Field Test: Yeti SB115 – The One That Wants to Be a Trail Bike

PINKBIKE FIELD TEST

YETI SB115


Words by Mike Levy, photography by Margus Riga
Do you remember the SB100? It was a cross-country-ish short-travel bike that Yeti debuted back in 2018, and I was a big fan when I reviewed it. Now the Colorado brand has something (kinda) new, the SB115 that you see here. Can you guess how much travel it has?

Yeti has put a 130mm Fox 34 on the other end, and they’ve installed things like a 50mm stem and 780mm-wide handlebar, and 30mm wide aluminum rims from DT Swiss. In stock trim, you’ll also find a 2.5” wide Maxxis Minion DHF on the front and a 2.35” Aggressor on the back, both with an EXO casing. While Cannondale and Specialized take a racier, maybe Lycra, maybe post-ride beer approach, it’s Transition, Revel, and obviously Yeti who come to the ride in baggies and already maybe a few beers deep.

SB115 Details

• Travel: 115mm rear / 130mm front
• Carbon frame
• Wheel size: 29″
• Head angle: 67.6°
• Seat tube angle: 74°
• Reach: 450mm (large)
• Chainstay length: 436mm
• Sizes: SM, MED, LRG (tested), XLRG
• Weight: 27.17lb / 12.3kg
• Price: $6,900 USD
• www.yeticycles.com

Once you’ve bolted on all that stuff, the bike comes in at a hair over 27lb, making it the chunkiest one at the Field Test. A medium-sized frame and shock are said to weight 5.8lbs, so I’m sure you could put together a lighter one – it’s only money!

The SB115 name is new and, given the bike’s travel, makes all the sense in the world. But neither the front nor rear triangles are new – those are the same as what Yeti used for the SB100. What is new, though, are the linkage pieces that drive the shock, and the shock itself also has a slightly longer stroke to deliver more travel. As for the SB100, it’ll eventually be retired to make room for this bike. Now that you know that, you won’t be surprised to see that the SB115’s geo is damn close to the SB100’s numbers.

Back in 2018, I said that the SB100’s 67.8-degree head angle was “out there” for being a cross-country bike, but it’s certainly more the norm these days, especially if we’re talking cross-country bikes made to party. On the SB115, you get a 67.6-degree head angle with the 130mm-travel fork, and my large-sized test bike has a 74-degree seat angle and 450mm reach. That last number could be considered conservative, but don’t forget that this frame comes out of the same mold that made the SB100 back in 2018.

On to frame details, specifically those tiny, funny-looking Kashima-coated shocks by the bottom bracket. Just joking, those are essentially stanchions or rails, and the black carrier that the swingarm is attached to slides up and down on them. Yeti says that this ‘Switch Infinity’ system allows them to control the axle path and that initially, as the bike goes through its travel, the carrier moves upwards to provide a rearward path for improved pedaling efficiency. Then, as the rear wheel goes deeper into its travel, the carrier moves downwards to reduce the amount of chain tension so the design can better deal with hard impacts.

Other frame details include a two-bolt ISCG tab setup around the BB92 bottom bracket, and the internally routed cables are fed through internal guides within the frame. That means that you can just push a new line in when needed, and it’s how every bike with internal routing should be – this is the horse I’m gonna ride for a while because it’s how it should be done. Speaking of doing it properly, the newer Switch Infinity layout provides plenty of room for a large water bottle inside the front triangle.

Climbing

I’m pretty sure that Kazimer thinks I spend way too much time thinking about how these bikes climb, and maybe he’s right, but it seems to me that’s what we spend most of the ride doing, isn’t it? I mean, if you’re out there for a three-hour lap, I bet 70-percent of that time is spent working hard to get up so you can enjoy coming back down. So yeah, I definitely want my cross-country-ish bike to make me look better than I actually am as I pedal up something that he dabs on. Thankfully, the SB115 is pretty good at exactly that.

Much like the Scalpel SE 1 (review incoming), the Yeti is quite adept at finding traction where the other bikes came up empty-handed. I might have considered the Yeti lucky if it weren’t for the matching tires and pressure all-around that made it a fair fight during back-to-back laps. Back when I reviewed the SB100, I said that it ”pedals with nearly all of the enthusiasm of a race bike,” but I don’t get quite the same sense of urgency from the SB115 when I’m on the gas. It’s not exactly slow – not many bikes in this travel bracket are – and Yeti’s Switch Infinity suspension system has a well-deserved rep for being well-rounded, but I definitely got the trail bike vibe from it rather than the up-sized cross-country enthusiasm. The 130mm-travel fork plays a part in that, no doubt, but the upshot is that the SB115 has great technical climbing manners.

One side note: Back in 2018 when I reviewed the SB100, I did moan for a few sentences about its performance on tricky climbs, and now I seem to be doing the opposite about the SB115. What gives? Well, the SB100 was released two years ago, and the SB115 sports very similar geometry, while some brands have taken their numbers even further. So yeah, it’s no surprise that the Yeti feels more manageable than the Spur and some others on super tight trails due to its shorter wheelbase.

I’d still give the nod to the Scalpel, though, as it seemed to have more enthusiasm for hard efforts than the Yeti. The clock agreed as well, and I had my slowest timed loop result on the SB115, 5.58-percent back from the Epic EVO’s winning time. A lot of that came from Yeti being second-to-last over the full climb, just ahead of the Revel Ranger.

With the longest-travel fork and active, traction-aiding suspension, it’s not a surprise to find that the SB115 climbs like the trail bike that it really wants to be. If all you read was ‘It feels slow,’ don’t forget that the SB115 is pretty much a climbing rocketship compared to the over-forked, 150mm trail bike in your garage.

Descending

The descent that we chose for our test loop has a handful of medium-steep rock rolls that any good cross-country machine should be able to tackle, even while high-posting in the slimiest of conditions. But while those rocks are best rolled slowly, the rest of the trail is a high-speed mix of small and medium-sized impacts; nothing crazy, but enough to easily upset a short-travel bike if you’re not paying attention. The SB115’s rear-suspension does an impressive job of dealing with all of it, and I’d go so far as to say that it offers the ‘deepest’ feel of the bunch, despite having 5mm less travel in the back than some others.

It doesn’t erase the roots and rocks under you like a bigger bike would, of course, but with all five set to bang-on 30-percent sag, the Yeti’s suspension was the least upset by the kind of stuff that doesn’t make you take a different line, but does require some sort of rider input.

Having a 130mm-travel fork, 10mm more than the other bikes, lead the charge into rough sections is surely a helping factor as well, and there were times when the SB115 felt like the trail bike it really wants to be…

But I think a trail bike has to offer a clear step forward in descending capability over a whatever-country bike. The SB115 didn’t tick that box for me, but then why should it? After all, it’s the same frame as the SB100, which is definitely not a trail bike. They have added 15mm more squish, a 130mm fork, and Yeti’s ‘Lunch Ride’ flavoring that includes stuff like a wider handlebar and stouter tires, but the geometry remains close to unchanged.

I spent a ton of time on the SB100, and I loved that it was a fun-loving precision instrument. All those people who say things like, ”I hate XC, its laaaame,” need to go for a spin on an SB100; it’ll change their tune. But the slightly longer-travel SB115 feels muted, not just in comparison to its predecessor, but to the other four bikes as well. The good: Its 130mm fork and very impressive rear-suspension will trick you into thinking you have more travel than you actually do. The bad: The conservative length means that you don’t get the same stability as you would from a bike with a longer footprint. So while the suspension is ready for your dumb line choices, it can’t keep up with more contemporary bikes when the speeds rise and/or it gets rough.

The SB115 is a good bike, but it’s hard to argue with back-to-back laps over and over again around the same loop – my best time on the descent while riding the Yeti was 3.79% behind the Spur, although it was still faster than the Scalpel SE 1.

Am I crazy for wishing this bike had less travel? My thinking is that sure, it has an additional 15mm out back and a 130mm fork, but because it sports the same geometry, the SB115 isn’t any more capable than the SB100, regardless of the parts hung off it. Since I wasn’t going any quicker, or inspired to attempt more challenging terrain when I was on it, I have a hard time finding a place for it in my riding. Bottom line: It isn’t any better than its predecessor, but it is different.

The ideal SB115 owner is probably someone who rides cross-country but wants no part of that firm, what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this suspension action. And they probably doesn’t chase those downhill KOMs, or any KOMs, but they’re out there all damn day and riding everything they come across.

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