Not long ago Singletrack.com checked out some of the bikes that made Golden, Colorado-based Yeti Cycles famous over the last 25 years in the story Yeti of Yesteryear.
Now we’re back with a follow-up, digging into the modern bikes and mentality that are keeping Yeti at the forefront of competitive mountain biking.
Most Yeti bikes are welded (or molded, in the case of carbon fiber frames) overseas. That hasn’t always been the case, but modern realities have forced the shift in production. However, all prototyping and some limited production runs still take place at Yeti’s headquarters in Golden. World Cup race frames are welded here, and the only production run of Super Cross dirt jump/4x bikes was done here as well.
Regardless of provenance, all welded main frames and swingarms arrive in Golden for final assembly with shocks and hardware before shipping to dealers and customers. If our short visit is any indication the work that goes into the bikes, from conception of an idea to cranking singletrack on a production bike, is a labor of love.
Putting the pieces together
Master fabricator Shane Cole walked us through the construction of a typical prototype or welded production bike. He obviously loves the process of turning raw aluminum into not just rideable samples, but real, ripping bikes.
“It’s toys,” Cole said. “We’re just making toys.”
Like all Yeti employees, Cole rides as often as possible, often on one of his own creations.
“It’s very rewarding work for sure. To see people on our bikes and happy feels good,” he said, noting the camaraderie shared by Yeti owners. “Everybody’s in the family once you’re on our bikes.”
Building a bike starts with exact one-to-one (not scaled up or down) drawings of the frame, with all dimensions exactly correct. As Cole said, when it’s all done, he should be able to lay a welded, finished frame on top of the drawing and every detail and measurement would line up exactly.
Based on the drawings, Cole knows what tubing lengths are required, what angles and tube sizes to miter the ends, and what frame fittings will be needed. He keeps an inventory of raw tubing, dropouts, linkages, and other machined frame parts on hand to fit any new or existing frame platform. Plus, an in-house CNC machine gives him the flexibility to cut new frame pieces as needed from raw billet.
The next step is simply a matter of putting the pieces together. Tubes are clamped in a jig for welding, and then cold worked (if needed) on an alignment table.
“We pride ourselves on every frame riding exactly the same,” said Cole.
Next, frames are loaded into an oven for a low temperature, long duration aging cycle. Yeti mostly uses 7005 series aluminum, which does not require solution heat treatment. The aging cycle normalizes the metal’s grain structure to T-6. Cole said he’s packed as many as 100 frames and swingarms into the small oven.
After aging, frames go out of house for painting, then come back for BB threading and facing, seat tube reaming, head tube reaming and facing, and other final steps before assembly with hardware and shocks. Most Yetis are sold to shops and riders as frames only, but in some cases they’re built up with sweet parts kits that emphasize FOX suspension, King headsets, and other quality bits.
Focusing on first place
The crew at Yeti obviously loves to ride as much as they love to make sweet bikes. And their trail time translates directly into R-and-D projects on the drawing board. Yeti’s headquarters in Golden is literally a five-minute bike ride from some of the best trails along Colorado’s Front Range, and the local riding influences design direction.
An even bigger driver of Yeti’s mentality is race-inspired design. Company president and co-owner Chris Conroy put it bluntly.
“I think it’s pretty self evident where we fit in,” he said. “We just focus on the high end.”
In a world dominated by bigger players with full lines of road bikes, mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, fitness bikes and kids bikes, Yeti builds and sells a sum total of seven different frame platforms.
“But not just that – we focus a lot on the race side of the high end. So, you get a slice of a small slice,” said Conroy.
He acknowledges that not everyone races or rides at a racer’s level. He likens Yeti’s appeal to that of sports cars with gobs of power.
“If I got a Porsche 911 I wouldn’t necessarily be able to take it to its max, right?” he asked rhetorically. “But I really appreciate the way that it handles, the way that it feels, the technology. And I think the same thing goes with high-end bikes.”
At the end of the day, Yeti carefully builds bikes for riders who love to ride. They stick to their Golden guns in a world that rewards quantity over quality, fast growth rather than steady maturation.
“We’re mountain bike guys. We make mountain bike stuff and we love to race,” said Conroy.
Sounds good to us.