The axle on my test bike appears to be able to turn within that sleeve, based on the streaked grease present when it was removed. The bearings themselves were a little stiff but very smooth suggesting they hadn't rotated very much. When the collet is placed inside the SI, it isn't a press fit and you can feel a tiny amount of play. It may be that when the collet is tightened to the correct torque value, it swells slightly and takes up that minute play. Otherwise it means the collet axle rotates within the sleeve, leaving the bearings static. Either way, once assembled there is no play and the axle rotates smoothly as the swingarm moves through its travel and it was still well greased when disassembled.
Disassembly requires crank and chainguide removal, and once the collet axle is removed the swingarm must be rotated rearward and then supported to gain access to the mechanism, either for removal or to inject grease into both ports. This is a relatively simple and quick procedure but give yourself half an hour to get everything apart to be safe if, like me, you aren't a pro mechanic.
Once I had everything apart and had removed the SI, I was impressed to see no discernible wear on the tiny Kashima stanchions of the linear bearing or within the housing. In fact I couldn't even find any debris inside; only clean grease. It seems the improved design, currently available on Turq models only, (or apparently as an aftermarket purchase, but I was unable to find it on Yeti's Website) is a big improvement over the previous version.
The North Shore is an unforgiving environment for bikes. It can be wet at any time of year and between October and June, the ground is almost always wet. I wash bikes after every mucky ride and I delibrately spray where I shouldn't be spraying to accelerate any wear at pivots, in an attempt to approximate a longer period of use. The 2023 SB150 passed those trials as well as any bike I have tested.
I didn't have an easy time getting the SB160 dialled. Small changes seem to produce quite a different ride and being a little off with either spring rate or damping can seem like you are a long way from the sweet spot. It has been worth the effort however and the bike has been feeling better and better for as long as I've had it. It gets frustrating when your suspension changes because of weather or elevation and your dialled bike feels like a jalopy until you find the solution, and the difference between your suspension being bang on and being close feels wider on the Yeti than some other bikes.
My latest settings, in generally cooler weather despite our weirdly warm winter, are below. These aren't far off what Yeti recommends for my 165 lb weight.
Cold weather suspension settings, with damping clicks measured from completely closed.
170 psi HSC 4 out LSC 8 out LSR 11 out HSR 5 out
85 PSI HSC 8 out LSC 5 out HSR 6 out LSR 10 out
About those Size-Specific Chainstays...
Originally, in my first impressions article, I mistakenly suggested that Yeti was making size-specific swingarms for each size of SB160. As it turns out, like other manufacturers, Yeti has managed to alter the dimensions of their bikes without making multiple swingarms. These changes are acheived by manipulating the pivot locations on the main frame of the bike. What is confusing is that Yeti's geo-chart lists chainstay lengths for every model from size small to XXL as different, while the length of the swingarms are unchanged. Chainstays have traditionally been measured from the centre of the bottom bracket to the rear axle because bikes were at one time one continuous tube for that span, and that is the measurement listed here, so it certainly isn't deceptive. It comes down to the fact that the name of the structure - a chainstay - and the geometry measurement, have the same name. The difference is two millimetres between sizes ranging from 437mm in size emall and 445mm in size XXL. Yeti's text describing this isn't that helpful either: "To achieve this, we’ve further refined geometry with little more reach, rebalanced front and rear centers, and size-specific chainstay and seat tube angles." This reads as though there are size specific chainstay angles which obviously isn't the case. The actual seat tube angles are however different for every size, leading to identical virtual seat tube angles of 77.5º. This is great news for riders like me who are long of leg.
Component Spec. Performance
From the beginning I was impressed with Yeti's approach to this model. It's built with top of the line suspension components, good wheels and excellent brakes, as well as solid DT Swiss aluminum wheels. The drivetrain has no batteries or transmitters and it has worked flawlessly while knocking hundreds of dollars off the retail price. There is very little I would change here, aside from my personal preference of a post that drops more than 200mm. Right down to the saddle, tires, grips and handlebars, I've been happy since I pulled this out of the box. I added some Panzer inserts I was testing but they are so light the character of the bike has not changed, and the tires have likely stood up better as a result.
It seems the T1 spec. no longer exists but the T2 has a similar build. The rims are now Raceface Arcs but the DT Swiss hubs remain. The cassette and shifter have been upgraded to XO1 from GX while the GX chain remains. You can swap out the Fox X2 rear shock for a coil at no charge while the rest of the well-thought out spec. remains. Despite these changes, the 2024 model has a lower MSRP of XXX CAD and 7900 USD, compared to 8500 USD for the T1 in 2023.
Every element of the frame has been well thought out and the details, like the paint finish, the cable ports and routing, and the suspension linkages, are very well executed. There are, in my opinion some details missing, the big one being a stash compartment of some kind, but I'd rather have a vessel that sails well rather than one with large hold if given the choice. But if I could have both? That doesn't sound so bad either.
One thing that has continued to impress me about this bike is that I'm still learning about its capabilities after riding it for many months. It seems that I regularly discover that I can push it a little harder through a rough section or carry more speed into a corner. While it may not be the sort of bike where you can wring out every drop of performance right away, it seems the performance improvement arc is very long and I have found myself riding many jumps and features for the first time on the SB160. It's fast, it's fun, it's agile and it's incredibly capable.
Yeti no longer lists the T1 model but it seems to have been replaced by the T2, with a little nicer spec. and an MSRP that is 600 USD lower at 7900 USD. If you'd like to save a little money, the C models have a frame that Yeti says is as stiff and as strong that weighs 225g more but at considerable savings, but with the previous generation Switch Infinity mechanism. A Turq frame-only with with a Fox X2 shock is the toughest sell at 4800 USD.
Overall, this is a fantastic bike and a nice jump forward from the excellent SB150. If you are looking for a versatile and nimble enduro bike that will keep pace as your skills improve, the SB160 is an excellent choice.
Height - 6'/183cm (mostly legs)
Weight - 170lbs/77kg
Inseam - 33"/84cm
Ape Index - 0.986
Age - 57
Trail I've been stoked on lately - Lower Digger
Bar Width - 760mm
Preferred Reach - 485-500mm (longer with 27.5 wheels than 29)