Yeti's long-awaited e-bike is built to race with a complex six-bar linkage that claims to bring efficiency under power and composure on the roughest descents. But can it win the hearts, minds and wallets of the buying public?
It’s late to the starting blocks, but can the new Yeti 160E T1 catch-up to its rivals on the trails and become one of the best electric mountain bikes on the market? Let’s find out.
Yeti 160E T1 need to know
- Yeti’s first e-bike gets 160mm travel, 29in wheels, a Shimano EP8 motor and 630Wh battery
- Sixfinity six-bar suspension design manipulates the virtual pivot point through the travel to tune anti-squat characteristics
- Adjustable leverage rate, via three mounting points on the bottom shock mount
- Two build options; the T1 here, and C1 for £9,499: both use the same Turq series full carbon frame
Yeti has never had to worry about making an undesirable bike – every model in its back catalogue has been lusted after since the very first FRO – and yet its marketing is among the most bewitching in the world. Spend just a few minutes on the Yeti website and I challenge you not to be nodding your head in approval, dribbling onto your keyboard and reaching for your credit card.
Yet I suspect the Colorado brand must have had a crisis of confidence during the development of its very first e-bike, since it has taken a lengthy five years to get from drawing board to showroom floor. Watch the slick video charting the development process and scroll down the product page and you’ll come away with the impression that Yeti didn’t want to release the Yeti 160E T1 until it was just right. Perfect, even. But since product perfection is pure folly, and development is a continual process (you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a 160E V2 in a few years time), my hunch is that it wanted to see the (mostly North American) market soften in its opinion of e-bikes before entering the lion’s den. Once Santa Cruz had taken that flak with the Heckler and Bullit, and people actually started questioning the lack of a Yeti e-bike, the time was right. That’s just a theory though, and a largely irrelevant one. The real question is, not why it took so long, but has Yeti got it right?
One thing the 160E has in spades is complexity. Not content with a four-bar suspension design, Yeti has developed a six-bar system to replace the Switch Infinity sliding rail mechanism used on its trail and enduro bikes. Why not use Switch Infinity? For the simple reason that there’s not enough room above the Shimano EP8 motor. So Yeti went back to the drawing board and came up with something that does a similar job, albeit in a different way. The basic premise is to manipulate the position of the main pivot (in this case a virtual one) to change the pedalling and braking characteristics, with the aim of making the suspension taut and efficient around sag, but fluid and free of pedal kickback deeper in the travel.
On the 160E, the lower link rotates upwards through the early part of the travel, then at around 50% stroke, the rigid Sixfinity strut – connecting the rocker link with the lower link – starts to push the lower link back down. As such, the anti-squat starts high (at over 100%) in the early stages of the travel, to keep the bike stable under power, then falls away dramatically after the ‘Inflection Point’ for better traction – particularly in the higher gears. Clever though it is, there’s no doubt that the Sixfinity strut – sticking out either side of the rocker link – is not exactly elegant. Furthermore, and this is a rhetorical question, who says such a complex linkage and engineered anti-squat curves are really needed on an e-bike, seeing as pedal efficiency is hardly priority number one?
As you’d hope with a price tag approaching £12k, the 160E T1 gets a full carbon frame using Yeti’s top end Turq series fibres. There’s a cheaper C1 model too, boasting the same frame but dressed with Fox Performance suspension and Shimano SLX parts. Even so, it’s still £9,499.
On the top T1 model, no such compromises are necessary. Up front is the excellent Fox 38 Factory fork with 170mm travel, Grip 2, four-way adjustable damping and e-bike tune, while out back you get the equally sublime Fox Float X2 shock. Shimano handles the drivetrain duties with a full XT set-up while SRAM provides the Code RSC brakes, including e-bike friendly 220mm front and 200mm rear rotors. DT Swiss EX1700 wheels are shod with excellent Maxxis Assegai and Minion DHR II tyres, and I was pleased to see that Yeti had opted for the burlier EXO + up front and reinforced Double Down casing out back. Yeti’s UK Distributor had additionally fitted CushCore inserts both front and rear to this test bike, which was total overkill and added around 250g to the weight of each wheel.
Shimano’s EP8 drive system (paired with 630Wh internal battery) has been around a while now, so I won’t spend much time going over old ground, suffice to say the natural feeling response and compact dimensions are let down somewhat by the underwhelming torque, occasionally disappointing range and slight rattle when coasting. That said, it’s well supported by dealers. You can find out more about how it compares to the other key motors on the market by reading our guide.
For a bike unashamedly aimed at enduro e-bike racing, the 160E has a relatively conservative 64.5º head angle. We actually measured it slightly slacker than claimed at 64.0º, which tallies pretty closely to the brand’s successful analogue SB150. In fact the 160E closely mirrors the SB150 in almost every dimension. Where the two diverge is the chainstay, which is 10mm longer on the e-bike to make room for the motor, and the bottom bracket height, which is 2mm higher. Except the 160E sags so much under its own weight that the two bikes end up with almost identical static heights.
Take a close look at the lower shock mount and you’ll see a flip chip. But unlike most such devices, which offer multiple geometry positions, the one on the 160E lets you tune the leverage. It comes stock in the middle 30% position, with options to run it at 35% or 25% depending on your riding style and local terrain.
How it rides
Being so hotly in-demand meant that my time with the Yeti 160E T1 was more limited than I’d have liked. Especially given how complex the rear suspension is. Fortunately Yeti has done a great job with its online suspension set-up calculator – the pressures were bang on and the damping recommendations made a great starting point. This really abbreviated the whole set-up process and meant that the time I did have with the bike was spent more productively. In another nod to simplicity, I also left the 160E in the stock, 30% progression setting.
Yeti describes the 160E as a race specific e-mtb. To me, that infers something edgy, uncompromising and unapproachable. But the first thing that struck me about the 160E, given the persuasive marketing spin, elaborate linkage design and intricate interplay between pedal inputs and suspension response, was how friendly and normal it felt. When I jumped on board, that low-slung top tube, longish reach and short head tube instantly brought back happy memories of the SB150 – a much-loved bike in the mbr staff room. At 480mm, the large 160E is around 10mm longer than I’d typically run on an e-bike, so I swapped the 50mm stem for a 40mm version which helped make the front end easier to get off the ground.
If you’re worried about the head angle being too steep compared to the current crop of enduro bikes, don’t be. The long front centre and supportive Fox fork creates ample stability on steeper tracks, while the steering still feels light and accurate on flatter trails. Indeed, the Yeti loves to carve a constant radius corner, feeling locked into whatever arc you’ve prescribed on the way in.
Tighter turns and rapid direction changes don’t come as naturally though, and something like a YT Decoy or Specialized Turbo Levo would definitely jink through a slalom of loamy slash turns with more speed and less effort, but once I’d adapted to the stability of the 160E this slight lethargy didn’t bother me. Losing some weight might help its cause in this regard, as it’s not particularly light at well over 23kg, and in the case of my test bike, the CushCore inserts definitely didn’t help the Yeti’s agility.
Where the Yeti 160E T1 felt most at home were fast tracks with moderate gradients of medium roughness. In these situations the excellent chassis stability would keep the geometry honed and the suspension active, making it easy to carry speed and rhythmically pump the suspension for grip. That middle progression setting providing a great balance between travel and support too, and only occasionally troubling the bump stops on the flattest landings.
When climbing, the rear suspension on the 160E was surprisingly free to flutter away over bumps, yet felt tight when I would put in a power stroke to pop up a little ledge. Equally, the Yeti 160E T1 made good progress getting back up to speed out of corners, until, of course, it hit the limiter and I would just give up and coast.
So the Yeti 160E is undoubtedly a good bike on the climbs, and boasts a turn of speed that gets you out of corners rapidly and carries you smoothly over chunder. But did it give me any noticeable advantage over benchmark e-bikes such as the YT Decoy, Trek Slash and Spesh Turbo Levo? Not really. And therein lies the rub. As much as the 160E is a really good e-bike, it doesn’t move the game on beyond any of those cheaper alternatives. You’re paying a huge premium for that head badge, which, if history has taught us anything, probably means that everyone will want one.