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Yeti 303

In the world of downhill I can only think of a few bikes that are both ‘super’ and ‘exclusive’ (and unavailable) at the same time – the Honda, Nicolai, B1 and MSC gearbox bikes.

At the moment there are possibly six very good race bikes and another twenty or so that could win a world cup with the right person stood on the pedals, yet nearly all of them are no more than an hour and a credit card away from most of us. Not exactly select or even super. There are ‘Super cars’ no doubt, the sort of things that take ages to order, are unreliable, pretty daft looking things that never start. There are ‘Superbikes’ too, but these are simple to buy, impossible to ride plastic rockets that will transport you from A to B in roughly half the time it normally takes.

Looking back in time, one of the few super bicycles was the Sunn circa 1997. Tailor made and sprung, built for the business of winning races, which they did with frightening regularity. They no longer exist, may not even have been that good even, but they are held in such high regard because the likes of Vouilloz, Gracia, Barel and Pascal still rate them as the best bikes they have ever ridden. They were not production. The current pick of the production crop, the 224, may have taken nine years to develop and be the most successful downhill bike on the World Cup circuit this century, it might also be unrivalled in terms of race pedigree and wins in this country but it’s easy to get hold of, unimaginably simple, quite inexpensive and easy to ride. Built for speed not show.

Many companies lacking economies of scale are driven to produce something a bit different to justify the higher hand made, smaller scale costs. Low number exclusivity very often comes with high number price tag. Expensive is the name of the game. With this often comes a whimsical, odd ride character, hand made yes, but completely out of alignment needing bearing replacement every hour of riding. You think I’m kidding? They are not likely to be frequent visitors to the world cup podium either, but there are exceptions. Nonetheless, with the price tag comes the perception that it will be better. In reality they’re the kind of bike you see hanging off a chairlift in France once a year, rarely seen because they are usually shit to race and too expensive. This in itself attracts some twisted people to buy them. An M&S pre-packed steak sandwich.

Yeti has a reputation of building quality no nonsense bikes. They are associated with employing no nonsense downhill riders as well. Nathan Rennie, Jared Graves. Riders that will call a spade a spade. Then they wheeled the 303 out of the HQ. What were they thinking? Too much possibly. The 303 has an uneasy complexity to it, and gives the impression that it’s involved in research at Oxford’s Astrophysics department. But is it research or could Greg Minnaar win a world Cup on the Yeti 303 many will wonder? Well of course he could. Probably in the same way that he won a World Championship on a pair of forks described by many people as ‘Flexorados’ because of the extreme amount of flex characteristic. The super stiff Fox 40 meanwhile is yet to gain a top level prize at the time of going to print. That a bike or product has not featured on a podium does not make it a bad product.

An unnecessary ramble then, but the price and complex construction of the Yeti might lead to an idea of brilliance. This test is only to find out if it works.

ZERO LOSS THEN…

Bearing in mind that world cup podiums are no seal of approval if a bike is good or not (it is the rider that is expected to podium, not the bike), is the Yeti just purely expensive and exclusive? Possibly great to look at and work out, but in reality not really much better than designs of a far simpler nature. At what stage is it in its development? Is it a riders bike more than a racers bike? Is it really as heavy as it appears? How maintainable is it?

And there straight away is the first misconception. The 303 is not a heavy bike as much as it appears to be in photographs. Quite how they’ve done this is amazing. It is also well balanced given the amount of scaffolding going on at the back. The cockpit is like all bikes that have come before it, very sure of itself and as soon as you take hold of the bars you know there’ll be no place to hide. A thoroughbred race horse though?

Zero loss is a new phenomena and the Yeti does everything it says in the marketing. The whole business of efficient pedalling and uninterrupted, frictionless rear travel, it does it all, there’s no question. It’s just I can’t help but think (and feel) that it is good to feel what the suspension and tyres are doing, and be able to react quickly to changes in conditions. Could it be that this level of isolation from the soil is a good thing? It takes a lot of understanding. Having two very different damping mechanisms front and rear alone is hard on the brain – having conflicting feedback through pedal and handlebar takes a bit of getting used to. Because of the interrupted, indirect nature of feedback between tyre and pedal the rear lacks sharpness. Its action out of G–outs asks question marks over zero loss, and that it was the only bike to feel the braking bumps on the test tracks kind of goes against what it is designed to do. It also slightly contradicts what I said earlier but whether this is because of the sensitive nature of the rear end sliders or down to the shock it all comes back to a rear end doing more than is needed on the terrain it is tracking.

How does it feel to ride? From the moment you get that Fox shock moving in unison with the sliding rails it is quite clear that there’s a lot going on at the rear of the bike. It handles rocks and roots well and protects the rider from feedback through frame and pedals a little more than other bikes. In other words it filters out energy from the ground more than a lot of bikes. This is most noticeable when you’re ploughing into rather than over terrain, particularly on very fast, very rocky descents. It’s definitely a very good bike to ride on, completely unique. It is certainly a wheels on the ground bike too, but that’s not saying that it doesn’t jump well.

The whole business of activity at the rear of the bike does ask the question “Is it actually doing anything or is it just moving around on the rails?” It’s a big question mark. Certainly there is a lot of sloppiness in the first part of the stroke similar to an M3 but whereas the axle path of the Intense then goes through all shapes the Yeti takes a more direct backwards and upwards route. Complex physics. It’s argued that traction is all about a bike moving and responding to every bump, something has to move to enable it to grip, I’m not convinced that the amount of movement taking place, and the alternative axle paths on the Yeti translates to more grip than a much simpler design relying on clever geometry and damping. And it’s not just the first part of the travel that you notice because on the whole trail you are constantly being reminded “wow, the bike is working really well over the ground.”

This is just about the Yeti of course but I happened to take a straight forward single pivot Orange along as a control bike and it was only after riding this bike that I found that actually there was nothing on the trail that warranted the amount of activity that took place when riding the 303. This I found both startling and slightly embarrassing. It was then I began thinking more about owner James Hughe’s words about the way in which the bike drifts all the time then grips. This can only be the suspension making its mind up what it’s going to do. Is the shock fighting the ground below or the rails above? I know it sounds stupid, it probably is. Feedback through the tyres on the other hand is certainly not and it is a fundamental characteristic necessary to race a bicycle downhill over rough ground. In a straight line flat out maybe not so much but when you start cornering it is essential that you know what a tyre is doing, and several times I slipped on roots because I was not aware how much pressure I was putting on the root. Certainly it is a bike that takes time to understand. We did not have that time.

The business of damping a system like this must be a tricky one, and this came across on that shallow set of braking bumps. The frictionless nature of the system must have played a part in the fact that the bumps were very noticeable on the Yeti but did not even exist on the 224 or a V10. Yeti have had to adjust the workings of a standard DHX Fox to make the bike work. There is still some way to go. And yes you’re right, Ricky Carmichael probably wouldn’t use sliding rails. Power is nothing without control.

CONCLUSION

The feeling that you get is that the bike is still very much in its experimental stages. The great test on the hands of the designers is pairing up the frictionless business with the most efficient damping. At the moment it seems to be doing too much. Through all these crazy ideas however, something good is bound to come of it. After all, how else would you come across peanut butter and banana sandwiches?
The jury is well and truly out on this bike, and how will it cope with British winters? It would be foolish to draw any conclusions in such a short space of time. What I do know however is that I was riding down a far simpler hill with many less bumps on the Orange than I was on the Yeti. In conclusion to this bike, I don’t know. Steve Jones.

 

THE TECH

If you’re still sat there confused as hell about ‘Zero-Loss’, and possibly even everything else about the 303, then hopefully this’ll clear things up a bit.
First of all, Zero-Loss, basically it’s just Yeti’s name for this bikes suspension design. The reason being that both the chain and brake forces are “directed mostly perpendicular to the travel path of the vertical gliding pivot” ( note the word ‘mostly’ ), resulting in a bike that won’t squat or bob under pedalling, or suffer under braking. I think the best way of trying to understand what Yeti have tried to do with this bike is to just remind yourself a minute of all the bikes we’ve recently seen with a short twin-linkage design, i.e. Iron Horse, Giant, Marin, etc. What they’re all trying to achieve is the same as what everyone has always wanted, the ‘perfect’ axle-path. For years it seemed like pretty much everyone thought that it was a just a choice of some form of single pivot arrangement, or a case of getting the wallet out and paying Specialized to use a Horst link (the essential ingredient of any true four-bar). It wasn’t until the resurrection of the VPP, which for some reason fell by the wayside for far too long, that everyone seems to have realised that there’s even more potential to avoid patents with a linkage system than there is with a single pivot.

You’re probably thinking ‘what on earth has all this got to do with the Yeti, it doesn’t even have linkages (apart from the Foes like stiffening ones)’. No, but the point is that the sliding system found on the 303 enables Yeti to fine tune every aspect of the axle path, just like any linkage bike. So, once you’ve got that idea in your mind you then seem to be left with just one question, are the sliders any better at doing their job than two short linkages? That’s definitely a tough one, my short answer is that I think there’s potential for it to be better, but as for whether it’s any better now, only time can tell. The reasons why I think it could be better are several, first you’ve got to look at the cartridge bearings that we currently rely so heavily upon, are they the tool for job? Well, in almost every case the answer should strictly be no, because your regular bearing is really designed for continuous rotation, like you’d get in a hub, not the small angled and jerky rotations that you’ll find at any pivot point. You see there is a reason why Dave Turner has always chosen to use bushings (apart from on the Javelin which used custom needle bearings), but many others feel that standard cartridges are ‘good enough’ as you might say. This is where you come down to that old compromise issue again, and the needle bearing sliders of the 303 are no exception to the rule. If you were to walk into a bearing manufacturer and ask them to design a bearing for the kind of movement and loading you’d find on the rear end of a mountain bike, they’d almost certainly suggest some kind of needle-roller bearing, but as soon as you mention the mud word, they’ll probably start sweating. Basically roller bearings are quite literally perfect for the job, apart from the fact they suffer so badly when full of crap. Cannondale have proved how well needle bearings and suspension can match with their incredibly smooth HeadShox and Lefty forks, which get even better when you start to apply side loads. The reason why it has worked for Cannondale is because unless you’ve got a hole in your fork boot, the entire system is pretty well sealed. This is where the 303 worries me slightly, even with the reassurance of grease ports it still seems very open and unprotected. It might well be smoother out of the box than any other design, but whether that’ll be the case after six months of riding, we’ll just have to wait and see.

There are some possible further considerations, like can you make it stiffer and lighter, or at least reduce the un-sprung weight, and of course the important one, does it actually make a blind bit of difference? Considering that the 303’s design still has to rely on a couple of what appear to be nothing too special cartridge bearings, I reckon the answer to that last one is probably no. It may be a fraction stiffer, but at the end of the day it’s like I said, this is just yet another way of essentially doing the same thing, and whether it’s really any better than what everyone else is doing will only really be discovered someway down the line. I’ll end just by saying that if you can actually get hold of one, and you’re willing to be a guinea pig in order to have something that is truly unique, then go ahead, buy it. Oh yeah, and I hope that you’re not even more confused now? Ed.

 

SPEC

 

Price: £2699

Sizes: S, M and L

Colours: Team colours only

Contact: Evolution Imports 0208 290 0807

www.yeticycles.com

In the world of downhill I can only think of a few bikes that are both ‘super’ and ‘exclusive’ (and unavailable) at the same time – the Honda, Nicolai, B1 and MSC gearbox bikes.

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