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Yeti’s team gravity racers are trying a new, lighter rig.

Cross-country riders aren’t the only mountain bike racers with a weight obsession. The World Cup gravity crew has been working on trimming grams, too, and that’s a big issue when you have a bike like Yeti’s 303DH, which excels in just about every aspect … except for that hefty number of grams that might be trimmed.

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By Matt Pacocha

Yeti’s new Team Issue 303. The bike functions the same as the current production version, but is two pounds lighter.

Photo: Matt Pacocha

Cross-country riders aren’t the only mountain bike racers with a weight obsession. The World Cup gravity crew has been working on trimming grams, too, and that’s a big issue when you have a bike like Yeti’s 303DH, which excels in just about every aspect … except for that hefty number of grams that might be trimmed.

Yeti’s World Cup downhillers had been asking for a lighter bike and got one in the form of the 303 R-DH, more than a year ago. But unlike the original 303DH, which relied on a dual “rail and car” system to control shock rate, wheel path and isolate pedaling force, the R-DH uses a single rail. The original design used two rails — one horizontal, one vertical — to avoid the constraints of fixed pivot points. It works beautifully, but there is a weight penalty.

After a year of testing, Yeti released the lighter 303 R-DH to the public at Interbike. The issue, however, is that this bike sacrifices some of the benefits of the dual-rail design — namely full control of the wheel path — in exchange for considerable weight savings.

Major weight savings come from new hollow rails that control the shock rate and wheel path.

Major weight savings come from new hollow rails that control the shock rate and wheel path.

Photo: Matt Pacocha

Because this lighter bike’s wheel moves in a more of an arc, it is better suited to smoother courses and isn’t quite as adept in handling those big square-edged hits that tend to steal a racer’s momentum.

On many courses it’s a sound trade off, but there are a few places where the dual-railed 303DH still reigns far superior — especially on technical tracks like Schladming, Austria, where its wheel isn’t so apt to hang up on sharp rocks and roots. While the riders wanted lighter, they just couldn’t give up the benefit of the rail-controlled wheel path; they want the best of both worlds.

Enter the Team Issue 303. This is a team-only item that’s manufactured in Yeti’s Golden, Colorado, prototype facility by Shane Cole, Yeti’s in-house welder and machinist. The prototype team bike, which is likely to replace the current 303DH in the near future, offers the dual-railed system, but comes in more than two pounds lighter. The new frame brings complete bikes to the 40-pound mark, something that may reassure riders when they take on the challenges of a rougher course.

In redesigning the 303, Cole and others at Yeti made a careful review of the entire frame and its components in an effort to cut weight without sacrificing performance.

Many of the tubes are new, but the top tube represents the biggest change.

Many of the tubes are new, but the top tube represents the biggest change.

Photo: Matt Pacocha

Big savings came from a few key areas of the bike:

  • To start, the main frame now features new tube shapes that Cole said maintain strength and stiffness, but drop grams. The top tube is actually the same that’s found on the 303 R-DH, but in a different orientation.
  • The new bike features hollow rails that are half the weight of the original’s solid steel version.
  • The redesigned team bike has also uses bushings instead of bearings in the stiffening link that connects the front and rear triangles.
  • Yeti also did away with the heavier eccentric cam that offered Allen key adjustment of the head tube angle and bottom bracket height on the production bike. The prototype bike now uses replaceable chips to make those critical, course-specific, changes. Yeti president Chris Conroy said the team has settled on two options: a 64-degree head angle paired to a 14-inch bottom bracket height and a 64.75-degree head angle with 14.35-inches of bottom bracket clearance.

The Team Issue 303 offers 8.5-inches of travel.

If team feedback suggests that the design is an improvement, we wouldn’t be surprised if we see many of those changes incorporated into a lighter version of the 303DH when Yeti unveils its 2010 line.

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