Self-Motivated Masher: A Yeti SB120 Review

We just covered the SB135, a Switch-Infinity-equipped, carbon fiber Yeti with just 15mm more rear travel than the SB120 that Travis Engel is here to talk about. But there’s very little danger of any overlap between the two bikes. The SB135 is one of the last mid-travel 27.5-inch bikes left in the wild, and that kinda dominates any conversation it’s in. The SB120, on the other hand, is a short-travel trail 29er: The compact crossover SUV of mountain bikes. Seems like every brand has at least one model that mixes trail-bike capability with cross-country speed. Pivot, Ibis, and Transition have a few perfect 10s on the board. Marin and Norco are strong players too, and they can do it for under $2,000 if you don’t need a carbon bike. But comparisons are always tricky thanks to Yeti’s unique design language around geometry, frame construction, and, of course, suspension. As with every Yeti, the SB120 is like nothing else in its category.

Yeti is actually pretty late to the whole short-travel-trail party. The SB120 replaces the SB115, but that was just a re-skin of the SB100. The nearest relative is probably the SB4.5, which launched back in 2015. That was before we demanded bottle cages in our front triangles and metric suspension travel numbers in our model names, thank you very much. Point is, the SB120 feels like a fresh start. Yeti was free to go in any direction they wanted. They could have just revamped the SB115 to make it a sprightly but capable marathon machine. Or they could have scaled down the SB130 into a short-travel enduro bike. One could say they ended up somewhere in the middle, but that’s not quite accurate. It’s more like they took a little from column A and a little from column B.

Column A

For reasons we’ll get to later, I would never call the SB120 “conservative.” But its geometry isn’t exactly rocking the boat. The 66.5-degree head angle is pretty on-the-nose for this travel range. Same goes for the bottom-bracket height. The only pedal strikes I suffered were ones I probably deserved. Yeti’s chainstays are size-specific, stretching 441mm on my XL test bike. But that’s more about proportionality than stability, so nothing out of the ordinary there. The stack height and top tube length are also just about what you’d expect from an efficiency-focused short-travel trail bike. That’s why, for most of my test, I swapped the 50mm stem for a 35mm and stacked all the spacers underneath it. Even then, it still had a pretty businesslike feel to the front end. Pair that with the 76.5-degree seat tube angle, and every time I climbed aboard, it reminded me we’re here to get shit done.

All those ingredients mean the SB120 can do some pretty special things when you’re on the gas. It felt like it oriented everything in the service of power output. I just had to turn the cranks. Note, that doesn’t mean this bike is a sprinter. The Pivot Trail 429 and the carbon Specialized Stumpjumper come to mind as the froggier incarnations of the 120/130 bike. They’re also lighter in some builds than comparable SB120s, but don’t get me started on the misguided obsession with bike weight. (My XL test bike was 31.6 pounds without pedals, if you must know). The climbing prowess of the SB120 was really more about long-term goals than short-term. This is the kind of bike that had me re-thinking how I approach big loops because I was able to get more done. Sufferfest climbs involved less suffering, and thus easier pedaling. I just had to settle in and keep my head down. It’s amazing how helpful a comfortable climbing position can be. Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t have minded an even steeper seat angle, but that’d have negatively impacted something else amazing I experienced.

Bikes like this are perfect for undulating terrain where you’re making the momentum, not gravity. It needs to be suitable for flatter inclines, meaning 76.5 degrees was a good compromise. So, I sought out some long stretches of gradual canyon-bottom singletrack, where the SB120 suddenly brought out the masher in me. I just wanted to keep pumping. But not in a bloodthirsty racer sort of way. More like a kid-on-a-swing-set sort of way. The harder I pushed, the more fun I had. The word, “balance,” gets used a lot in bike reviews. Often in a literal sense, with regards to front/rear weight bias. But the SB120’s balance is more conceptual. What I mean is that creating momentum and taking advantage of momentum were equally fun. I’d put in a few rewarding hard pedal strokes, and then do a rewarding little nose bonk on a flat rock. A few more pedal strokes, a few more lazy drifts. While other quick little bikes might be a bit timid when roughhoused, the SB120 never seemed to flinch.

Switch Infinity plays a significant role in all this, but in a way that disappears seamlessly into the ride. For example, it’s not like a high-pivot linkage, which benefits from a whole different way of interacting with terrain, speed, and the bike itself. The impact of Switch Infinity is more subtle. Without getting in the weeds about it, Switch Infinity offers Yeti more freedom to tailor each SB model’s suspension feel to suit its unique intentions. In the case of the SB120, power and responsiveness are high on the priority list. For me, that manifested as soon as I started tinkering with setup. I’m usually a 30-percent-rear-sag sort of rider, sometimes even edging towards a nice, round ⅓. Most of my riding is nothing like those flat canyon traverses, so I tune my (literal) balance for long descents. I’m getting ahead of myself, since I’m not quite done with Column A, but the SB120 was one of the rare bikes where 25% suited me perfectly, even on the downhill. The bike willingly gave up its travel when I needed it to, but was still remarkably supportive under pedaling and pumping. Yeti could have made a bike that felt more neutral and planted, working best when sitting a little deeper in its travel. But the SB120’s suspension was reactive all the way down, even if you set it up to stay alert. Again, there are other, more race-like bikes in this category if you’re looking for a pure pedaling machine, but Yeti didn’t seem to be interested in that. It’s more of an all-around pedaling machine, which will make for an interesting Column B

Column B

In case my clever subheadings aren’t actually as clever as I thought, Column B is where we’re going to talk about descending. It’s also where we’re going to take a quick break from the unmitigated praise I’ve been heaping on the SB120. Again, Yeti did not go hard down the mini-enduro-bike route. I happen to be a fan of that route, given how I felt about the Canyon Spectral 125. But almost everything that might have made the SB120 ultra capable on the downhill would have also chipped away at everything I loved about it on the flats and the climbs. The truth is, this is not a forgiving bike at speed or in the steeps. Even after my subtle cockpit tweaks, I found myself leaning back for safety in situations when I should be leaning forward for traction. And personally, I’d have traded a few unforced pedal strikes for a little lower center-of-gravity, especially given how supportive the suspension feels. But if you’re judging this bike on its own terms, none of those complaints should steer you away. To varying extents, I’d lob most of the same complaints at all the comparable 120mm bikes I’ve mentioned in this review. They all require you to keep very much on your toes if you want to stray beyond category. Except maybe the Norco … I still haven’t ridden that one. Regardless, I wouldn’t even make this big deal of my nitpicks if it weren’t for everything else this bike does exceedingly well when you ride it aggressively.

Let’s go back to Switch Infinity for a moment. 120mm bikes have a bit of a tightrope to walk when it comes to making the most of their travel. It’s hard to do anything fancy. Best case scenario is that it offers good small-bump sensitivity without bottoming out easily. Bonus points if it’s also supportive in between. The SB120 nails it on all counts. I contrast that with the Ibis Ripley, which rides great when you keep a light touch. It floats through mid-sized chunder like a longer-travel bike, but I haven’t had the greatest luck setting one up to be a basher. The SB120, on the other hand, is down to bash. Leverage-curve charts like the one above will often lull unwitting bike reviewers into the dreaded trap of confirmation bias, but here’s what I think is happening. All the other SB models have an obvious ramp-up in bottom-out resistance near the end of the stroke. But the SB120 has a significantly smaller-volume air shock than those models, and therefore has a more natural ramp-up. So, Yeti tuned the bike to stay supportive throughout, but didn’t hinder the bike’s ability to use all of its travel. Sure, I came up with that rationalization after seeing this chart, but I sensed its effects on the trail first. Especially when I found my way to that higher sag, the suspension would take the edge off high-speed small impacts, but would expertly manage the odd large impact. All the while, it would respond predictably when I wanted to pop off something or pump into a depression. This is true of most SB models I’ve ridden, but there’s something unique about feeling it with such little travel.

And then there’s all the stuff around the Switch Infinity. Chassis feel is an interesting topic on the SB120 because Yeti built each frame size differently in order to offer a consistent ride feel throughout. Maybe that’s why this XL short-travel trail bike felt stouter than other XL short-travel trail bikes I’ve ridden. It’s not like it felt too stiff, though. I wasn’t getting bounced out of line. But when I had to wrench it back under me after I got twisted sideways veering into the trail’s high side, there was no spring-loaded delay. Everything happened quickly and predictably. I bet that, if this bike weren’t as laterally stiff, and if it didn’t have the extra hardware of Switch Infinity, maybe it could have been lighter. Maybe it would have felt more like other bikes in its category. But then, ya’ know, it would have felt more like other bikes in its category.

Column $

While I’m comparing the SB120 to its peers, it feels like a good time to segue into price. The bike I tested costs $6,900, which includes the $600 upgrade for Fox Factory suspension. I’ll talk spec later, but that’s for the lowest-price option in the SB120 range. Now, whenever I’m reviewing a non-consumer-direct brand, I always want to mention that a retailer will get a piece of that sale, but it’s still a shitload of money. More than you have to spend for something similar. There aren’t a lot of SLX-specced bikes on the market right now, which is a whole other story, but if you want a full-carbon bike in this category, you can get a GX-equipped Stumpjumper for $5,000 with some down-specced suspension. The list of bikes that are cheaper than Yeti is a long one, so I’ll just stop there. Plus, the whole Yeti cachet makes comparisons difficult, and there are a ton of Yeti-ass things happening on this bike that are worth taking into consideration.

I already mentioned the size-specific carbon construction. And of course, there’s Switch Infinity. Speaking of which, Yeti updated the bushings and bearing hardware for better longevity. I won’t be touching on any of that, though. For one, I’m not testing the bike long enough to wear any of that out. Also, that new hotness is only available on Yeti’s upper-tier “Turq” frames, a lighter carbon construction reserved for higher-priced builds. But there are still a few other luxuries in my non-Turq test bike. It’s a nice longevity feature in that none of the suspension pivot bearings are pressed into the frame, but instead are in the swing link and the Switch Infinity mechanism. I’d feel better bashing them in and out when the time comes to replace them. Also, the floating collet pin system expands in the bolt seat, instead of just pinching it for a firmer connection. That adds stiffness and decreases likelihood of side-loading the bearings when they’re tightened, so they ought to work smoother for longer. Then, there’s the stellar internally guided cable routing, the threaded bottom bracket, the downtube port for easier dropper cable routing, and room for a full-sized bottle on all frame sizes. Speaking of frame sizes, there are six. From XS to XXL. And on that note, LG-XXL bikes all get 210mm droppers, Med gets 180, and XS and S get 150. What a time to be alive. Really, the only features I’d like to have seen are an accessories port under the top tube, and maybe even down-tube storage, but both seem a little too dorky for Yeti, so I’m not holding my breath.

My SLX test bike is the base-level SB120 at $6,300 without the $600 suspension upgrade. I really just opted in because I like the Grip2 fork damper, but you can get that aftermarket for $360 if you’re not a Kashima believer. I like that the ground floor stopped at SLX, a group that I think offers a nearly XTR-level experience, with one exception that Yeti astutely addressed. This build’s XT shifter adds double-upshift capability, so it was a welcomed perk. Crankbrothers Synthesis Alloy wheels are pretty premium for being not-carbon, and the OneUp V2 dropper is a welcomed sight. The only real bummers in spec were the non-series Shimano rotors, whose power drops off steeply under high-intensity braking. Also, it may have been an availability thing, but the shifter and dropper lever were each traditional bar-clamp-style, not integrated with the brake levers, so positioning never felt right. Otherwise, no notes.

Zooming out from all of my individual takeaways on the SB120, it feels like it was put together with a pretty cohesive vision. If Yeti had wanted to give it a slacker head angle and higher stack height, there was nothing stopping them. That’s just not what this bike is about. If you want a shred-focused all-rounder, that’s what the SB140 is for. In contrast, the SB120 is focused more on pedaling, while cramming in just enough shred-readiness so as not to get in the way. It’s a rebellion against the inescapable hold that gravity has on today’s bikes, both literally and figuratively. It doesn’t provide an auto-pilot for getting down the hill, because it knows there’s no auto-pilot for getting up it.


  • Not as gravity-obsessed as other bikes in it category
  • Supportive suspension
  • Handles big impacts better than a 120mm bike should
  • Stout chassis
  • Packed with thoughtful design features


  • Not as gravity-obsessed as other bikes in it category
  • Expensive
  • Not especially lightweight
  • No on- or in-frame storage measures

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