More bikes, more miles, and more whiskey than ever before… Vital tests over two dozen new bikes in the hills of Sedona, Arizona.

Last year we started a yearly tradition by rounding up over two dozen of the most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes on the market and flogging them in the desert. We’re back for 2014, and we’re going bigger than ever.

Once again, five Pro-level test riders took to the trails for Vital MTB’s Test Sessions. Our goal? To ride 25 of the hottest 2014 bikes into the ground, escape the cold, lose our baby fat, and ultimately bring you the best bike reviews on the planet. When we started Test Sessions last year we made a point of providing you with the most honest, unbiased reviews you’ll find anywhere, and you can count on more of the same this time around.

Sedona Is Hard To Beat

Sedona seems to be a popular choice for us media types these days, and for good reason. The trails are good. Damn good. They’re so rad, in fact, that Vital’s own Brandon Turman showed up three weeks early to “scout” the trails before the bikes arrived (someone had to do it).

Having shown up weeks ahead of schedule, dicing in the dirt with the locals, and riding nearly every trail in the area beforehand, we had a huge advantage going in - we knew where the best sections of trail were for testing. 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, daring roll-ins, OMG rock gardens, slow tech, ledgy climbs, 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.

Once again we found ourselves partnered up with the highly-skilled gents at Over The Edge Sports. Thanks to them the bikes were dialed in when our crew arrived, maximizing our trail time. With their help all the elements for testing mountain bikes that are supposed to "do everything" were in place.

25 Bikes You Want To Ride

Each year we see a few shifts in the industry. Yeah, there’s the wheel size thing that’s been beaten to death, but what we also saw as a clear trend this time around was a focus on smarter specs. Companies are learning what riders love and what actually works, and they’re finally spec’ing bikes the way they should be out of the box. We all have a crazy switch that occasionally comes on when we’re out riding, and it’s good to see that bikes are being made to keep up.

As predicted, we also saw a massive influx of 27.5-inch (650b) wheeled bikes. Last year we had just four, this year we had 15. Seven 29ers and two of the last standing 26-inch bikes also made the mix. The 25 steeds ranged from a pedal-friendly 120mm of travel to near freeride status at 170mm. There were 14 carbon bikes, 10 aluminum, and even one steel rig thrown in to keep it real. With builds from $3,000 to $9,995 weighing 26.3 to 32.1-pounds, we also tried to keep what’s affordable in perspective while getting a taste of the best. You can catch a preview of the bikes in this gallery.

See something that tickles your fancy? Thought so.

Vital MTB’s 2014 Test Sessions, By The Numbers

1,113 miles ridden ∞+1 bar turns
93 bonus miles for John 3 tires obliterated
146,705 vertical feet of elevation gained 8 rides below freezing
$159,853 worth of bikes 13 times the photographer showed up the riders
1 rear shock blown 12 bottles of whiskey (sorry boss)
2 forks in need of warranty repair 1 toboggan thrown mid-air
10 times the flat pedal powers of Sam Hill were invoked 15 pounds of steak consumed
83 cactuses ran over 1 completely chafed taint
17 flat tires 4 crashes
4 times we survived the White Line 7 rear wheels in need of a good truing
347 cuts from pointy stuff 5,335 photos taken
$97 lost to Steve and Jess in poker 13 Over the Edge bike shop visits
9 Strava KOMs destroyed 127 jokes about vortexes
5 dropper posts blown up 54 TPS reports filled out
9 pounds of bacon devoured Total: 1 more kick ass adventure testing bikes

A Diverse Test Crew

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 the group this time around. Together they bring a combined 71 years of mountain biking to the table, and many of those were spent as Pro racers. Some of them routinely crush out hundreds of miles a week, others test prototype stuff before it hits the market, some ride clips and some ride flats, 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.

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, 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, argue over beers and embrace their inner bike nerd. All told, we think you’ll dig what they came up with.

Starting Monday, January 20, Vital MTB will be releasing 2 to 3 fresh bike reviews per week. The reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our MTB Product Guide, for free and at your convenience, as you try to decide which 2014 mountain bike is best for you.

Photos by Lear Miller

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  • Brycerink

    1/17/2014 5:50 PM

    Turman! Im going to sedona in a few weeks.. If I only get to ride one trail.. Which one do I ride?

  • Big Bird

    1/17/2014 7:43 AM

    I ASSumed that it wasn't happening this year when I didn't get the call. Remember, I'm a bike mechanic and a trained chef. Oh, and an excellent whiskey drinker. Scotch Whisky that is. That must be the reason. You're a bunch of Bourbon heads.

  • socalmx

    1/17/2014 7:28 AM

    Nice but I doubt You tested 2 of the hottest bikes for 2014, Norco Range carbon and Knolly Warden!

  • bturman

    1/17/2014 8:11 AM

    We tested the 2013 Norco Range last time around. Given how similar it is to the carbon one, we decided to give the new Sight Carbon a go instead. Check out the Range review (and all the others) here:,3/riding_type/all_mountain?scope=by_vital_rating

  • socalmx

    1/17/2014 10:42 AM

    I have gone from a alloy frame to carbon and it was a whole new level. Being you like the alloy Range I am sure to be pleased with the carbon. Reading the praise you gave the bronson and the fact the Range has a more modern geo, I would thing the Range carbon would gain 5 stars. Thanks!

  • slyfink

    1/17/2014 6:39 AM

    what I really want to see is three of you standing around shooting the shti, discussing your thoughts about the bikes, philosophy, maybe even how you commune with Dog while out on your bikes...

  • N'Duro

    1/16/2014 11:42 PM

    5 seat post blown up?? From 25 bikes? Wow that's a lot! I would be very curious to know if one brand was more represented here in the blown up section than among the remaining bikes.

  • shutter2ride

    1/17/2014 8:56 AM

    amen... also curious...

  • Yuroshek

    1/16/2014 10:54 PM

    Believe it or not but companies do have more than one marketing bike for the interweb dudes and magazine guys to test... Im stoked to read the honesty.

  • mrpowerjd

    1/16/2014 11:08 PM

    No doubt. Last year's Vital reviews were a major breath of fresh air after reading I don't know how many years' worth of magazine write-UPs. I personally find few things — at least in this industry — more frustrating than a review or an advertisement that does nothing but paraphrase, or worse, directly quote a manufacturer's advertisements or propaganda.

  • mrpowerjd

    1/16/2014 10:51 PM

    But what about the Mach Seis? I would have loved to hear more in depth about that but I'm also stoked for the ROS 9 review. That's a sick whip for good clean family fun right there. Only 4 crashes?! Wtf is that? Only that many reported?? Come on...

  • Albe23

    1/16/2014 10:09 PM

    Color me excited!

  • Sam_Clarke

    1/16/2014 9:51 PM

    Crazy question... is this the same as the Bike Mag "bible of bikes??"
    Just seems same location and similar bikes.
    Either way excited to read.

  • Sam_Clarke

    1/16/2014 9:52 PM

    actually spying on the spreadsheet photo, there are a few different bikes! Boom!

  • GotShovel

    1/16/2014 9:46 PM

    Can't wait to read about all these new whips! One question, no Pivot Mach 6?! The bike I'm most excited about didn't make it down south I guess...

  • mrpowerjd

    1/16/2014 9:18 PM

    Good times had by you fellers; good times yet to come for the rest of us!

  • r1Gel

    1/16/2014 8:58 PM

    That bike list looks awfully like the one done by Bike magazine, with just a very few differences =p
    And you also did it in Sedona!

  • bturman

    1/16/2014 10:27 PM

    Crazy, right? Certainly speaks well of the trails. Sedona really does have a lot to offer. We had no idea that Bike was also headed there or any clue about what bikes they'd be trying out. There are only so many truly exciting rides to test each year. I will say to expect more depth than the Bike reviews - we aren't restricted to a word count. Our testers also didn't always see eye to eye with those boys...

  • r1Gel

    1/16/2014 10:45 PM

    Haha! Good to know. 'looking forward to the reviews.

  • mrpowerjd

    1/16/2014 10:56 PM

    I see a lot of pros I either know or am semi-acquainted with shredding the shizzle out of Sedona on Strava and fb. Looks good to me. Definitely on the list of places for a bike trip within the next year. A quickie for you guys that have put in the saddle time there: what kind of elevation difference is available? Is there enough that a relatively fun, relatively non-xc enduro could be organized there? From ride logs I've seen it certainly looks like there is good distance, plenty of options, and from pics plenty of tech to make a dang good time as long as there's some down to go with? Yes I grew up in CO and currently choke on the SLC air and I know that not everywhere can have randy vert available. Thinks? Thanks!!

  • shredder

    1/17/2014 7:49 PM

    You can CLEARLY see elevation differences on Strava (which you obviously use).....

  • mrpowerjd

    1/18/2014 2:26 AM

    Yeah. If only that were the info I was looking for! I wouldn't have needed to ask my questions.

  • Carraig042

    1/16/2014 7:38 PM

    Nice, can't wait!

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