Yeti SB5.5 Reviewed
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Reverse mullet anyone?