Sometimes everything just clicks. Fit is spot on. Components are dialed. Suspension set-up is optimal. The sum is truly greater than the parts, allowing mountain bike and mountain biker to become a harmonious one where full personal potential is reached. And while I won’t say total perfection is possible, I feel like I came about as close as I could this past season while test riding the non-stock-build Yeti SB150 pictured here. I cleared obstacles I’d never cleared before (going up and down), set a host of personal PRs (going down), and generally loved nearly every moment aboard this bike.
Yeti SB150 ($3,799 frame and shock)
The genesis of this build was as test mule for the recently launched Shimano XTR 12-speed groupset, which is reviewed in full here. Suffice to say the Japanese component giant hit it out of the park, finally catching up with (and in my opinion passing) SRAM in the mountain bike drivetrain wars. The superb functionality of new XTR went a long way to making this bike what it was, consistently delivering exceptional and reliable performance without the need for fiddling. But the drivetrain review alone doesn’t tell this whole story. And since it’s the season of giving (and getting), I figured a rundown on components that made up this dream build would make a great Christmas shopping list. Here then is a round-up of the rest of the parts and pieces that have made this bike among the best (and yes, most expensive) I’ve ever ridden.
The backbone of this build is Yeti’s enduro race-ready SB150 29er full carbon frame with the superb and highly adjustable Fox Factory X2 piggyback shock and proven Switch Infinity suspension design. Key metrics include 150mm rear travel, 170mm up front, 64.5-degree head angle, and 77-degree seat tube angle. Frame weight for the size XL tested here was a reasonable 8.2 pounds. Check out the full review to learn more about this rocket ship, but bottom line the Yeti SB150 is a big bad beast of a bike that can handle just about anything this side of a World Cup downhill — and actually climbs really well, too. Yes, the wheelbase is long. And yes, it’s no flyweight no matter how you build it up (31.3 pounds in this case). But if your goal is simply to go as fast as possible, and you’re not afraid to ride at the ragged edge, keeping the front tire fully loaded, then the Yeti SB150 belongs on your shopping shortlist, Christmas or otherwise.
Fox Factory 36 FIT4 Fork ($1,009)
While many riders profess to prefer the adjustability of Fox’s GRIP2 damper (and it is indeed far more adjustable), there’s a good argument for picking the FIT4. Both Factory model forks feature slippery Kashima-coated stanchions, but the FIT4 is a touch lighter (about 50 grams) and less expensive (by $70). It’s also less adjustable, which for a lot of riders is actually a good thing. Properly setting up suspension products is not easy, especially when you have the nearly endless permutations offered by the GRIP2 (air pressure, high and low-speed compression, high- and low-speed rebound). Instead, the FIT4 has just one rebound dial plus a 3-position compression knob and a smaller dial to tune damping support in the open mode. That makes it easier to make changes — and get the settings right. The FIT4’s latest damper also uses technology brought over from the suspension maker’s XC Step-Cast forks, where shaft diameter is reduced from 10mm to 8mm. That means less damper oil is displaced during big hits, which means those big hits are soaked up more smoothly.
Shimano XTR 4-Piston Brakes and Rotors ($820)
Outside of a little rattle noise due to pads with aluminum heat-sink fins, these brakes deliver all that you could ask for, featuring the same brake power rating as Shimano Saints but with greater modulation, less grabbiness, and quicker engagement with shorter free stroke. Other top-line highlights include an increase in brake lever rigidity that’s achieved in part by moving the brake clamp position inboard, thus creating an extra point of contact between the bar and the lever. This added bracing increases control over the bike while offering quicker brake engagement. The new design also minimizes impact on cockpit real estate, creating space between the clamp and support point for mounting other handlebar accessories. And if you simply can’t stand the noise, Shimano still sells finless pads.
ENVE M735 Wheels with XTR Hubs ($2,500)
When ENVE first launched the M7 series, the carbon wheel maker made the bold claim that they’d all but eliminated the possibility of pinch flats thanks to a flexible rim strip that sits between the rim bed and tire. Following 6 months of testing on a set of M735’s with an internal rim width of 35mm, I can’t argue with those claims. While riding this bike on everything from smooth loam to gnarly desert chunk, I suffered zero flats, burps, or other unwanted losses of air. They were also easy to set-up tubeless, our test set of Schwalbe tires easily snapping into place with the help of a booster floor pump. As for ride quality, these wheels are plenty stiff, but thanks to the trust in rim-tire seal you can run lower pressures, thus taking a little edge off. System weight when built up on a set of 32-hole XTR hubs was a somewhat portly 1960 grams including valve stems, but the 4.5mm thick carbon layup has proven 100% bombproof despite all manner of bad line choices. And ENVE offers a host of decal color options so you can do the matchy-matchy thing.
Schwalbe Magic Mary/Hans Dampf Tires ($98/$82)
Yep, we’ve bucked the all-Maxxis-all-the-time trend here and instead went with Schwalbe’s go-to trail riding combo of a 29×2.6 Magic Mary up and a 29×2.35 Hans Dampf in the rear. Weights were 1124g and 845g respectively and both tires utilize Schwalbe’s Addix Soft rubber compound with SnakeSkin protection. Tubeless set-up, as mentioned above, was easy and we suffered no flats during a season’s worth of testing. Of the two tires, the Magic Mary was the favorite. It has a similar look and layout to the ever-popular Minion DHF, its aggressive cornering knobs providing loads of traction and cornering confidence, especially on loose-over-hard terrain. It also clears mud extremely well and has held up to loads of rough trail riding.
The Hans Dampf was an adequate pairing, rolling quickly and providing above-average braking traction in a wide variety of conditions. But the softer rubber compound aged a little quicker than we’d have liked, shedding a few side lugs along the way. Next round we’ll opt for the sturdier Addix Speedgrip compound in the rear and expect an even better outcome.
PRO Korak Dropper Post ($290)
While not as sexy as the host of more expensive dropper posts currently on the market, PRO’s Korak dropper post (a Shimano house brand product) has proven to be reliably during a season’s worth of regular use. Tested here was the 170mm 31.6 internally routed infinite travel model, which weighed a middle-of-the-road 677 grams (housing, lever, post). The lever has a pleasing ergonomic shape and textured paddle, the barrel adjuster is easy to grasp and manipulate, and lever action is light and consistent. The post itself moves smoothly and has developed almost none of the lateral play that seems almost expected in the current crop of droppers. The only real knock is the single bolt saddle clamp design, but honestly I’ve yet to have any problems so take it for what you will. Bottom line, it’s a basic no frills post that’s reasonably priced and works well.
Shimano XTR Trail Pedals ($180)
Last but not least is a trusty pair of Shimano SPD pedals, the latest XTR Trail versions, which weigh 198 grams per pedal. Shimano made some subtle tweaks, widening the contact area for improved stability, while also expanding the rearward shoe-pedal contact area to better accommodate sneaker-style flat outsoles that are popular for enduro and gravity riding. And just like every pair of Shimano SPDs I’ve owned, they’ve proven to be indestructible, requiring no maintenance whatsoever.
Putting a Bow On It
So what’s the takeaway here? For starters, building up a bike from scratch is a great way to get exactly what you want and not be at the mercy of a product manager whose job is to hit some arbitrary sweet spot between performance and price. For example, I’m a Shimano fan, but at the time when this build came together, Yeti was only offering complete bikes with SRAM drivetrains (that’s since changed). The self-build also means you don’t get stuck with a bunch of house brand components, and can instead mix and match how you want. Go ahead, save a little on your cockpit parts or dropper post, and then spend big on carbon wheels. Or do the opposite. It’s totally up to you and that’s cool.
Secondly, I personally no longer believe in the too-much-bike theory, especially if you can only have one bike. The way I see it, if a bike climbs reasonably well (which the SB150 does) and you’re not overly worried about weight, then why not go big. That way you can have fun no matter what type of trails your riding, and never be in a situation where you shy away from terrain that might otherwise overwhelm an XC or short travel trail bike. Indeed, we are living in a golden age of mountain bike technology, and that is really cool.