Now THAT Was A Bike – Yeti C-26
Words by Mike Levy, Pinkbike // Photos by The Pro’s Closet
What do the Exxon Valdez disaster, George Bush Sr. being elected as President of the United States, Taylor Swift being born, and the first episode of Thomas the Tank Engine all have in common? All four of those took place in 1989, of course, which is also an important date for Yeti Cycles because it’s the year that they debuted their radical (for the time) C-26 super-bike. I want you to forget about the 25lb, 150mm travel machine that you may or may not have in your garage right now and travel back twenty-six years to a time when steel was pretty much the only reasonable material to build a bike frame out of, and when things like elevated chain stays and undamped suspension forks with two inches of travel were groundbreaking.
This was the setting that Yeti, with the help of Easton, first showed a new frame that combined aluminum and carbon to weigh in at a claimed four pounds. That’s still a reasonable weight in 2015, and while there’s no doubting that today’s designs are more robust, forgiving, and perform better in every regard, the C-26 is one piece of the puzzle that contributed to the bikes we ride today.
Radical Frame Tubing
Yeti’s material of choice back then was 4130 chromoly, but Chris Herting, the man behind the C-26, needed to look at other options in order to bring his newest creation to life. A partnership with Easton meant that he had access to their trick C-9 tubing that consisted of a thin aluminum core tube that was then overlaid with a unidirectional, high-modulus carbon fiber wrap. We might not think much of carbon wrapped components these days, but this was space-age stuff back in 1989, with Yeti saying that ”the alloy core adds hoop strength and torsional stiffness to the frame, while the carbon wrap increases bending stiffness, resulting in a tubeset that is half the weight and twice the strength of 4130 chromoly.”
And even if those dramatic weight loss claims might have been reaching a bit, a four pound frame truly was drastically lighter than most of what was available at the time – just imagine if a frame was debuted tomorrow that weighed even 30% less than comparable offerings.
Yeti didn’t completely forsake 4130 chromoly when it came to the C-26, though, as the entire backend of the frame was manufactured from steel and featured the now famous one-piece seat and chain stays that many people still identify as being uniquely Yeti. The frame’s lugs are also chromoly, and a “permabond thermal bonding agent” and large oven was used to join the C-9 tubes at the head tube, seat tube, and bottom bracket junctions.
Dream Bike Pricing
We all know that losing weight costs money, at least when talking about cycling gear, and it was no different back in 1989. Yeti’s FRO and Ultimate models had a wholesale price of $700 and $800 USD (including rigid fork and headset), which converts to roughly $1,300 and $1,500 USD in today’s money when you take inflation into account. That means that both would have retailed for around $2,100 USD in 2015, which made them pretty high-end, dream worthy bikes twenty-six years ago.
The C-26, however, took that to a whole other level with a wholesale cost of $1,200 in 1989, which means that it would have retailed for just under $2,000 back when it was debuted and depending on how much margin the dealer was looking for. That’s a whopping $3,800 USD for the C-26 frame and fork in 2015 dollars, which can get you a quite the machine these days.
Better yet, for an extra $65 a shop filling out an order for a C-26 frame and fork had the option of spec’ing an Answer A-tac stem in one of three different lengths: 120, 130 or 150mm. Yes, you could have had your Yeti with a stem that’s the same length as what some of the bikes on the Enduro World Series circuit sport for wheel travel, which is a comparison that really shows how things have changed between then and now. Customers could also choose a handful of standard colours, or go for something a bit more out there by picking from two-tone with darts, fades, animal skin, camouflage, redman, geo-fade, wild and the self explanatory zebra option. While the last one is obvious, I’m not too sure what some of those others would have looked like…
Bullseye’s Two-Piece Cranks
It’s the C-26’s frame tubes that deserve the most attention, but the period-correct bike pictured here has been fitted with a few notable components, including the Bullseye crankset that was way ahead of its time. Most high-end cranks employ a two-piece design these days, but Roger Durham, the father of Bullseye Cycle, first showed his two-piece design back in the mid-1970s, and that same basic layout is what you see on the Yeti C-26. The goal was to drastically increase rigidity and reliability over what was available at the time, and they did exactly that by welding the drive-side crank arm to the splined steel spindle, and then using a pinch bolt to clamp the left crank arm after bearing tension was properly preloaded. There was even a small retaining tab to keep the left arm from sliding off if it came loose, and the thin walled 4130 chromoly arms were reasonably light for the time. The bottom bracket cups, complete with sealed bearings, threaded into the frame, and the one inch diameter spindle slid through from the drive-side.
It’s fair to say that nearly every modern two-piece crankset can trace at least some of its genes back to Roger Durham’s original design, but the Bullseye patents ran their course long ago, thereby opening the doors for others to use a similar layout. One thing that hasn’t been duplicated, though, is how Bullseye’s handmade approach allowed them to offer nine different crank arm lengths – 155, 165, 172, 178, 184, 190, 196, 202 and 208mm – for riders to choose from. We certainly don’t need the longer end of that range these days, but it’s no secret that companies have experimented in more recent times with custom frames that sport ultra-low bottom bracket heights that have been designed around 150 and 155mm crank arms.
TPC Note: The bike pictured above is Chris Herting’s “C-46”. This was not a 1990 pre-production bike, but it was made by the same builder and with the same materials from 1990. Read more about this interesting story.