Our test period on the Yeti SB120 has been a lengthy one for several of our testers and was led by me, Max Rhulen, while training for a multiday endurance race. Being able to put in longer days on an efficient short travel bike was welcomed. Not having been on a short travel 29er in quite some time the speed was infectious. In Bend, Oregon we have hundreds of miles of smooth, flowing singletrack that feature the occasional strip of lava rock or a jump section that doesn’t warrant a long travel bike. The SB120 was right at home.
Using Yeti’s suspension guide on their website and entering my weight of 160lbs, it was recommended to run 180-190psi in the Fox Float DPS Shock. While never bottoming out the shock with 180psi, I found that I preferred to run the shock at the 190psi mark for a bit more support, and with that I ran the Fox 34 fork at 90psi. This bike will absolutely rip on the descents and when we encountered some of the larger jump or flow trails on our test rides, having that extra platform and progression to support sending some big jumps was appreciated with the extra air pressure.
Before testing the Yeti SB120 I spent some time on their new SB140, and I was thoroughly impressed at both the weight and pedaling efficiency that the 140 offered in the Lunch Ride package. So, when I hopped onto the SB120, I was expecting an even more lively and eager package to fly up climbs. While some of our testers set PR’s (Personal Records) on every ride, I was not as blown away…That speaks volumes to the capability of the SB140, but more importantly, I just do not think the SB120 is the XC race bike I expected it to be. In reality though, it’s not designed to be one. Yeti has the bike listed in their RIP category rather than the RACE category of their website, so it’s targeted to be a short travel shredder rather than an out-and-out mile muncher, and that’s exactly how it felt.
By no means is the bike a slouch, in fact it pedaled quite well overall, it just is not the lightest, snappiest XC pinner bike on the climbs, which is fine for our application. The Climb switch on the Fox shock was easy to access and occasionally, we did find ourselves reaching for it when we really wanted to put the hammer down on smoother trail sections.
The compliance in the rear shock provided lots of traction helping to propel me up rocky, loose sections of trail, and the 120’s nimble attributes made technical moves a breeze. Plus, the lively top end made the ride more comfortable, taking out the harsh ride characteristics of other shorter travel bikes. The pedaling platform was quite efficient and I never sank very deep into the travel while mashing on the pedals, but there was more suspension movement than expected on flatter climbs compared to very steep grinders.
While it might not be the XC pinner I was expecting, the SB120 was an efficient, easy bike to ride when I found myself in the saddle for hours at a time. Thus, it would make the perfect backcountry companion when pedaling a long travel bike is not desirable. This bike is meant for those days where you need something efficient because you are going to crush lots of miles and lots of vert, but need something that can tackle almost all terrain and take enough sting off the trail to keep you from getting overly fatigued. Weighing in at 29.4 pounds for the spec tested, the SB120 certainly isn’t your lightweight XC bike, but more your reliable, efficient short travel trail machine.
Even though this is a short travel bike, the descents were where I loved the SB120 most. Growing up and racing dual slalom I have always loved feeling the speed you can extract from linking rollers, corners and jumps on a trail. Yeti’s SB120 thrives in these scenarios and rewards with speed. The stiffness in the frame allowed the bike to rail corners, but I never found it overly stiff. We did find the limit of rear tire traction however, but the bike offered a predictable breakaway and slide that we did not mind. A more aggressive tire tread and casing could help increase some traction for those searching for it, but it’ll further remove the snappiness and efficiency.
Yeti’s SB120 carries speed exceptionally well. It is poppy, it is relatively light, and it is just so much fun to ride. I felt like I could place it anywhere on the trail, and if I wanted to change lines the bike effortlessly found its way to my new line. It is quite a testament to hit trails we have ridden hundreds of times and having a few of the testers SB120 set climbing and descending PR’s without trying and with smiles on their faces. We even put it on a shuttle truck for a couple laps on a longer downhill trail to see how it would take the abuse, and came out the other side in one piece.
When getting onto rougher terrain the suspension was comfortable enough off the top and smooth throughout the travel. With 120mm of rear travel it’s obvious that you can find the limits of this bike and that is OK! The SB120 does a great job of feeling quick and precise on mellower trails but composed and snappy at high speeds. Make no mistake, we are not saying this bike will race and keep up with the SB140 Lunch Ride or SB160, it is not an enduro bike. We are saying that it is a very capable and bad ass trail bike that prioritizes fun and speed if you are willing to take it there. The ribbed chainstay protector, improvements to the cable routing and other attributes of the bike made for a silent ride which only encourages you to push harder.
As trails got steeper and more rugged, I had to back off the speed and get more focused on riding within the limits of a 120/130mm bike. Some riders may want to see a slacker head tube angle than the 66.5 degrees it comes with, however this is also what makes the bike so snappy, precise, and nimble on climbs and flatter terrain. Still, we think it would have been nice to see a 65.5° head tube angle to support the speed at which the SB120 likes to be ridden, or the option to adjust to suit the terrain on the menu.
Generally speaking the build kit on the Yeti SB120 T3 tested was solid and sensibly selected. Our one complaint was with the SRAM G2 brake spec, which we feel are underpowered even on the SB120. For the small weight penalty of the SRAM CODE, or an alternative from a different company, considerably more power and confidence can be gained, which we’d consider a worthwhile trade off. Though we haven’t heard many horror stories about the Switch Infinity setup on recent Yeti models, it still stands to reason that there is more chance of something going wrong than if the system wasn’t there, so we are left with the question mark over the need for it. That said, the rear end on the SB120 feels great, so perhaps it’s working some magic after all.
The Wolf’s Last Word
When it comes down to it, the 2023 Yeti SB120 is a comfortable, efficient short travel bike that prioritizes ride quality over counting grams. Whether you’re a washed up XC racer who still wants an efficient and snappy pedaler that can give you a more comfortable ride on big mile days, or you’re an aggressive shredder who wants a bike to rip on the mellow trails when you leave your 160mm sled at home, the Yeti SB120 will meet both riders in the middle. It is a bike without a label and category in our book, which means it is just a kick-ass all around mountain bike for those in the 120/130mm market.
Weight: 29.4 lbs (large)