The Trek Emonda is our Editor's Pick as best road bike of the year, and the Yeti SB5C is the best mountain bike of the year
Bike design today seeks to separate a rider from the road. Dampers, pivots, slack geometry, and ultra-stable handling all conspire to eliminate surprise and improve predictability. And that’s wonderful — sometimes.
The Trek Emonda looks in the opposite direction, and that’s why we love it. It’s stiff — incredibly stiff — a near perfect translator of action into reaction. A flick of the wrists sends it into flawless, arcing turns; a kick of the heels into immediate forward motion. It’s not comfortable, nor is it aerodynamic. It is light, and it is rigid. It takes everything you can give it and asks for more, and doesn’t inhibit its rider from feeling an intimate familiarity with the surface below.
But a one-trick-pony the Emonda is not. Smart design and its component spec allow it to extend its reach far beyond the racing scene.
The Emonda’s direct-mount brakes are a highlight. Both the Shimano and Bontrager versions offer excellent power and modulation, even better than the best single- bolt calipers; but more important is the dramatic increase in tire clearance the new brake design allows. We’ve fit up to a 31mm tire in the Emonda.
A 31mm tire in a race bike? Absolutely.
That makes the Emonda versatile. Add a pair of burly tires and it’s as if you’ve hit an adventure switch; the Emonda is instantly transformed from a rigid racer to a proficient explorer. The comfort gained from a set of big tires run at lower pressure is far greater than anything that can be designed into the frame itself. In short, the Emonda with 30mm tires is far more comfortable than something such as Trek’s own Domane with 25mm tires.
The Emonda is a racer; of that there is no doubt. But unlike most of its ilk, it is still capable of taking a step back, dipping its toes into a wider, rougher world. For that, it’s our 2015 Bike of the Year.
The evolutionary process of bicycle design has been disrupted. In 2014, the usual small, yearly mutations were overcome by the arrival of an entirely new species.
Yeti’s SB5C is not evolution; it’s revolution. Its 120mm of rear travel transforms from stiff to buttery as it moves effortlessly from firm pedaling platform to bottomless absorption. It can climb with cross-country bikes, and it can win Enduro World Series races. It is, to be perfectly frank, the most spectacular trail bike we’ve ever ridden.
The magic stems from Yeti’s unique Switch Infinity suspension design, centered around a main pivot that rests on a pair of Kashima-coated mini stanchions produced by Fox. The controlled vertical movement of this pivot allowed Yeti engineers to carefully control the rear axle path and leverage ratios through the entirety of the suspension’s stroke, tuning the suspension as the trail changes.
At the beginning of the stroke, the sliding pivot moves up, creating a rearward axle path that provides excellent anti-squat and pedaling efficiency. This natural platform combines with a custom-tuned Fox CTD shock to put many cross-country bikes to shame.
As the bike moves through its travel, the sliding pivot hits an inflection point and reverses direction, moving downward. The trajectory of the axle path changes, unleashing a bottomless, perfectly progressive suspension feel.
We’re in the midst of a golden age of trail riding. There are dozens of spectacular trail bikes on the market, capable of the sort of climb/descend personality we all crave. But the SB5C is, in our opinion, the best. Nothing else rides like it.