A tale of two bikes and two trails…
Picking a new bike is both a delightful and an exhausting endeavour. So many numbers and marketing jargon that (even as an engineer) I often spend equal amounts of time frothing with stoke and getting completely lost trying to understand some new concept.
Honestly, numbers are super important but the proof is in the pudding, and I need to ride the bike to understand if I like the bike. During 2020/21, with the ravages of COVID, it seemed like bike brand demo-days and opportunities to test ride bikes completely evaporated. This results in many of us putting even more emphasis on getting it right, based purely on a long list of numbers online. (Luckily, Arbutus Routes is always well stocked and I suggest just renting all the bikes you are thinking about – just to help with the decision-making process).
In the name of good science and reporting, I took both the Yeti SB130 and the SB150 out for a couple pedals last summer. (I love the feel of 29” wheels so the SB 140 doesn’t seem to have gained any traction in my conscience. And the SB115… well, nobody ever complimented me how light I am on my bikes.)
Over a couple days, we hit a number of Whistler classics and swapped bikes back and forth to get a personal feel for the pros/cons of each. To try and give things a little context, I am going to pick two pieces of trail which helped me better understand the trail demeanour of the two bikes.
On the section of trail above, I first hit it completely blind on the SB 150. The 150 really loves smashing through the downs with an emphasis on speed rather than nimbleness, so I felt completely comfortable heading straight into any bumpy or rocky sections blind. I found myself focussing on finding the fastest line with little to no cares about how rough it looked. The bike wanted to draw out all the corners and run.
In contrast, when I came back to this section on the SB130, I was really excited about popping off a root off the top of the trail and landing on smooth section of dirt on the side of the trail rather than going smash-smash down the middle. The SB130 responds that iota quicker than the SB150 and loves finding little ramps and pops between rough sections of trail, rather than just straight-line speed. As the trail flattened out, the quicker nature of the SB130 was ideal as it responds extremely quickly when you put the power to the pedals, and just takes off after smashing little berms and corners.
Another trail featured a number of more committed moves and compression filled holes. Again, on the SB150, I had little concern about run-outs of features and possible divots along the way, so ended up feel comfortable enough to actually ‘play around’ on some of the more technical features. I found myself adding in little hops or sneaky line choices since I wasn’t too concerned about being able to hold on through the compressions and holes at the bottom of these features.
In contrast, on the SB130, I definitely found myself being a little more tentative (on the feature) to ensure I hit the smoothest line off the feature and through the compressions. Not that the bike couldn’t take the compressions, but I found myself getting more offline more and unable to get back into the rhythm with the trail.
Given that we all need to get up to get down, I also did pedal both bikes up to the trails. In this regard, the bikes performed exactly as you would expect. On the SB130, I felt completely planted, well balanced, and in control. On the SB150, you sit further/deeper in the travel and on more technical uphill climbs, I felt like I needed to be much more proactive with my body positioning and weight distribution to ensure I didn’t wash out the front wheel. On a consistent grade logging road style climbs, I noticed very little difference between the two bikes (I have no interest in sprinting up a logging road – sit and grind is my style).
So overall thoughts? In my personal opinion and for my riding style, I feel it depends on the quality/smoothness of the trails in your area – particularly in the run-outs and landings. Both bikes will be able to handle almost everything that 90% of riders will throw at them, but if you are landing in rock strewn fields, I would choose the SB150. If you are landing on freshly swept and manicured trails, then go all-in on the SB130.
I am on an SB130 and love it. I can’t get past how quick it is out of corners and loves to play on the trail. However, I have got a secret passion for an SB150. I just need to find a few more smashed out and blown up trails in my area to allow the bike to run and show its true colours. Otherwise, it is like using a Supercar to commute the coffeeshop.