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Santa Cruz vs. Yeti

By Bruce Lin

Published

Want to start a fight? Go to any trail and ask a few mountain bikers, “Which is better, Santa Cruz or Yeti?” If you know mountain biking, then you know that Santa Cruz and Yeti are the two heavyweight champs, and the fanboys of each will defend their chosen brand to the death.

Santa Cruz and Yeti are what the cool kids and shredders ride. They are among our most desirable mountain bike brands, command the highest resale value, and are the benchmark against which all other bikes are judged. If you want a mountain bike that will perform, you can’t go wrong with Santa Cruz or Yeti. But how do you choose between the two?

Santa Cruz vs. Yeti mountain bikesWe can't definitively answer whether one brand is “better” than the other (sorry). Instead, this comparison gives you the info you need to decide. We’ll cover the history of these two mountain bike legends, their bike line-ups, competing models, and the technology they use. We will also consider their race results and popularity among our own bike-obsessed employees. Armed with this knowledge, hopefully, it gets easier to choose which side you’re on.

Contents

Santa Cruz Bicycles history

Santa cruz mountain bike historyClockwise: founder Rob Roskopp, the 1994 Santa Cruz Tazmon, Santa Cruz Syndicate celebrating on the podium, the Santa Cruz Factory, DH legend Greg Minnaar.

Santa Cruz Bicycles was founded in 1993 by former pro skateboarder Rob Roskopp, along with Mike Marquez and Rich Novak. Before mountain bikes, Novak was one of the founders of Santa Cruz Skateboards in the ‘70s and Roskopp rode for him in the ‘80s and even had his own signature deck.

In 1990, as mountain biking was starting to take off, Roskopp quit skating to study business at San Jose State University and work part-time at Santa Cruz Skateboards. In that time he developed an affinity for the burgeoning sport and began making plans for his own bike brand. Three years later, Roskopp and Novak started Santa Cruz Bicycles in a space the size of a single-car garage in Santa Cruz, California.

The pair partnered with bike engineer Mike Marquez, who had expertise in bicycle suspension, and designer Tom Morris to build their first prototypes. Santa Cruz’s first bike, the Tazmon, debuted in 1994 and featured a single-pivot rear suspension with 80mm of travel. The Tazmon is generally considered the first production full-suspension trail bike, and it sent shockwaves through the industry.

Over the next 25 years, Santa Cruz grew into a mountain biking powerhouse by perfecting full-suspension bikes, ultimately purchasing the iconic VPP suspension system developed by Outland and refining it into the high-performance platform that drives its entire full-suspension line-up. Its carbon frames set new standards for strength, durability, and stiffness, and its hugely successful Reserve wheels caused a massive shift in how the industry markets and warranties carbon wheels.

Roskopp’s passion project, the Santa Cruz Syndicate, has gone on to become one of the most successful downhill race teams of all time, supporting legendary riders like world champions Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar, and World Cup overall winner, Josh Bryceland.

Yeti Cycles history

Yeti mountain bike historyClockwise: founder John Parker (third from left), Juli Furtado's championship winning FRO, 2-time EWS champion Richie Rude, frames at the Yeti factory, racing legend Missy "The Missile" Giove.

Yeti Cycles was founded in 1985 by John Parker, a welder from California. Parker had a background working in Hollywood's special effects industry and used his welding skills to build Yeti’s first mountain bike frames as the sport was getting off the ground.

From the beginning, Parker had a passion for mountain bike racing and built one of the most iconic teams of the era. Yeti experienced huge success thanks to legendary racers like John Tomac, Juli Furtado, Missy Giove, and Myles Rockwell. Under Furtado, the Yeti FRO won the inaugural cross-country world championship in 1990.

In 1995, Yeti was purchased by Schwinn and moved to Durango, Colorado. As Schwinn began to decline at the end of the decade, Yeti employees decided it was time to return the company to its roots as an independent manufacturer. In 2001, two Yeti employees, Chris Conroy and Steve Hoogendoorn bought the company. Yeti then moved its headquarters to its current location in Golden, Colorado.

Yeti has continued to push mountain bike design and develop some of the world’s top racing talent through the years. Yeti jump-started the career of Aaron Gwin, America’s most successful downhill racer, and Yeti’s enduro race team won three successive Enduro World Series championships as well as several individual races with Jared Graves and Richie Rude.

Santa Cruz and Yeti bike line-up

Yeti currently makes a total of six mountain bike models, and for each, there is a competing Santa Cruz model in the same category. Competing models don’t always line up perfectly as there are some slight differences in travel numbers. For example, the Megatower has a 160mm fork and 160mm of rear travel while the SB150 uses a 170mm fork and 150mm of rear travel. If you have a preference for a bigger fork or more travel in the rear, that can be a factor when deciding between two bikes in the same category.

Competing models:

Category

Santa Cruz

Travel (f/r)

Yeti

Travel (f/r)

Short-travel trail (29”)

Tallboy 

130/120mm

SB115 

130/115mm

Trail (29”)

Hightower

150/145mm

SB130

150/130mm

Trail (27.5”)

Bronson

160/150mm

SB140

160/140mm

Enduro (29”)

Megatower

160/160mm

SB150

170/150mm

Freeride (27.5’)

Nomad

170/170mm

SB165

180/165mm

Trail hardtail (29”)

Chameleon 

120mm

ARC

130mm

You may notice that Yeti follows a fairly consistent pattern of equipping its bikes with forks that have 15-20mm more travel than the rear. There’s a good reason for this. Rear travel is measured vertically, but fork travel isn’t. Because the fork is at an angle, the vertical distance it moves is actually less than the fork’s measured travel. By using a fork with 15-20mm more travel than the rear, the vertical travel at the front is close to equal with rear travel, which Yeti believes results in a more balanced bike.

Santa Cruz has the advantage when it comes to selection though. Beyond the models listed above, there are nine more bikes that will suit riders who don’t fit into the core MTB categories.

If the 120mm 29” Chameleon isn’t comfortable enough, it’s also available in a plus-tire version with a 130mm fork. If you’re looking for a 27.5” trail bike with less travel for playful jibbing, the Santa Cruz 5010 has 130mm of travel with a 140mm fork. XC riders looking to conquer climbs and top the podium can choose between the lightweight Highball hardtail or full-suspension Blur. Park rats and downhill racers trying to hit the burliest DH trails can rely on the legendary V10 downhill bike with 215mm of travel and a 27.5”, 29”, or mullet set-up. If you want pedal assistance for big rides and tough climbs, the Heckler and Bullit e-bikes give you two options that can cover a range of trails. Santa Cruz even offers the Stigmata gravel bike for drop-bar adventurers and the Jackal dirt jumper for those interested in aerial shenanigans.

Unlike Santa Cruz, Yeti doesn’t offer a dedicated XC bike, downhill bike, e-bike, gravel bike, or dirt jumper. Yeti’s bike range is more focused on trail and enduro mountain biking.

Quick trail bike comparisons

Serious mountain bikers like to pay attention to the details. Suspension travel, geometry, and weight often gives riders a good idea of how a bike will ride. Let’s take a quick look at the numbers for a few of the most popular models from each brand to see how they stack up. Claimed weights are for top-spec models with SRAM XX1 AXS drivetrains and carbon wheels. Lower-end builds will weigh more.

Based on the manufacturer’s claimed weights (which should always be taken with a grain of salt), Yetis tend to weigh slightly less than Santa Cruzs with comparable builds. It's not a huge difference, and you likely won't notice out on the trail, but it is interesting to note.

Tallboy vs. SB115

Santa Cruz tallboy vs Yeti SB115 SB100 mountain bike

Tallboy

SB115

Fork travel

130mm

130mm

Rear travel

120mm

115mm

Head tube angle

65.5 (low)

67.6

Seat tube angle

76.3 (low)

74.1

reach

448mm (Med)

430.6mm (Med)

Bottom bracket height

332mm

339.4mm

Chainstay length

430mm

436.7mm

Wheelbase

1187mm (Med)

1154.5mm (Med)

Claimed weight 

28.13lbs

27.38lbs

Tallboy highlights:

  • Slacker head tube angle
  • Longer reach can help stability
  • 5mm more rear travel
  • By the numbers, it should be more capable on gnarly downhills

SB115 highlights:

  • More XC-leaning geometry
  • Lighter weight
  • Will suit riders who value agility and efficiency

Hightower vs. SB130

Santa Cruz Hightower vs Yeti SB130 mountain bike

Hightower

SB130

Fork travel

150mm

150mm

Rear travel

145mm

130mm

Head tube angle

65.2 (low)

65.5

Seat tube angle

76.6 (low)

77

reach

450mm (Med)

460.2mm (Med)

Bottom bracket height

340mm

337.7mm

Chainstay length

434mm

433mm

Wheelbase

1208mm (Med)

1205.6mm (Med)

Claimed weight 

30.29lbs

29.38lbs

Hightower highlights:

  • 15mm more rear travel
  • Slightly slacker head tube
  • Adjustable geometry handles mellow and gnarly trails

SB130 highlights:

  • 10mm longer reach
  • Slightly steeper seat tube helps climbing 
  • Lighter weight
  • “Lunch Ride” spec increases travel to 160/137mm and slacks out head tube.

Megatower vs. SB150

Santa Cruz Megatower vs. Yeti SB150 mountain bike

Megatower

SB150

Fork travel

160/170mm

170mm

Rear travel

160mm

150mm

Head tube angle

64.7 (low)

64.5

Seat tube angle

76.4 (low)

77

reach

447mm (Med)

460.2mm (Med)

Bottom bracket height

340mm

347.8mm

Chainstay length

436mm

433mm

Wheelbase

1208mm (Med)

1223.2mm (Med)

Claimed weight 

31.5lbs

30.58lbs

Megatower highlights:

  • 10mm more rear travel
  • Lower bottom bracket can help stability
  • Coil shock option from the factory
  • Shorter, more agile, and adjustable geometry can suit tight, technical, or gnarly trails 

SB150 highlights:

  • 10-13mm longer reach can help stability
  • Slightly steeper seat tube helps climbing
  • Longer wheelbase
  • Multiple Enduro World Series wins to its name.

Women’s models

Juliana Joplin mountain bikeThe Juliana Joplin

Santa Cruz bikes are unisex, but its sister brand, Juliana, also provides a line-up of women’s specific bikes. Juliana began in the late-’90s when Santa Cruz launched the Juliana model in collaboration with Juliana Furtado, the former Yeti rider who won the inaugural cross-country world championship in 1990.

Each Juliana bike has a corresponding Santa Cruz model that it’s based on. They have the same geometry and travel but have suspension tuned for lighter riders and women’s-specific touchpoints like grips and saddles. They also sport different paint jobs that often inspire jealousy among male riders.

Juliana models:

Juliana model

Santa Cruz equivalent

Joplin

Tallboy

Furtado

5010

Maverick

Hightower

Rubion

Bronson

Strega

Nomad

Quincy

Stigmata

Yeti SB100 beti mountain bikeThe Yeti SB100 Beti

Yeti bikes are also unisex. In the past, Yeti did have a women’s specific line called “Beti.” Like Juliana, Yeti Beti bikes used lighter suspension tunes, women-specific touchpoints, and paint to differentiate women’s models. The Beti line was discontinued in 2020. Yeti claimed that modern suspension had enough tuning range to accommodate all riders, making Beti bikes redundant.

VPP vs. Switch Infinity suspension

Santa Cruz and Yeti use different suspension systems to smooth out the bumps and provide traction. Each system has its fans, and you’ll likely have to test the two back-to-back to really understand which you like better.

Santa Cruz mountain bike VPP SuspensionSanta Cruz’s Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension system has been in use since 1999 and has undergone constant refinement. Yeti uses a proprietary suspension system called Switch Infinity which debuted in 2014. The objective of both designs is to provide a highly tunable suspension platform so engineers can strike a good balance between pedaling efficiency and plushness.

Santa Cruz’s VPP system uses a solid rear triangle that moves using two, short, counter-rotating links. The short VPP links help create a stiff and robust chassis. They are designed to prevent linkage play with large diameter axles and bearings that are easily serviceable with built-in grease ports. Most Santa Cruz models also have adjustable geometry that can be changed into low and high positions using a flip-chip in the suspension linkage.

Santa Cruz primarily designs its current line of full-suspension mountain bikes with a “lower-link” mounted shock, where the shock sits low in the frame and runs through a tunnel in the seat tube. The older upper-link mounted design is still used on the 2018-2020 Blur cross-country bike. The new lower-link design has a more progressive leverage rate with better small-bump compliance and bottom-out resistance. In longer travel models like the Nomad and Megatower, riders can freely swap between air and coil shocks.

Yeti mountain bike switch infinity suspensionYeti’s Switch Infinity system uses a main pivot that moves on a pair of stanchions. The main pivot moves up at the beginning of the stroke, and then it switches direction as the bike moves through its travel. This provides anti-squat early in the travel for pedaling, but when descending hard, the link switches direction, and anti-squat will drop off quickly to provide a plush, bottomless feel. The Switch Infinity link also has grease ports for quick and easy service.

Both VPP and Switch Infinity are very effective at providing a solid pedaling platform for climbing as both have high levels of anti-squat to keep the bikes bob-free and efficient. Most riders won’t need to touch the lockout lever or compression adjustment on their rear shock on anything except smooth road climbs. As a broad generalization, Santa Cruz’s lower-link VPP system provides a more progressive leverage curve than Yeti’s Switch Infinity system. This helps prevent harsh bottom outs when sending big features. Switch Infinity relies on proper shock tuning and volume adjustment to control bottom out, but this also lends itself to a slightly plusher feel deep in the travel.

Carbon and aluminum frame options

Santa Cruz’s carbon frames come in two levels: Carbon C and Carbon CC. Carbon CC bikes are around $2,000-2,200 more expensive than a comparable Carbon C model, but they are also around 280 grams lighter. Otherwise, Santa Cruz claims the stiffness, durability, and strength are identical.

Yeti carbon frames also come in two levels: Carbon Series and TURQ Series. TURQ models are $1,500-2,000 more expensive than a comparable Carbon Series model but weigh 200-400g less and are around 25% stiffer.

A big differentiator for Santa Cruz is that it also offers several aluminum frames. Currently, the Tallboy, Hightower, Bronson, and Chameleon are available in an aluminum version. The Nomad has also been offered in aluminum, and a new aluminum Nomad is expected in the near future. An aluminum frame will weigh around two pounds more than a comparable Carbon C frame but will shave off around $1,000.

Yeti currently does not produce any aluminum frames and does not have any comparable budget or entry-level options for any of its bikes.

Race success

Most recreational mountain bikers probably won’t ever race their bikes, but brands like Santa Cruz and Yeti use competition to test and develop new bikes and prove out their designs. Interestingly, each brand has found victory in different disciplines with the Santa Cruz Syndicate downhill team competing in the UCI Downhill World Cup and Yeti’s factory enduro race team competing in the Enduro World Series.

Santa Cruz Syndicate Greg Minnaar downhill mountain bike world cup fort williamThe G.O.A.T., Greg Minnaar

The Santa Cruz Syndicate is one of the most successful downhill teams on the World Cup circuit. It’s the home to downhill legend Steve Peat, a former world champion and three-time World Cup overall winner, and Greg Minnaar, a three-time world champion, three-time World Cup overall winner, and the men’s record holder for the most downhill World Cup wins. Minnaar is considered by many to be the greatest downhiller of all time.

The Syndicate was also the former home to Josh “Ratboy” Bryceland, the 2014 World Cup overall winner, and French phenom Loris Vergier, who has won three World Cup races in his time with the team.

Santa Cruz V10 downhill mountain bikeThe Santa Cruz Syndicate races the V10 downhill bike and has achieved 33 World Cup wins which makes the V10 the third most successful downhill bike ever made (after the Trek Session with 38 and Commencal Supreme with 34). Santa Cruz was also the first brand to bring 29” wheels to downhill racing. Its stunning success on the big wheels caused competitors to scramble to develop their own 29” bikes.

Yeti SB150 mountain bike Richie Rude Enduro world series EWSRichie Rude competing in the Enduro World Series

Yeti, on the other hand, has struggled in modern World Cup downhill. After returning as an independent manufacturer in 2001, it experienced a drought of Elite World Cup wins while racing its 303DH downhill bike. At the Junior level, Richie Rude was able to win the Junior world championships in 2013. Yeti also developed Nathan Rennie and Aaron Gwin early in their careers, both of whom went on to win World Cup overall titles after transitioning to bigger teams. Unfortunately, in 2014, Yeti announced it would leave World Cup DH to focus on enduro racing.

Yeti SB150 Enduro world series Richie Rude Shawn Neer Cody Kelley trophy of nations Yeti riders Richie Rude and Shawn Neer celebrating victory at the first EWS Trophy of Nations

This ended up being a stellar move as Yeti went on to win three consecutive Enduro World Series championships from 2014 to 2016 with Jared Graves and Richie Rude. The championship-winning Yeti SB6 is currently the third most successful enduro bike of all time with 10 EWS wins (after the Commencal Meta with 22 and Trek Remedy with 16). Under two-time EWS champion Richie Rude, the SB150 has accrued five EWS wins and will likely add more in the coming years. In total, Yeti has 17 EWS wins, making it the 2nd most successful manufacturer in EWS history after Commencal. Not only that, but Yeti’s domestic team has also racked up countless wins in American enduro races.

Santa Cruz has its own factory enduro race team, but it has yet to win big in the Enduro World Series. The Megatower is no slouch, but Santa Cruz has yet to find riders of the caliber of Steve Peat, Greg Minnaar, or Richie Rude to win in this relatively young discipline.

Santa Cruz Blur FSA Cross Country XC mountain bike world cup team On the other side of the mountain bike world, Santa Cruz supports a World Cup cross-country team, unlike Yeti. It has signed some up-and-coming racers and developed a new XC-focused frame and wheels. It will be interesting to see if Santa Cruz can succeed in a non-gravity discipline.

What do these race results mean to the average rider? Not much! Pros are exceptionally fast and skilled and they are able to push equipment much harder than most riders. Mountain biking is a sport where equipment matters, but riders make the biggest difference in results. Ultimately, race results should not be taken as definitive evidence that one manufacturer is superior to another. But professional racing does show how products perform at the absolute limit, which can be powerful for influencing fans and inspiring brand loyalty. Much of Santa Cruz and Yeti’s popularity is due to the exploits of their pro riders.

Popularity

Because The Pro’s Closet is the world leader in used bikes, we tend to employ people who love cycling and obsess over bikes. I decided to poll riders at The Pro's Closet to see whether they preferred Santa Cruz or Yeti. Our employees are extremely knowledgeable and opinionated and gave some interesting answers as to why they would pick one brand over the other.

The chart below shows the results:

Santa Cruz vs Yeti mountain bikes popularityWhen asked whether they preferred Santa Cruz or Yeti, 42 respondents chose Santa Cruz and 28 respondents chose Yeti, giving Santa Cruz a decisive win in our internal popularity contest.

Does that mean Yeti is the big loser? Absolutely not! Modern bikes are exceptional, and picking one over another often comes down to personal preference more than anything. Here are some of the subjective, random, and absurd reasons our employees gave for their choices.

Why choose Santa Cruz?

  • I like the colors/looks better.
  • I prefer their vibe (fans, content, media, etc.)
  • I prefer VPP because it pedals better and feels plusher.
  • I race XC and the Blur/Highball is my bike of choice.
  • I want more travel and the Megatower and Nomad give me more travel.
  • Way more bike options. Yeti’s range is too narrow.
  • Bruce (the author) rides them.
  • Everyone in Colorado has a Yeti. I want something different.

Why choose Yeti?

  • I like the colors/looks better.
  • I prefer their vibe (fans, content, media, etc.)
  • I prefer Switch Infinity because it pedals better and feels plusher.
  • They dominate enduro racing.
  • The geometry — I want the longer reach of the SB130/SB150.
  • I want to support a Colorado-based company.
  • The history of the brand. I’ve loved them since the ‘90s.
  • Everyone in California has a Santa Cruz. I want something different.

 

Notice that there were respondents from both sides claiming that VPP or Switch Infinity both pedaled better and felt plusher than the alternative. Apparently, just like beauty, efficiency and plushness reside in the eye of the beholder. What I learned from this poll is that if riders already owned a Santa Cruz or a Yeti, they tended to prefer it. Otherwise, aesthetics and media content produced by each brand had the greatest impact. So in the end, it’s all about marketing.

Final thoughts

So after all that, what do I choose? Someone already called it out in the “Why choose a Santa Cruz” section, but I tend to ride Santa Cruz bikes. To date, I’ve owned a 2017 Hightower, 2018 Hightower LT, and a 2020 Blur, and I’ve loved each one.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT mountain bikeMy beloved Hightower LT

Why did I pick these bikes over anything Yeti offers? It was purely due to aesthetics. I like the paint colors Santa Cruz uses and I just like how the frames look. To me, the straight lines and square carbon tubes exude a sense of toughness and purpose. I don’t know why, but when I was a broke college student, it was always a Santa Cruz that I dreamed about tossing in the back of my Tacoma. (I still haven’t got around to getting that Tacoma.)

But I have no problem with Yeti. In fact, before my string of Santa Cruz bikes, I owned a 2016 SB4.5 that I rode into the ground. And I’m also a big fan of all of Yeti’s sponsored riders. Watching them go warp speed on my local trails is incredibly inspiring, and it sometimes makes me wonder if I should get a Yeti to do the same. Perhaps, when it comes time to buy a new bike, I’ll consider switching things up. But the latest Santa Cruz offerings are hard to resist.

 

Are you a Santa Cruz or a Yeti fan? Why is one better than the other? Let us know in the comments!

Images courtesy of Santa Cruz Bicycles and Yeti Cycles. 


10 comments


  • Love my yeti sb150

    Kevin on

  • Yeti’s are just too bourgeois for me and they don’t have a DH bike. I’d rather get a new Commencal Supreme and a used Santa Cruz Nomad for the price of a Yeti Turq SB165.

    Nick on

  • I’m a dealer in Canada for both brands. I ride 5 days A week and I’m currently riding A SB140 Mx build and recently built A Bronson MX. I’ve build two similar bikes to get to the bottom of this debate😁.

    Chris on

  • Was an Ibis Ripley rider for the last 7 years and moved to the Yeti SB115 Special Edition this year. The Ripley was a sweet bike but the SB115 is just faster period. What a great bike. Probably gonna add a SB130 next spring. 115 and 130 would be a great 2 bike quiver.

    Charles Proctor on

  • I have a SB130; SB115 and a Santa Cruz Chameleon carbon. All excellent bikes and a lot more capable than I am. My opinion you can’t go wrong an any of these. Ride in Oregon, both brands are equally represented, a big gap to all the other brands. Love the aesthetic of Yeti a bit more. Had to use their Crash replacement program recently. They came through, no BS. 2 weeks later was riding again. That makes me a fan.

    Wil on

  • I started mountain biking in 1990 as a college student. That was the era of Furtado and Tomac. Yeti was then and is now my dream bike. SB115 for me, please.

    Kevin Shankwiler on

  • Yeti SB5 is my current (3 y.o.) whip. I grew up in Durango watching Tomas, Missy, Julie, Ned, and Ranjeet so it’s been since 1985 that I have drooled over the Yeti. Took me 30 years to buy one but it was worth it. If I had the funds, I would buy a V-10 in a heartbeat, now that I already have a Yeti.

    Ryan on

  • I own a Yeti 5.5 that I use for enduro and a Santa Cruz Tallboy that I use for XC. Love them both and the are interchangeable to me except the Tallboy is an XL and the 5.5 is a large

    Robert on

  • I have owned 3 yeti bikes.
    2001 kokopelli
    2015 575
    Now loving my SB130
    Not that many yeti bikes in East Tennessee, so I love being different.
    Love the turquoise color scheme, attention to details and vibe of the company.
    Plus I can’t resist the legend of the mysterious yeti . Sasquatch is a big deal around hear. What ever you ride, just get out there and ride it. 🤘🏻

    Tim Lonon on

  • Very happy with my Santa Cruz Blur for CC

    Robert Riesenberger DDS on


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