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What do you get when you take 22 trail bikes, 5 test riders and 47 pounds of peanut M&M's into the desert near Saint George, Utah? You get the 2013 Vital MTB Test Sessions.


What began as an idea to knock out a handful of bike tests during the off-season turned into a full-on desert assault featuring 22 different mountain bikes. Why test five bikes when we could test 22, right?

After some serious discussion and recon, we decided that the Saint George/Hurricane, Utah area would have plenty of diverse and aggressive terrain for comprehensive trail bike testing and a climate in January that just might let us pull this off...which we did, by the skin of our teeth.



Test Sessions Backdrop

Nearly every bike company we hit up for the Test Sessions committed to providing a trail bike that we could rally in the red dirt and rock of Southern Utah. Thanks to the gracious efforts of Over The Edge Sports in Hurricane, Utah, these bikes were received and built, so all we had to do was worry about personal setup before getting the knobs of the 22 steeds dirty.

In addition to their shop services, Quentin, Clayton, and Jordan from Over The Edge also gave us the beta on the local trail network so we could get testing. The variety of trails in the Saint George/Hurricane area is incredibly diverse. There are fun, flowy single track trails in the wide open desert, unique slickrock areas atop mesas that feel like natural skateparks, old mining roads that are rough and technical, trails littered with drops and jumps as well as Rampage style bluffs, boulders and knife edges to put the bikes into critical situations. All the elements for testing mountain bikes that are supposed to "do everything" were in place.

Saint George and Hurricane, Utah trails have it all.


22 Bikes, Each One Different From The Next

As if a mirror on the variety in the trails and terrain, the bikes we received proved just how diverse the "trail bike" market is in 2013. Our goal was to keep the travel between 4 and 6.5-inches which some may see as blurring the line between "trail" and "all-mountain," but even within those narrow parameters, the choices for a consumer looking at features, geometry, materials and technology is simply amazing. Of our 22 test bikes, 12 were carbon, four used 650b wheels, five used 29-inch wheels, the lightest in the test was 26lbs 4oz, the heaviest was 33lbs 5oz, and the prices ranged from the budget-friendly $1,750 to a luxurious $7,000.

We felt that our sampling of trail bikes should give you plenty to study, so you can decide which features, builds and geometries will work best for your budget, riding style and local terrain.

The bikes in no particular order. Note that the Devinci never made it, hence 22 bikes instead of 23.

Vital MTB's 2013 Test Sessions, By The Numbers

576 miles ridden 0.27-inches of rain
42,330 vertical feet of elevation gained 1 incident involving the cops
10-pounds of bacon devoured 3 chains broken
47-pounds of M&M's eaten (okay, more like 9) 1 frame cracked
106 post ride beers guzzled 14 flat tires
2 crashes 2 tires completely rolled off the rim
3 near-death moments 7 de-tensioned wheels
2,626 photos taken 15-feet - biggest drop
79 strikes while bowling 176 hucks to flat
2 allen wrenches lost forever ∞ bar turns
1 cookie consumed per mile(ish) 100+ pedals changed
26 doughnuts spun on a four wheeler 16 Over the Edge bike shop visits
1 four wheeler rolled 5 tequila shots too many
52 TPS reports filled out 2 times we almost ran out of gas
231 times Hurricane was mispronounced (it's "Hur-kin") Total: 1 kick ass adventure testing bikes

Test Rider Diversity

Since we're keen on the diversity theme, our testers (whom you'll learn more about on Monday) followed the pattern as well. Engineers, trail builders, downhillers, uphillers, plowers and flickers. The bikes were ridden by riders of varying sizes with varying styles. We wanted our Test Sessions to be as well-rounded as possible, and we were thorough.

Riding all kinds of bikes on great trails was only part of the job, however. Each night, the 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, and argue about specs over beers. One night, the crew used their engineering prowess and went so far as to chart the suspension curve on one of the bikes in order to discover why it handled the way it did. In short, they were nerding out. It's high time testers stop being polite and start getting real - they did just that.

TPS reports can get boring, so sometimes you have to get creative.

Alternative Testing Methods, Recipe For Fun

Not everyday was damping, suspension curves and angles. During one of the rest days, the rain came in and so did the antics. After days of riding aggressive trails, focusing on bike performance and dissecting that information into data for the reviews, the team decided to take an informal approach to bike testing. Some "alternative" super-serious-parking-lot-test methods were created and documented on video.

Beginning Monday, February 11, Vital MTB will be releasing fresh trail bike reviews one at a time. The reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide, at your convenience, as you try to decide which 2013 mountain bike is best for you.

We invite you to join us for the ride, to dream of warmer weather, to shred turns, rally rock gardens, drool over bikes, talk tech, and have some fun starting with our first trail bike review from Test Sessions dropping February 11.


Update: Read the Vital MTB Reviews from 2013 Test Sessions

2013 Intense Tracer 27.5
2013 Rocky Mountain Altitude 790 MSL

2013 Kona Process
2013 Niner RIP 9 RDO
2013 Airborne HobGoblin
2013 Norco Range Killer B
2013 Giant Trance X 29 0
2013 Commencal Meta SX 1
2013 BMC Trailfox TF02 Trailcrew

2013 Felt Virtue 1
2013 Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon EVO
2013 Pivot Mach 5.7

2013 Scott Genius 720

2013 Mondraker Foxy XR

2013 Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc

2013 Diamondback Sortie 3 29

2013 GT Force LE
2013 Yeti SB66 Carbon Race
2013 Knolly Chilcotin
2013 Ibis Mojo SL-R
2013 Trek Fuel EX 9.8
2013 Cannondale Jekyll MX

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