These are changing times. And the boundaries between right and wrong are continually in flux. Moreover, what's right for me might be wrong for you. I keep this in mind every time I do what I'm about to do; tell you what about a particular bike is right and what is wrong. When I bring a bias to the table, I try to make it clear. For instance, I like big wheels. Sure, it depends on the terrain, and regardless, 27.5 is always fun to play with. But 29 has long seemed to me like it’s the right size for a mountain bike wheel. So when I learned the new YT Capra would be offered in both wheel sizes, I was ready for my concept of right and wrong to be confirmed. But again, these are changing times.
This year brought more refinements to the Capra than just another wheel size. A few subtle changes include a metric shock and lower leverage ratio. And across the Capra lineup, YT specs 9t - 46t e*thirteen cassettes and Shimano derailleurs. You'll get a wider range then Eagle, even on the $2500 Capra AL.
The updates in geometry range from subtle to revolutionary. Of course, the head angle is slacker, the seat angle is steeper, the reach and wheelbase are longer and the bottom bracket is lower. But YT also added an XXL size to its lineup. In conjunction with shorter seat-tube lengths and lower standovers, this constitutes a new approach to frame sizing. For those who aren't on board with the trend towards longer-reach cockpits, the new Capra offers riders the opportunity to choose bike size based on reach preference, not just body height.
YT also builds the XL and XXL Capras with 5-millimeter longer chainstays, a courtesy also featured on the trail-oriented Jeffsy. Whenever a brand does this, we like to pause for a moment and salute them for it. It's so seemingly mundane, YT's own website doesn't really highlight it. But it's not cheap to do. Re-tooling rear triangle production for a small number of taller riders like myself doesn't have the curb appeal of more carbon or a higher-end rear derailleur, but it has a much more significant impact on ride quality.
The Capra 29s sit on 160 millimeters of front and rear travel while the 27.5 models offer 170 millimeters. But in both wheel sizes, the top-end CF Pro Race builds feature an extra 10 millimeters front and rear. Not because more is better, but because more is race-er. The frame stays the same, but the fork and rear shock have longer strokes. Thanks to the new Capra's overall lower bottom bracket, these leggier race models measure about the same height as last year's lineup.
What's not new
There's been no sweeping change to YT's linkage design. The Capra still features a PF-30 bottom bracket, and there's still no room for a bottle cage, not even below the downtube. And the Capra is still a mind-blowing value.
That's because YT still sells consumer-direct. This sweeping trend in high-end bike sales isn't going away any time soon. Throughout its price range, the Capra costs at least 25% less than a similar build would in a brick-and-mortar bike shop. It's hard not to marvel at the "entry-level" Capra AL's $2,500 price tag. For a bike with a Lyric fork, Super Deluxe shock, Code brakes, and a 511-percent-range 1X drivetrain, that's a steal.
Just as remarkable is the top-end $5,100 Capra CF Pro Race. From most other brands, Fox Factory suspension and seatpost, carbon frame, bars, cranks and rims, and an honest-to-goodness XTR / e*thirteen drivetrain would approach $8,000. But this does mean you'll be building it yourself. And though we've generally seen these consumer-direct bikes come perfectly adjusted out of the box, sometimes there are variables that no pre-assembler can account for. Sometimes brake caliper mounts aren't perfectly faced. Sometimes suspension seals leak on their first ride. In these incidents, you'll be calling customer support instead of your local bike shop, but YT customer support isn't in India, or even Germany. It's in California.
The Ride: Capra CF 29 Pro
The 160-millimeter-travel Capra CF 29 Pro is a beast. Some long-travel 29ers are tuned to defy the nature of their category and deliver any shred of playfulness they can. The Hightower LT comes to mind for being spry and versatile. And the Orbea Rallon artfully balances its trail and enduro sensibilities. But the Capra 29 stays true to its big-bike nature. And that's not to say you can't tell it what to do. The suspension doesn't have the fall-away softness that some rock-gobbling big bikes have. It stays supportive under forceful input.
And the frame has the dead-on lateral stiffness of a downhill bike. That's no surprise, given that the Capra frame was developed to meet the same standards as YT's gravity sled, the Tues. You get the sensation that you're on a much heavier bike, and I mean that in a good way. The stout feel gives it both unshakable confidence and pinpoint accuracy. No matter how critical the situation, there's no twist and no bounce. Everything is nice and predictable.
I rode the Capra on the chunky trails of Sintra in coastal Portugal. It's hard to find flow amid rocks that shift in size from baseball to beach ball to Volkswagen and back again in no particular order. But the Capra 29 responds well to the unexpected. It stays calm and composed and becomes more so as speed increases. This meant making some adjustments to my riding style. Instead of seeking out every precision gap-to-transition or sliding into every natural catch berm, the Capra 29 wants you to think bigger. Aim a little farther, swing a little wider, and trust the bike to handle it when you'll be making critical adjustments in rowdy sections at ludicrous speeds.
I haven't gotten a chance to ride the longer-travel CF Pro Race model, but I doubt I could live up to it. The CF Pro already feels like the perfect part-time race bike. And it's not a bad full-time trail bike, provided your trails demand it. The supportive suspension and Horst-like V4L linkage keep everything upright but supple on the climbs. But most significant is the 76- or 76.5-degree seat angle. I spent most of my time in the frame's low/slack setting because with those numbers, why not? It's not a sprint-ready climber, but it is plenty efficient. For backcountry rides that are as rugged as they are remote, the Capra 29 is yet more proof that categories are less about bike capability and more about rider preference.
The Ride: Capra CF 27.5 Pro
All other variables being equal, I approached my first rides on the Capras preferring 29-inch wheels. And all other variables ARE essentially equal between the 29-inch and 27.5-inch Capra CF Pros I rode, aside from a 10-millimeter difference in travel. But after spending a day on each bike, I've reoriented my definition of right and wrong. Of course, my change of heart doesn't change physics. I found plenty of rocky moments when the 29-inch Capra would be a better tool for the job. When I wanted heaping helpings of both speed and safety, the big wheels delivered. But after a few runs, I got familiar enough with those rocky moments that I wanted my safety to take take a back seat to my style.
All this probably isn't sounding revolutionary. Smaller wheels are more playful than bigger ones. No duh. But there's more to it than that. The spirits within both wheel-size Capras are the same. This smaller-wheeled Capra's frame felt just as burly, and its suspension was just as strong-willed. The Capra's geometry, linkage, and overall frame feel supplied enough confidence that I found myself able to overlook the roll-over disadvantages of the smaller wheels.
I felt a similar way about the Kona process 153 CR DL 27.5. It wouldn't get bounced around like other small-wheeled bikes in its category, but there was a limit to the kinds of chaos it could handle. The Santa Cruz Nomad offers comparable geometry and travel to the Capra, but the Capra's frame and suspension have a heavier feel. The closest comparison might be to the Devinci Spartan, though Devinci's signature progressive suspension means the Spartan's travel doesn't feel quite as deep or supple on mid- to large-sized hits. Still, the Capra is a bit less ground-huggy than the Spartan. A bit more mischievous.
In fact, the sum of its parts made the Capra possibly the most fun enduro bike I've ever ridden. The terrain and the speeds it allowed me to handle were nothing new to me. But throwing style and getting loose while I was handling them was. I finished my day on the Capra 27.5 a changed man. Small-wheel fans with terrain that deserves a bike like the Capra will simply find more of what they love. But 29er die-hards may find themselves questioning their concept of what's right and what's wrong.