Nearly 20 new bikes tested in the mountains surrounding San Luis Obispo, California

"You're going to California for a few weeks to test bikes?! Rough job!"

We hear that all the time. Yes, testing bikes is a lot of fun, but it's also hard work. To do it well a lot of things need to fall into place. You need good, honest, observant test riders with a lot of experience on a lot of different bikes. You need rugged trails that allow you to put the bikes into several taxing situations. You need to ask the right questions. You need time to tinker with settings, time to talk with engineers, time to take notes and compile thoughts, and most of all lots and lots of saddle time.

We're now on our third year of Test Sessions, a winter event when we travel to some (hopefully) warm location with great trails, set the computer aside, and ride dozens of the most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes back-to-back with the ultimate goal of providing you, our readers, the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. We choose the bikes. We choose the trails. We choose what to speak about, and we also choose not to beat around the bush. Our process is now refined and polished.

2015 brings several new things to the table. We've got some new blood in our testing pool that bring more experience, varied riding styles, and even a new gender. Yes, ladies, we've got some great reviews for you, too. We were in a new location. We also had bikes so new that we can't even talk about all of them just yet.

Testing Grounds: San Luis Obispo, California

After spending some time riding in San Luis Obispo, also known as SLO, back in the Spring of 2014, we knew the area had good promise as a mountain bike destination. The taste we'd gotten was compelling and we knew there was more to be explored. Jump to Fall 2014 and we were trying to determine where to host Test Sessions. SLO jumped out because it promised great weather during December, and we'd heard good things about trails we hadn't ridden yet. Following a few conversations, dozens of emails, and a handful of messages with local riders, we knew the area had the proper ingredients. While the flowing green hills and beachside scenery may look very inviting, don't be fooled - thanks to dedicated builders and trail advocates, SLO is home to some of the rowdiest trails in California.

Not constrained to riding the same monotonous loop over and over, each day we’d link up several of the best climbs and descents the area has to offer, ensuring each bike saw a wide variety of rowdy terrain under every rider. High speed hucks, blastable berms, OMG rock gardens, slow tech, fast booters, and giggle-because-you’re-still-alive-at-the-bottom chutes were the name of the game. We rode it all in the name of science.

When you're new to an area, one of the best ways to get quickly acquainted is a bike shop. By a stroke of luck we found ourselves partnered up with the gents at Foothill Cyclery, connoisseurs of the finest riding spots in the area. Each bike was assembled or built by Foothill, including a few from scratch. It's clear that Josh, Tyler, Frank, and the entire crew at Foothill take pride in their work and get even the little things right the first time. With their help all the elements for testing mountain bikes that are supposed to "do everything" were in place.

19 Bikes You Want To Ride

So how does one go about choosing which bikes to test? The current hot spot in our industry is centered around all-mountain/trail/enduro bikes in the 150-160mm travel range. Not surprisingly they're almost all equipped with 27.5-inch wheels. What is surprising is what you can get away with on these rigs and how efficient they've become, but more on that later.

Knowing that the super fancy $10,000 bikes are out of reach for most, we chose to focus on the most promising bikes offered at a more attainable price point in the $5,000-$6,000 range. At the far ends of the price spectrum were a value-conscious $3,095 build and one at $10,199, giving us a little taste of what each end had to offer. Keep in mind that this is not a shootout, and bikes were ridden and reviewed individually with their relative merits in mind. We had 11 carbon and 8 aluminum bikes, with weights ranging from 25 to 32.9-pounds. Travel ranged from 130-165mm for men's bikes and 120-140mm for women.

Each year we see a few shifts in the industry. What was apparent this year was a clear focus on finer details. Almost every company already has a bike in this category with all the hottest components thanks to the beloved trickle down effect, so now it's time to try and stand out. Needless to say, some brands are doing a great job and others are kind of faking it - much like the difference between those "designer" handbags you can pick up on the street and the real deal. Out Test Sessions reviews will dive deep into the details of each.

View all 19 bikes in this photo gallery.

Vital MTB’s 2015 Test Sessions, By The Numbers

943 miles ridden 87 goofy riding faces
135,667 vertical feet of elevation gained 24 bow leggers
$110,004 worth of bikes 11 flat tires
1 rear shock blown 3 days of 15 foot waves
15 pounds of bacon devoured 121 espresso shots
3 crashes 2 naked mechanical shark rides
0 bikes that didn't come with a dropper 1 mega storm of the century averted
4,098,612 pieces of gum in SLO's Bubble Gum Alley 15 pounds of steak
6 rear wheels in need of a good truing ∞+3 bar turns
1 brake seized 3,267 photos taken
20 raw eggs consumed 7 Foothill Cyclery bike shop visits
6 times the photographer showed up the riders 38 TPS reports filled out
1 busted photographer ankle Total: 1 kick ass adventure testing bikes

Test Rider Diversity

In order to bring you the most well-rounded reviews possible, we sought out test riders with tons of experience as well as a wide variety of riding styles and backgrounds. There were a few new faces in our group this time around, including two skilled women. Together our crew brings a combined 95 years of mountain biking to the table, and many of those were spent as Pro racers. Some of the testers routinely crush out dozens of miles a week, others test prototype stuff before it hits the market, some ride clips and some ride flats, some destroy stuff on a regular basis, and a handful are engineers or trail-builders by trade. The common theme is that they all ride hard, ride often, and know how to articulate what they’re feeling on the trail. You can learn all about our six test riders in this Q&A feature detailing their riding styles and preferences.

Every bike was ridden by multiple riders and saw use on multiple trails. Riding all kinds of bikes on great trails was only part of the job, however. Each night testers had "homework" to do as they filled out questionnaires and discussed the bikes' performances. They'd chat about the day’s ride, compare notes, argue over beers and embrace their inner bike nerd. All told, we think you’ll dig what we came up with.

Starting Wednesday, January 7, Vital MTB will be releasing a handful of fresh bike reviews each week. The reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide, at your convenience, as you try to decide which 2015 mountain bike is best for you.


Read The Reviews

Links will be activated as the reviews are posted:

View 30 of the best photos from Test Sessions in this photo gallery.


Photos by Lear Miller

Create New Tag
66 comments
  • mocean365

    11/18/2015 3:48 PM

    Great to see the Canfield in there! There are some small companies straight up killing it. Be good to see a Guerrilla Gravity in there. They were just reviewed in Bike Mag. Black Market Roam too?? Overal, your review format seems pretty sweet, keep up the good work.

  • bturman

    11/18/2015 4:08 PM

    Cheers, bud! Appreciate the feedback.

    Here's a Vital review of the Guerrilla Gravity Megatrail from when it first launched: http://www.vitalmtb.com/product/guide/Frames,7/Guerrilla-Gravity/2014-Megatrail,14284#product-reviews/1695/expand

  • mocean365

    11/19/2015 8:53 AM

    That's a great review right there! Thanks for hitting me back. Cheers

  • bing

    5/25/2015 2:42 AM

    What happened to Norco Range review?

  • bturman

    5/25/2015 10:35 AM

    Thanks for your interest and your patience. A few of the bikes required a re-test for various reasons, and availability of test bikes was quite limited/delayed.

  • Mikeloza

    1/20/2015 1:36 AM

    Will you come up with final verdict? I mean like 1st, 2nd, 3rd best bike etc...

  • bturman

    1/20/2015 8:32 AM

    No, we won't. As mentioned multiple times above and below, this isn't a shootout. The best bike for one person will be different than another, and depends on their riding style and terrain. Our goal is to write the reviews in a way that clearly articulates who we think each bike is best for.

  • tp806

    1/12/2015 5:17 AM

    Disappointingly, NO Devinci Spartan Carbon in this test session? :-(
    How come?

  • bturman

    1/12/2015 10:08 AM

    The Spartan Carbon wasn't available to us at the time of the test. We'll be trying one out in June.

  • Eissa

    1/7/2015 2:01 PM

    When are you posting the reviews?

  • bturman

    1/7/2015 2:13 PM

    The first review will drop later today, and we'll be releasing a handful of fresh bike reviews each week. They'll be linked in the article above and on our homepage.

  • Eissa

    1/7/2015 2:41 PM

    Ok , Thanks

  • Antti Varjoranta

    1/7/2015 9:45 AM

    I'd like to see how the Banshee Rune would stack up with the bunch above! ...or maybe it's best to give the other bikes a chance, with the Rune it wouldn't really be an competition =)

  • sspomer

    1/7/2015 9:49 AM

    quote from the article "Keep in mind that this is not a shootout, and bikes were ridden and reviewed individually with their relative merits in mind."

  • Antti Varjoranta

    1/7/2015 10:00 AM

    Right you are. Hopefully Vital will do another story later on, with the comparison.

  • Foxbat

    1/7/2015 9:29 AM

    It's great to see brands like Canfield, Mondraker, and Orange get some attention rather than just the industry heavyweights.

  • jon123

    1/7/2015 3:40 AM

    No Ibis HD3?

  • isaidso

    1/7/2015 7:49 AM

    Conspicuously absent.

  • bturman

    1/7/2015 7:53 AM

    The new Ibis wasn't available at the time of the test. Regardless, you can find our initial impressions at the link above.

  • TRex

    1/6/2015 1:56 PM

    There are lots of comments about the prices of bikes being too high. I'd like to point out a few things to be considered. For one, bike prices are what they are. High or low is only a relative gauge. That being said, Vital tried to get prices lower this year. It won't happen overnight, but there is some trickle down, and in any industry, the cool new things will always cost the most.

    It is sometimes good to think about what the purpose of Vital or other online sites is. I think their purpose is to show what is working well and what new products or information is out there. There is almost no point to reviewing old tech or products that have been out on the market for a long time. That information is already out there. One can always look up what many people think of bikes and what is being ridden on forums, talk to friends, or ask your local shop that you trust. Some of that information is not so good, some of it is really good. It'll take some time and energy to figure out what is best for you, like many things in life.

    If I were to buy a bike with a $2500 budget, I'd get a used bike for $1500 with angles I like, buy good tires and spend $1000 on great suspension. I'd sell the old suspension parts and spend the money from that on a dropper post. That's what matters to me. I can deal with the rest of the stuff. That information that is out there on blogs, on Facebook posts, and on so many forums. That information doesn't necessarily belong in a headline in any magazine, online or in print. It is OK to dream, to do some window shopping, and to see the coolest stuff, even if I can't afford it. That's why I think it is alright to see the bling here.

    So when you do get to dive into some of the print, it might help to think of some of the information on how the testers ride, what is really important to you, and then think about the small details in the reviews about how the bikes rode in certain situations. All of the testers had different preferences, likes, dislikes, and those findings almost never matched up with more expensive or less. It was all over the board. My personal favorite was on the less expensive half of the curve, with an aluminum frame and nothing fancy. Another we rode led us to believe that the less expensive model option of the bike would be the way to go. Another still left us wishing for fewer bells and whistles. All those opinions might not help you to buy this bike or that bike, but to really help you narrow down what you want on YOUR bike.

    Of course, there are going to be lots of criticisms of the reviews this year, just as there are in any year. That is a good thing, as the comments help shape decisions on what to review and how to do it. I believe that Vital wants to provide the most thorough input around. To further help that cause, it would be good to put effort into specific criticisms and praise of reviews so that they can be better, instead of complaints about costs before a review is even read.

  • toooldtodieyoung

    1/11/2015 5:06 PM

    TRex makes an awful lot of good points here. The other thing I have been thinking about lately with bike pricing is that the newest generation of bikes span so many riding conditions that you probably realistically only need one or two rather than a large quiver. For those of us who have bikes as a way of life, the price hasn't changed, but the number of bikes we need has.

  • CombatMutt

    1/6/2015 1:31 PM

    Only 15 pounds of bacon???

    All teasing aside, I see you all blew a rear shock, are you going to detail that and hopefully get feedback from the company?

  • bturman

    1/6/2015 2:01 PM

    You can count on it.

  • CombatMutt

    1/6/2015 2:53 PM

    You guys rock. Oh and can't wait to hear about........whatever the heck this is:

    2 naked mechanical shark rides

  • Big Bird

    1/6/2015 8:54 AM

    That hurts guys. A little email and I could have been there to supply some free wrenching and cooking. I would have loved to meet the crew too. And not Art's Cycles?

  • Tim_Wells

    1/6/2015 8:45 AM

    No GT Force... Bummer

  • spazo

    1/6/2015 6:10 AM

    I'd love to see just a Warden v Balance shootout. Or even better Warden v Balance v Mega AM (I realize its test session,not shootout)

  • headless chicken

    1/6/2015 1:08 AM

    Great to see the Canfield being included

  • strul

    1/5/2015 11:52 PM

    no knolly in there how come ?

  • erwinmruiz

    1/5/2015 9:36 PM

    That green bike with the green fork looks nice

  • astrizzle

    1/5/2015 6:23 PM

    Can't wait to see how the Canyon rides!! I want one soo bad....

  • Bristecom

    1/5/2015 6:11 PM

    I really hope we get a US distributor for Mondraker soon!

  • mixmastamikal

    1/5/2015 6:02 PM

    Surprised there is no 2015 giant reign in the testing.

  • jan.czugalinski

    1/5/2015 5:00 PM

    All those 160 travel bikes in the test and you tested a 140mm Mondraker Foxy rather than the 160mm Mondraker Dune... hope you played fair in the review!

  • sspomer

    1/5/2015 7:02 PM

    quote from the article "Keep in mind that this is not a shootout, and bikes were ridden and reviewed individually with their relative merits in mind."

  • jan.czugalinski

    1/6/2015 2:25 AM

    I think you should of tested the Mondraker Dune! But I guess your testing what the manufactures have sent you

  • sspomer

    1/6/2015 8:24 AM

    correct. we put out the requests for specific bikes but sometimes the manufacturers prefer something else for this test session. we'll try to get on a dune at some point.

  • mitcos.online

    1/5/2015 11:37 PM

    what about Specialized Rumor, Juliana Furtado, Giant intrigue ?

  • ardor

    1/6/2015 8:35 AM

    All three were tested!