We go head to head on the mid-travel welterweight frames from two of the most prestigious and storied US brands, talking you through the tech trash talk plus the body blows and fancy footwork on the trail to see who – if anyone – can deliver the knockout punch.
Both Yeti and Santa Cruz use premium grade carbon layups to build 5lb, 5in-travel frames with World Championship winning suspension designs. They both have all the modern frame features we’ve come to expect: tapered head tubes, ISCG-05 chain guide mounts, internal as well as external dropper post routing, rubber frame armor and 142x12mm rear axles. From here, though, these Colorado and California-based companies diverge.
Yeti’s unique Switch Infinity technology — also used on the Enduro World Series-winning SB6c — mounts the main pivot on twin Kashima coated sliders in the belly of the brand new SB5c frame. Yeti also goes contemporary with post-mount rear brake and a PF30 bottom bracket for maximum crank compatibility. Five sizes (including an extra small) give a broader fit range and each size is longer than its Santa Cruz equivalent. Cable routing doesn’t match up to Shimano’s new Side Swing front derailleurs though, it’s not Di2 prepped, and single-ringing leaves an ugly Direct Mount stump.
Santa Cruz (and Intense) have been using the VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) system since 2000 after licensing the concept from Outland, and it’s netted several DH World Championships and a huge tally of race wins since. Cable routing works well with Shimano’s Side Swing front derailleurs and a clamp on derailleur mount means clean single-ring looks. The ever-reliable threaded bottom bracket standard does limit some crank options and it’s not Di2 prepped. There’s also no extra small option, either. Top tube lengths across the four-size range are as short and old school as the IS mount rear brake mount.
Tech summary: Santa Cruz scores with new Shimano and SRAM neatness, but modern brake and bottom bracket fit plus a wider size range, and longer reach sizing means Yeti triumphs in terms of tech.
Tech winner: Yeti
Yeti's Switch Infinity suspension design is the new kid on the block, compared with the tried and tested VPP suspension design used by Santa Cruz
Yeti loves ride testing its gear, but both the frame and the Switch Infinity system are brand new so durability is an unknown. Press-fit bottom bracket life isn’t as consistent or quiet as threaded set ups, although it is getting better.
The 5010 frame has been around for two years and we’ve not only leathered several samples ourselves but seen several local examples survive relentlessly brutal beatings without flinching. Fifteen years of evolution also makes Santa Cruz’s grease-injectable and wear-adjustable collet bearing VPP system solid in terms of reliability. The threaded bottom bracket standard avoids potential press fit squeak and short BB lifespans, too.
Trust summary: Proven suspension design, a threaded bottom bracket and established frame design put California ahead.
Trust winner: Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz has a value line of carbon frames that are outstanding value
Yeti has always been a premium, aspirational brand. Add a unique Kashima-coated, twin-shaft suspension engine into the price equation and it’s no surprise that the SB5c is one of the most expensive frames in its category at £2,899 / US$3399. There’s no budget carbon or alloy version of the SB5c and while four different $4,999–$10,599 complete bikes are available for the US, only two £5,573 and £5,773 options are offered in the UK.
Santa Cruz offers a much broader range of price points than Yeti, with two levels of carbon as well an alloy option to suit riders across all income levels. The premium CC frame goes for £2,799 / US$2,899 and four complete UK bikes retail for £5,299 to £7,845. Three complete US builds (plus an Enve wheel upgrade) range from US$6,399 to US$10,299.
Stepping down from the premium Carbon CC frame to the Carbon C frame comes with a 250g-weight penalty owing to material changes. However, it’s indistinguishable from its spendier sibling on the trail, even if you ride the both head-to-head with matched spec.
While you can’t buy the Carbon C frame separately, complete bike packages start at £3,099 / US$3,599. If you’re carbonphobic, there’s even an alloy 5010 frame for £1,749 / US$1,950 with complete bikes starting at £2,799 / US$3,199.
Price summary: Both top-end frame options are similarly exotic in economic terms, but Santa Cruz has pulled off a devastatingly affordable ambush with the Carbon C complete bikes.
Price winner: Santa Cruz
We could fill a page with what happens in suspension terms as the main pivot knuckle of the SB5c’s Infinite Switch system rises very slightly up and then drops back down on the twin Kashima coated ‘towers’ as the suspension moves through its stroke or you could take a look at this on the Yeti site.
What really matters is that even with a ballpark sag based shock pressure setting you get traction amplifying small bump response that still bites into the trail enough to feel positive through the pedals. Engaging Trail mode on the CTD shock is wise if you’re really torqueing out the watts at slow revs but there’s enough square edge swing back to roll it up and over and there is some flex if you go full gas before you finish a corner, which makes it feel less muscular overall than the 5010. However, its relatively neutral and helpfully undemanding kinematics, plus a higher bottom bracket make cleaning techy climbs a breeze, even if your mind is broken late in an epic day or during a flat-out full gas lunchtime session.
Santa Cruz’s VPP system has always had a distinctively dynamic attitude to drive and the rock solid stiffness of the 5010 amplifies its very aggressive attitude even more. While Santa Cruz’ designers openly laugh about how everyone believed their early claims about ’S’ shaped axle paths the counter rotating linkage does do some clever and subtle things to suspension feel even in the space of a 50mm shock stroke and 125mm of wheel movement.
However, the bottom line is that – to a varying extent – rearward axle movement under compression acts against the power you’re putting through the pedals. That means a very firm engagement with the ground for a hardtail-style feel and serious frame stiffness means you can recruit maximum muscle output from your shoulders through the bars too. Direct chain connection from foot to floor means maximum tire feedback but it still swings open to suck up square edges and sustain climbing momentum if the impact load exceeds chain tension.
As suspension connection over small bumps is inevitably compromised though, it’s relying on you to feel and judge the point of slip before the rear tread lets go. The marked pull back as it takes a hit can really choke your pedal stroke if the timing isn’t on your side on steppy/rooty/rocky climbs. Cranking in a triple ring granny is a gut (and chain) -wrenching experience, and it’s not great in the smaller ring of a double, which makes single-ringing a resounding recommendation. The lower BB also reduces pedal clearance. That means while powerful, dynamic riders who like to feel exactly what’s going on will love the 5010, it’s very unforgiving if you’re feeling fatigued or feeble at the end of a hard session.
Power summary: Santa Cruz drives hardest; Yeti drives easiest.
Power winner: Draw
The SB5c is more forgiving when pushed too far
Yeti has always leaned more towards gravity influences in its geometry and with a 140-150mm recommended fork and a reasonably slack 67-degree head angle (with 140mm fork) the SB5c is no exception. The chainstays and overall wheelbase are significantly (1.7in/4.3cm) longer than the 5010 and the chassis feels naturally grounded, stable and friendly.
While there’s a bit of bend in the back end and through the narrow Switch Infinity mechanism and centerline linkage, it’s never too distracting or debilitating in terms of line-holding or off-camber carving. The suspension is equally composed and while it’s not as overtly capable of eating blunt trail trauma as the Santa Cruz, it retains more of its capability when putting the power down. Less obvious pedal kickback also means it’s safer and more predictable in terms of feel than the 5010, as you’re less likely to pull the back wheel off the trail or smash it into the face of a square edge if you pedal at the wrong moment.
The result is a bike that doesn’t hustle you to hammer every descent but if you do push on – or the Yeti just coaxes you on – it’s comfortable a lot further into big bike territory and at much higher speeds than most bikes that climb as efficiently. Critically, it always stays positive and helpful, rather than sucking you in over your head all too easily and then punishing mistakes like a downhill devil’s advocate.
Considering how similar they are, the differences in the way the 5010 and SB5c react to rider and trail are remarkable, but – having ridden both repeatedly for extended periods – very real.
The 5010 is extremely playful, with sharp handling that can work for, and against, the rider
What’s more interesting is that while the Santa Cruz should be way off the pace based on theoretically geometry and suspension appraisal, it’s a bike that repeatedly gets rapturous praise from aggressive riders.
To drop some stats into that statement the top tube on the large is closer to the length of most medium frames and the head angle only relaxes to 67 degrees with the longest travel 140mm stroke fork option. The amount of pedal pull back as the VPP system absorbs a hit is above average, too. So it would be very easy to dismiss the 5010 as a stunted, stuttering suspension fail on paper. The way every facet of the 5010’s character is so bluntly presented through the stiff frame creates an unapologetically belligerent and totally infectious trail attitude.
Stamp the pedals and the 5010 storms forward or spits gravel depending how dialed in you are to the tire/trail connection. Lean back and the front pops up with insolently easy 3D agility that makes even the most grounded trail turkey feel like a manualing master. The rearward movement of the suspension and carefully calibrated shock rate swallow drops and blocks with way more poise and control than seem right for 125mm of wheel movement – if you relax pedal pressure enough to let it process them. The shorter stroke also makes it more predictable and tightly controlled than the longer travel Bronson, so you’ll soon be intuitively aware exactly what angles and shock feel you’re working with depending how hard you’re driving the damper. The short wheelbase can also flick and flare like a BMX, sniffing out maximum entertainment from every mogul, roller or singletrack hip. If the steep front end turns in too tight it dares you to force the issue rather than dab and as long as you don’t panic it’ll punch through faster and tighter than you thought possible nine times out of 10.
You need to be aware that on that tenth time the 5010 will reveal just how close you are to the ragged edge. There’s no frame softness to smear traction and leave a tiny bit of reserve grip. No long wheelbase to underwrite stability when the suspension reaches its limits and throws you forward. The sharp steering right under your nose will also do exactly what you tell it to – whether that’s wise or not – as fast as you think it, rather than helpfully self centering somewhere out in front.
In short, the Santa Cruz gives you a less filtered, raw experience of the ride, goading you into taking it closer to the edge for the ultimate visceral thrill. As with any party animal, it’ll be you left to do the clearing up when it goes wrong and while it’ll bankroll a surprising amount of high stakes gambling it won’t always post bail if your luck runs out.
Play summary: It’s the same on trail story again. If you want a buddy bike that’ll play nicely and stay friendly even if you take liberties, the SB5c is your ultimate wingman. If you want to fly by the seat of your pants and are prepared to crash and burn in pursuit of maximum trail sensation then Santa Cruz is the Maverick of this Top Gun showdown.
Play winner: Draw
Santa Cruz 5010 CC
Santa Cruz - just
Yeti - just
Single ring and side swing friendly but not Di2 ready, threaded BB and post mount brake.
Press Fit 30 BB, post mount brakes, but ugly DM stump and not Side Swing or Di2 friendly.
15 year old suspension system in a two year old frame.
Frame and suspension have only just had their umbilical cut.
4 sizes, all short
5 sizes, usefully long
Like there’s Viagra in the carbon bonding resin.
That’s not a gun in it’s pocket but it’s still pleased to see you.
Hard kicking, unfiltered connection.
Subtly smoothed, technically tenacious.
Outstandingly responsive, capable and visceral ride but no handling or suspension ‘safety catch’
Superbly balanced, surefooted, consistently controlled trail taming that’ll help you not haze you.
CC is premium pricey but C is a cost cutting winner
Priced for aspiration not for affordability.
Face rearranging double espresso from downtown Finale Ligure.
Smooth, hand ground soya latte with artisan barista artwork.
We don’t know how you like your coffee, do we?
Regardless of its short sizing and high contrast suspension, there’s something viscerally addictive about the 5010 that makes it fantastic to ride and we know a lot of ragged-edge riders who think the same. The Carbon C option also represents remarkable value.
At the end of the day, there’s no escaping the fact that the Yeti is the more future-proofed, better-shaped, more naturally balanced and consistently controlled bike in both handling and suspension terms. It’s also friendlier and more forgiving to a wider range of riders than the Santa Cruz, so while the hearts of some of our testers still say 5010, our heads are all about the SB5c.