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.
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.
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:
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.
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.