YT Capra Review
I bought this YT Capra Uncaged 6 to test something ‘normal’ after many requests from you guys so I bought a stock machine with my own money from one of the biggest and most popular brands.
The bikes I love to ride are things like my Nicolai G1 Ultimate, the tuned Orange 329 and my dreamy steel Egerie do-it-all 200mm travel bikes, the Commencal Supreme was also an incredible downhiller and I would ride it as an all-rounder with a few more gears if the seat could be put in the right place for climbing.
These are also my visions of the future of MTB after riding and testing hundreds of bikes over 27 years: I don’t think we don’t need so many categories of bikes with 10mm increments in travel for XC, trail, all-mountain, etc. If we aren’t racing a specific genre, we just need a well-considered bike that can do it all. Personally, I’m arrogant and think my bikes are just way ahead of the game, but time will tell if these types of quiver killers become the norm. But it’s not only me, the GeoMetron guys have done some very interesting testing against lightweight XC bikes and 24hr XC racing on their heavyweight G1’s with good results. There are also similar bikes starting to pop up all around the world.
These bikes for my riding style and location are the perfect mountain bikes: heavy-duty, durable, with incredible DH performance but built around a geometry and configuration that means they climb anything as well as any bike out there, if not better. Yes, they are heavy trucks, but that’s not my focus: I want reliability and with the current MTB products on the market that excludes most lightweight products for me. I mostly ride and test in Finale Ligure, the definition of enduro riding and nearby on my home test track.
I don’t mind the weight, I ride these bikes with no problems and always arrive at the top of the climb in the pack and then I want safety and performance on the way back down. I think it’s mostly psychological: if you weigh your bike and know it’s heavy, that’s always in the back of your mind and comes to the front when lactic acid starts. I even did a 110km ride on my 18kg G1 during lockdown and felt much better the next day than if I did it hunched over on a super rigid roadie. I also live near bike parks and shuttle locations and am not against using those to help me to the top!
Anyway, my preferred bikes aren’t really consumer products so at the end of November I ordered the Capra. The following is only my opinion and how the bikes work for me, of course, everybody is different and rides in different ways. Most of the comparison is made to my steel bike as that’s the best performing MTB I have ride to date, made by me with nearly no budget – these big brand bikes should outperfom my crap easily.
Watch the Unboxing and First Look videos here. If you don’t want to watch these videos the overview is that it was a bloody good consumer product: plenty of updates after the order, shipped on time and came extremely well packaged and built. The only fault I could find was the handy included torque wrench only goes up to 10nm and all the frame hardware requires more force than that. Also, ideally, you want a digital shock pump for a low-pressure unit like the Zeb for accuracy, but the YT pump is better than no pump. I mentioned above I don’t care about weight, but for this full carbon frame, cranks, wheels, bars and the heavy price tag the weight was also surprisingly high at 15.8kg with thin Exo+ casing tyres.
The build and setup process was easy and there are all the videos you can need from YT and SRAM to build the entire bike trouble-free at home. The Flight Attendant + AXS setup was pretty easy once figured out, but always seemed to lose connection to the phone app even after a few minutes of riding: use the app for the initial setup and then give up on it – further changes can be done manually on the units themselves.
I chose the XL size, luckily matching height EWS winner, Jack Moir, chose the same size Capra when he recently joined YT Mob, meaning I don’t have to fend off messages and comments about being wrong of my promotion of longer bikes for years.
I’m 185cm and Jack is 186cm. The XL Capra has a quoted 484mm reach with a 50mm stem and 64º HA. My sweet spot is 510 with a 35mm stem and a 2º slacker HA which further shortens the size. So I guess we’re both within a few millimetres in terms of actual reach and stack.
I prefer my steeper 80º seat angle over the 77.40º on the Capra. On my bike, the saddle is suitably in the middle of the rails and the seated position is more upright and very central and comfortable. The Capra gave me a slightly sore lower back (not helped by the low handlebar) and the front wheel didn’t stay as planted when climbing. But with the saddle slammed forward it was pretty close to what I would call an ideal seated position. For shorter riders with lower saddle height, I will guess the seat angle is more suitable.
Overall the geometry is good for a modern enduro bike. Of course, I’m biased so I think my ‘more extreme’ geo is better because it gives a safer and better-performing ride. This iteration of the Capra is few years old now, so we will see what geometry changes are found in the next model. I’d guess a 63º HA, 79º SA, and a higher BB – we will see.
This bike also comes with size-specific chainstays. For the life of me, I still cannot find any brand with an explanation for their size-specific chainstays apart from simply saying something like “perfect balance blah blah.” The Small Capra has a reach of 424mm and a 433mm chainstay, so the reach is shorter than the CS. The XXL is a whopping 80mm longer with 5mm added to the chainstay to make it 438mm, so it has a much longer reach than CS. I’m not saying that reach and chainstay should be the same, but my steel Egerie is 500mm/500mm and is the best bike I have ridden to date.
So, I’m still calling out every brand, not only YT, that has size-specific chainstays to provide some kind of reasoning for the difference to their customers. All I can find is a few brands slapping on an extra 5mm and sending the marketing team to work, but I am sure there are some maths behind their decisions somewhere?
As per my initial car park feeling, the suggested settings from YT were biased much too far forward. They recommended 54psi in the fork, I settled on 70psi which is a big 30% increase. Shock suggestions were 144psi and I found 125psi (-13%) gave me an ideal 30% rear sag. Front sag was now around 12% which is too little in my opinion, but I needed to over-inflate the fork to gain needed support and confidence in the front wheel.
After the initial runs, I also changed the 30mm rise bar and 50mm stem from Renthal to a 35mm long stem and higher 38mm bar. Even after this, I think the front end is too low for a 185cm tall rider on an XL with the bar height being 106cm from the floor. On my Egerie, which I believe fits me perfectly, my bar height is 112cm. Of course, this is personal preference and relies on many factors, but it would have been nice if YT left the steerer tube 30mm longer with some extra stem spacers for riders to tune the height more easily. Changing the fork’s steerer tube or CSU is a big £££ job compared to leaving the steerer longer and then changing a few spacers. I spoke to two other Capra owners I know (who both had XL’s by chance) and they both had the same issue.
On the Trail
The Capra got off to a great start. It feels very tight and very well put together along with being extremely quiet. The overall package was not harsh in any way with a nicely damped feel all around – some of this could have been helped by the Carbon Synthesis wheels whose I9 Hydra hub rear hub sounds like a really well-made bag of angry wasps.
The Flight Attendant does exactly what it is meant to do: increases the suspension compression nearly instantly for pedalling or lock modes. When locked, the fork still has some give while the rear is pretty much solid: this is good for climbing on the road as it pitches the frame forward slightly for better climbing geo – if you ever tried to climb a bike with a solid lockout that fully extends the fork (Scott TwinLock, for example) you will have felt the horrible tilted-rearward climbing position when the fork is fully extended and the trail gets steep. The FA did feel nice on the roads bombing around the town to get to the trails and shuttle as you essentially riding a full rigid and responsive bike.
As mentioned above, the initial balance of the bike was too far forward but they are only starting recommendations. After finding a nice balance we could get moving on the trail. The suspension overall felt pretty good, but underdamped, and this is where my problems started.
Underdamped doesn’t mean bad, it means that it doesn’t suit my weight and riding speed/style, bearing in mind though, I’m only 73kg in full kit and was cruising down the trail and not riding fast or aggressively.
How do you know it’s underdamped? The chassis is unstable (a stable chassis is a priority and makes everything easier) under braking – on this bike, even sitting down at 5-10 kmph and applying the rear brake the fork would compress and the rear shock would extend (part of this can be due to low anti-rise*), on my steel bike I can descend on the road at 40kmph, brake as hard as I can on the rear and have zero chassis pitch or suspension movement, this is good.
Other signs it is underdamped are a ‘loose feeling’ where you don’t really feel connected to the trail and bottoming out too easily on small drops/jumps or compressions. This bike had all of those problems though the band-aid measure of adding Bottomless air tokens did help the bottom out on the fork – but I prefer the damping to absorb the impact over ramping up the air spring which makes it harsh. My steel bike has enough damping support to match impacts about as much as my body can handle – the Capra would bottom easily on small drops and compressions far before the forces were challenging me physically and I’m not a big strong guy.
The main issue I had was the fork diving too much which makes hard braking and steeps difficult. Then fork dive (and rear lift) in corners meant that the bike turns less and less the more it dives forward – this means the bike isn’t turning enough and you have to fight it to turn and this will make you want to lean back, brake, and causes all sorts of other problems that are not carving a corner nicely and exiting quickly.
*I believe when people are telling you that you need low anti-rise to ‘eliminate brake jack’ and have freely moving suspension under braking have missed a major point when actually riding on the trail: low AR means the chassis/mainframe can pitch forwards under braking which is bad. This means that as you brake your weight transfers forwards, then there is less weight on the rear tyre meaning it will start to lose traction. This makes you lean back on the bike as your fork is diving and the rear is lifting, then you have less weight on the front and can’t slow down as much and it becomes a vicious cycle. In the end, you are slowing down less as you have less grip, meaning you spend more time braking.
With a bike that has higher AS, and arguably ‘brake jack,’ you can brake harder/brake less. You can stay in the middle of the bike more in your neutral position which simply makes the bike easier to ride giving your brain more processing time as you are focused on the trail not balancing you and the bike. This also means you can then load the front tyre more and brake harder on it. The front brake accounts for most of the deceleration so you will slow down more quickly and use the brakes less overall. Though not simply a case of AR, this depends on the whole bike setup from geometry, bar height, spring rates and damping settings.
To reference my steel bike again, I feel I can brake nearly as hard as I can on any section of trail and can’t feel any chassis pitch forwards. This is a combination of the geometry, well-damped fork coil fork + shock, and the anti-rise somewhere around 120% which most designers looking at graphs will say is bad. On the trail, it’s a different story. A stable chassis means short and hard braking and if you do drag a brake in a corner (of which I’m a massive culprit) it will only help to corner more as it stays squatted in the travel. The Capra AR is around 70% at sag but I think 100% or slightly more is ideal.
Trying to change my Tune
So the next logical step to get this bike performing to its potential was to tune the Rockshox FA suspension system. I emailed many suspension centres in Europe and nobody had a tried and tested solution as these MY2023 products are so new. Nobody wanted to tune for me until they had knowledge of the product, which is fair. This reminded me of some of my favourite advice for consumers: do not buy anything until it has been on the market for at least one year or you are essentially acting as the last step of the production and testing process. Lots of new suspension (and other frames/components) products can have teething problems and it takes time for suspension centres to learn about solutions and tuning tips.
I did ship the suspension to a shop with a dyno in Germany (which took one month and £££) so at least we could get some numbers to compare against my preferred dampers and give you a comparison as well as to see if the 2023 Debonair is more linear than older versions – I’ve heard reports it’s not. But, thanks to the FA module on the fork it would not fit in their dyno without making custom fixtures. They didn’t want to waste their time doing this, which is fair.
I also spoke to a SRAM representative who couldn’t provide any further tuning suggestions or give me any information (this is SRAM’s prerogative and intellectual property) to let me know how the unique damper in this fork compares to the other Zeb Chargers: the FA is a modified Charger 2.1 in a 2023 model fork, whereas the other ‘23 Zeb’s use a Charger 3. One thought I have is that this FA setup has a lighter damping tune than the other models either because of the target user or because the FA needs to increase damping in the other modes – perhaps it needs to be low in the open mode to get the correct compression levels in lock/pedal?
I quickly ended up with the compression fully closed (well, -1 as you should always avoid the last click) front and rear and support was still lacking. You can also feel the compression starting to spike/bind in the rear shock when increasing past -3/-4 clicks from closed (out of 10) simply when sitting on the bike and bouncing gently – on the trail this translated to some harshness and lack of traction.
Also, I’ve been riding exclusively coil shocks for months now, returning to an air shock it’s noticeable that it doesn’t sit as nicely into its travel as a coil causing more of the forward imbalance problems.
And here was the end of the review process, though I would have liked to ride this bike harder and for longer: I couldn’t find a suitable tuning option anywhere in mainland Europe and I didn’t want to ship to UK/US/Aus, firstly as it seems silly when dealing with the biggest MTB suspension brand and secondly due to customs problems/expenses. I nearly bought all-new suspension for it, but it seemed mad to spend another €1500-3000 on a brand new €9000 bike.
In my first videos, I said that I thought this bike should have been spec’d with a 180mm fork, and then recently I was backed up by the YT Mob team launch article on Pinkbike, where all three racers are using a 180mm fork. Interestingly, none of them chose FA, and at least one has a ‘Special Charger 3’ damper – I’d guess at least one of the other two has NSR tuning inside (like my incredible custom Boxxer) judging from their previous team history.
How to improve: change the air spring to 180mm to keep the front higher. If it was a fork like a Manitou Mezzer, you could easily remove a little plastic spacer from the air shaft, with RS you need to spend €107 on an entire new airshaft. Or I would buy another Capra model with different suspension. The Ohlins edition, for example, is good if you want to play with tunes as they are a brand that offers many off-the-shelf shim stack options to suit rider weights and styles. Any brand that says their stock tunes will suit every rider from a 40kg beginner to a 120kg fast racer with 10x clicks to turn is lying to you.
My overall opinion of the FA is that it works well but the range of adjustment for me and tuning options are not there. I believe every rider would be better off buying tuned suspension from someone like Rulezman, NSR, J-Tech or one of the many other reputable centres out there. A good setup will outperform a bad setup with electronic gimmicks any day of the week.
Do you need FA? Absolutely not, I thought it was going to attend to my needs more but it seemed the opposite, it is simply a very expensive lockout. You would be much better off saving the money and reaching down to a lockout lever or getting suspension setup up very well for you and practising how to pedal more smoothly than buying this. Both my preferred shock tunes on my steel bike don’t need lockout at all for pedalling, and that’s on a high-pivot with an idler that should pedal like crap.
I think the FA would be best suited to XC racing, or MTB on a long travel bike designed for great descending and without chain-induced anti-squat. You could have a bike that gobbles up bumps while pedalling terribly and FA would transform it. The Capra design pedals well enough anyway to not need it and with a well-tuned shock will be fine. I’m also not 100% convinced by systems that change the suspension settings; I think that overall it’s easier for your brain to manage and ride a bike that is always consistent in one mode.
I would add an Ochain to this bike to improve descending performance as there was some harshness on big square edge hits – though this could be related to harsh compression on the rear shock or the axle path. The Ochain could also help the bike sit in its travel better, as would a coil shock over air, and either or both of these would help with the chassis pitch.
Components – Good and bad.
The AXS gears are the best option on the market for efficient changes and ease of use. Of course, they are heavy, expensive and need charging but they do work really well. Nicely, the derailleur can move out of the way easily when you smash it into a rock thanks to the lack of cable tension. Do you need them? Absolutely not, but they are good.
The AXS dropper is great too, but I’m more of a 200m drop kinda guy and the longest AXS Reverb option is 170mm.
Carbon bars are scary and 35mm standard is silly, 35mm bars need to go away. Nobody needs the extra stiffness at the bar/stem junction, especially while we are riding around with really flexy steerer tubes on single crown forks.
The SDG saddle gave me instant sports willy: cold and numb. It’s too rounded and doesn’t support my sit bones enough – as always I suggest getting a measured to fit SQlab and don’t worry about saddle fit again.
Carbon Crank Brothers Synthesis Wheels: These felt really good and are something I would like to test further. They had a couple of decent hits on rocks and didn’t explode catastrophically so they are beating Enve in that respect at least. I’ve got an alloy pair left over from last year to go on my incoming Nucleon, so stay tuned for that.
Tyres: Exo+ have no place on a bike that claims to be an EWS racer – stick some DH tyres on and start pedalling to the top 10 seconds earlier and enjoy safety, stability and grip on the way down.
SRAM Code: I used some Uber Bike Race Matrix pads which did improve the bite a lot over the standard metallic pads: in a perfect world I would have changed to new rotors too after the rougher sintered pads had been bedded in to the rotors. Ideally, take them off on day one, put them on eBay and buy (or win!) some Hope Tech4.
RS Zeb: I’m not really a fan of these new huge single-crown forks, I just don’t see the point. At this amount of travel, you’d be much better off with a Boxxer which offers a much stiffer crown/headtube/stem junction where you want it to be accurate and responsive. This also reduces flex and possible creaking problems in the CSU. Then the smaller lower Boxxer legs offer better compliance and traction: the Zeb is massively stiff at the axle and gets progressively more flexy all the way to the stem junction – exactly the opposite stiffness profile of what we need, in my opinion, you might even say it’s upside down.
Verdict and would I buy another one?
Nah, I wouldn’t buy this model again. It’s a pretty damn good bike overall and with some minor tweaks it could be great. YT have done a great job on the build and all of the fine details from frame protection to cable porting and the free bottle! At €9000 you could custom build a much better-performing machine without electronics which mostly only increases the price a lot. YT are known for good value so one of the other models may offer what you are looking for.
If I did buy one, I would choose a model with Ohlins or Rockshox suspension that I know could get tuned easily and spec a coil spring front and rear. I’d also get the MX/mullet version as I think a mixed-wheel bike just turns better, gives better wheel flex between front and rear and better ar** clearance when things get rowdy.
Overall the YT experience was a good one, but we’re trying to find the best products out there and #buildbikebetter. The standard Capra with FA definitely isn’t the best out there for €9000.