It would have been easy for Yeti Cycles to fade into mountain bike folklore, much like the mythical abominable snowman that the company's name is derived from. While the company now approaches its 35th anniversary and continues to grow in size and stature, its ride to success wasn't exactly plain sailing.
Few bicycle brands manage to capture the imagination quite like Yeti, rolling back the decades to legendary days when Missy “The Missile” Giove, John Tomac, and Myles Rockwell were flashing through the race tape in a blur of turquoise and yellow.
Yeti is seen as a Colorado brand, and for the most part its history does lay in The Centennial State, but it was born in the Agoura hills of Southern California in the hands of John Parker back in 1985. Racing quickly became the backbone of the company as Chris Conroy – the current president of Yeti – explains: “He was really at the forefront of the whole racing thing. He came from a racing background, he was a sprint car racer and knew the racing scene from a SoCal perspective. He was the first to roll up to a mountain bike race in a box truck, full Yeti'd out. From the earliest days, Yeti had a pro race team in Southern California.”
The company relocated to Durango not long after the 1990 World Championships and started the Yeti / Colorado marriage. “...there were legendary teams during that time, Myles and Missy, Deaton... the whole crew. People remember Yeti for the turquoise and yellow during that era, the turquoise and yellow was all the rage,” Conroy continues. It was this period in time that began to create such a rich heritage and legacy that still surrounds the brand.
Jump to the mid-90s and Schwinn purchased Yeti, the beginning of a crucial chapter in the company's history, and it was at that time that Chris Conroy first entered the Yeti picture. It wouldn't be the most fruitful of times, leading to Volant taking over the reins in '99 with Conroy at the forefront of it all:
They relocated to Golden, remaining there to this day. Just two years after the Volant sale, it was Conroy and Hoog who took control, purchasing the company together with some friends. Yeti now had the people it needed at the wheel to at least give it stability, but it was no easy task to right the wrongs and get back on track taking “a solid 5 years just to right the ship.” Hoog says: “We were living week-to-week, manufacturing in-house and trying to push the product forward. The first bike we designed and built was the AS-R. Fortunately, it was a hit.”
Yeti has been on a steady upward trajectory over the past couple of decades but they seemed to gather some serious momentum in recent years with the rise of enduro. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Right place right time? A certain degree of that, yes. Reading the market and getting the foot in the door early? Undoubtedly. Yeti had been making longer travel trail bikes for a while, the likes of the ASR and the 575 proved popular, but it seemed like a real turning point came during the introduction of their "SB" lineup and the fulltime switch to EWS racing. Their pairing of Jared Graves and Richie Rude at the time proved deadly. Jared famously took the SB66 to bronze at DH World Champs, then the following season they went 1-2 on the SB6 and SB5 at the Winter Park EWS, and further down the line they'd both clinch the series overall with a handful of wins. Having two prolific racers at the top of their game banging in race wins and overalls is certainly one way to provide validation to your new line of product.
As I mentioned previously, Yeti is set to tick off its 35th anniversary in 2020. What's changed? In some ways, it’s changed quite considerably. The size is the big one, they now sit around the 65 employee mark, aside from that there are things like the absence of alloy frames, and their manufacturing taking place in Vietnam. But in other ways, they've not changed much at all. Racing is still at the forefront of what they do, turquoise remains the color of choice, and as Chris continues to stress for them “it's really important that we can continue to fund and invest in innovative product design and development,” something he says the brand has done since the very beginning.
The bike that Carolyn "Curly" Curl used in her speed World Record way back in 1997.
Fancy going 122mph on that setup? Yeah, me neither.
Beer is serious business at Yeti with six different options on tap.
Frames racked up and awaiting their turn in the stand.
All the small parts that start to piece together the frame puzzle.
Josh Conroy, chief Switch Infinity bearing presser.
Neatly laying out all the small parts before the build can begin.
The workforce varies with size in accordance with frame demand throughout the year.
The "Lunch Ride"
An integral part of life at Yeti headquarters is the daily lunch ride where employees ditch their desk or down tools and grab their bike, hitting the trails of Colorado's Front Range a few pedal strokes away from the front door of the headquarters. These are the trails that Yeti's lineup is conceived on so it'd be rude not to grab one of their latest offerings and tag along for the ride. I quickly learn a few things. First off, the pace is fast and things get competitive, especially for my sea-level legs and lungs. Secondly, there's a wide range of riding styles and choices of bikes, each spec'd according to the individual's taste. It's this crew that gave birth to the idea of offering a burlier build "Lunch Ride" / "LR" guise in selected models over the last few years.
The lunch ride is an important part of day to day life at Yeti.
Peter Zawistowski or "Stretch" as he's affectionately known has been in the company since high school, first working out back building bikes and machining alloy frames. He then went on to to study at university, coming back into Yeti as a fully qualified engineer. He's been in the company around 15 years and is one of their 8 strong engineering team.
Yeti are looking at adding composite capabilities into their engineering building. It wouldn't be for production though and would just help the engineers in fast-tracking prototypes and experimenting with different carbon layups.
A prototype SB66, the first bike to feature the "Switch Technology" which would later be refined into the "Switch Infinity" system that now features on all of their models.
They've only been in the new building for a matter of months and are still adding equipment and machines in.
Yeti work closely with Fox and have special permission to create their own shock tunes.
Final destination. Next stop, the trails.