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Mountain Flyer Tested: Yeti SB5 Carbon X01

Just weeks after the SB5 Carbon was released, pro Yeti riders Jared Graves and Richie Rude went 1-2 at the Enduro World Series event at the Colorado Freeride Festival in Winter Park, Colo. Graves was aboard an SB6 Carbon (a yet-to-have-been-released longer travel version of the SB5 Carbon) and Rude was riding the 5-inch travel SB5 Carbon with a 160 mm Fox 36 Fork. Rude won the first two stages, bogied the next two and wound up only 24 seconds behind his teammate after seven stages. “We couldn’t have scripted a better initial release of the bike,” quipped Yeti owner Chris Conroy after the event.

He’s right about that. With those results, I’m not sure they need any more press on the new Switch Infinity suspension technology the SB5 Carbon is built around. Rude’s result on the SB5C illustrates quite clearly the uncanny ability of this bike to change the way you think about a 5-inch travel bike. After having the chance to ride one on our home trails, both test riders agreed the bike climbed like a 120 mm bike and descended like a 160 mm bike. That’s its magic.

Over the years, Yeti has never been afraid to think way out of the box when it comes to suspension, and the new Switch Infinity looks to be the culmination of everything Yeti designers learned over the years from their unique 303 DH rig, to their first generation of the Switch technology—plus some really creative conceptual engineering.

“Essentially, we took everything we learned from the 303 development and merged that knowledge with our Switch experience,” Conroy says. “The biggest thing we borrowed from the 303 is the vertical movement. This allows us to do something you simply can’t do with a traditional link. In fact to achieve the same motion with a link, it would have to have ‘infinite’ length; hence, infinity link.”

Similar to short dual-link designs (like DW Link, VPP, and even Yeti’s first generation Switch design) we’ve become accustomed to, Switch Infinity changes the kinematics of the linkage as the bike moves through its travel, allowing the designer to achieve desired suspension qualities at different points in the travel. We’ve seen many iterations of this concept. All are trying to achieve the same goals: optimized pedaling efficiency and suspension performance. The Switch Infinity link tackles the problem in a new way and is different from anything else we’ve seen to date.

Instead of using linkage, Switch Infinity uses what Yeti calls a translating pivot. The design includes something I can best describe as a gadget, built in conjunction with Fox Racing. Aspects of the gadget look familiar, as it’s built from existing suspension components—Kashima coated stanchions for low friction and durability, and seals and bushings that are used in Fox’s off-road racing division. The gadget is built into the frame above the bottom bracket, and the main rear triangle pivot rotates at the center of the unit. The Infinity Link is smaller than you’d think and is tucked neatly into the frame. The frame weight is only 5.1 pounds so, comparably, the link is light as well. It’s reasonably protected from mud and debris and is easily serviced. It’s made by Fox, but warranty and service will be directly handled by Yeti. We didn’t ride it long enough to attest to its long-term durability, but Conroy assures us he has been riding the same unit for three years, and Fox ran it through extreme testing conditions without failure.

At the beginning of the travel, the Infinity link and main pivot point slide upward on the stanchions, creating a rearward wheel path. In this portion of the travel, the pedaling performance and small bump compliance is incredible. The bike has the snap and responsiveness of a shorter travel bike.

As the link reaches the inflection point, the main pivot switches to a downward motion. This prevents the chain force from adversely affecting the suspension and allows the suspension to begin working more freely, and the bike’s personality changes to that of a longer travel trail bike. The suspension feels bottomless, during the first few rides I kept dropping the shock pressure, thinking I wasn’t getting full travel when, in fact, I was.

The advantage of the Infinity link is that it has less resistance than a design using links to guide the wheel path. This, Yeti says, it what gives the bike its two personalities: incredible pedaling efficiency in the early stages of the travel that smoothly transfers to well-supported travel in the mid-stroke and ultimately the bottomless feel at the end. The square-edge compliance and descending performance of the system gives the SB5 Carbon traits you won’t expect and exceptional control through roots and rocks that you won’t get on other 5-inch travel bikes. Once you spend some time on this bike and get used to it, you won’t be so surprised with Rude’s result in Winter Park.

Part of the SB5 Carbon’s success can be credited to geometry as well. With a 67-degree head tube angle, 45.5-inch wheelbase (medium frame), and 13.4-inch bottom bracket, the bike is long and low enough to give confidence and stability but is still comfortable on the climbs. The suspension keeps you high in the travel and on top of the pedals even when powering up steep climbs. It’s quick out of the corners, much quicker than you would expect. Word has it, after riding the SB5 Carbon, Graves had a hard time deciding which bike to ride at the race in Winter Park.

The XO1 build kit leaves nothing to be desired. It’s straight up SRAM but for one exception: Shimano XT trail brakes. The DT Swiss 350 hubs and XM 401 rims are a good match for the bike and fit the price point. Maxxis tires (Ikon 2.2 rear and Ardent 2.4 front) also fit the bill and make a great matched pair for the terrain we ride in Colorado. The SB5 Carbon is also offered as an XX1 build for $10,600 that includes Enve Wheels and XTR trail brakes. Enve Wheels can be added to the XO1 build for an additional $2,400. Thomson’s Covert dropper post is available with either build for an additional $300. Yeti’s build kits are never disappointing.

Since Richie Rude’s result at Winter Park was achieved running the more substantial Fox F36 fork, I inquired about an F36 build option. Conroy explained they stuck with the F34 up front so as not to confuse the purpose of the bike, considering the SB6 Carbon will come with an F36 and should fill that need. But he also admitted that his personal bike is an SB5 Carbon fitted with a custom 150 mm F36. If they offered that as the special CC build, I’d buy that. The F34 is a good fork, but the F36 weighs nearly the same and is just so much more … everything.

The SB5 Carbon with its Switch Infinity link is a brilliant bike. It’s the best 5-inch travel bike I’ve ridden. Switch Infinity tackles the age-old problems of mountain bike suspension in a rather familiar sounding way—all this talk about pedaling efficiency, anti-squat, square-edge compliance, and bottomless end stroke can start to sound the same, and there are admittedly a lot of great designs out there now. But that’s the great thing about patents when they are working properly: They inspire innovation. Many of the best bikes available today achieve similar results on one end of the spectrum or another, but with Switch Infinity, Yeti seems to have achieved a better, more pronounced reach between pedaling efficiency and descending performance. At this point, with mountain bike suspension, you have to go to great lengths to improve upon what is already available. Many companies have chosen to license existing, successful designs rather than invest and take risk with innovation. It’s cool that Yeti is willing to push the envelope.

The personalities of this bike are so distinct that, with a Fox 36 or RockShox Pike up front, I could see it being my only bike (no quiver needed) without compromising lift-served riding or big mountain all day adventures. But all you needed to illustrate that were the results from that Enduro World Series race in Winter Park. –B. Riepe

 

For more great articles and reviews like this one, visit Mountain Flyer. 

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