Bike: Yeti SB5c
- Carbon trail bike
- MSRP: $6599 (starting)
- New “Switch Infinity” suspension platform
- Travel: 127mm (5″)
- Wheel Platform: 27.5″
- Notes on geometry below
Yeti has unveiled a new 27.5” wheeled trail bike for 2015 that features a markedly different suspension design than that of their current 2014 SB models, the SB65, SB75, and SB95.
The SB75, in particular, has seen a somewhat mixed bag of reviews. I haven’t ridden the 75, but I did ride the 95 at Interbike last year. I found it to be a perfectly capable trail bike, though it didn’t provide the stability or the “destroy everything in its path” characteristics of some other bikes (the Santa Cruz Bronson, for example). The SB75 seems like it should be an all mountain / enduro weapon, but while it’s an efficient pedaler, it doesn’t devour rough terrain as well some of the more plush contenders.
Enter Yeti’s new bike, the SB5c. In terms of travel and geometry it’s very similar to the SB75; both are 5” travel bikes running on 27.5” wheels. The SB5c is a little slacker than the SB75 (67° vs. 67.5°), but it’s also a little taller (13.5” BB vs 13” BB). And in a somewhat uncharacteristic move by Yeti, the SB5c’s top tube is slightly shorter, and the reach is quite a bit shorter than the SB75.
The big difference with the SB5c is its completely redesigned suspension linkage, dubbed “Switch Infinity.” Where the SB66, 75, and 95 use a counter-rotating “Switch Technology” bearing, the SB5c employs a set of short sliders produced by Fox. The goal of this new Switch Infinity system is essentially the same as the original / current Switch system: create a slightly rearward axle path early in the travel to help pedaling efficiency. Further into the travel, modify the axle path for no-holds-barred bump compliance.
The move to the new Infinity design is interesting, since the original Switch suspension system isn’t all that old, and, while it’s had its detractors, it also has its fans. But presumably the engineers at Yeti are pretty excited about the capabilities of the new Switch Infinity system, which is said to present a few advantages over the old. They say it can be implemented in any orientation on the bike, and can be specifically tuned for different riding styles and bikes of different disciplines. Yeti claims the new system shaves around 100g off of the original Switch system, too.
Only time (and riding) will tell how Yeti’s new linkage actually works, but initial impressions can be telling.
The holy grail of suspension – a system that climbs as well at it descends – may exist, but if the only way to get there is complex, expensive, potentially maintenance-intensive designs, is it worth it? After all, the Switch Infinity system adds some complexity, presents a new set of slidey things to maintain, and the SB5c certainly isn’t targeted towards budget-minded shoppers. But none of that is new for Yeti; they’ve always been a high-end company that hasn’t shied away from innovative designs (some with greater success than others). So if the bike performs well, maybe it’s all worth it – especially once the technology trickles down to something more affordable.
So for me, this new design really begs the question: is it actually better, and if so, how much? The original Switch linkage debuted on what Yeti called a “super bike,” and that was just three years ago. Now Yeti has unveiled a new super bike, and is telling us that they were actually working on this new design even before they debuted the last super bike. So is the SB5c actually a super bike, or is it another pretty good bike that’ll hold us over for another three years?
Other questions I find myself wondering about are, How much mud can that little Switch Infinity box hold? Is this new design a result of performance-oriented engineering, or is it the byproduct of an unfortunate patent fight with Santa Cruz? If I follow my regular maintenance routine of purposeful neglect, how long before those little bushings start wearing holes in the Kashima coating?
Yeti has debuted something fairly different, and to my layman’s ears, their explanation of the benefits of the suspension sounds entirely plausible. And while yes, it’s expensive, it’s also brand spanking new, and it’s only available on a high zoot carbon frame. I can pretty much guarantee that Switch Infinity suspension will be available on less expensive frames in the future.
The design might offer some great benefits, in which case Yeti should be applauded for trying something new and worthwhile. I’m certainly not going to poo-poo this design before ever riding it, but there are enough questions surrounding the potential new benefits to necessitate some real time in the saddle. I’m looking forward to that.