First Ride: Yeti SB-95

A trail bike that rides like it has three inches of travel sometimes, and five or six inches other times. A-OK in Caley's book.

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (ST) — The SB-95 is Yeti’s stab at a do-everything 29er trail bike, and the company seems to have hit the mark. The five-inch-travel frame uses the same excellent Switch Technology suspension design as the 26-inch SB-66, resulting in a bike that climbs impressively well and still descends like a rocket.

First ride

The frame comes with all the latest fixin’s: tapered head tube, thru axle compatibility, fully sealed bearings on the oversized pivots, and cable routing for a dropper seat post (though the pre-production version I rode was missing these, they will be on the production models).

Geometry is designed to mate 26er handling with the advantages of the 29er. The chainstays are short and bottom bracket is low for a 5-inch bike. Low standover makes it feel even more like a 26er. The slack front end (68.5-degree headtube angle) and long toptube (660mm for a size large) mates perfectly with wide bars and a nice short stem. For those used to traditionally short 26er trailbike top tubes, the SB-95 may feel long. It felt odd to me at first, but I quickly forgot about it once on the trail — that makes it A-OK in my book.

The Switch Technology suspension is outstanding for a trailbike, allowing relatively easy pedaling before releasing the cork when the trail turns down. Pedaling and coasting result in completely different suspension responses, as if the bike is swapping between 3 inches and 5 inches of travel right underneath you. In fact, I would have guessed the SB-95 had more than 120mm as I pointed it through some of the rougher sections of Bootleg Canyon. The short rear end made it easy to keep the front end aloft, and added a spunkier feeling once in the air.

The Switch suspension uses eccentric pivots and actually changes direction mid-stroke, which might contribute to the feeling mentioned above. Yeti can control the rear wheel travel path, leverage ratio, and chainstay growth all the way through the SB-95’s travel. The swingarm moves rearward in the initial stages of travel, which counteracts chain forces. That helps keep the bike firm (that 3-inch feeling) when pedaling.

Further into the travel, the concern becomes pedal feedback. The Switch suspension therefore changes direction, controlling chain stay growth to provide unconstrained suspension travel. Back to that 5-inch (or 6-inch, even) feeling.

The bike I rode was fitted with narrow Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25-inch tires — not what I would throw on, if this were a personal sled. Worryingly, the short chain stays left little room for the rear tire to breath. There certainly isn’t room for a big trail tire.

The Fox 34 fork is what long-travel 29ers have been waiting for. Plush and stiff, it ate up the rough stuff in Bootleg Canyon without a hint of hesitation.

Suggested retail is $2,250 for the frame and Fox RP23 Kashima, and availability is set for spring 2012. A carbon version is supposedly in the works, too. Weight of my test rig was just a hair over 28 pounds.

Sadly, we had to give the SB-95 back to Yeti at the Outdoor Demo, but we have one headed our way for long term testing. Check back mid-fall for that review.

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