Editor’s Note: Along with longtime Mtbr forum member Kent Robertson (KRob), the 2016 Outerbike Test Sessions were conducted by Ben Slabaugh, aka Schlim on Mtbr. Ben, 37, has been riding mountain bikes since he was 12, and today leans toward the XC side of things. This year, the pair headed to Moab, Utah, for the annual Outerbike consumer demo event where they rode as many bikes as possible. These posts are first ride impressions only — not full reviews. However, they stand by their opinions, and feel like they are good at feeling out the true identity, strengths, weaknesses, and soul of any given bike. For each session, they attempted to get set-up and suspension as dialed as possible. Test rides usually lasted 30-60 minutes. All bikes were then rated on a scale of 1-5 for visual impression/looks, climbing ability, descending, cornering, general agility, fit, and an intangible factor. Lowest possible score is 7. Highest is 35.
Check out the entire Outerbike Test Sessions archive.
My upfront admission is that the Yeti SB5+ was my favorite bike at Outerbike this year. It’s a dedicated 27.5 plus semi-fat setup with 127mm of travel rear and a 150mm boost fork up front. As fate would have it, we had to wait out a rainstorm on Sunday afternoon before heading out on our last run. The rain made the desert dirt a little more tacky and took down the dust very effectively to showcase the all around benefits of big traction on the Bar M trails.
The tech who set up the bike told me that the SB5+ frame might be able to fit a 29×2.2” wheel-tire combo, but standing it up against a Yeti SB4.5, there is a visible 1” difference between the tire diameters, with the 4.5 being the taller of the two. According to my un-scientific observation, 29er hoops would definitely raise the bottom bracket and likely change the handling. The SB5+ front triangle is a different carbon mold than the SB5 or the 4.5, so Yeti has a considerable investment in it.
For 2017, it looks like Yeti is going to Ergon saddles, which other brands featured at Outerbike as well. The Ergon isn’t bad, it just isn’t great for my own backside compared to a WTB Volt, Devo, or Silverado. Also, to get the obvious out of the way, the elevated chainstay looks inorganic and not really in keeping with the flowing lines of the current Yeti line. It does, however, provide clearance, and the single-piece bracing at the bottom looks stout as heck. And onboard you don’t see the rear triangle; the feel and experience is all Yeti.
Never been to Outerbike? Find out what this consumer demo event is all about.
Out on the trail, the SB5+ felt comfortable and sure-footed like you might expect a plus bike to ride. It was downright capable and damned playful in temperament. The rear axle is boost 148 spacing, which should assist in minimizing flex and keeping things snappy. But I did not expect a plus bike to ride like this one did. Every lip and rise in the trail felt like a launch pad. Every step down was a chance to fling the Yeti into the air.
My measure for an extraordinary bike is always to ask, does it make me a better rider than I think I am? Like maybe one other bike I rode this weekend, this one does. Riding along behind me, Justin said my own riding technique looked better on the SB5+ than the other bikes I tested. One telling trait was that I was willing to hang onto bad lines on the Yeti and just give it a few more seconds to crank it out before giving up and bailing out because I trusted the grip and handling to give me an edge.
The scrambling score, for lack of a better descriptor, was top-notch. The long front-center of the bike assisted in the stability to hit successive drops and navigate technical chunk with velocity. I was looking out specifically for the switch infinity suspension to hang up on square-edged hits and step-ups like the SB95 with the switch link eccentric did, but I never felt that hiccup in motion.
See an expansive photo gallery of Richie Rude’s Enduro World Series winning Yeti SB6c race bike.
I was also a fan of the overall build choices on the SB5+. The Maxxis Rekon is a beast of a tire, and at 2.8” I didn’t feel the need for a wider 3.0” option (although the frame would accommodate it without a problem). As with the other Shimano-equipped rigs, this one felt more precise and refined than the SRAM drivetrains, and my own choice of build right now would be Shimano.
Another marked improvement over a couple of years ago is the Fox Float 34 fork. This run of 34s is right there in terms of feel with the smooth off the top action of RockShox Pike and Revelation forks when left at full open. It pretty much operates invisibly when set up correctly. I didn’t get any wrist zinging like I did from other bikes with narrower tires and alloy bars, and I didn’t have to put it in the trail setting to keep it from diving. The whole experience was very seamless in a way I rarely experience from demo bikes.
Learn about Yeti’s new lower priced carbon frame options.
As I mentioned in my Pivot Firebird review, I bought a Yeti SB4.5 29er this year. Yeti totally sucks for coming out with something that is probably better than the 4.5 so soon. I’ve been raving about that bike since March and how it is the best all around bike I have owned or ridden, but it would be an extremely hard choice between the SB4.5 and SB5+ if I had to buy again right now and could only have one. With the SB5+ you can lean and lean and lean without breaking loose. Over a multi-hour ride you’d feel the extra weight, but I think 80-90% of riders could use this as their primary go-to mountain bike. It has oomph and braaap, and yeehaw all built in.
Outerbike Test Session Score: 33 out of 35
For more information visit www.yeticycles.com.