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Hands-on Gear Review
Yeti SB5.5 2017 Review
Cons: Slower on smoother climbs, not the most playful
Bottom line: A quiver-of-one for technical MTB terrain
As one tester put it after his first 2017 Yeti SB5.5 ride, "WHAA?! Da F out my way!" Translation: The Yeti is a beast. It charges. Tying with the Ibis Ripley LS in awesome points (78 to be exact) the Yeti is an obvious choice for our Editors' Choice Award for Best Aggressive Trail Bike. The 2016 iteration won our Best All-Mountain Enduro Bike award for its extreme speed, steadfast handling and ability to get you up the hill and way out in the backcountry while still attacking descents like a mythical rock-eating monster. That sounds a lot like a trail bike. So we pitted it against a mix of them — from light and pedal-friendly to hard hitting — to nail down the tradeoffs. Conclusion: The Yeti owns the trail. As one tester put it, "it's a trail bike to the nth degree." You have to work a little harder on the uphill than the lightest, sprightliest rides (it's not completely magic), but it's not a slog by any means. And it's a hoot on the descents, so lively. It's a crossover bike, pull it out of the box and you're all set up for aggressive trail riding or enduro racing.
The 2018 Yeti SB5.5 X01 Eagle TURQ features a new seatpost. A Fox Transfer replaces the 2017's Raceface Turbine. The Transfer has received loads of positive press for its reliable action and impressive price point.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Trail Mountain Bikes of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Analysis and Test Results
Six testers took the Yeti SB 5.5 to task alongside five other bikes for six weeks of time trail and trail testing in a process that we spent 2 years creating. Find out more in our How We Tested article.
The fastest bike in the test the Yeti wins our informal (as in we don't have an official rating metric for it) race factor. Its momentum is second to none. If our three-time trial courses — the downhill Scorpion, uphill Crank and techy uphill Soul Grinder — lasted one minute each and we linked them into one race course, the Yeti would win the day. This mental exercise gives us the bikes' relative speeds in seconds per minute, which expands nicely to minutes per hour and so on (if you can keep up race pace that is). The chart below shows how much faster each bike was than the slowest performer, which was the Intense Recluse in all three-time trials.
As you can see, the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie's combined result is only 0.1 seconds per minute behind the Yeti. But we take the 6Fattie's technical uphill numbers with a grain of salt because we know how tiring they were to achieve. While we strive to exert similar energy on each bike, you have to maintain a certain level of momentum to get up those square stairs. It was wearing with those 3" tires so we still credit the Yeti with the best showing.
The Pivot Mach 429 Trail takes third place due to its overall climbing prowess at just 0.5 seconds per minute behind the SB5.5. The other Editors' Choice winner, the Ibis Ripley LS is 1.2 seconds per minute back. The Yeti and the Ibis, both do better on the downhill and suffer only slightly on the pedally and technical uphills respectively. Because of this, we think these two bikes have the best mix of talent.
A misty morning. Montana. A moose raises its massive, otherworldly antlers and sniffs the air. Seeing an intruder it takes a step. Two. Then a trot. Now it's running, pushing air aside in great waves and stripping color from the landscape as it gathers speed in a never-ending acceleration. In the world of mountain bikes, the Yeti SB5.5 is the moose. It's unshakable. The Yeti's frame is noticeably stiffer than the other bikes, and its burlier suspension makes it easier to smooth out mistakes. This makes for a stable ride and guarantees that the SB5.5 is our top choice for rough and chunky terrain.
The SB5.5 earns a 9 of 10 for descending prowess, which means it wins downhill. We weighted this metric at 25%, tying with climbing as the two most important factors of the test. The Ibis Ripley LS was second best with an 8, followed by the Santa Cruz Bronson and Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie, which tie at a 7 of 10.
The Yeti has no top end in terms of speed. We have a working theory that, given a trail long and straight enough, you could reach time reversing speeds, allowing you to finish the course before you even start it. We're the only element holding it back.
The Yeti had the fastest times on our downhill test course, The Scorpion, beating the second place Ripley LS by 0.9 seconds. These two 29ers won the day due to their tons-o-traction tires and confidence inspiring handling. The Mach 429 Trail is towards the back, 5.5 seconds behind the Yeti, due to less subtle small bump compliance and a narrow rim/fast rolling tire combo that had us slowing down for the turns and chatter. The Santa Cruz Bronson falls 4 seconds behind the SB5.5 on average. It requires more aggressive handling at speed and just couldn't catch the roll out speed of those 29er wheels.
Speaking of 29ers, the Mach 429 Trail and Ripley LS accelerate faster than the SB5.5, but it's not too far behind. The Yeti's pick up can feel dull, and you run through the gears rapidly to grind up to speed. Luckily that SRAM eagle drivetrain and X01 trigger levers offer super smooth shifting. Then it holds speed like a cannonball.
Riding the Yeti SB5.5 always brings to mind great big beasts. It was likened to riding a longhorn, a reindeer, or an actual Yeti during the 2016 enduro testing. This time around, one reviewer declared — "It's like riding a moose, so confident." Seriously, what's going to mess with a moose?
The cockpit sets you up for success. With a square and balanced feel, the SB5.5 doesn't require a lot of riding style adjustment, unlike bikes that force you to figure out how to have fun on them. It has the traditionally taller feel of a 29er, more akin to the leggy Mach 429 Trail than the surprisingly compact and nimble feel of the Ripley LS. That big cockpit gives you room to move on the descents, letting you bob and weave without getting in the bike's face. When descending with the dropper down, you're sitting inside the bike, thinking you can do no wrong. As one rider put it, "I don't know if I can handle it, but the bike can."
When the dropper is up, the SB5.5 feels big, but not overwhelming. You can still get low over the front end which encourages you to engage the trail. "You can be over the front and make the same turn as if you're leaning back," explains another tester. "I feel like that bike kinda adjusts to your riding style," he continues. "Anyone can hop on this bike and be a rockstar." It has a very natural feel and we've yet to figure out what it can't do.
The SB5.5 approaches nimble handling and is able to monster-truck over demolition derby style choss. The combination is killer. You'll feel more prepared to fly over, or off, features you'd normal skirt. Only the Ibis Ripley LS approaches the sharp handling, solid traction and speed combination of the SB5.5. The tradeoff — it's not as playful and poppy as the Ibis Ripley LS and doesn't have the nimble/laser beam handling of the Ripley LS or the Pivot Mach 429 Trail. But the SB5.5 is crazy good at high speeds. The stiff frame and solid suspension — led by the biggest fork in the test by far, a 160mm Fox 36 Factory, mean the faster you go, the smoother the ride gets.
While its heft and strength are great for hard corners and burly lines, it makes for a rougher ride at slow speeds. You've got to work harder, moving your body around the bike to get it on your line when rolling slow, similar to the Ripley LS. Still, it's comfortable and it's an easy cockpit to maneuver in. The 800mm wide handlebars make it easy to wrangle. They fit this bike, whereas tend to overwhelm the Santa Cruz Bronson. The only downside is that they are inherently tricky in small spaces, like tight tree lines or rock slots.
Bottomline, the Yeti's handling is excellent. It goes where you want it. Or, if you're a little off, it'll find a line and hold it for you. Like a horse, the bike will be just fine. You've just got to stay on it.
Suspension and Traction
The suspension rocks, it's a smooth, straight charger, brushing through obstacles like they aren't even there. But the 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork is rivaled by the buttery smooth 150mm RockShox Pike on the Bronson. As such, it's more comfort than cushion, not the easy chair riding of the Santa Cruz Nomad 2016 in the enduro test or the bottomless, bouncy house feel of the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie. The Yeti doesn't bounce over obstacles or sink into the suspension so much as it bounds off to the next adventure. It keeps you alert without overwhelming you.
Small bump compliance is excellent, with the suspension maintaining traction on what feels like every inch of the trail. That 2.5" Maxxis Minion DHF EXO up front only aids the Yeti's amazingly descending prowess. The solid front end is just as eager to eat up the big bumps and, despite all the bulk around the linkage, the Yeti has a tucked in and responsive rear end, very similar to the Mach 429 Trail. In other words, it all works exceedingly well. Even the sharpest transitions, like where a 30% rock slab meets flat ground, just disappear beneath you.
The Yeti rages, even when climbing. If you run into a rough spot heading uphill, this is a ride you can rely on. On the flipside, its burly nature makes for a whole-lotta of bike to grind up a mountain. It certainly feels heavy when hopping off the featherweight Ibis Ripley LS or Pivot Mach 429 Trail. As such, it wasn't rated the highest in the climbing scores, the Mach 429 Trail was, at a 9 of 10. The Santa Cruz Bronson follows with an 8 and then comes the SB5.5, tying with the Ripley LS at a 7 of 10.
Still, it's awesome. The SB5.5 is a fully enduro-capable rig and a fast and efficient climber, though you gotta have some fitness to do it. The firm lockout increases versatility and, once you're up to speed, its heft becomes an asset. And, it's nice to know you can always bail out and rely on that SRAM eagle's wings.
The Yeti's climbing speeds didn't dominate like they did in the 2016 Enduro Bike Review, but it hung in the pack, with smaller trail bikes. That's quite an accomplishment for an enduro worthy downhiller.
The Soul Grinder, Technical Uphill Benchmarking Performance — The Yeti got schooled by the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie on the technical uphill benchmarking course, The Soul Grinder. The SB5.5 finished a distant second, 3.1 seconds behind the stair-smashing Stumpie. Leading the pack of mere mortal climbers, the SB5.5 finished just 0.1 seconds ahead of the Pivot Mach 429 Trail, 2.1 seconds ahead of the fifth-place Ibis Ripley LS, and 7.9 seconds ahead of the Intense Recluse.
The Crank, Smooth Uphill Benchmarking Performance — What happens when you take the rocks out of the way? The SB5.5 loses the speed advantage its plow factor affords and rolls back in the ranks. It places fourth on our smooth uphill race course, The Crank — 7 seconds ahead of the last place Intense and 3.9 and 3.6 seconds behind the neck-and-neck winners the Santa Cruz Bronson and Pivot Mach 429 Trail.
Once it's rolling the Yeti feels fast, gaining momentum with every pedal stroke even on The Crank, where it falls in fourth place for speed. As you can see in the results above, the SB5.5 also comes in fourth for uphill speed overall. The Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie has an outsized result due to its extraordinary ability to climb technical lines smoothly. We rank it a 5 of 10 for climbing (as opposed to the Yeti and Ibis's 7 points) because keeping enough speed to make it up the stairs took a lot out of us. We would never grab that bike for a long climb on purpose.
The Yeti has a solid pedaling platform while maintaining supple suspension, but it doesn't have the light, snappy pedaling feel of the Pivot, Ibis, or even the Santa Cruz. The first few pedal strokes are laboring ones. After that, though, it builds speed like crazy, keeping it fun on the climbs. Just downshift and crank through the steeper sections. It is more efficient when you're in the saddle. Getting up out of the seat reduces its efficiency, similar to the Santa Cruz Bronson.
The slow acceleration and extra energy lost when you're up out of the saddle combine to make super steep sections super tiring. We're talking the steep stair climb or rock slab where any bike loses momentum. Here you have to hit the pedals hard once to get up and over the obstacle and then again to get back up to speed. It's a gut-punch, but you'll get to recover once the wheels take over.
The lofty bottom bracket lets you crank through rough terrain with impunity, but it does add to the big bike feel. Bottom line: The Yeti gets you there, but hauling that fun front end around — the one that intimidates rocks into insignificance on the downhills — isn't without cost.
With its long legs and momentum, the Yeti doesn't get caught up in the petty stuff, even on the uphill. It rolls into and over obstacles quickly, smoothly and with authority. Staying comfortably online through abrupt features is where the Yeti really shines. Of course, if you never hit your line in the first place, no worries. It'll probably roll right over that too.
Its uphill handling is more vague than the razor precision of the Ibis or Pivot, more akin to the Santa Cruz Bronson. It's more planted and less twitchy than these bikes, taking hits that the Ibis and Pivot need to be wheelied over. The solid handling means that the Yeti is less work in the arms than the two lighter bikes, but its heaviness means more work for your legs, similar to the Specialized. This is all true of moving the Yeti around with momentum. Slow speed handling is harder.
Picking your way through a line at a crawl isn't the best. The steep, sharp, stair stepping turns on our technical uphill test course, which we like to call The Soul Grinder, are a good test. The Yeti charges up the stairs but, as it slows, has a hard time getting around the turn. The Santa Cruz Bronson is just the opposite, struggling more with the stairs than the turn. The Yeti's front wheel can also lay over when coming into a staircase, leaving you to fight the dreaded flop. If you keep momentum the bike is balanced and you don't have to move much, eliminating the extra energy cost of moving forward or backing up for a wheelie. Getting it to speed on steep uphills after climbing over a speed-sucking feature means work — weaving back and forth to the edges of the till you get up speed.
What happens when there are no big features? The handling works just as well, especially since you don't have to do as much of it. It does feel like more bike on the uphill than the other rides we tested, aside from the Specialized, but it moves, and the impressive tire traction means no braking through the turns or losing power by spinning out.
Suspension and Traction
The best big hit bike in the lineup, the Yeti takes aggressive climbing in stride. Its small bump sensitivity isn't quite as good as the Santa Cruz Bronson, but it's better than the Pivot or Ibis. The Yeti's big wheels tend to make up the difference, eliminating chatter. The 160/140 suspension feels balanced, with the fork and rear shock working really well together. They seem to know whether you are climbing or descending, and adjust accordingly.
The trail mode provides a solid pedaling platform and the Yeti's lockout is really firm, making it an efficient climber on silky smooth trails as well. There the beastly bike hugs the ground, as plush and smooth as a Cadillac. That gritty embrace of dirt and tread means that traction is nearly endless. There is a ton in the backend, helping the bike track nicely.
A solid cornerer, the Yeti is perfectly capable once you dial in your methods. As such, it ties with the Santa Cruz Bronson at an 8 of 10 for second in the test. The nimble, lowriding Ibis Ripley LS snags the top spot at a 9. When descending the Yeti doesn't just whip around tight turns, there's a learning curve. Several testers opted for moto turns, tossing their inside foot down to fulcrum the bike around. It works, and the high badass factor doesn't hurt. Otherwise, you've got to throw it in and lean it around. The SB5.5's wheel size, suspension, and body position let you get that aggressive. You can get that aggro on the Ibis as well, but it turns so quickly you don't really need to. Meanwhile, the Mach 429 Trail feels too tall, gyroscopic and traction deficient to pull it off.
Flat corners are tricky as well. Especially since you're maching everywhere you go on this bike. The SB5.5 wants to drift, but once you get the hang of tracking through with the front and skidding the back tire around, it will accelerate out of the corner with gusto. High speed turns in the berm? You betcha. The SB5.5 crushes those. The tires don't let go so if you can guide the bike into turns with the right angle and speed, it just grabs them and goes. Railing! You do get a gyroscopic effect, though, due to the Yeti's height, until you find just the right angle to lay it over. The Ibis takes these turns better.
Cornering on a climb is similar — good, but different. Its handling is less spry at uphill speeds and it can feel long in the turns. But you're in a centered and balanced position that sets you up for maneuvering, and practice makes for precise turning on this bike. Over time we started nailing the line on the switchback stairs.
The Yeti is capable of flying and it's confident enough for you to let it. Barrelling down the trail at these speeds would freak us out on a less stable ride. Endless traction and reliable steering don't hurt. The SB5.5 is never quite playful, and certainly not approaching the cheeky nature of the Ibis Ripley LS, we're still always all grins when it's our turn to take this burly beauty out for an adventure.
As such, we give it an 8 of 10 for fun. Only the silly, bouncy good time offered by the 6Fattie or Łberplayful nature of the Ripley LS top it, tying with a score of 9.
Jumps — Capable of sending jumps the Yeti doesn't lose altitude quickly. Flying straight off the lip, it gradually arches back down to meet the trail, catching you capably before shooting off into the wilds of MTB land.
Coming in second for build quality, we ranked the Yeti at an 8 of 10, sandwiched between the Santa Cruz Bronson's 9 and the Pivot Mach 429 Trail's 7. The Ibis came in fourth with a 6/10. The SB5.5's frame is great, the tires are stellar, the 35 x 800mm handlebar is burly and appropriate for the bike, but the rebound adjustment on the rear shock is ridiculously located, hard to reach even with the tools you need to adjust it, and the RC breaks were disappointing on such an expensive build.
Cockpit and Fit — The Yeti is a true medium, fitting out entire 5'7" to nearly 5'10" biker fleet perfectly. With its high bottom bracket (347.7mm), the bike feels tall when climbing or on technical terrain but it's never uncomfortable setting you up for an ideal body position to move around and get aggressive as needed.
Size Suggestions from Yeti: M (5'7" — 5'11"), L (5'11" — 6'3"), XL (6'1" — 6'6")
Frame and Suspension — The geometry of this 29er is just great, you just jump on and let it rip. The TURQ carbon is claimed to offer more of a weight savings than a performance advantage over the lower priced carbon version. We didn't have both carbon versions to weigh, but Yeti claims a 0.54 lbs weight savings in the frame.
While it works well with the SB5.5's Switch Infinity suspension, we don't love the Fox Float X Factory rear shock. This is in large part due to the placement of its rebound knob, which is extremely hard to reach, let alone adjust. The boosted 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork felt great and, overall the suspension is awesome.
Wheels and Tires — The DT Swiss W/XM481 wheelset with 350 hubs and a 30mm inner rim width is bomber and lets the solid tire set do its thing. The 2.5" Maxxis Minion DHF up front and 2.3" Aggressor in the rear are the Editors' Choice combination in our Best Mountain Bike Tire review. Both hold traction like crazy, with the cushier tire up front helping to smooth out the big bumps and the rear Aggressor tracking perfectly behind.
Groupset — We were disappointed that the Yeti came with the SRAM Guide RC brakes levers instead of the RCS, decreasing the adjustability of the trigger, but the function is still there. While the 180mm rotors helped check the otherworldly speeds we reached, the front rotor's watery turkey gobble decreased our stealth factor.
With boost axle spacing across the board on these six bikes, the stiffness in the SRAM X01 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain is exemplary, with excellent resistance to torsional flex. The eagle is groovy, shifting smoothly and giving us more of a gear range than we needed during most of the test. We did bust three chains on three bikes during seven weeks of testing, one of those was on the Yeti. We find that somewhat concerning, especially since we didn't break any during our 2016 enduro mountain bike test.
Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost — The 35 x 800mm are burly, helping riders tame this bikey beast, but they are wide for narrow tree sections and rock keyholes. The tradeoff of going a little slower in a few spots but being able to rip on the rest of the trail is quite worth it. The grips are comfortable. The WTB saddle is too. We didn't notice it for the most part. (High praise.) The 125mm Race Face Turbine dropper seatpost is nice, with a super fast but gentle return. However, most of our testers prefer the Rockshox Reverb Stealth on the Santa Cruz and the Intense. One went for the Race Face as his fav, preferring the intuitive lever and speedy response.
The Yeti is a great bike for tackling rough terrain all day, be it downhill laps or a big, burly climb to the top of a bigger, burlier descent. While it's still fun on the soft, eroded folds of the foothills, it's not the best bike for those circumstances. Its true talents won't be tapped. This is the bike we'd all ride in an enduro race, at Downieville or the Ashland all-mountain challenge. It's a great choice for anyone hitting technical, challenging trails with any frequency.
In mountain biking, you really get what you pay for, and at $7,099 you're paying quite a lot. The Yeti SB5.5 is the most expensive bike in the test by $500. With the step-down SRAM Guide RS brakes and fox suspension (as opposed to our RockShox preference), you aren't getting tippy-top of the line components. What you are getting is tippy-top of the line performance. If you're a diehard heading to the roughest hillsides, bashing your bike against every rock in the way, and looking to be home in time for dinner (either at your house or your next campsite) you'll find the extra skrill well spent.
The SB5.5 is also available with a SRAM X01 eagle drivetrain in a lower grade carbon than the TURQ, for $1,400 less. You gain a half pound in the frame on this bike over the one we tested but Yeti claims you loose no performance. The build on the non-TURQ bike has a lower grade Fox 36 Performance Fork, Fox Float X Performance rear shock and SRAM Guide R brakes. Will the cost saving build decrease the bike's adjustability and increase its weight? Certainly, but will the differences dampen the bikes spirits or detract from its character? It's hard to say.
The Yeti SB5.5 is still the only bike we've tested that we consider a "quiver of one" worthy ride for hard riding mountain towns or those who like to visit them. (We definitely wouldn't recommend it as a sole ride for someone who solely explores the foothills.) This bike just doesn't falter. It's an excellent ride to step up anyone's game and will never hold back your speed, progress or confidence. Is it fair to compare a Fox 36 equipped, 2.5 Minion frontin' beast like this with other 'trail' bikes? Absolutely! The definition of a trail bike continues to evolve. Not many people ten years ago would have predicted a long travel 29'r would be our favorite trail bike but here we are. What will a 'trail' bike look like in ten more years?
— Clark Tate, Curtis Smith, Joshua Hutchens, Paul Tindal, Sean Cronin, Cat Keenan, Otto Trebotich
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