Of all the attributes of Yeti's new SB100 29er, brand aficionados will likely zero in on just one seemingly minute feature: the bottle-cage bosses. In the front triangle. This is a big deal. In fact, Yeti schemed up a whole plan to reveal the SB100 to journalists last month in Los Barriles, Mexico, by wheeling out the bikes with music blaring from a Bluetooth speaker tucked perfectly into the bottle cage, just to emphasize what designers were able to accomplish (the reveal didn't actually end up happening like that, but that's neither here nor there).
Yeti's Switch Infinity is among the best-performing modern suspension platforms, but the mechanism is bulky so it limits space in the front triangle, banishing water bottles to the dreaded downtube underside, causing mild panic and anxiety among fans of Yeti's 'Super Bike' models who can't fathom having to haul water on their backs.
But as Yeti set out to transition its ASR cross-country bike into its SB line some two years ago, it knew there was an opportunity to solve the bottle-cage design challenge since the bike had only 100 millimeters of travel. Engineers tested five iterations of a modified Switch Infinity, and ended up rotating it 90 degrees, slimming it down, tucking it behind the seat tube and integrating it into the frame, resulting in a lighter, more efficient package. The way Switch Infinity works doesn't change--it's still based on a translating pivot point and uses the same Fox links, although it does have specific hardware.
The new placement opened up several possibilities: lighter weight (it’s 60 grams lighter than the Switch Infinity on Yeti's longer-travel offerings), an uninterrupted seat tube to accommodate as long of a dropper post as your inseam will allow (yes, this 100-mil bike comes with a dropper post, one of several reasons that Yeti doesn't view it as an 'XC' bike, but more on that later) and it allowed for kinematic changes. On the SB100 version, the slope of the linear leverage ratio curve is slightly steeper, creating a more efficient climber, while the front end remains supple and the rear retains the firm pedaling platform for which Switch Infinity is known. The tune on the SB100 Switch Infinity is optimized to run between 25- and 32-percent sag.
So what is the SB100 besides a bottle-cage-boasting, short-travel 29er?
"It's hard to call this an XC bike," says Yeti's Chris Conroy. "The design goals were to make an extremely capable 100-mil bike. We wanted the bike to ride as best as it possibly could. We made sure the geometry was right, that it wasn't too steep a head angle and there was a good pedaling position."
Instead of just making a bike that was super light, Yeti wanted something super right: fast uphill and capable downhill--that means meaty tires, wide bars, beefy fork, aggressive geometry and a shock that doesn't blow through its travel mid-stroke.
The geometry definitely falls on the trail end of the spectrum with its 67.8-degree headtube, 74.2-degree seat tube, 13.1-inch bottom bracket height and Yeti's standard 17.2-inch chainstays. The numbers are similar to Yeti's existing 4.5C 29er (which is staying in the line), though the SB100 has a longer reach and thus engineers opted for a 44-millimeter-offset fork, with the idea that the extra mechanical trail is a fair trade-off for the added ease of weighting the front of the bike and gaining more front-end traction.
The SB100 sports the new 120-millimeter Fox 34 Step-Cast fork, Fox Transfer dropper post, Maxxis 2.3 tires--Minion DHF front and Aggressor rear--760-millimeter bars combined with a 50-mil stem and a 180-millimeter front brake rotor. In other words, it can party if you can.
And props are due to Yeti for not narrowing the bars on the Beti version of the SB100--the only changes other than frame paint are a lighter shock tune, a women's-specific saddle and 170-millimeter cranks.
The SB100 has BC Bike Race written all over it: fast and efficient for long days in the saddle, but capable enough for the roots and steeps of the North Shore and the Squamish rollers. I, however, rode the SB100 on terrain that represents the exact opposite of B.C.: the desert of Baja Sur, where expansive views of the deep-blue Sea of Cortez temper foreboding cacti, loose, kitty-litter-over-more-kitty-litter-over-hardpack trails and slow-tech rock gardens.
The hillsides above Los Barriles, an ex-pat village about an hour north of Cabo San Lucas known for its deep-sea fishing and kite surfing, are crisscrossed with trail etched into the earth mostly by Todd Simmler, an Oregonian who splits his time between Oakridge and Los Barriles. Its punchy, steep, traction-less climbs served up a formidable test for Yeti's geometry and tire choice, both of which excelled. When it came time to put the power down while staring at the face of a rock-strewn pitch, I could easily shift my weight over the front end of the bike and in doing so, the front wheel stayed planted and tires gripped to the ground. While I didn't clean every tech-y climb, the bike certainly couldn't be blamed for those that bested me (that would be my post-winter 'fitness').
As expected, the SB100 climbs with the quickness, efficiency and lightning-fast acceleration that has come to characterize Yeti’s SB platform, even with the shock left open. But it was while descending that I gained an appreciation for Yeti’s spec choices--a dropper post is truly a must on any mountain bike, and while I’m admittedly not a racer looking to shave every possible gram, the dropper-post grams are always worth keeping. Although if I had my druthers, Yeti would’ve gone with a 150-millimeter droppers on its size mediums instead of 125. It also could’ve saved weight by choosing a spindly fork and skinnier, lighter rubber, but the Minion/Aggressor combination gives the SB100 added capability and confidence particularly in the rough stuff, and the Fox 34 feels perfectly balanced with the Fox DPS shock. You won’t find a World Cup XC racer on the SB100, but you will see former XC champion and Olympian Geoff Kabush, Yeti’s newest athlete, defending his BC Bike Race title on it, as well as competing in Downieville and other multi-day stage races like the Breck Epic and Moab Rocks, which are all exactly the type of riding the SB100 is built for.
And about that front triangle bottle cage. That’s just for the SB100 so all other Yeti freaks, keep those packs handy.
The SB100 comes in a variety of builds, sizes and pricepoints, including options in both the Turq and lower-priced Carbon series frames. For more details, go to yeticycles.com, and look for a long-term review of the SB100 in the July issue of Bike.