Yeti has a reputation for building bikes that win races, and for developing some pretty trick technology in the process. But the average bike buyer doesn’t need an ultra efficient cross-country racer, or a super supple downhill sled. What we need, whether we know it or not, is the best of both worlds. We need a bike that will climb like a goat, that will go all day like the neighbour’s chainsaw, and that will descend like a politician’s morals. The need has probably always existed, but bikes of this type have arrived relatively late in the evolutionary timeline and there is a very simple reason for this. When you try to cram lots of travel into a bike with all terrain geometry, while keeping weight low and maintaining rigidity, things get very complicated and typically quite difficult to resolve. Ultimately, you end up having to compromise somewhere. A successful bike in this genre depends entirely on how well the engineers have managed that compromise.
The AS-R 7 is the third bike of this nature in Yeti’s current arsenal, following on from the very successful AS-R 5, and 575. These three bikes have a lot in common. The major differentiators, bar a few minor geometry tweaks, are travel and frame build. The AS-R 7 has, not surprisingly, a full seven inches of rear wheel travel, two inches more than the AS-R 5, and one and a quarter inches more than the 575. There aren’t many all-mountain bikes that deliver that much punch; this is normally the domain of freeride and downhill bikes. But Yeti has been clear in intent. The AS-R 7 is not a freeride bike; it is a long travel all-mountain bike. To fulfil this promise Yeti has dipped into its bag of tricks and plucked out all the necessary ingredients to construct a stiff and reliable frame that doesn’t weigh a tonne. The AS-R 7 features Hydroformed 7005 alloy tubes throughout, a burly carbon shock linkage, a tapered head tube, a 12 x 135 mm rear hub, and titanium hardware.
On paper the AS-R 7’s stats look very impressive. Visually, the bike is striking––in a quiet, confident, manly, Steve McQueen kind of way. But none of this is worth squat if the bike doesn’t perform. So let’s get down to the important stuff. How does the AS-R 7 do on the trail?
Surprisingly, this bike’s standout ride characteristic is its ability to climb. The AS-R 7 laps up climbs, the rougher and more technical the better. This is partly due to the bike’s relatively low weight of 31 pounds (14 kg). But there is more to the equation than just weight. Yeti seems to be particularly deft at producing well balanced bikes. The riding position on the AS-R 7 seems to be right in that sweet spot, where you don’t have to concentrate on keeping the front wheel on the ground, and there’s still plenty of weight over the rear wheel to ensure consistent traction. Plus, in addition to this, the bike pedals very well for a single pivot design. Pedal induced bob is minimal in almost all scenarios bar stomping up hills with Propedal switched off (or not working). The engineers at Yeti have tuned the suspension to give a certain firmness at mid stroke. What this effectively means is that a lot of the time the AS-R 7 feels like a shorter travel bike. This bike will never out-climb more cross-country orientated offerings, but for a bike with seven inches of travel it ascends remarkably well.
Does the AS-R 7 live up to its considerable pedigree and descend like a champ too? For the most part, yes. This bike is like a pig in muck on steep, tight and technical descents. The low weight, the mid stroke firmness and the all-purpose geometry make it feel sprightly and manoeuvrable. The stiff frame, complimentary Fox 36 forks and balanced riding position ensure that the bike carves nicely through corners, and tracks well across rough ground. When things start to get really rough, or you’re tempted to hit a drop or two, the suspension pushes beyond its mid stroke and all of a sudden you remember you’re riding a bike with seven inches of travel. That transitional moment when you go from five-inch firmness to seven-inch plushness is actually quite perceivable and, at first, feels a little unusual. But it makes complete sense. For a majority of the riding that we do, seven inches of travel is not necessary, nor beneficial, but it’s definitely nice to have when the trail starts to demand it. If you push the AS-R 7 too hard you’ll discover that it does have its limits. When the downhills start to get very fast and rough the AS-R 7 can get a little out of its depth. Be warned, if you’re trying to keep up with your freeride and downhill mates on this bike you’ll probably manage, but it’ll be a white knuckle experience.
I’m sure you’re wondering at this point whether there was anything we didn’t like about the AS-R 7. Truthfully, there was very little. Our only real gripe was the stand-over height of 32 inches––that’s almost three inches more than the 575. While not an issue when on the bike and riding, if you have to dismount suddenly on uneven ground there’s not much of a safety margin. We did also have ongoing issues with the brakes on this bike, but the XTs are generally a reliable and solid performer and so we’ll give Shimano the benefit of the doubt and assume that we got a rare dud set.
In response to the needs, latent or voiced, of the average mountain biker, Yeti has delivered a bike that is unquestionably a seven-inch-travel all-mountain bike, not a freeride bike. If you’re in the market for a bike that can be ridden all day and that will tackle climbs and difficult descents with equal aplomb, then you should definitely consider the AS-R 7. Just don’t expect that performance and pedigree to come with an average price tag. LEIF ROY