I am sitting on a chairlift in Angel Fire, N.M., on a moonless, September night, and I have just finished my 29th consecutive run on the resort’s infamous World Cup downhill course. My hands are sore, and I can barely open the cans of Red Bull they keep handing me. As I sit down on the lift for the 30th time today, I am worried that I may be causing permanent nerve damage. My whole body feels like I’ve been beaten up by some nightclub bouncers and booted into a back-street alley. It is starting to get cold and dark; I am ready to be done. If my body feels this abused, how about my bike? Will it hold up for two more runs?
This is the Red Bull Final Descent 12 hour Downhill. It’s brutal, and it’s exactly what I needed. As this was my first real downhill race, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had only one goal for the day: to pack a whole season’s worth of downhill runs on Yeti’s 303 RDH into 12 hours.
Yeti’s downhill bikes are legendary, in part due to their unique rail and link suspension design used on the RDH’s big brother, the 303 DH, since 2005. Yeti has proven—unequivocally through its own racing program and factory riders’ successes—that it can hand build race-ready downhill bikes out of its Golden, Colo.-based factory. From the early days of downhill racing, Yeti has played a huge role in the sport, sponsoring and gaining input from pioneers such as Myles Rockwell and Missy Giove, to today’s stars such as Jared Graves and Joey Schusler. It is no wonder Yeti is able to produce such kick-ass, purpose-built bikes that can hold up under the stresses of racing. The 303 RDH is no exception to Yeti’s command in the downhill scene.
Yeti has procured a near fanatical following around its bikes, so much that Yeti has deemed its customers the “Yeti Tribe.” If you own a Yeti, you are part of the tribe and are welcome to attend the yearly tribal gathering. When you buy a Yeti, you’re not just buying a bike, you’re joining the tribe.
Video: Yeti 303 RDH on the Free Lunch Trail, Grand Junction, Colo.
Riding the 303 RDH, I started to understand why there was such a following behind these handbuilt machines. With its 7005 aluminum hydroformed frame, hardened steel linear rail suspension and eccentric shock mount, this bike exhibits a character unique to Yeti: It’s a cool bike, and it’s built to be ridden often and hard. It may not be built to withstand quite as much as the 303 DH, but the RDH is arguably more fun to ride and still a full-on, race-ready downhill bike.
Yeti President Chris Conroy explains that the suspensions make the difference: “The 303 DH uses two rails—the vertical rail controls wheel path and the horizontal rail controls rate. What’s unique about a dual-rail system is the wheel path and rate can be adjusted independently of each other. The 303 RDH is essentially a single-pivot design with the horizontal rail to control the shock rate (that’s the R in RDH)—keeping it perfectly in line under load (meaning a consistent rate all the way through the suspension’s motion). By eliminating the vertical rail, we were able to shed some weight. The 303 DH excels in rough terrain—it plows through the nastiest stuff you can throw at it. By contrast, the 303 RDH is more playful, lively and easier to handle in berms.”
Prior to the race, I took some time to set the bike up properly following some guidance from a friend and Pro Team mechanic. I was amazed at the level of adjustments the suspension design offered. Yeti made suspension setup easy with etched sag measurements located directly on the linear rail. The 303 RDH’s eccentric shock mount allows for adjustable geometry, making it a great all-around downhill bike that can morph to fit a specific course type. The three-position adjustment allows for a bottom bracket height choice of 13.8, 14.1 or 14.3 inches, head tube angle choice of 64, 64.5 or 65 degrees, and wheelbase choice of 45.7, 46.1 or 46.5 inches, making the bike extremely versatile for a variety of terrain. Keeping the shock mount in the middle setting allowed for maximum versatility on the Angel Fire course.
My first lap at race pace felt awesome. I was comfortable on the bike—more so than any first ride on any other bike I’ve ridden. It soaked up every big hit on the trail while feeling compliant and responsive. Pushing through the corners, the 303 RDH was stable, and it predictably followed where I pointed it. Fox’s RC2 fork was a nice complement to the high-end frame, while a Fox RC2 coil-over shock allowed the rear end to do what it needed, and very effectively.
Throughout the day, I encountered everything from off-camber rock gardens to smooth berms and flowy tabletops. After getting a better feel for the bike and spreading out from the field a bit, I decided to attempt the fastest yet roughest course option, which proved to be pretty damn fun. Rock gardens, gap jumps and everything in between were eaten up by Yeti’s linear rail technology: It forces all energy from impacts directly in to the rear suspension while keeping the frame laterally stiff and rear wheel in line.
I have ridden and thrashed many downhill bikes, and Yeti’s linear rail design performed well above my expectations. It was extremely maneuverable in tight singletrack but also gave me plenty of confidence on the big drops and massive jumps at Angel Fire.
The last two laps went great, and I was amazed at how quiet the RDH was through even the rockiest sections. Throughout the day (and night) I throttled the bike down Angel Fire’s terrain and loved every minute of it (until I began to lose feeling in my hands).
Yeti’s 303 RDH proved to be a great all-around bike, packing a huge punch for the all-day racing endeavor. Except for a thrashed set of tires, the bike remained solid from lap one all the way through lap 31. I’m in the market for a downhill bike, and I would consider the Yeti 303 RDH over most others in the “race bike” category. It has a great, burly, overbuilt feel while still being somewhat light and maneuverable. I would recommend the RDH to downhill enthusiasts who not only want a fast bike but also want a solidly built bike with a versatile and smooth-feeling suspension design. Yeti’s 303 RDH delivers in all areas and on a variety of terrain.