Battle of the SuperBikes: Yeti SB5.5c vs. SB4.5c
Yeti’s series of SuperBikes should require no introduction. The SB moniker made its debut in 2011 with the critically acclaimed SB66, and the arrival in 2014 of the exceptional Switch Infinity platform represented a significant step forward for the SB series’ signature blend of efficiency and capability. Despite subtle differences, the formula has remained remarkably consistent the across the family, from the 27.5-inch wheeled SB6c enduro racer and trail-focused SB5c to the 29-inch wheeled SB4.5c trail bike. However, with the unveiling of Yeti’s new hard-charging 29er, the SB5.5c, we wanted to spend some saddle time determining where it fits into the mix. And the short version is that the SB5.5c might end up being the star of the highly competitive SB family.
Belle of the Ball: The SB5.5c
One glance at the SB5.5c (hereafter referred to as the 5.5 for brevity’s sake) should tell you almost everything you need to know. With a sensible 140mm of travel out back, paired to a robust 160mm FOX 36 fork, it looks ready to handle business. It’s a long bike with plenty of travel, which could make it a handful for shorter riders, and helps to explain why there isn’t a size small available. For those taller than 5’7″, it’s easy to appreciate the roomy fit, which is consistent with the rest of the SuperBike family. The 17.4-inch reach on our size large test bike is relatively long compared to many other bikes in its class, and the relaxed 67-degree head angle nicely balances stability with a light steering feel. The fit provides ample room to lean into the front end of the bike, whether driving the front wheel into corners or stretching out on prolonged climbs. Paired with the 17.2 inch chainstays, the rider position feels neutral, lending a responsive ride without the need for excessive body English.
Despite the big fork and generous travel, the steering feel is completely intuitive, and the rider is greeted by a very firm feel at the pedals. The Switch Infinity platform has long been praised for its class-leading pedaling efficiency, and the 5.5 is no different. And when you consider the fact that the steep seat angle and roomy front end do an admirable job of keeping the front wheel weighted, it becomes clear why the 5.5 climbs so well. There’s little if any perceivable loss of power, and the neutral position allows it to motor through technical ascents with laughable ease. Admittedly, the burly wheels and tires take a bit more effort to spin up than lighter options, but there’s only so much rotational weight that could be shed without compromising the 5.5’s descending abilities.
Pleasant as the 5.5 may be to climb, the real fun begins when you get it pointed down. Of all the available words to describe it, the one that stands out is “balanced,” and that’s meant in nearly every sense of the word. The centered cockpit position makes for easy fore-aft weight adjustment. The sensible amount of travel mutes trail chatter, but there’s enough mid-stroke support to feel lively when tossing the bike around. To my surprise, while the 5.5 feels perfectly at home at wide-open speeds, it doesn’t feel any less natural picking a line as the pace slows, in spite of its generous wheelbase. While it would make an ideal enduro race bike for North America, it’s much more versatile than most in that category. Accordingly, it feels like a perfect partner for any rider looking to test their personal limits.
SB4.5c: The Big-Wheeled Little Sibling
In trying to understand what Yeti was aiming for with the SB5.5c, it was essential to spend some time on the shorter-travel alternative, the SB4.5c. The 4.5’s 29-inch wheels and 114mm of rear travel, paired with a 130mm fork, suggest that the shorter-legged SuperBike is essentially a trail bike. The fit structure reinforces this assumption, with the shorter fork giving way to a lower stack measurement, and accordingly, a lower handlebar height. It all points to a setup with a more conservative demeanor better suited to longer rides than taking on the hardest trails around. However well justified that conclusion may seem, getting it on dirt revealed that both bikes are clearly cut from the same cloth.
Surprisingly, the most noticeable discrepancy in handling between the two seemed to derive from the build kits rather than the frames. Like its bigger sibling, the SB4.5c boasts a very stiff front end, which made the difference between the 5.5’s FOX 36 and the 4.5’s FOX 34 immediately apparent. Despite both forks being wider and stiffer BOOST spaced versions, the 34 felt comparatively flexy when driven into corners and skipping over rougher terrain. Paired with a Maxxis Ardent front tire, as opposed to the 5.5’s more aggressive Minion DHF, the leading edge of the 4.5 didn’t quite possess the rock-solid confidence that characterizes the 5.5, although the shorter-legged SuperBike seemed remarkably unfazed.
While the 4.5 sacrifices a full inch of travel, in practice, it doesn’t feel like that much. It does give up a bit of the 5.5’s suppleness off the top, and it’s a bit quicker to find the bottom when you overshoot a landing, but it still display’s Switch Infinity’s seemingly magical ability to track smoothly over rough terrain with minimal feedback transferred to the rider. And when you consider that the 4.5 is tested to the same durability standard as the 5.5, one can’t help but think that a bigger fork and more capable front tire would be worth the added weight for aggressive riders with a taste for shorter-travel bikes.
Conclusion: Which SuperBike Reigns Supreme?
For many riders, the choice between the SB4.5c and the SB5.5c will come down to the riding they’ll do locally. Despite the similarities, there’s no denying that smoother trails and longer rides will favor the 4.5, while steeper, rougher terrain will showcase the best of the 5.5. However, some riders have access to a wide variety of trail types, which will significantly complicate the dilemma. Enduro racers will be more at home on the 5.5, as will riders looking to take on bigger challenges, and perhaps a few days at the bike park, with the help of a more capable machine. Conversely, riders who prioritize the wilder side of riding would be mistaken in passing over the 4.5 if their local trails are generally smooth and fast.
So where does the SB5.5c fit into Yeti’s SuperBike family? It’s more versatile than the SB6c, and more aggressive than the SB4.5c. Some may see it as an SB5c with bigger wheels, which is probably closest to the truth. In the hands of a capable rider, it can excel almost anywhere, which is just another way of saying the SB5.5c is Yeti’s SuperBike concept incarnate.