2016 Yeti SB5.5

The Ride

The first few rides on the SB5.5 felt somewhat underwhelming. It wasn’t that it was terrible by any means, but nothing really leapt out at me as being unique or interesting. It pedalled ok, but not spectacularly. It climbed respectably well for a longer travel bike, but again, it wasn’t ground breaking. And on the descents, it was fun, but it wasn’t as cushy as any number of other bikes in this class, and it didn’t feel particularly playful or poppy.

But, as I’m prone to do since I’m a competitive asshole, I started looking at my Strava times. I didn’t feel like I was going that fast, and I wasn’t specifically trying to beat my previous times, but the numbers didn’t lie: I was utterly destroying all of my personal records. Times at some of my regular trails that I worked my ass off to get in perfect conditions aboard other bikes became a regular occurrence on the SB5.5. Times on long descents that I’d been chipping away at for years all of a sudden got blown out of the water. The proof is in the pudding – the SB5.5 is fast.

Noah Bodman reviews the Yeti SB5.5 for Blister Gear Review.
Noah Bodman on the Yeti SB5.5.

But just because the SB5.5 is fast doesn’t mean that it’ll appeal to everyone. It has a very linear leverage curve, which really defines how the bike rides. Basically, that linear rate means that the suspension doesn’t “ramp” up much towards the end of its travel. In terms of setup, it means that I’m running a bit less sag than I normally would on other bikes with this amount of travel – on the SB5.5 I’m running around 25% sag in the rear, while I’d often run 30-35% sag on various other bikes. I would have liked to try adding some volume reducers to the rear shock to make the bike a bit more progressive, but unfortunately Fox volume reducers were out of stock while I had the bike.

The reason I’m running less sag is because otherwise I find that I blow through the travel too easily, bottoming out frequently. Lower air pressures also made the bike feel less balanced, with the rear end dipping too deeply into its travel in corners and compressions. But running higher air pressures and less sag also means that the bike isn’t quite as supple at the beginning of its travel. It doesn’t iron out small bumps in the trail quite as well as some other bikes in this category.

I’d compare the SB5.5 to a car – a “daily driver” has fairly soft suspension that’s designed to be comfortable driving around town, but it’s unstable and wallowy if you start trying to drive it fast and corner hard. Sportier cars have much firmer suspension that handles precisely, but is a lot less comfortable. The SB5.5 feels a lot like the sports car; you can certainly use it for “regular” rides, but it’s more in its element at race pace.

Where I’d say the SB5.5 does worst is on “freeride” type trails – on bigger jumps and drops, it blows through its travel too easily, and the rear end doesn’t pop particularly well off of jumps. The length of the bike also makes it feel a bit less playful, and it’s harder to loft the front end than some of the other bikes in this class that have shorter chain stays.

Noah Bodman reviews the Yeti SB5.5 for Blister Gear Review.
Noah Bodman on the Yeti SB5.5.

But if you’re looking for a bike that you can push a bit, the SB5.5 does really well on any rocky, rooty trail. That linear suspension does a really good job of absorbing mid sized bumps, while the big wheels and meaty tires smooth out the little stuff. The geometry is stable at speed, even when blasting through rough patches, and more than anything else, the bike corners like it’s on rails. It’s that particular trait that I notice more than perhaps anything else – between the suspension and geometry, I feel like I can carry a lot speed through difficult corners.

So you probably get the point that this bike is great at race pace, but I was also somewhat surprised at how well it works as just a regular trail bike. I’ve spent a lot of time on the SB5.5 doing longer backcountry rides – the kind of thing where my average speed for the ride barely breaks 5 mph. And while the SB5.5 isn’t the most supple bike around, its respectable weight, acceptable efficiency, and more travel than most other trail bikes mean it actually gets along pretty decently.

Now, I wouldn’t say this is the SB5.5 is the first bike I’d pick for big backcountry adventures, but it did a lot better than I was expecting. Given that the SB5.5 has a fair amount of travel, a long wheelbase, and a slack headtube angle, I was expecting it to kind of suck on anything that wasn’t pointed downhill. But while no one will be mistaking it for an XC race rig, I found it to be surprisingly versatile.

Despite the extra travel and slacker angles, like I mentioned above, it actually climbs slightly better than my Evil Following – a steeper seat tube and longer chainstays make a big difference there. The SB5.5 is also a pretty light bike; at 28.4lbs (without pedals), it weighs about the same as my Evil even though the SB5.5 has heavier wheels, heavier tires, and a heavier fork. This isn’t to say that the front end of the SB5.5 doesn’t get pretty wandery on steep climbs (it does), but it’s better than plenty of other slack bikes (both 29er and 27.5”).

I also don’t find the SB5.5 to be overly cumbersome on slower, tighter trails. Generally speaking, 29ers are less maneuverable than 27.5” wheeled bikes, and long, slack 29ers like the SB5.5 have the potential to be a real handful in tight spots. And just to be clear, I certainly wouldn’t call the SB5.5 “agile” in tight situations, but for a long, slack 29er that has a decent amount of travel, it did a lot better than I was expecting it to. I’d say it beats out the Specialized Enduro 29, most of the longer travel enduro bikes, and even my Evil Following when it comes to threading through tight switchbacks or wiggling around some awkward rocks.

I’ve mentioned in passing a few other bikes in this section, but for a broader list of comparisons, check out our 29er Roundup, which compares the SB5.5 to a whole bunch of other bikes.

Durability and Maintenance

Yeti got some bad press a little while back with some of their frames breaking, which turned out to be pre-production models. I’m happy to report that my (production version) SB5.5 has held up quite well. I’ve sent it tomahawking into the trees, cased jumps, hucked to flat, and performed various other feats of stupidity, none of which seemed to phase the bike.

I was particularly interested to see how the Switch Infinity linkage would hold up, so in my time on the bike, I did literally nothing to it. I didn’t pull it apart for maintenance, I didn’t lube it, and I didn’t even clean it. Here’s what it looked like when I finally pulled it off to see how it was running:

Noah Bodman reviews the Yeti SB5.5 for Blister Gear Review.
Yeti SB5.5 Switch Infinity

Lo and behold, it’s still running perfectly smoothly. I went ahead and cleaned it up and regreased it, and it still feels pretty much the same as it did when it was filthy. In other words, the sliders don’t seem to be a source of maintenance issues. I should also note that the whole process of pulling the sliders out and re-greasing them was quick and easy – it’s a 15 minute job.

Aside from the frame, the componentry is holding up well. Like I mentioned above, the Reverb post is starting to get a bit sticky, and the headset is starting to feel like it needs some love, but all in all, everything is holding up well.

Bottom Line

Fun on a bike means different things to different people, and if your version of fun is going as fast as possible all the time, the SB5.5 is built with that kind of fun in mind. I wouldn’t call it a playful bike, but if you tend to ride pinned, and you’re more concerned with beating your friends down the trail than jumping off every little side hit, the SB5.5 will suit you well.

All that said, the SB5.5 still functions pretty decently as an all around trail bike (albeit one with a clear preference for going downhill quickly). It’s more versatile than I expected it to be, which is maybe it’s greatest attribute. At the end of the day, anyone who’s looking to win some enduro races on the weekends and earn some Strava bragging rights, but still needs a bike for “normal” riding on non-race days should take a serious look at the SB5.5.

7 comments on “2016 Yeti SB5.5”

  1. Thanks for calling out and articulating the seat tube angle issue, which as you mention is one of the most important factors for climbing on a long travel bike. We have reach and stack to accurately define hand and front wheel position but “effective seat angle” is a shot in the dark that’s interpreted differently by each manufacturer. Hopefully some will start to listen.



    • This is a huge problem for taller riders. Many bikes just don’t work for them on climbs because they have too slack seat tube angles paired with short chainstays. When the seat tube is fully extended, for optimal climbing condition, weight balance gets all wrong. Bikes with a big kink in the seat tube, very slack real STA, have real world ESTAs much slacker then claimed. I seriously doubt that 2017 29er Trek Slash works for taller guys. On climbs that is.

      Speaking of Evil. They actually changed their official reported ESTA on The Insurgent from the bikes inception, making them slacker. If you bother to calculate you will see that their geometry numbers don’t add up.

  2. Of note, my Santa Cruz Hightower setup with a 160 36 on the front and Float X2 rear has numbers almost identical to the Yeti 5.5, although slightly shorter chainstays. I’ve found very much the same thing coming off my previous Nomad 3, all my Strava DH times in Western Canada terrain have come down without trying as hard.

    Those of us that have tried the longer travel 29ers in my crew really think we’ll see more and more in this Enduro segment as the speed advantage seems to be a reality for most people. Interesting also to follow along on EWS setups on the few teams that have equivalent choices in 27 and 29 and ultimately what they choose. Except for Rude boy, most seem to be going the 29 route.

  3. Hey, nice review!

    Any thoughts on the comparison between this bike and the Following? Particularly with respect to running the Following with a 140mm fork. Guessing this would have the edge on the really chunky stuff (consecutive hits), I have a Following and notice it can get a little overwhelmed at the back (no surprise though).

    Any thoughts appreciated

    • Hey Dan,

      You’re correct that the SB5.5 has the edge on rough terrain, largely due to having a bit more travel. And the addition of a 160mm Fox 36 on the front of the 5.5 can’t be overlooked – it’s not just more travel, but a stiffer, burlier fork, which means you can really get away with pointing it straight into some terrible line choices.

      But maybe more than anything, the Yeti just rides quite a bit differently than the Evil. I found the Yeti was happiest staying on the ground and motoring through things, whereas the Evil was a good bit more poppy and playful, and worked better when pumping every little roller on the trail. The Evil has a pretty progressive suspension, which keeps it supple off the top, and makes it a little easier to really load the back end up. The Yeti is much more linear, which means it uses all of its travel more easily, and it does a really good job of just swallowing mid sized hits.

      Both are fantastic bikes, just different ways to skin the cat.


      • Hey Noah,

        I have ridden The Following but not the SB 5.5 and probably can’t prior to a potential purchase. The Hightower is good fun as you said, feels pretty nimble and very playful for 29. I like that the SB5.5 handles the chunk very well, but just how much do you lose in the playful/fun department? What bike would you personally choose as the daily all mountain aggressive trail bike, that can still hang in the bike park here and there? Compare it to a Mach 5.5 or Evil The Calling if you have rode those 27.5?

        • Hey Jake,

          Compared to various 27.5″ wheeled bikes, the 5.5 just feels like a lot more bike. The long wheelbase and bigger wheels add up to a bike that feels a lot less flickable, and quick direction changes require a lot more effort. In some situations, that makes the bike feel cumbersome, in others it makes the bike feel stable; in other words, the bike’s “bigness” is a good thing some of the time. But that’s also not exclusive to the 5.5 – that’s mostly just a longer travel 29″ bike vs. 27.5″ bike thing.

          As far as what I’d personally choose, that’s a tough question. I’ve been on a Hightower for the last 2 months (review coming shortly), and the Hightower feels like a bit less bike than the 5.5. Which is nice on big climbs, and more “trail” oriented rides, but I was faster on the descents on the 5.5. The 5.5 isn’t entirely unplayful, but the Hightower does better at popping and gapping between little trail features. And then bikes like the Following, Smuggler, Django 29, etc. are all fantastic, but they definitely feel smaller. Which is obviously a good thing in situations where a smaller bike is favorable, but they’re also a lot less inclined to go plowing through brake bumped chunder in a bike park situation.

          So I guess the short answer to that question is that all of the bikes in this conversation have their merits, and it’s just a question of where you’d rather make some trade offs. But to narrow this down a bit, and operating on the assumption that a long-ish travel bike (130ish mm to 150ish mm) is the best choice for the trails you’re riding, I’d probably look at it like this: if playfulness and flickability are top priorities, I’d be looking at something with 27.5″ wheels. But assuming we’re mostly talking about 29ers, if efficiency is a priority, I’d look at a Hightower. If speed while retaining decent trail riding manners is the priority, I’d go 5.5. I’d probably put an Enduro 29 one notch above the 5.5, meaning it’s more about straight line speed, and sacrifices some trail manners. For unbridled DH plundering, I’d look at a Wreckoning. The new Rocky Mtn. Instinct looks interesting, but all I’ve seen are specs and pictures, so it’s too early to tell there.

          Hopefully something in this semi-rambling response is helpful!

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