We are scared to see the limits of the Yeti SB165.
The Yeti SB165 has a singular goal — destroy every rock, root and bump in sight. If there’s something in its way, it simply smashes its way through it. Or, if it’s going mach chicken, it jumps over it. Sound like your idea of a good time? Party on Wayne.
Like any self respecting goose, I flew south for the winter in search of warmer climes. I found sanctuary in the form of the Southern Utah desert. The same desert is an amazing place to test ride a bike like the SB165. It has ledgy, stepped, rock-littered trails as far as the eye can see. What’s something the SB165 excels at you ask? Why, smashing rocks of course. I couldn’t have felt more comfortable and confident on the descents while piloting the Hulk (That’s what we have all agreed to call the 165, ok?) And how could I not feel comfortable with 165mm of coil driven rear travel paired to a 180mm Fox 36? Has any combo of two numbers inspired as much confidence as those in the history of humankind?
Yeti SB165 Geometry and Build
The SB165 falls right in line with the rest of Yeti’s geometry for 2020. It’s very long. Funny — seems like bikes just keep doing that these days. At 6’2” I can ride a L or XL in a Yeti frame. Normally I’ll take an extra large, but in the case of the 165 I was hoping to keep the bike feeling lively and spry (something I’ve been prioritizing lately.) The L fit the bill in terms of reach and wheelbase. With the extra steep seat tube, the climbing position felt a little cozy and very upright, but I adjusted quickly. The size felt perfect for the descents, however. Big enough to be stable, yet short enough to not feel like a school bus. The head tube angle is extremely slack at 63.5° — the slackest bike I’ve ever ridden. A head tube angle that slack comes with some pros and cons. Hang tight — we’ll address those a little later, I promise. For now, I just need you to understand that number is as slack as full blown DH race bikes (I’m not exaggerating. Amaury Pierron’s bike has a 63.5° head tube angle)
I rode the T2 build. At $7,699 it’s pretty decked out with a Sram X01 drivetrain, Code RCS brakes, Fox Factory suspension and carbon bits everywhere. If that wasn’t enough, my test bike came equipped with a set of Enve M730 wheels. Those light and snappy wheels actually helped quite a bit to keep things lively and fun on the climbs. There’s really nothing about this build to find fault with. Every part does its job perfectly while being as light as possible for the application. Speaking of weight, my test bike came in at a surprising 32.5 Lbs. Considering it’s as burly as it is and comes with a heavy steel coil, that’s pretty dang impressive. Kudos Yeti.
Let’s get this out of the way. The SB165 is not made for climbing. If you want a speedy climber, go look somewhere else. It has a few things going against it. The head tube angle. At 63.5° the front end gets a bit floppy when you’re not going fast. Being in the desert with steep, bumpy climbs doesn’t help. The front wheel would rather fold over to the side than go straight up and over a rock. With a little effort you can keep the front wheel tracking straight, but it’s not something the bike naturally does very well, especially at slow speeds. The second thing going against it the weight. It’s heavy, but it seems a lot of bikes are getting heavier these days. It’s not a huge issue and like I said earlier its pretty light considering what it’s made to do.
The SB165 has one really big thing going for it in the pedaling department — Switch Infinity. Yeti’s patented suspension design works very, very well. It gives the bike a nice firm pedal platform so it doesn’t sag too deep into it’s travel and become very inefficient. The bike sits high in the travel keeping the front end from getting even slacker, allowing you to keep the front wheel weighed pretty well. Even with a coil shock (generally not the best for climbing) the 165 pedals well. It translates most of your input to getting the back wheel to turn and move the bike forward. Something that’s quite appreciated on a bike like this. The Enve wheels on my test bike also helped out quite a bit on the climbs. They are light, stiff and come with a high-engagement hub. The wheels themselves spin up quickly and give the bike a lively feel. The hubs engage fast making technical climbing easier. If you’re looking to build up a 165, I’d suggest investing in a good set of light wheels. They will help tame the beast when it comes to climbing.
My test track had a lot of tight, technical climbing. The 165 did surprisingly well on the more difficult sections of the trail. In fact, I cleaned sections that I couldn’t on the SB130 Lunch Ride. I can really only attribute this to two things. The Switch Infinity and the smaller frame/wheels. The smaller wheels are more maneuverable in the tight and twisty sections. They are a little easier to turn and get around obstacles. They generally aren’t the fastest climbing wheels, but for this bike and this trail, they were a good choice. The size L frame helped keep the wheelbase a little shorter. A shorter wheelbase is always going to be easier to get around a tight corner — simple physics.
So, is it climbable? Yes. Would you want to climb on it all day? No. If you can have two bikes and already have a trail bike, then the 165 would make an excellent park/shuttle bike that you can still pedal when needed. If you can only have one bike and never climb too much or put a big emphasis on downhill performance, then it would still be a great option. If you like climbing (gross) and don’t get too crazy on the descents, this one will be a hard pass.
Now we get to the fun part — the part where we get to smash roots, hit jumps into minefields of rocks without a care, slash berms and generally have a riot on two wheels. Calling the SB165 a capable machine is an understatement. I’ve never felt more planted and controlled on a bike (and keep in mind I rode a size smaller than I normally do.) Zen trail is a typical desert ride that beats you up. It’s littered with rocks and it’s always a wonder how wheels survive out there. At the bottom of the trail the SB165 laughed at me and asked “Is that all you’ve got?” I replied with a weak and feeble “Yeah.”
A couple things stood out to me on the descents. First, small bumps are non-existent aboard the SB165. They really become a nonfactor. This does two things to your ride. It feels really cool and it allows you to go so much faster. When small bump performance is so good you don’t feel the rocks under your tires, your bike doesn’t get hung up on each and every bump. Instead, the suspension does its job and you and your bike go faster. You don’t really realize you’re going that fast either. It’s only when the cop pulls you over and asks “Son, do you know how fast you were going?” You say “No sir. I must have lost track.” To which he replies “45mph. It was so rad.” and gives you a high five.
The second thing that became rather apparent is how lively the bike is at speed. It’s a good thing the suspension works well and allows you to go fast, because that’s when the bike really comes alive. In my video review I had to eat my words. I first said that the 165 wasn’t very lively or playful. That’s because I hadn’t fully opened it up yet. Honestly, at slow speeds it’s not very lively or fun. It’s kind of cumbersome and squishy. Once you’ve got it up to speed though, it’s a completely different bike. It’s easy to pop off the ground, quick to change lines and corners on rails. It becomes a very lively and engaging ride. It will still monster truck (That’s a verb now. Look it up.) when required, but it also rewards an engaged rider with a good time. It encourages you to hit jumps and drops even if the landing is a miserable pile of pointy rocks. Just watch the video, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I’d like to have something to compare this bike to on the descents, but nothing rides quite like it. The SB150 is close in travel and geometry, but it has a completely different ride quality. Where it’s all about going fast, the SB165 is all about going fast while pretending the floor is lava — more airtime please.
Something to note is that if you like to putz around and you’re not getting after it on every steep and rugged descent, you’re probably not going to care for the SB165 very much. You’d be better suited on a bike with slightly mellower intentions — might I suggest the SB130, Santa Cruz Hightower, Orbea Occam, Ibis Ripmo, Norco Optic or just about any other bike on the planet.
The all around Yeti SB165
So who is this bike for? Well, in as few words as possible, someone who gets after it. They get after it at the bike park, that cool new shuttle only trail no one talks about, at Whistler, or that one giant freeride line you’ve seen on YouTube. They’re always down at the old Red Bull Rampage site trying to resurrect an old Josh Bender line. The SB165 is for absolutely never having an excuse to back down from a feature. It’s got you covered on anything, and it means it. If you like to turn the scary into fun, it’s probably the bike for you.
If you feel like you’re up for the task, stop by Biker’s Edge and check one out.