The trailer was already buzzing with activity when we rolled into the parking lot. Brian, the demo technician, was rolling out bikes from underneath the Yeti Cycles demo tent, dialing in suspension settings for the first wave of riders. Some of us were long-time Yeti owners, while others were completely green. But, we all shared a sense of guarded excitement. And while the first ride on an unfamiliar bike has a tendency to be rather daunting, when looking over the fleet of SB-66 Carbons, ARCs, and SB-95 Carbons, it was hard to not feel optimistic. This was especially true considering that our office for the day was going to be a ribbon of singletrack.
After two years of production, you’re probably familiar with the organic lines of the SB66 Carbon. It has a reputation of an effortless trail-tamer, which made it the popular choice among our test riders. Testers continually remarked how well the 160mm Superbike climbed and pedaled, on both flat and rolling terrain. Thanks in part to Fox’s Float CTD rear shock, pedal feedback was a non-issue, and the bike accelerated in a fashion that masked its six inches of travel. The low bottom bracket, slack head tube angle, and long top tube provided plenty of room to stretch out. And despite its relaxed head tube angle, it held fiercely to its line while climbing through switchbacks. This was largely due to its long top tube and short stem, which yielded a traditional set of contact points, while providing the benefits associated with a longer wheelbase.
But it wasn’t until the trail turned downward that the SB66 came into its own—a trait that only grew stronger as the trails got steeper and rougher. We simply never found a point where the SB66 was beyond the point of feeling composed, and it came alive the harder that you pushed it. The combination of quick cornering and straight-line stability begged us to throw the SB66 into turns at ever increasing speeds, and the low bottom bracket and supported mid-stroke of the travel rewarded this aggressive, dynamic riding style. We struggled to name a trail bike with better descending manners, much less one that climbed so efficiently. The initial impression was that the original Superbike lived up to its name.
There’s a considerable diversity of riding styles among the Competitive Cyclist staff, which made it noteworthy that the ARC Carbon, a purpose built XC race hardtail, was a universal favorite among our testers. The widespread praise made it easy to forget that our group included high-level road racers, seasoned downhill racers, and fun-focused all-rounders. For 2013, Yeti redesigned the beloved ARC with an all-new carbon construction and different wheel size options. The X-small and Small frames are built around 27.5-inch wheels in order to improve the rolling characteristics over the 26-inch version. Meanwhile, the larger-sized frames roll on 29-inch wheels.
Those who are nostalgic for the smooth, responsive ride quality of the older aluminum ARCs will be pleased with the new carbon fiber version. The ARC Carbon suffered no noticeable power loss when stomping on the pedals, due in part to the 12x142mm rear axle configuration. We expected the explosive climbing, but the combination of a sub-70 degree head tube angle and short chainstays had us driving the ARC through turns and rallying down descents. And while the efficiency was undeniable, it was the smooth ride of the finely tuned carbon fiber rear triangle that had our testers talking back at the demo trailer. The handling feel was decidedly XC-racing oriented, but with an added spark that begged us to push it harder.
Out of all the bikes in the demo truck, the new SB95 Carbon garnered the most attention in the parking lot. Like its smaller-wheeled sibling, the low bottom bracket yields incredible stability and traction. The sensation was immediately apparent when climbing, but it was on the trail’s hairpin turns where we got the first taste of the 95’s potential. When diving into turns, the SB95 refused to be pushed off of its line. Instead, it was holding tight and exiting turns so fast that we briefly forgot that we were on 29-inch wheels. Climbing left little to be desired, with consistent grip and a firm feel at the pedals, regardless of our gearing selection. And after the climb, the real fun began. The SB95 charged straight through loose, off camber rock gardens that typically challenge capable riders, and did so without a hiccup. In the air, it provoked the type of confidence typically reserved for downhill bikes, due in part to its relaxed angles and supportive suspension. Its light weight and roomy cockpit had many testers remarking that the SB95 would be a top pick for long rides in unpredictable terrain.
The day came to a close with conversations about the riding that we’d done. When comparing notes, it became apparent that, while each of us had our favorites, everyone had found a bike that left them feeling inspired.