By its own admission, Yeti was late to the 29er party. It could hear the music getting louder and see other brands celebrating their success with big wheels, but rather than diving in headlong with a half-baked design it spent the best part of three years developing a 29er trail bike worthy of the Yeti head badge. Enter the SB95.
Beautiful in the apparent simplicity of its frame design and with 127mm (5in) of travel, this is one of a growing breed of 29ers that are turning heads and changing attitudes. Once considered the ungainly cousin of traditional 26in bikes, new 29ers are easy on the eye and even easier to ride. With long, low, relatively slack geometry, designed to amplify the improved roll over and stability of the bigger wheels, the Yeti SB95 is targeted squarely at trail riders looking for something special.
Lower the saddle and throw a leg over the size L SB95 and you notice the length in the cockpit, the raked out fork and ample standover clearance. There’s a distinct feeling that speed is your friend, and you can’t help coming over all giddy at the prospect of riding a lightweight trail bike that has a distinctly downhill layout.
Fortunately for us — we rode the SB95 on the fast, flowing trails at the Sea Otter venue in California — it doesn’t pedal or climb like a DH bike, thanks to the combination of Yeti’s Switch Technology suspension and the CTD (climb, trail, descend) modes on the latest Fox rear shock.
First introduced on the 152mm travel 26in SB66, Switch Technology uses an oversized main pivot with an eccentric anchor point for the swingarm, transforming what looks like a big, blue pivot into a super short, “micro” link. It’s basically a link that’s been turned inside out, circular rather than flat, and rotating inside the oversized bearings housed in the frame. It’s a compact, elegant design and, combined with the regular upper link that drives the rear shock and provides the second anchor point for the swingarm, Yeti can manipulate the suspension behaviour to match the application of the bike and its travel. The really cool part is that the eccentric assembly switches direction as the suspension compresses to reduce chain growth deep in the travel, minimising unwanted pedal kick back. This all happens seamlessly and, like any good suspension design, you are totally unaware of it going about its business.
But there’s more to the SB95 than suspension wizardry. The frame sports all of the features you’d expect to find on a modern trail bike: tapered head tube, cable guides for a dropper seat post remote, internal cable routing on the swingarm and post mount rear brake tabs.
Because plenty of riders will be looking at custom frame builds, the rear dropouts on the SB95 feature Yeti’s Chip System, in which interchangeable dropout chips give the option of running a regular 135mm quick release hub or the latest 142x12mm bolt through design. Given the full triangulation of the swingarm on the SB95 afforded by the direct low mount front mech, we can’t see the bolt-through setup making a massive difference to tracking and rear end stiffness, unless of course the extra hub spacing has been used to improve wheel stiffness.
With the advent of clutch type rear derailleurs Yeti appreciates that not everyone will want to fit a chain guide. So the SB59 doesn’t have ISCG mounts on the bottom bracket. Instead, it uses a splined BB shell with adapters for ISCG 05 and older chain guides to save weight when no chain guide is used. This also future-proofs the frame against changes to the ISCG “standard”.
Yeti recommends building the SB95 around a 140mm or 120mm fork, and gives the corresponding geometry for both on its website. Having ridden the SB95 and a handful of other 29er trail bikes with more travel up front we’re convinced that the 140mm Fox 34 fork is the way to go. Choosing the correct frame size from the four on offer isn’t so clear cut, however, and if (like most of the mbr test crew) you around 5’11” in height you fall right between Yeti’s recommendations for the medium and large frame sizes.
Silverfish, the UK distributor for Yeti, offers the SB95 as a frame only in black or silver for £1,999. If you don’t fancy piecing one together from scratch, it is also available as a complete bike with a “Race” build kit that includes a 120mm Fox 34 fork, the latest Shimano XT groupset, DT Swiss wheels and a mix of Thomson and Easton finishing kit, all for £4,395.
As yet there’s no sign of a carbon version of the SB95, but if its development process follows a similar path to the SB66 we expect to see one early next year.
Travel: 127mm (5in)
Shock: Fox Float CTD (190x51mm)
Weight: 3.4kg (7.5lb)
Sizes: S, M, L XL
Colours: Black, Silver
Seat post: 30.9mm
BB shell: 73mm
Dropout spacing: 135mm QR or 142x12mm bolt-through
Front mech: Direct low mount (E-type)
This review first appeared in the December 2012 issue of MBR.