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Meet The Testers - 2017 Vital MTB Test Sessions 4

A bike review is only as good as the humans providing the feedback. Luckily we've got some of best in the business.

Meet The Testers - 2017 Vital MTB Test Sessions

Since humans are about as different as the 18 bikes at the 2017 Vital MTB Test Sessions, our test riders needed to reflect a wide variety of style, sizes, and tastes. Plus they need the ability to turn what they feel on a bike into words that we can all find informative. Our seven test riders did just that. Each tester brings multiple years of testing experience on many bikes.

The whole "bike reviewer" thing is a bit intimidating to be honest, putting your opinions out there for the world to read, but with time comes knowledge and things get easier. In the five year history of Test Sessions we've tested 102 bikes in addition to hundreds of other bikes and components outside of the event. We've seen revised models and production updates as a direct result of our testers' feedback, which makes what we do that much more fulfilling. All bikes were ridden by at least two test riders with final verification by a third, creating a system of checks and balances.

Take a few minutes to get to know more about the crew who climbed, hucked, carved, jumped, and rallied in Tucson, Arizona. I'm personally willing to vouch for every one of them, and I'm one of the most critical riders around when it comes to bike performance. It is my job, after all.

- Brandon Turman, Vital MTB Product Editor

Brandon Turman


Age: 30

Years riding mountain bikes: 16

Height: 5'10" (1.78 meters)

Weight: 175 pounds (79.4kg)

Preferred bar width: 30.3 inches (770mm)

Flats or clips: I bounced between the two over the years, but lately I've been in love with the flat pedal game. To hell with efficiency, I'm all about maximizing the fun.

Home: Chasing hero dirt on the open road with an amazing gal and our trail dog in training. You'll find us somewhere warm with good trails nearby.

Occupation: Vital MTB’s Product Editor

Brand affiliations or sponsors: None





Describe your personal trail/enduro bike: With all the new bikes coming out it's rare that I'm on the same ride for more than a few months. Trying so many bikes has its perks though, as I routinely get to feel out the latest and greatest. Give me a 480-490mm reach + stem length, proper tires, and a few extra volume spacers then it's game on!

What's your riding background?: Following countless stair gaps, ledge rides, and hucks to flat during my early "urban" years, I found myself lining up at the start line of DH, 4X, and slalom races at the Mountain States Cup Series. Then, after a few years of parking lot camping and hotdogs for dinner (those were the days!), I eventually worked my way up to the illustrious rank of a Pro pack filler. Next followed a love for dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. More recently I've been pounding out the miles and spreading the stoke with Vital. No matter where or what I'm riding, I always find a way to hoot and holler as much as possible.

Riding style: I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. I have a good ability to read terrain at speed and absolutely love letting it rip my first run down a new trail. My current riding joys include pulling up hard and hucking test bikes into poor landings and techy sections with reckless abandon, then seeing how they react upon landing. Wyn Masters and Cody Kelley also have me pumped on getting as much back wheel action as I can.

Most favorite to least favorite trail type: Jumps, steeps, fast, flow, rocks, roots

Best competitive result on a bike: Holding the 2007 Collegiate Cycling Team National Championship trophy up high in the air felt incredible, and as a team we worked very hard for it.

Two trails that get you really pumped: The Reco Peak heli drop at Retallack and Coastal Cruise to Flight Deck at Coast Gravity Park. So good!

Random fun fact about yourself: I genuinely get pumped at an opportunity to learn how and why things work the way they do.

Two Test Sessions bikes you would consider purchasing and why: Evil's The Calling and the Trek Remedy. The first punches way above its weight class and the second is Trek's best bike yet.

Two things you're very particular about when it comes to bike setup: A consistent reach + stem length measurement is key for me. Dialed suspension settings are my other big thing. I'm not afraid to make changes or crack something open if it's needed.

Favorite Test Sessions moment: Ripping high-speed road manuals with the crew as the sun set after a good day in the saddle. That's my zen moment right there.

Mint Henk


Age: 32

Years riding mountain bikes: 18

Height: 6’0" (1.83m)

Weight: 180 pounds (81.6kg)

Preferred bar width: 30.7 inches (780mm)

Flats or clips: Clip pedals win more medals.

Home: Durango, Colorado

Occupation: Bike Mechanic / Teacher Man

Brand affiliations or sponsors: Product tester for Trek





Describe your personal trail/enduro bike: Gimme dat long wheelbase. A follower of long / low / slack. No tires under 1,000g allowed! As long a dropper post as I can run. Proper bar height (I like ‘em high). Dynaplug thug. Travel adjust forks should be banned from the earth. King Cage every time, all the time.

What's your riding background?: Phases. As a young pup I raced XC and was all about it. As a broke-ass college kid I pedaled single speed everywhere. Middle years I wanted to be a freeride star, but most definitely wasn’t. Later years I was all about the ‘duro. Now I’m all about mountain biking. I ride bikes. I like them all, but what I love is Colorado high-country riding.

Riding style: Ragged, with a hint of Neanderthal

Most favorite to least favorite trail type: A steep, fast, tech trail with rocks and roots and the occasional jump. Trail gap!

Best competitive result on a bike: That one time I beat yo’ momma to the liquor store. Top 50 in an EWS.

Two trails that get you really pumped: Green's Creek off of Monarch Pass and Lenawee in Keystone, Colorado

Random fun fact about yourself: I’ve got the largest nose you’ve ever seen and my uncle is Steve McQueen.

Two Test Sessions bikes you would consider purchasing and why: The Devinci Django was a fun, balanced bike with all-around capabilities. The Guerrilla Gravity Trail Pistol was a fast, fun bike that is pushing the numbers in an interesting direction. The Pivot Firebird was a trail bike with freeride capabilities. Oh, that's three bikes.

Two things you're very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Tire pressure and fork compression

Favorite Test Sessions moment: The whole package. As a relatively fresh dad (three years in), I don’t get the chance to ride bikes for more than four consecutive days very often. I love riding bikes, so the chance to ride for several more days was a treat. As a bike nerd, the idea of riding and writing about a grip of bikes was dream-come-true material. Besides the sweet bikes, the dinners were unreal. People put together some fine grub.

Here is the other feel-good-crap inside scoop Hollywood highlights: Steve Wentz's dead pan humor, i.e. everything out of his mouth. Lear Miller lines, “It’s chill bro.” Stopping Stucki from jumping from the truck when he was going Batty. Turman turning it loose on The Calling and Trail Pistol. Courtney getting fired up about food. Amanda going full skinsuit for the roller rink. Krista going full Justin Bieber at karaoke. Truly fun peeps!

Steve Wentz


Age: 32

Years riding mountain bikes: About 20

Height: 5'8" (1.73m)

Weight: 178 pounds (80.7kg)

Preferred bar width: Trail: 29.5 inches (750mm) / DH: 29.9 inches (760mm)

Flats or clips: Flats

Home: Reno is the address, but I'm rarely home.

Occupation: Managing Partner at Momentum Trail Concepts. Sounds formal, but really I just wrangle my business partners sometimes and they reign in my crazy ideas on trails. It's a good mix.

Brand affiliations or sponsors: Transition, SRAM, Gamut, Fox Head, and Five Ten. The guys at Sensus give me some rubber every now and then as well.





Describe your personal trail/enduro bike: I have a Transition Patrol. The unique thing is, I bought the exact one I tested a couple years ago at Test Sessions after raving about it. I have since upgraded to the carbon version with a 170mm Lyrik and Vivid coil. A 150mm dropper post is also really nice compared to 125mm.

What's your riding background?: I'm as old school as it gets for my age. I started riding a rigid mountain bike, then got a RockShox Quad 5 fork after some years. Then came a full suspension ride in the late nineties, riding everything from trails I made to horse paths to jumps around the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Riding style: I think I'm really precise and deliberate, but I'm always trying to let go of that.

Most favorite to least favorite trail type: That's like saying salty vs sweet, especially in my line of work. It's the combinations that make a trail awesome or terrible. There's a place for everything, but I really love steeps because there are just too few steep sections in trails these days.

Best competitive result on a bike: I think I was right around 50th in a World Cup DH race, and this one time I rode a section of trail I built before anyone else and held the KOM on STRAVA for a day or so.

Two trails that get you really pumped: Calibre Doce in Santiago, Chile is just fantastic. Fast, steep, rough, and some senders. In the USA, the new Magic Forest in Vail (which has yet to open) to Old Nine Line.

Random fun fact about yourself: I've missed just two years, but I try to go to a new country every year. On average since I've been an adult I certainly make that happen.

Two Test Sessions bikes you would consider purchasing and why: I'm putting parameters on this first, so I'm not looked at as too crazy. I consider the upper price range of our bikes at around $8000 to be the ceiling, so that's my spending limit. I'm also only choosing from bikes I tested. I'd buy the Giant Trance Advanced 0, but just the frame. Then, I'd also buy the complete YT for $4,000 or so and put all the parts from the YT on the Giant frame. After that I'd have a ripping trail frame with good parts and an extra frame that I like as well. It would still be cheaper than the top end Giant build. I know the wheel sizes are different, but you get the idea.

Two things you're very particular about when it comes to bike setup: I don't think I'm that picky. I like being able to ride whatever, but to be really confident I'd have to say good rubber on tires and suspension that doesn't dive under hard braking.

Favorite Test Sessions moment: Leaving unhurt after all the close calls.

Amanda Wentz


Age: 35

Years riding mountain bikes: 10+

Height: 5'6" (1.68 meters)

Weight: 135 pounds (61.2kg)

Preferred bar width: 29.5 inches (750mm)

Flats or clips: Flats

Home: My drivers license says Reno, Nevada, but we aren't there as often as we would like.

Occupation: Personal trainer with some mountain bike coaching sprinkled in

Brand affiliations or sponsors: Transition, Fox Head, and Gamut give me some really awesome support.





Describe your personal trail/enduro bike: I recently started riding the Transition Patrol, so I am in the process of getting it dialed. So far I find that I like running slightly less than the recommended 35% sag. Being on the small size, it makes the bike easier for me to move around but can still smash through everything in its path.

What's your riding background?: I started riding XC, but even from my first trail ride I was hooked on downhill. Just a season or two later I had a downhill bike and a pass to SolVista Bike Park. Over the past four years I have added racing and dirt jumping into the mix to keep progressing as a rider.

Riding style: I am really trying to be smoother, but somehow I still end up just smashing my way through things.

Most favorite to least favorite trail type: Rocks, fast and steeps in a tie for second, then flow and roots.

Best competitive result on a bike: According to the results sheet, I suppose it would be 5th at the 2016 USA DH National Champs. However, I think that my best race run, and certainly most memorable, is actually one where I finished dead last. At the 2015 Kamikaze Games I bounced my face off a tree during a high speed crash. Sure it sucked to crash, but I put together some sections better than I ever have and pushed myself mentally to a point I didn't know existed. Mammoth is always a struggle for me so I was incredibly proud of myself despite the results sheet.

Two trails that get you really pumped: I always get psyched to ride my trail bike at Hall Ranch, just north of Boulder, Colorado. But I have to give some love to my favorite downhill trails too. Do top-to-bottom Whistler linkups count as one trail? If so, then some variation that includes Original Sin, In Deep, Dirt Merchant and Samurai Pizza Cat is my jam.

Random fun fact about yourself: I have been a rock climber longer than I have been obsessed with bikes. Rock climbing is originally what brought me to Colorado where I fell in love with biking. Both sports allow me to experience the world in some really cool ways and keep me balanced.

Two Test Sessions bikes you would consider purchasing and why: My personal trail bike at the time of Test Sessions was the Transition Scout, so despite getting to ride a few other bikes I would still pick that one. It is so much fun to ride both uphill and down. I also had a blast on the Yeti Beti SB5, and it is well priced so that would be my second choice.

Two things you're very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Suspension and saddle height

Favorite Test Sessions moment: Checking out new trails is fun and all, but how often do you get to go roller skating in a skinsuit?

Krista Rust


Age: I've been told I act 12.

Years riding mountain bikes: 14

Height: 5'5" (1.65m)

Weight: 118 pounds (53.5kg)

Preferred bar width: 29.7 inches (755mm)

Flats or clips: Usually HT Clips

Home: Durango, Colorado

Occupation: Electrical Engineer turned Professional Mountain Bike Racer

Brand affiliations or sponsors: Stan's NoTubes, Osprey, Turner, Magura, Diaz Suspension Design, Jagwire, WTB, KS, Rotor, Kazoom, Zoic, Slytech/Shred Protection, Mavic, Carbo Rocket, Christopher Bean, New Belgium, Raxter, and Feedback Sports





Describe your personal trail/enduro bike: Small Turner RFX 27.5 (160mm travel) and a small Turner Flux 27.5 (140/120mm) with Stan's NoTubes Carbon Bravo wheels, SRAM Eagle, WTB Vigilante front and Breakout rear tires (2.3 High Grip/Tough), Diaz Suspension Design-tuned RockShox Pike forks with headset anglesets to slacken things a bit, DSD-tuned Monarch Plus (RFX) and RT3 (Flux) shocks, Magura MT7 brakes, KS 150mm dropper posts, Rotor REX1 inPower meter crankset with Q Rings, HT T1 pedals, ODI Rouge grips, WTB Silverado saddle, 50-55mm stems, and King Cage Ti water bottle cages.

What's your riding background?: XC and endurance to enduro. Now trying a little DH.

Riding style: I love racing down technical trails. Whether it's real racing or just chasing the boys, the format and my fitness level doesn't really seem to matter. I just did my first fat bike race. As far as actual style, I ride low and fast which doesn't make for great photos, so I need to work on slowing down and styling air time.

Most favorite to least favorite trail type: Rocks, Fast, Steeps, Roots, Jumps, Flow

Best competitive result on a bike: XC Olympic Long Team member, 9th UCI stage race in Cyprus against World Cup XC riders, 3rd podium spot with four other now-Olympians at a USA National XC race, 9th in an Enduro World Series race, 1st 2015 Big Mountain Enduro Series overall ranking

Two trails that get you really pumped: La Milagrosa in Tucson, Arizona and Raider's Ridge in Durango, Colorado. Actually, there are a lot, it depends on my mood. I like a challenge, trails with lines or moves that take time and fitness to get.

Random fun fact about yourself: I love van life.

Two Test Sessions bikes you would consider purchasing and why: TheTransition Carbon Scout would be the one. It's confidence-inspiring to ride and way more capable than I gave it credit for by the stats.

Two things you're very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Suspension and tires

Favorite Test Sessions moment: That's hard, there were so many things. Hanging out in the garage, working on bikes with a beer and learning from others, roller skating, and riding Millie...

Courtney Steen


Age: 29

Years riding mountain bikes: 9

Height: 5'7" (1.70 meters)

Weight: 30% sag ;)

Preferred bar width: 29.5 inches (750mm)

Flats or clips: Flats for life!

Home: Is where we park it. I live on the road with Brandon in a 5th wheel toy hauler loaded with bikes and our shelter pup (special, yet totally awesome)! We've been traveling from mountain bike sweet spot to mountain bike sweet spot for five plus years now.

Occupation: I do some behind the scenes work and some women's reviews for Vital MTB. Previously I was Production Supervisor at a small biotech company in Orange County, California. Then adventure came calling and I answered.

Brand affiliations or sponsors: None





Describe your personal trail/enduro bike: The Unicorn (aka a Norco Sight Carbon) with carbon Roval wheels that roll for days, meaty Specialized tires to stand up to my riding (room for interpretation), FOX Factory Float EVOL shock with a large volume spacer, and perhaps my favorite addition, a longer-travel 150mm FOX Factory 34 Float fork. Oh yes, and purple pedals. Weeee!

What's your riding background?: I started riding mountain bikes in college for my school's team. In the race for total team points, I rode everything from XC to 4X to DH. For the past five years I've been chasing Brandon's rear wheel on hundreds of different trails in several different states and even on the other side of the world as we travel around living the #camperlife. Sometimes he chases me these days.

Riding style: Going downhill puts a smile on my face and I climb for ice cream, pizza, and beer. While descending I am a proactive rider who likes to pump and push the bike. Getting to the top of the mountain is not a race for me. It's more of a ride-as-much-of-it-as-I-can-at-whatever-speed-it-takes-to-make-it-today pace.

Most favorite to least favorite trail type: Fast, flow, jumps, rocks, steeps, roots

Best competitive result on a bike: Strava? Haha. The US Collegiate Racing Series was my only official competitive experience. During the 2009 Collegiate National Champs at North Star I got 2nd place in 4X, 3rd place in downhill, and 4th in the individual omnium, all on my Salsa Big Mama 29er. Yeah, you read that right.

Two trails that get you really pumped: Only two?! Can't I pick one for each state we've been to? Ummmm, maybe Blue Velvet to Crank It Up in Whistler (before the 2015 change) and Mills Peak Trail in Downieville, California. I like wide open, fast, swoopy, pumpy trails with some jumps and technical bits in the mix like frosting and sprinkles on a cake.

Random fun fact about yourself: I get really excited when eating tasty food and drinks. Spirit fingers happen.

Two Test Sessions bikes you would consider purchasing and why: Of the three women's bikes, there is only one I would consider purchasing: the Transition Scout. I really enjoyed riding this bike. It was super playful, well balanced, and made me want to pump and jump off everything. I have only one reservation keeping me from putting this bike on my next wish list to Santa though - I know that I when I ride rougher trails I will want more travel. This bike might not be the best for the occasions when the hits are bigger and in quick succession, but on the intermediate tech and flow it's such a great bike.

Two things you're very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Suspension and cockpit setup (bar width, stem length, and headset spacer stack height)

Favorite Test Sessions moment: Just one?! That one time we failed so, so, soooo bad singing Spice Girls (editor’s note: don’t ask) at karaoke in a dive bar full of pros. There was an Asian guy who sang Santana in perfect tune, in Spanish, then just walked out. Mic drop! Steve is also pretty good at Taylor Swift, FYI.

Dylan Stucki


Age: 28

Years riding mountain bikes: 17

Height: Skinny 6'5" mutha f#$ka (1.96m)

Weight: 195 pounds (88.5kg)

Preferred bar width: 31.5 inches (800mm)

Flats or clips: Clips

Home: Durango, Colorado

Occupation: I mix the Kool-Aid.

Brand affiliations or sponsors: I'm a free agent.





Describe your personal trail/enduro bike: I actually don't have a bike currently. But, if I did, it would be huuugee. The best bike. You'd love it. I'd have this tricky little doohickey made by Diaz Suspension Design called the R.U.N.T. plus some 29-inch wheels.

What's your riding background?: Wheelies, no-handed wheelies, bar humps, and oh yea, I'm a Pro. No wait, I ride in the Pro category? Yeah, that's it. I used to rarely make an appearance on the Pro and Junior Expert XC podium. I even pulled out a 3rd place Individual Omnium finish at Collegiate MTB National Championships, but these days my 40-ounce curls and desk jockeying keeps me comfortably inside the Top 10 at Big Mountain Enduro races.

Riding style: I'm a fun-haver and am always looking for new ways to interpret the trail. Gettin' sidewayz and balls-out fast is rad too!

Most favorite to least favorite trail type: I wanna go fast! I love it all. But seriously, if you're going to build a damn flow trail it better not suck. Step up the game!

Best competitive result on a bike: I just beat Mitch Rope-a-dope at the Moab Ho-down.

Two trails that get you really pumped: Canada. OMG! Seriously, British Columbia has it going on. Also, the trails in Roto-vegas are ridiculous. Dear Trails 2000, please do some traveling...

Random fun fact about yourself: I can floss my nostrils with a spaghetti noodle.

Two Test Sessions bikes you would consider purchasing and why: Devinci Django - read the review. It absolutely shreds! YT Jeffsy - the value. You seriously don’t need a Boost fork, and last year's leftover OEM stock is great, again.

Two things you're very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Cockpit setup and tire pressure

Favorite Test Sessions moment: Roller skating in Timmy D's skinsuit was all-time.

There you have it - seven riders on a mission to put the hurt on 18 bikes in the rocky gnar of Tucson, all with various qualifications and backgrounds. Test Sessions reviews will begin dropping February 23. Curious what bikes are in the lineup? Don't miss our intro feature for complete details.

Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Arizona Cyclist. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Specialized, Five Ten, ZOIC, Sombrio, Race Face, and EVOC. All photos by Lear Miller.


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