Who else gets offered to test a brand new Yeti SB5c and thinks, “Why now?”
I’d just gotten an email from Element.ly founder, Jim Merithew, asking me to pick up the Yeti Sb5c for some testing, and I was actually a little bummed. Sure, after obsessively reading a bazillion glowing reviews on the Yeti’s turquoise wonder bike, I definitely wanted to get some time on it, but it was early November. Snow had already buried my favorite high-country trails. Fresh Powder magazines were in heavy rotation on the back of my toilet. I’d just bought new ski wax, and after three dismal winters here in California, I was really looking forward to spending my weekends backcountry skiing in Tahoe and the Eastern Sierra. Between work, family and the holidays, where would I find the time to ride the Yeti?
As November rolled on, small storms rolled in, over-saturating my regular trail network. But they weren’t cold enough to drop any real snow in the mountains, dammit. I was relegated to riding the nearby, decomposed granite trails that are typically populated by families and spandex-clad xc racers on hardtails. The SB5c was way too much bike for this. My personal bikes were totally clapped-out after Northern California’s never-ending summer, so I didn’t have any choice.
Yet the Yeti surprised me. The climbs and descents were way too short and punchy to be slinging any switches on the suspension, but the Yeti didn’t need it. I could hammer out of the saddle with the shock in full-open/descend mode and it just gripped the trail, driving me up climbs with barely a bob. The slack, but-not-too-slack, head angle carved up the twisty singletrack, leaving me hooting and hollering all the way back to the car.
The day after Christmas, I was dying to get out of the house. Nonstop work had rolled right into hosting a houseful of relatives. I needed escape. A nasty night-riding wreck years earlier had left me with a smile that was now mostly porcelain, so it had been years since I’d gone on a proper nighttime trail ride, but that’s all I could squeeze in.
Minutes into the ride, my handlebar-mounted light blinked out and I was left with one meager helmet-mounted light. Fuck it. I needed the ride. My eyes drilled into the night searching for every rock, root and corner. My mind felt like it was either on meth or melting with the effort of concentration. The Yeti’s neutral handling saved my ass numerous times as I blew through corners and into unseen rock gardens at ridiculously inappropriate speeds.
New Year’s Day dawned with me driving to Santa Cruz’s Demo Forest to slide around trails there rather than the icy hardpack that was barely coating the slopes of Tahoe. Demo rides the high line of the coast, with dusty ridge top sections that twist through Manzanita before diving down into tacky redwood speeder-bike territory. Here, the Yeti found it’s true home. The tweener, 27.5 in wheels, whipped through the tight corners, and the Yeti felt incredibly balanced while sending it off root drops and rollovers. It made efficient work of the steep, grinding, fire road returns to the top.
By the end of February, I’d entirely given up on skiing. My one day in the backcountry had been more about slaloming rocks than slashing powder stashes. Even the few lift-served days had been just depressing. On the other hand, I’d put some serious miles on the Yeti. It had developed some creaks, but otherwise, had been trouble-free. A friend and I decided to tackle a pretty mean version of our local trails, essentially riding every trail in one day. I’d done it once before, but many other attempts had ended in early bailing – typically from mechanicals or a lack of motivation. Early on, I had a slow-speed crash, bending the Yeti’s rear derailleur hanger, leaving me with only a few gears that didn’t clatter and skip crazily.
Midway through the loop, I found the Yeti’s weakness on a pair of steep, rocky, loose moto trail descents. The smaller wheels combined with not the slackest head angle forced me to tiptoe through drops and ruts that I blasted through on my personal 29 in. trail bike. The somewhat pinner rear tire, a Maxxis Ikon, was quickly slashed on the first chute. Later, while fixing another pinch flat, my phone chirped with an email from Merithew, telling me Yeti wanted their bike back. This time, their timing was perfect.