Review: Yes Bikes

It’s taken me ages to knock out this review because this bike totally threw me. I made all the wrong assumptions about it and got all the wrong impressions. Once I realized what and why the bike does what it does I was so totally sold on this little white bike.

I wrote the initial review before I came to my sense. I thought it would be interesting for you to read my before and after review.  The two sections are marked with headings for your convenience so you can skip ahead if you want to. Read on.

Visit Yes Bikes Website.

AH HA NOW I GET IT YES BIKE

Misunderstood Yes Bike

The first thing I noticed when I pulled the YES out of the box was the ovalized downtube. There’s a lot of real-estate on that thing. And right in the middle it the single affirmation YES. Oh YES, I thought to myself, let’s go for a ride on this thing.

The colours are strong and simple and the theme from the downtube is repeated in the forks, which are slightly ovalized also. The overall impression is a bike that has been designed by someone with a strong grasp of the kind of aesthetic they were trying to achieve. I wasted no time in assembling it:


YES Bikes assembly from James Pollock on Vimeo.

As you can see, I’m a quick worker, even in slo-mo. Almost flashed some plumbers crack there too, which might have caused a re-edit but I won’t guarantee it.

There are a couple of things you expect from aluminium. One is it’s going to be lighter than steel. The other is the ride is going to be harsher. While that’s true in general it doesn’t always hold. I’m a big fan of steel bikes but have been keen to see an aluminium framed bike in the market just for the sake of presenting an alternative as much as anything. Good steel is lovely but good aluminium can ride much better than some “steel is real” mantra types would care to admit. At $399 complete the YES isn’t going to be your gourmet shit. So the question is, how does it ride?

Before we get there, let’s have a look at that other myth about alu. That it’s lighter. This is undoubtedly true. I’ve never weighed a bike I’ve tested (nor indeed involved myself in any kind of data because…well…yawn) but I can tell it’s lighter just by lifting it. That’s a good start. Most fixies can be a bit porky. When my mate’s cat A racer is hitting the scales at around 6.5kg you gotta wonder why fixies are all around the 10kg mark even though they’ve dumped several kilo worth of gears. We carry a lot of weight in our steel frames (because steel is usually a bit heavy unless you’re paying for proper gourmet shit) and then we have those deep dish wheels. For bikes with no gears they’re heavy. The YES isn’t carbon racer svelte but it weighs less than the steel fixies I’ve ridden.

I didn’t immediately get along with the ride of the YES. With the stem pointed upwards and the bars tilted forward and upward I felt like I was steering the bike from the wrong place. The turning point was high and forward and didn’t feel natural to me. Thankfully with these bars and stem you have a multitude of options for how you arrange them. I flipped the stem over and reversed the bars into a more natural position, more of a mountain bike position, which I’m familiar and comfortable with. The bike immediately felt more natural and familiar to me. The slight backsweep of the handlebars was just about what I expect and with the grips now angled slightly inward they were just where I wanted them. Five minutes in the shed had changed the angle of the bars relative to my hands and moved them about three inches. So it’s a fairly versatile build and you needn’t despair if the stock form isn’t quite suit how you want to present your bike.

To me the bike looked better too. You have to keep in mind that this test bike is a shop tester. It’s probably set up to appeal to people who walk off the street, some of whom might not be too familiar with bikes. With the bars flipped over the bike has a more aggressive stance and looks a much more exciting proposition.

The bike above is in standard trim as sold by YES. Here’s the bike how I’m riding it:

The bike feels more aggressive and more importantly I feel more aggressive and more like I’m getting somewhere in a hurry. Given my fitness at the moment there probably isn’t much truth in this but at least it helps maintain the fantasy.

For me, I was still left feeling vaguely like there was something I wanted changed about the front end. The rake of the forks or the wheelbase of the bike was perhaps a bit more than I would have liked. I suspect that, if I was buying this bike, I’d get the small size, as I did when I bought my Mojo. I deliberately bought down a size because I know I like a short sharp bike. On the flip side, if you get the right size you also get a bike with good stability, so it’s a bike most people will feel comfortable with while perhaps the more aggressive rider will want slightly sharper steering. I have found though, that as I’ve ridden the bike more, this feeling of wanting sharper handling has dissipated as I’ve got used to the bike. There’s nothing wrong with the way the bike handles, in fact it’s an excellent ride, it was just slightly different to what I’m used to. My wife liked the bike straight away though she would have liked the handlebars back in their original position.

While we’re talking about the handling let’s tackle myth number two, that alu bikes have harsher rides. I had other things on my mind when I first rode the YES, like what a beautiful day it was and how nice it was to be out and about after a week laid out with the flu. A few k’s later I became aware of just how rattly the bike was and my meagre brain thought, aluminium! Turns out it was a loose front brake. If you watched the cinematic genius that is my YES Bike assembly video you’ll notice me return to the front brakes a couple times. They didn’t sit properly because they were missing a spacer and wouldn’t cinch up tightly. I improvised one with a valve screw (yep, same thread) and the bike was sweet after that. The bike’s a shop tester so it’s probably been tossed about a fair bit. I’d assume yours would come straight from the box and wouldn’t lose a brake spacer on the way.

The aluminium frame is definitely not as smooth as some steel frames but it’s not immediately noticeable. If you’re aware of the difference between frames you’ll find the difference here. The times when the back wheel hits a hole and kinda thunks you up the arse. But in general the bike rides sweetly and you’re not going to complain about getting all fatigued from the harsher ride unless you’re the sort of person who make a big deal about these things. You’ve probably also got an iMac and make a big song and dance every time someone’s PC freezes. You probably tell the barista he burned the beans because you know bloody everything. And you take about fifteen minutes to choose a bottle of red because you know just way too much and have to make sure everyone knows it.

The ride of the aluminium frame made me come over a bit nostalgic. Back in the 90s I bought my first aluminium framed bike when a bike store owner in Lygon Street convinced me the bottom bracket noise was a sign that my trusty Gitane had reached its fatigue limit. He sold me an aluminium Miyata about two sizes too big for me and that bike became my main form of transportation and recreation  for several years. I know I’m boring you already with my reminiscence but there is a point here. I loved the way that bike rode. It smashed through things the other bike bounced over. It felt like the bike was alive and the street was an exciting place to be. I learned to adjust my style and stand some weight on the pedals on the bumpy bits. Aluminium to me wasn’t “harsher”, it was more lively. So it’s just a matter of perspective and whether you want to live the quiet life or not.

If a test bike is working for me there’s a bunch of stuff that should go unnoticed. The grips and seat for instance. You start noticing that stuff it’s usually for the wrong reasons. I really liked the seat on the YES, totally forgot it was there from the first moment. Looks good too. The brakes are unremarkable (except that yeah I’m going to remark on them anyway), they were fine just not exceptional. I rode them in the rain and they didn’t suffer too much. They do the job without standing out for reasons fair or foul.

To my mind the main reason you’d go aluminium is for the look. One bike rides like this and the other like that and big deal because you get used to the bike you ride. But if you want that funky slab of metal slicing through the bike then buy the aluminium one because they just don’t do that with steel. When I see all that real estate I think about what I could do. A big stencil says singlespeedgoldcoast.com. A bit of frame artwork. The clean look? Or just leave that affirmation there to see every time I ride. Should I ride? YES! Should I go hard? YES! Should I stop for pie and milkshake? YES!

I was a bit worried when I knew I was going to review a bike with those slabs of aluminium. What concerned me was the intersection of those tubes. A bike is just a bunch of tubes unless they meet up somewhere and are joined somehow. It is therefore these joins that define a bike as much as anything else. I’ve seen some nasty bike welding on aluminium frames, especially where ovalized tubes were used, and they make me get a little sick on my mouth at times. I didn’t want to be in a position where I had a test bike I wanted to like but couldn’t get past my own hangs-ups. You know what I mean? Imagine you’ve been set up on a blind date, they’re cute, they make witty conversation, they rescue fairy penguins on the weekend, they’ve seen all the right movies and read the right books…but they’ve warn those white sneakers and you really can’t stand white sneakers. It’d be okay if they weren’t so damned white. And you’re trying to like them and know you’re going back to their place later and there will be sex and you’ll pretend to be interested in a second date but you just can’t imagine going out with someone who wears white sneakers!

Well that’d be how I felt. Kinda. Anyway, the YES bike was joined with pleasing consistency. Phew. The welds stand out when compared with a steel framed bike but not in a way that detracts. If anything the welds have a solid industrial feel that compliments the clean lines of the bike by being their counterpoint. Like how the exposed metal frame in your warehouse conversion makes the reconditioned timber that bit more nicerer. (You all live in warehouse conversions don’t you? And work as designers for a Danish furniture company?) There’s a feeling of strength where the large down tube meets the bottom bracket. It does get a little busy down there but only if you make a point of being analytic about it. What I’m trying to say over the course of two long convoluted paragraphs is the welds were just lovely. (And my wife wants some of that Danish furniture so let me know if you get discount rates okay?)

Perhaps the ultimate test of the bike was my father. Like most parents he stopped paying too much attention to what I do some decades ago. (I’m so glad I’m not a parent. I’d be the worst. “Our daughter is talking? I kinda peaked when she walked. Not sure I can care too much about talking just now.”) He not only noticed that I had a different bike but commented on its good looks, picked it up and said, “Yes. They’re quite light these bikes aren’t they?” All in all a ringing endorsement.

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Ah Ha Now I Get It Yes Bike

Okay, here’s the bit where I dropped the seat a few inches, swapped the bars back to where they belonged, and rode the bike like the maker intended: fixed. I mentioned some crap earlier about making the bike more aggressive with the bars down low. Well that only holds true if your idea of aggressive is head down bum up going fast. If you want to throw the bike around, jump a gutter, and stop for a session with your mates at the local car park after hours then you want the bike set-up just like the maker intended. Perhaps aggressive is not the right word here. The word here is this: fun.
With the seat dropped a couple inches the whole bike came alive. The way the bike steered, the position of the bars, the cranks, everything made sense. Suddenly I realized what a great little bike this was and what an idiot I was. Okay, known this last bit for years. I’m no Buddhist but coming to terms with my own mediocrity has been my equivalent of a spiritual path. (Ever noticed how so many people on a spiritual path are such arrogant sanctimonious gits? Turns me off the whole enlightenment.)
Cranks. I just mentioned them. I haven’t measured the cranks but I’m sure they’re shorter than normal. Not so much that I really noticed when pedalling, just enough to give me that bit of extra clearance when riding fixed. Some bikes aren’t really meant to be fixed. They give you the option because it’s a flip flop world out there but they’re really targeting the single speed market. Then you get a bike like YES Bikes bike (I tried so hard to avoid saying that till now) and you see the little things they do to make it work properly as a fixie. There is plenty of ground clearance. As a inexperienced fixed rider it blows your confidence when you mash a peddle into the ground mid corner. Every corner after that you have to guess what your ground clearance is. I had no such problems on the YES and my confidence grew accordingly.
The more I rode the bike the more I realized I’d initially approached it from the wrong direction. The more I rode the bike the more I wanted to ride the bike. I haven’t taken another bike out of the shed all week. I made excuses to ride the YES. The YES has been to shops, parties and meetings with clients. The YES is a damned lot of fun to ride and I like having fun. We’ve been all over the place.

Many single-speed/fixies in the market are kinda stylish commuters. I’m comfortable with that because all I really want is something to get me about in a bit of style. But the YES has a personality that is more slanted to being a hardcore fixie, something you can develop your style on, throw it about a bit and pull a few tricks. I realised I’d done it a disservice by flipping the bars and stems around when what I should have been flipping around is the rear wheel.

 

My realization came about when I discovered that Toni, YES Bikes founder, had a trials background. The set-up on the YES reminds me of a trials bike and I can see how anyone coming off a trials bike would gravitate toward this kind of set-up. Many of the tricks people are pulling on their fixies come directly from a trials lineage so it’s no bad thing to have a bike designer who understands that background.  What it means is, if you’re looking to pull a few tricks then this bike is set-up for you. The geometry of the bike has been designed around making something that works for those who want to spin bars, drop gaps and pull off a few tricks. That’s why the bars are high and forward, to help with maneuverability such as lifting the front end or transferring body weight over the front axle. There’s no pedal overlap on the front wheel so you’re not going to get caught in an awkward positions when showing off your track stands or setting yourself for a trick.
The care shown on this bike to make it work as a fixie shows up in the small details. The tyres aren’t the usual 22mm road tyres most bikes are shod with. They’re quite a bit beefier, somewhere in the 25-28mm mark. Big enough so they won’t pinch flat too easily but not so big that you’ll notice any extra weight or rolling resistance. The rims  also have cloth tape, which those in the know will tell you is better for preventing pinch flats than that plastic stuff. It’s small details like these, totally hidden away from the purchasers eye, that show there’s someone who cares working behind the scenes.

For those of you who have read this blog you’ll know that I’m not all that accomplished as a fixed gear rider (read: I’m a gumby). My flirtations with riding fixed tend to be short and not terribly successful. I don’t have a video on You Tube explaining how to do skids or practice basic tricks like a real fixie blogger would because I can’t do them myself yet. My version of that video would show me garroting my testicles against the head stem while I wrestled the bike into some semblance of a skid. While that’s just the kind of video that might go viral for all the wrong reasons you’re unlikely to see it any time soon. I have enough friends to laugh at me without needing to invite strangers.  But I am, in effect, just the right guy to test out a few tricks on the YES.There’s a reason they call them tricks. It’s because they’re tricky. Or as Run DMC would say, they’re tick-trick-trick-tricky! I’m happy just to clear some basics without pulling a muscle or falling off and whacking my head against something. (Beanies don’t offer the kind of protection you need in a fall.) My experience so far tells me that this bike is a good one to start on. Despite my early impressions that the bike had a long wheelbase the rear end actually feels tight and nimble. Even an old try-hard like me can flick the back end about a bit. The position of the bars does make learning skids and getting the front end up much easier. The stem is quite long compared with many bikes in the market. If you’ve ever seen a trials bike you’ll know that they have tremendously long and high stems. This is to help you get your weight where you need it. Taking this logic to a fixie is a good idea and what you get is a bike that looks enough like a normal bike to fool me and yet is set-up to let you explore some freestyle. You’ll have no trouble riding this bike down to the local underground car-park and enjoying some late night sessions.

It’s great to see that YES Bikes have designed a bike that they expect people to thrash a bit. I’d say most bikes in this market are looking for consumers who are going to ride them as commuters. Generally, if you want to throw down some style you’re  looking at buying a different kind of bike, one of those fixies that look like a BMX took growth hormones. That YES Bikes are designed for a bit of rough stuff isn’t evident when you look at them but it’s there anyway. Even the forks have been designed with trashing in mind. Toni knows, from his trials days, that the major point of failure is the forks. That’s why those aluminium fork legs join a steel steerer tube, because it’s the steerer tube that fails.

The weight of the bike plays into things too. A lighter bike is easier to maneuver. If your bunny hops are the type where the front wheel kinda leaves the ground but there’s no evidence that the back wheel ever does then you’ll have more success with a lighter bike. While any bike built for some rough stuff isn’t going to win bragging rights in the weight department, the advantage of an aluminium frame is that it’s not at all porky. As mentioned earlier (I’m recapping in case you skipped the misinformed crap) the bike is noticeably lighter than other steel fixies I’ve ridden.

If you’re in the market for a smart ride that’ll get you around in style and let you progress your skills then take a look at the YES. I don’t see too much in the market that’ll rival it if you want to throw down some style with your mates without throwing down a wad of money first. With fixie freestyle growing I reckon the market was ripe for a bike that bridged the gap for beginners and this bike is it. I’ll be sad to give it back.

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4 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    The YES bike wasnt around for your earlier comparisons, so can i ask your thoughts on the YES V Jelly Bean? These are the two i’m seriously considering. An advantage i see with the JB is the varying frame sizes. I’m 185cm, and the YES only comes in a 56cm frame (one size fits all)…..appreciate your thoughts!

  2. James Pollock

    For some reason I don’t seem to be able to reply to comments on my blog any more. So I hope you get this Anonymous.

    The YES and the Jelly Bean are bikes with very different personalities so I think it’s a matter or sorting out what you want from the bike and getting the one that delivers. It’s been years since I tested the Jelly Bean so I’m relying on my memory a fair bit but from what I remember of it the bike was more of a commuter style bike, in comparison to the YES. This especially shows up in the three-speed option. The YES is more built for chucking about. The ride of the Jelly Bean will be smoother if you’re clocking up distances. The YES will be more fun if you want to develop some style and throw down some freestyle.

    Or you can just choose the one that looks better. You’re going to get a great bike either way.

  3. Anonymous

    Well thanks to this review I ordered my YES!

    Cant wait to thrash it around town

  4. Anonymous

    Was you bike straight ?
    My front forks were poorly made and didn’t ride straight ( I took it back and he replaced them)

    Since then I have found that the bottom bracket part of the frame was welded to the frame crooked by about 5-7 degrees causing unnecessary chain wear and noise. The rear drop-outs likewise are not aligned making it a little awkward to tighten the rear wheel straight.

    The bottom bracket lasted less than a 1000 ks and the front brakes fell apart when a bit of sticky tape came loose while servicing them.

    An nice bike for occasional use but poor build quality for a serious rider.

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