YETI 160E MOUNTAIN BIKE TEST

Late to the game but making a grand entrance

Anyone remember the movie Back to the Future? In particular, do you remember the scene when Marty McFly went back in time to the 1950s and wowed the crowd with a wild rendition of Johnny B. Goode? No one could understand the noise he was making, right? 

That’s what it would have been like if someone had showed up to a mountain bike race 35 years ago aboard a Yeti mountain bike with a battery and motor combo attached to the frame. Happily, though, not even one of mountain biking’s core brands could escape the modern trappings of pedal-assist technology.  

Born in the late ’80s, Yeti Cycles was originally a SoCal phenomenon known as a small but rebellious bike brand dedicated to racing and pushing new technology. In its original guise, the brand won numerous national and world titles before being swallowed up by Schwinn and nearly disappearing. 

The team at Yeti spent 5 years working to develop this unit to perform to all demands of a racing eMTB.

 

Luckily, fate (and new owners who understood the brand’s heritage) intervened and brought the brand back to relevance. And, as we all know, no major bike brand can be relevant without having an e-bike in its lineup. And, late to the game as Yeti is, it wasn’t without reason—Yeti wanted to get the 160E right from the beginning.

DRIVE SYSTEM

The 160E utilizes Shimano’s EP8 drive unit. Shimano made the EP8 lighter and slightly more powerful than its e8000 predecessor. The assist has gone from 350 percent to 400 percent since the previous e8000 unit, and magnesium cases shave 300 grams off the unit. Yeti spec’d the bike with an internally mounted Shimano 630Wh battery.

Internally routed cable tubes with secure closure at entry and exit points and an all-new chain slap protector make pings and rattles a thing of the past.

 

THE FRAME

Yeti will offer two 160E builds that share the same TURQ-series carbon fiber frame that’s tested to Yeti’s DH strength standards. Geometry is in line with what we expect on an enduro bike these days, with a 64.5-degree head angle, 78-degree effective seat tube angle and 460mm reach on our size medium. Chainstay length comes in at 446mm. Compared to a 29er eMTB like Norco’s Sight VLT with much longer 462mm seatstays, the Yeti seems relatively short, but it’s on par with most eMTBs in its class. There is room for a water bottle inside the front triangle on all sizes, except for the small size, which only fits Yeti’s smaller Hot Lap bottle.

Two frame details that seem minor but are worth noting regard the bike’s cable routing. Inside the downtube, Yeti made special integrated guides to prevent the cables from noisily slapping around. And for the rear derailleur, Yeti worked with One-Up to co-design a simple but ingenious chainguide/cable guide to keep things uncluttered. Kudos.

An uninterrupted seat tube offers full travel dropper post compatibility throughout the size range.

 

THE BUILD

The 160E will come in two different high-end build options. The T1 TURQ-series build we’re testing has 29-inch DT Swiss EX1700 wheels, and for another $900, Yeti offers a carbon upgrade. Yeti ran with a 2.5-inch Maxxis Assegai up front and a 2.4-inch Maxxis Minion DHR in the rear. For the drivetrain, you’ll find mostly Shimano XT with the exception of 160mm Shimano XTR cranks with a 34T chainring that drives the 10-51 XT cassette. An e-bike-rated XT chain gets shifted by the classic, smooth feel of the Shimano XT derailleur.

SRAM Code RSC brakes come with a 220mm rotor up front and a 200mm rotor in the rear. Although not our first choice of brakes for ultra-quick stopping power, the 220mm rotor does bring a little more bite and heat resistance. 

A nice feature of the bike is the 31.6mm SRAM Reverb AXS electronic dropper seatpost. Not having to deal with cables when adjusting your seatpost is nice for a change. The post is actuated by a button on the 800mm-wide, Yeti house-brand carbon handlebars.

The 160E T1’s lower-priced sibling, the 160E C1, retails for $10,100 with aluminum wheels or $11,000 with carbon and has a Shimano SLX-based build. Both builds are offered in Rhino or Yeti’s traditional turquoise color.

SUSPENSION

Yeti developed a new eMTB-specific suspension system for the 160E dubbed Sixfinity. This new system is a six-bar linkage design with distinctive links connecting the upper and lower linkages. The purpose of the connecting links is to control the rotation of the lower Switch linkage as the suspension moves through its travel. The Switch link starts by rotating up and then changes to a downward direction later in the travel. This is very similar in concept to the Fox manufactured Switch Infinity lower link used in Yeti’s full-suspension bikes for the last few generations. 

According to Yeti, the Switch link allowed them to create a unique anti-squat curve with high levels early in the stroke where most of the pedaling happens. When the Switch link changes direction later in the stroke, anti-squat falls off quickly, allowing the suspension to move more freely from chain forces when pedaling doesn’t typically happen. 

The 160E includes adjustable leverage-rate progression via a three-position lower shock mount. The middle position is standard. Forward offers a firmer, more supportive feel, while the more progressive rear-mounting position is said to offer more pop and a plusher feel. Yeti also says the rear position is ideal for coil-over shocks. Suspension duties are handled by a 170mm-travel Fox 38 fork and Float X2 shock.

CLIMBING

At 50.2 pounds, the 160E has a 2- to 6-pound advantage on just about every top-performing e-mountain bike we’ve tested. Not only does it make the battery more efficient, but it’s noticeably easier to pop over big rocks or maneuver up a technical climb. Yeti’s suspension efficiency efforts are noticeable, too. Compared to other eMTBs we’ve tested, there is shockingly little difference between Eco and Off modes. Sure, you feel the lack of assistance, but it doesn’t feel like you are pedaling through wet cement.

The EP8 in Boost mode really maintained a usable, consistent power that seemed to limit wheelspin as long as we were in a suitable gear. This was especially noticeable on really loose terrain where traction was crucial. A higher cadence helped to maintain power from the motor and helped us make it up extremely steep sections without having to stand up and grind in an awkward position. 

DESCENDING

Yeti is one of the first companies to design an e-mountain bike specifically for racing. In other words, the bike was built to go fast, and the Fox 38 fork complements that intent. We spent a lot of time in rough, high-speed conditions in order to use the bike as it was intended to perform. Our more experienced riders found that the bike really started to perform best the harder it was pushed. 

“Forgiving” and “quiet” were the two words most often used by our test crew to describe the Yeti. Even through rough sections at speed, the 160E allowed us to hang on loosely and just let the bike do its thing underneath us. Most of our test riders were on the taller side of what Yeti recommends for a medium, yet we felt planted and stable in every situation. 

We experimented with all three shock positions during our test period. The standard middle setting and most progressive position were our favorites. Heavier and more aggressive riders favored the progressive setting because it is plusher on small trail chatter, is not as eager to use all of the stroke and offered a little more support late in its travel. The standard setting actually felt like it gave the bike a slightly better ability to carry speed through the rough. We loved the ability to adjust the progression and wish more bikes had this feature.

MODS AND UPGRADES

It might sound like old news at this point, but we would prefer to see better brakes on a bike with this price tag. We would upgrade the brake rotors to SRAM’s 2mm-thick HS2 rotors for better heat management. Although the bike is expensive, it’s hard to argue with the rest of the component build. 

We often rely on the Shimano app that allows personal tuning of the power modes to achieve better ride quality (see page 64). We would be remiss to forget to tout the Walk mode, which can be a lifesaver on steep, technical hike-a-bikes. Also, the battery charge-port cover is a pain to reattach since the piece that the cover is connected to is hard to reinsert into the hole it came from.

BOTTOM LINE

The biggest takeaway from the 160E is how comfortable it is at speed in rough conditions. The combination of its robust Fox suspension, the 29-inch wheels and complete 50-pound weight make it so that the faster you push, the better the bike works.

Considering Yeti designed its e-bike specifically for racing, we believe Yeti has set a new standard in the high-performance e-mountain bike market. The 160E is one of the best-handling bikes we’ve ever ridden, which is not a surprise coming from one of the most race-focused companies in the industry.

YETI 160E T1 TURQ

CATEGORY: eMTB/Enduro

SUSPENSION: 170mm-front, 160mm-rear

TIRE SIZE: 29″

www.yeticycles.com

Price: $12,700

Weight: 50.2 pounds (without pedals)

Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL

Frame tested: Carbon, 160mm travel

Motor: Shimano EP8

Battery: Shimano 630Wh Internal

Display: Shimano EM800

Shock: Fox Factory Float X2

Fork: Fox Factory 38, Kashima-coated, Grip2 damper, 170mm travel

Wheelset: DT Swiss EX1700

Tires: Maxxis Assegai 29”x2.5” front, 29”x2.4 Maxxis Minion DHR rear

Seatpost: 31.6mm diameter SRAM Reverb AXS electronic dropper; SM: 125MM, MD: 150MM, LG/XL: 170MM

Saddle: WTB Silverado Custom

Handlebar: Yeti carbon, 35 x 800mm e-bike

Stem: Race Face Turbine, R 35x50mm

Grips: ODI Elite Pro

Headset: Cane Creek 110 integrated

Brakes: SRAM Code RSC

Rotors: SRAM 200mm rear rotor, 220mm front rotor

Rear derailleur: Shimano XT

Shifters: Shimano XT

Crankset: Shimano EM900,160mm

Cassette: Shimano XT 12-speed, 10-50T

Chain: Shimano XT

Chainrings: 34-tooth

GEOMETRY

Head tube angle: 64.5°

Reach: 460mm ( 18.1″)

Stack: 620mm ( 24.4″)

Effective seat tube angle: 78°

Bottom bracket height: 350mm ( 13.8″)

Chainstay length: 446mm (17.6″)

Wheelbase: 1240mm ( 48.8″)

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