To ride new trails is to live. And to do so on a new bike alongside the folks that created it gives an insight that is rarely gained through isolated experimentation. I had the opportunity to visit Yeti Cycles‘ world headquarters in Golden, Co to do just that. We were invited to test ride the new SB-66, a new 150mm trail bike with their latest rear suspension design.
The Yeti nexus is unassuming from the street and doesn’t lend much towards what goes on inside. However, as soon as you walk through the front door, you realize that Yeti is all about fun. What was it that cemented the notion? Was it the foosball table in the front office? The myriad classic Yeti frames hanging from the ceiling? The conference room cluttered with gear cast off after yesterday’s lunch ride? For me it was nearly getting lifted off my feet by the big-as-a-bear shop dog. Once I regained my footing, I was able to shake a few hands and get formally introduced to the guys and to the beast they lovingly referred to as “crotch sniffer.”
Nicknames are commonplace at Yeti, I found. Chris Conroy, one of the owners, is “Bossman” and Phil Cramer, one of their sales crew, is “Flanders… or is it Phlanders?” These two gents took me in and gave a quick tour of the facility. I could’ve stopped and gaped at any one of the countless corners filled with old race bikes and prototypes, but we were on a mission to get to the new bike. Though I’d done my damndest to search for any leaked spy info about the SB-66 prior to the trip, there was none to be had. And so we started at the beginning as the Yeti guys gave me the rundown about the Switch Technology rear suspension design. As I pawed a cutaway frame, it started to make sense, and I couldn’t wait to ride it.
I had purposely caught an early flight to try to glom onto their famous lunch ride aboard the new bike, and Chris and Phil were happy to take me along. Before the trip, a few of us here at Competitive Cyclist pondered exactly what their local trails were like. Of course, we already knew a bit about Front Range riding — go uphill and come back down. But what we wanted to see for ourselves was the exact nature of the trails that new Yeti bikes are tested on. I followed Chris up Apex Gulch on the SB-66 once we got the shock settings dialed in, with Phil keeping an eye on me from behind. This area apparently has a rich history as a conduit for travel of a different sort. It was once a toll road, used by those seeking their fortune in gold and silver. They’d load up in Golden and pay the toll to access the play at Central City. These days, the access is free, but you pay for the trip up the 1500′ climb with sweat and hard work.
It must be said that the Apex Trail has some tough technical sections. Oh, and did I mention that it goes uphill? With an average grade above 10%, Apex would be bad enough without testing sections laced with jutting boulders and polished slabs of granite. Sprinkle a layer of sand across these, and they’re difficult to surmount for anyone, let alone a gasping flatlander. It’s in these conditions that the SB-66 was conceived and what makes it shine. This is a trail bike that’s made to climb, and later I’ll tell you that it’s made to descend. After clearing the first few testing pitches and with heart rate rising quickly, I began to come apart a bit and unclipped in time to keep from falling into the aromatic but scratchy-looking sage.
It was the first of many times on the way up that Phil and I would confer about what I was feeling with the bike. The bike was good, very good. And what always amazes me is how different bikes can be. With what look to be minimal changes to the untrained eye, one suspension design will produce an entirely different ride experience than the next. Some are better on the climbs, some better on the descents. Rarely, does one do both well. And at the risk of sounding like I drank too much Kool-Aid during the ride, I can say that the SB-66 possesses that rare combination of capabilities.
The Yeti folks were gracious hosts and even let me steal away with an ASR Carbon for the evening so that I could meet up with the “fun-hater” ride leaving from Golden Bike Shop that evening. So I took off for my second ride of the day with the sinewy lycra-clad monsters and lived in a world of pain for exactly one hour and five minutes as I chased them up the even-steeper Chimney Gulch. Over the top of the mountain, we made our way back to Apex and came all the way down, slamming through bermed corner, wash-outs, and boulder gardens. It was a blast!
As I reflected on the ride over a few beers and a plate of fish tacos, I had the distinct notion that I might’ve been able to do our strenuous loop faster on the SB-66. After all, I was in the granny gear going up, and the Switch Technology rear suspension climbs as well as any design I’ve ever ridden (even with 150mm of travel!). So would the difference in the weight between the ASR and the SB-66 allow me to go that much faster up the climb on the lighter bike? I’m not sure. I actually doubt it. What I can say with great conviction is that I could’ve gone down Apex with greater average speed and a far greater level of control on the SB-66. And what is fun worth? If it’s one of your priorities, then know that the SB-66 is made just for it.
I returned the next day for my second ride on the SB-66. Only this time there was a group of us, and we were headed for Enchanted Forest, a trail on the south side of Apex Gulch and one that shouldn’t be missed. As expected, Apex was just as hard to ride up the second time. But the Yeti crew treated us to some lukewarm Miller High Life as we sat in a shady nook at a trail junction. At this point we were perched at the top of the Enchanted Forest, so with a few quick disclaimers about a killer root and blind turns, we rolled in.
Yeti employs a wealth of gravity racers, and as I tried in vain to chase these local fastmen down the trail, I came to fully realize just how well the new bike rides. As the speeds increased and we kept a harried pace through unfamiliar corners, I really appreciated the 67° head angle on the SB-66. The Yeti guys have long been proponents for slacker steering geometry, even on their XC bikes. It’s something you notice when you jump on the SB-66 from something with steeper angles. And while I never felt like it was a detriment or pushed like a tractor on the climbs, the front end felt like magic on the way down.
Phil kept talking about quality of travel, and this began to make sense as I pushed the bike beyond my own capabilities as a rider. Through clattery root jumbles, the rear suspension responded with ease to keep the wheel on the ground, no doubt helped by the lightly damped rear shock. Over boulder drops and through stairstep-sized roots, the Yeti responded admirably. To punch through the midstroke, deep into the bottom of the stroke, the SB-66 provides a smooth transition without the harshness toward bottom-out that we’ve felt before on other air-sprung bikes.
Yeti has created a bike that climbs like a billy goat, sprints without wallowing, and forgives rider error by taming all the wrong lines on the downhills. The SB-66 is truly one bike that can do it all, and it sums up the Yeti mantra perfectly — fun. And if you ride “fun” bikes already, you won’t mind that the aluminum framed SB-66 weighs seven pounds with the rear shock. No big deal. They will be offering a full carbon version soon that shaves a pound off this alloy bike. At that point, even the weight weenies should be able to find a way to let go of the notion that long travel can’t be efficient. What’s for sure is… this is where the fun starts. And to the crew at Yeti, thanks for the ride!