Fit and Geometry
In terms of fit, the SB5 is pretty average amongst modern trail bikes. At 5’9”, I rode a size medium, which has a reach of 424 mm. That’s neither super long (some bikes from Devinci and Kona are 440-450 mm for a Medium), nor super short (some bikes, like a Pivot Mach 6, are around 400 mm for a Medium).
At 603 mm, the top tube on the Medium SB5 is, like the reach, pretty average compared to other bikes in this class. For seated climbing, I didn’t feel uncomfortably stretched out, nor did it feel like I was cramped in the cockpit.
Per Yeti’s sizing chart, I’m smack in the middle of the range for a size Medium, and I’d generally agree with that. I’d probably recommend that people bump up to the next size a bit sooner than Yeti recommends (i.e. someone who is 5’11” should be looking at a Large), but this involves a good bit of personal preference.
I should also note that I’ve had multiple people comment about how long the seat tube is. And it does kind of look long; it sticks up a ways above the top tube. But just to firmly dispel that perception, the seat tube isn’t actually that long, it’s just that the top tube drops really low. The seat tube on the Medium SB5 measures 445 mm, which is about average for medium-sized frames.
In stock form with a 150mm-travel fork, the SB5 has a relatively slack 66.5° head angle. Especially for a bike that has less than 130 mm travel in the rear, that’s one of the slackest bikes in this class.
What’s also noteworthy here is that the 150mm-travel fork has a fair amount more travel than the 127 mm shock in the rear. Five or ten mm more travel in the fork is pretty common, but there aren’t many other companies that are stocking a trail bike with a fork that has over 20 mm more travel than the rear. I’ll get into how that rides below, but in terms of geometry, it means the SB5 has a pretty tall stack height — at 610 mm on the Medium, it’s taller than most other comparable bikes. For those who aren’t familiar with that measurement, it’s the distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube, measured vertically — the taller the stack height, the taller the front end will tend to feel. And with its relatively tall stack height, the front end on the SB5 definitely feels tall.
It’s also worth mentioning that, as with many of their bikes, Yeti doesn’t try to cram in the shortest possible chainstays — at 437 mm, some might even consider the SB5’s stays to be long. Personally, I’m of the opinion that super-short chainstays ride weird, so I’m a big fan of the slightly-longer-than-average stays on the SB5. They’re short enough that they don’t make the bike un-playful, but they’re long enough that they make the bike feel more balanced in corners.
The SB5 is one of those bikes that, with minor tweaks to the build kit or setup, has the ability to be a lot of different things. It’s entirely reasonable to put some light parts on it and call it a passable beer-league XC race bike. But it’s also entirely reasonable to put some meaty tires on it and send it down some rooty, rocky, messy trails.
On one hand, it’s a fairly light frame, and it feels pretty snappy on the pedals. So if you want to sprint up a hill, the SB5 is pretty ok with that plan. But on the other hand, its geometry is relatively slack and the bike is quite stable at speed (at least for a short-ish travel frame), so plundering down technical trails goes better than you might expect, even though the rear end is bouncing around a bit. So what you end up with is a pretty versatile bike that’s pretty competent at a surprisingly wide range of riding situations.
Now that doesn’t mean that the SB5 is a do-everything wonder bike; it still compromises performance in any given category compared to more dedicated steeds. What it does mean, however, is that with fairly minor tweaks to the build, the SB5 can competently land anywhere within a pretty broad spectrum, more so than many other comparable bikes.
But while tweaking the build can shift where the SB5 excels, it still feels pretty racy in all forms. Its suspension is more business than pleasure, so though couch-like it is not, fast it is. Like many of the Yeti bikes, the Switch Infinity suspension on the SB5 produces a very linear leverage ratio. In other words, as the rear suspension is compressed, the SB5 “ramps up” less than a lot of other bikes. On the trail, that means the SB5 handles 80% of bumps you hit really well (or at least, really well for a bike with 127 mm travel). But that other 20% covers the smallest bumps and the biggest bumps — the linear suspension curve means that the SB5’s small bump sensitivity isn’t great, and it can get a bit overwhelmed on the biggest hits.
To the SB5’s credit though, it takes care of the bumps that matter the most. At first blush, the suspension can feel a bit harsh, but open it up a bit and start riding trails at speed, and all of a sudden things start to smooth out. Again, the SB5 certainly isn’t a couch, and there’s no doubt that the suspension on the SB5 feels a good bit more taut than something like a Devinci Django or a Trek Fuel EX. But I’d say the SB5’s suspension does the minimum amount necessary to effectively keep the rear wheel tracking the trail. And really, that’s what it’s all about — the suspension keeps the bike in control, but by doing the minimum amount necessary, it also means that rider inputs are rewarded rather than simply absorbed.
What I mean by “rewards rider input” is that the SB5 does what you want it to, when you want it to. It pumps and jumps really well, and when you push the bike into a corner, it doesn’t just smoosh in there like a bowl of pudding. If you want to preload the bike into a root and gap over a bunch of other junk in the trail, the SB5 does that ridiculously well. And that’s a situation where some other bikes might wallow into their travel and absorb your efforts.
To be clear, I don’t mean to sound like an apologist for a bike with harsh suspension. The SB5’s suspension isn’t cushy, but it’s effective. There are other bikes I’ve ridden (some Rocky Mountains, and some Banshees come to mind) that are similarly un-cushy, but don’t feel nearly as effective at doing what needs to be done. The SB5’s suspension prioritizes speed over comfort, and it does that really well.
The flip side of this is that the bike really works best when ridden aggressively. The substantially longer-travel fork means that it pays off to keep your weight forward and let the fork do a lot of the work. And the racy suspension means that the bike works best with a rider who is pretty actively moving the bike around and sprinting in between corners, rather than someone who just wants to sit back and let the suspension do the work.
I found that the SB5 was a very precise bike, and I could put the wheels exactly where I wanted to on the trail — the bike rewards picking a good line and sticking to it. But it also means that picking a bad line — or just getting a bit sloppy — was considerably less rewarding, and the bike wasn’t as forgiving of those sort of mistakes as other cushier rides.
All that said, and in stock form, there were two main areas where I thought the SB5 fell a bit short. The first is the tires. As I said before, I don’t like Ardents. But more than that, the SB5 is a pretty short-travel bike that doesn’t have the most forgiving suspension, but at the same time, its geometry is pretty slack and it has a longer-travel fork. What that adds up to is a bike that can be ridden like an enduro bike on rough descents, but it still only has 127 mm travel in the back. And on trail, that means that I get a lot of flats. I pinched and tore more tires on the SB5 than I have on any other bike in recent memory. If this was my bike, I’d definitely be running a Maxxis Double Down casing or a similarly heavy casing on the rear tire.
The second shortcoming of the SB5 is steep climbs. The longer-travel fork, tall stack height, and tall front end make it pretty hard to keep the front wheel from wheelying up steep climbs. Now, to be clear, the SB5 pedals pretty efficiently, so on average climbs it actually does really well. But when things get legitimately steep, the SB5’s front end gets pretty wander-y, and it’s definitely a handful.
Durability and Maintenance
In two months on the SB5 I didn’t have any particularly noteworthy problems. Despite a complete lack of maintenance, the Switch Infinity linkage was still running smoothly, and everything was functioning as expected. As I noted previously, I had a DU bushing develop a bit of slop, and I got a minor creak in the headset that was silenced with a quick squirt of grease.
Santa Cruz 5010: The 5010 is a smidge more efficient pedaling, and it has better small-bump sensitivity. The SB5 has a longer-travel fork, slacker geometry, and longer chainstays, all of which make the SB5 feel a bit more comfortable at higher speeds. The 5010 feels a little whippier in tight situations, but neither bike feels “big.” I’d give the SB5 the nod when it comes to pumping and jumping, but the 5010 wins out when it comes to climbing.
Devinci Django 27.5: The Django’s suspension is more active than the SB5, and it works better at slower speeds and on moderate trails. But as speeds pick up, the SB5’s geometry and racier suspension come into play, and that’s where the SB5 pulls away. The longer-travel fork on the SB5 also means you can get away with a bit more.
Transition Scout: The Scout’s suspension is definitely more supple than the SB5, which makes for a more comfortable ride. The SB5 pops and jumps a little better, and also feels like it comes up to speed a bit quicker when you lay some power into the pedals. In terms of stability at speed and going fast on rough trails, the two are pretty close, but they get there differently. The SB5 relies a bit more on its slacker, longer geometry and longer-travel fork. The Scout relies a bit more on its supple rear suspension.
Some brands have a certain consistency across their models — Volkls ski like Volkls, BMWs drive like BMWs, and Yetis ride like Yetis. The SB5 is no exception; it rides like a Yeti. And that means that certain sacrifices are made in the name of creating a bike that works well when it’s going fast. It’s not as cushy as some other bikes in this class, and a stretched-out, slack geometry is longer than most of the competition. But get it up to speed, and the bike all of sudden makes a lot of sense.
And that’s where the versatility of the SB5 comes from — it has the ability to handle rough trails at impressive speed, but it’s still a relatively short-travel bike that feels pretty efficient, so it’ll hustle up a hill when you tell it to. If you’re looking for a mellow Sunday cruiser, the SB5 probably wouldn’t be my first recommendation. But if you want something that can rally hard and you like the idea of a shorter-travel package that can still crank through corners and work the terrain, the SB5 might just be your turqouise-colored huckleberry.