Nearly 20 new bikes tested in the rugged mountains of Phoenix, Arizona

I winced in pain as I realized what was happening. Stuck to the bed sheets again. Damn it. The scabs all across my right arm and shoulder reminded me of the first big crash I'd had in years. As I peeled away, set my feet on the ground, and stood up, I could feel the soreness in my muscles from nine long days of riding. I caught my balance and stumbled groggily to the bathroom while the familiar clitter clatter of pots and pans echoed from the kitchen below. The Test Sessions crew was at it once again. Day ten. Getting ready to ride...

Vital MTB's annual Test Sessions event is the real deal. We ride hard, we work hard, and we try to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews on the planet. As I found out this time around, sometimes comprehensive testing means eating some soil (or rocks) while trying to push bikes to their limit.

The past four winters we've assembled a dedicated crew of testers to ride and evaluate many of the new year's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes. This year we pulled in 17 fresh rides to put through the paces.

Testing Grounds: Phoenix, Arizona

Swayed by the promise of sunny skies and fair temperatures, we set our sights on Phoenix, Arizona as our testing grounds. Each day we'd wake to the sounds of the sprawling city coming to life, some of its 4.5 million residents yelling "fore!" along the neighboring golf course, and the sun cresting over nearby South Mountain onto the desert floor. In stark contrast to one of the largest metro areas in the United States, the thousands of acres within South Mountain Park serve as a place for residents and visitors alike to escape, refuel, and discover some of the most punishing, demanding, technical, and simultaneously delightful singletrack we've ever ridden.

Each bike squared off against a gauntlet of never ending rock gardens, boulders the size of small cars, jagged you-better-not-hit-that rim smashing edges, do or die gaps, hidden lines, Danny MacAskill worthy climbs, silly high speed hucks, and stray cactus around every bend. With a flat tire count in the twenties (many of them tubeless), two blown rear shocks, two severely smashed rims, and no regard for our own personal safety, rest assured that bikes saw a wide variety of rowdy terrain. Phoenix is no joke.

Riding back to back days on the same test loop provided the opportunity to test with as many constants as possible. The weather remained the same, trail conditions stayed similar, and those giant boulders never moved, which really exposed the pros and cons of each suspension design, component, and bike as a whole.

No Test Sessions event goes off without the help of the local scene, and this year we found ourselves teamed up with Rage Cycles - a shop with 25 years of history, an intimate knowledge of the area's best rides, roots that go back about as far as you can in mountain biking, and free beer every Friday. Each bike was assembled or built by Rage, including a few from scratch. It's the little details that count, and thanks to Morgan, Peter, and crew we knew that every time we threw a leg over a bike we could do so confidently. With their help all the ingredients for testing mountain bikes that are supposed to "do everything" were once again in place.

17 Bikes Worth Checking Out

Every year we face the challenge of picking which bikes to test. What's exciting? What's new? What haven't we ridden before? Like a kid in a candy store, it's hard not to grab them all.

Our biggest goal this year was to keep the dollars low and value high. With an average price of $4,648 USD (down from $6,150 last year), costs of the test bikes ranged from a very respectable $2,900 to an attainable $6,599, with just one over the $6,000 mark. We had 11 carbon bikes and 6 aluminum with weights ranging from 27.4 to 31.5 pounds. Considering lasts year's bikes were more expensive, we were surprised to see an average weight gain of just 0.3 pounds from 28.7 to 29 pounds (13.2kg) year over year. Travel ranged from 115-170mm for men's bikes and 150-155mm for women. Other interesting metrics include an average bar width of 765mm, stem length of 54mm, and bottom bracket height of 336mm.

Looking the bikes over, it's clear that 2016 brings a continued focus on longer reach measurements, the resurgence of FOX suspension and SRAM brakes, new boost axle standards, wider rims, and more 1X drivetrains than ever. Our Test Sessions reviews will dive deep into the details of each.

With a wide range of bikes to read about, we felt our sampling should give you plenty to study as you decide which features, builds and geometries will work best for your budget, riding style and local terrain. Keep in mind that this is not a shootout, and bikes were ridden and reviewed individually with their relative merits in mind.

View all 17 bikes in this photo gallery.

Vital MTB’s 2016 Test Sessions, By The Numbers

1,038 miles ridden  63 degree average temperature
118,439 vertical feet of elevation gained (and lost)  2 busted pinkies
$79,021 worth of bikes  17 sheared pedal pins
1 completely munched cassette  9 times people passed out on the couch
58 runs down Geronimo  27 delicious oranges hijacked from neighborhood trees
11 dropped chains on narrow/wide setups  2 severely dented rims
13 laps around Rage Cycles on a circus bike  7 rear wheels in need of a good truing
23 flat tires  1 bike that didn't come with a dropper
3 tires rolled right off the bead  16 Waterfall climb attempts
11 cacti identified throwing gang signs  2 blown rear shocks
9 crashes  4 groins pulled while playing box
1 life saved by a Smith helmet  7 Rage Cycles bike shop visits
0 miles driven to get to the trails  1 failed "stunt" in front of a security guard
2,346 photos taken  34 TPS reports filled out
4 grams of dirt scrubbed out of Turman's wounds  ∞ rocks smashed
1 massive golf course huck  ∞+2 skids
$400 hot tub heating bill Total: 1 kick ass adventure testing bikes

Test Rider Backgrounds

In order to bring you the most well-rounded reviews possible, we sought out test riders with experience on many bikes and a wide variety of riding styles and backgrounds. The six person crew brings 80+ years of experience, many of them as professional racers and product testers. Engineers, trail builders, skills coaches, downhillers, uphillers, plowers, flickers, big guys and little guys... They're the type of riders willing to get back up the hill in a hurry for one more shot, go for that extra loop, hit the bigger bonus line, and find motivation to keep charging ahead after a big crash. 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.

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 about suspension designs over recovery libations, and embrace their inner bike nerd. All told, we think you’ll dig what we came up with.

The reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide, at your convenience, as you try to decide which 2016 mountain bike is best for you.


Read The Reviews

View 25 of the best photos from Test Sessions in this bangers photo gallery.

Photos by Lear Miller

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41 comments
  • 53735

    4/26/2016 6:59 PM

    What's up with the 429 Trail review? Bueller, Bueller....

  • bturman

    5/10/2016 1:15 PM

    Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it: http://www.vitalmtb.com/product/guide/Bikes,3/Pivot/MACH-429-Trail-XT-XTR-Pro-1x,16843#product-reviews/2413/expand

  • kungfufightin

    4/21/2016 1:14 PM

    Still waiting on the 2016 Devinci Troy review to show up!!! Thanks

  • BuckNkd313

    3/28/2016 2:29 PM

    Hoping you'll post The Following and the 429 Trail reviews soon.

  • GDNZ

    3/1/2016 6:21 PM

    I am keen to see Bronson review... any idea on timing on releasing this?

  • DutchmanPhotos

    2/21/2016 2:45 AM

    Can't wait to see the reviews of the Evil Following and the Pivot Mach 429..... Any idea when those will go online..?

  • r1Gel

    2/16/2016 3:10 PM

    A bit disappointed that you did not include any plus bikes.

  • AGR97

    2/16/2016 3:17 PM

    Sharp rocks and huge thin tyres don't mix well

  • Kevin_McGovern

    2/4/2016 1:45 AM

    Can you tell me what day the Spectral review will be published so I can look out for it?
    Cheers

  • bturman

    2/4/2016 9:27 AM

    Hey Kevin, I'll comment here when it goes live, which should send you a notification. Expect it in the next two weeks.

  • bturman

    2/22/2016 8:25 AM

    Kevin, the Canyon Spectral review went live recently. Check it out: http://www.vitalmtb.com/product/guide/Bikes,3/Canyon/Spectral-CF-9-0-EX,16783#product-reviews/2345

  • azmtbr

    1/19/2016 11:26 AM

    Curious about the route you guys took to Geronimo all those runs? Just getting there is tough enough without shuttling... too bad the road was closed. Might have been able to break even more parts!
    And did you do all the testing in SoMo only? Looking forward to the details of the testing! And smart move choosing Rage as your shop of choice. They've been mine as well, for over 15yrs!

  • bturman

    1/21/2016 1:57 PM

    Our typical test loop was to pedal up Javelina, up Mormon, up National past the parking lot, blast down the top part of Holbert, pedal back up to Geronimo and rally down. Yes, we stuck to South Mountain. Rage is dialed!

  • azmtbr

    1/21/2016 2:02 PM

    And that route is NO JOKE! Awesome work, looking fwd to more!

  • TheMostInterestedMan

    2/17/2016 9:01 AM

    Tried mapping this loop out in Trailforks.. it gets messy due to the route not tracking with the roadway, but does this look right?
    http://www.trailforks.com/ridelog/planner/view/1494/

  • bturman

    2/17/2016 9:52 AM

    Pretty close! At the beginning we pedaled up what Trailforks calls 32nd Street, and at the top of the hill we'd ride the black segment of National over to Holbert. Repeat as needed.

  • TBubier

    1/19/2016 6:37 AM

    Pumped for this. Excited to see what you guys think of the 429 trail and the smuggler. Also, glad you guys tried to keep the average price down this year.

  • stiingya

    1/18/2016 9:45 PM

    Nice mix of rides to test.. need to come back and read up!
    I miss South Mountain!!!

  • DOZEN

    1/18/2016 6:20 PM

    NICE. I have been waiting for this. What a dream job. Derf putting in work

  • CuddlyToast

    1/18/2016 1:40 PM

    Vital MTB's Test Sessions are best in class.

  • bturman

    1/21/2016 1:57 PM

    Cheers, Cuddly. Much appreciated!

  • NoahColorado

    1/18/2016 8:49 AM

    "11 dropped chains on narrow/wide setups" Vital MTB keeps it trill.

  • dstucki

    1/20/2016 8:32 AM

    MRP = Future Trill

  • sspomer

    1/18/2016 10:39 AM

    i'm not young or hip enough to know what trill means. but sounds about right : )

  • NoEnclumeSVP

    1/18/2016 8:17 AM

    Thanks Vital for that awesome content ! But is there still a hope to read a review of the New Canfield Bros Balance ?

  • bturman

    1/18/2016 11:13 AM

    You mean this Balance? Got you covered!

  • NoEnclumeSVP

    1/18/2016 11:48 AM

    I read your review, but i'm interested by the 2016 update the bros just released !

  • bturman

    1/21/2016 1:58 PM

    Oh yeah! We'll put it in the queue for bikes to review in the future.

  • NoEnclumeSVP

    1/21/2016 4:16 PM

    Amen to that !

  • ccolagio

    1/18/2016 11:51 AM

    I scrolled down the list hoping to find the 2016 too. Womp Womp

  • vathana.song

    1/18/2016 7:13 AM

    "58 runs down Geronimo" that's no joke... that trail seriously will destroy any bike wheel within a few runs if your sloppy. Also #catcuslivesmatter

  • Balakeka

    1/18/2016 6:07 AM

    Very good
    So can you give more details on the 18th bike in the test?
    Is that the new YT between the Scott and Specialized?
    Tell us please, wht is it

  • bturman

    1/21/2016 2:00 PM

    Good eye. That is indeed a YT! We tested the 2015 Capra AL 1, but with 2016's now available it made sense to hold off until we can get one of those to try. It arrives very soon, so look for that review in the future as well.

  • JBSDesigns

    1/18/2016 7:24 AM

    well spotted. I was thinking the same!

  • Triber66

    1/18/2016 2:56 PM

    LOL I think I read the bike list five times just to make sure I didn't miss the yt...

  • Yuroshek

    1/18/2016 3:58 PM

    The yellow bike between the Scott and Spec was a Trek Fuel.

  • EasMTB

    1/18/2016 3:31 AM

    AWESOME!!!

  • AGR97

    1/18/2016 1:30 AM

    Awesome work guys, I look forward to these Test Sessions every year. If you ever need another tester just let me know

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