A bike review is only as good as the humans providing the feedback. Since humans are about as different as the 17 bikes at the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions, our test riders needed to reflect a wide variety of style, sizes, and tastes with an ability to turn what they feel on a bike into words that we can all find informative. Our six test riders did just that. Each tester brings multiple years of testing experience on many bikes. Take a few minutes to get to know more about the crew who climbed, hucked, carved, jumped, rallied, and took a face full of dirt in Phoenix, Arizona.


Steve Wentz

Age: 31

Years riding mountain bikes: 20 years

Height: 5'8" (1.73 meters)

Weight: 180 pounds (81.6kg)

Preferred bar width: 29.9 inches (760mm)

Flats or clips: Flats. Clips are for overachievers.

Home: Reno, Nevada, USA

Occupation: Trail Building

Brand affiliations or sponsors: I've helped out with some product testing for Fox Head Clothing, Five Ten, Gamut USA, SRAM and RockShox. The guys at Transition are pretty nice to me too.

Personal trail bike: Transition Patrol. After riding the bike at last year's Test Sessions, I didn't want to ride anything else.

Riding background: I started in XC and raced that for a few years long ago, then focused on downhill. I've loved the doubt and overcoming it that I get in downhill more than any other part of riding. Dirt jumping is close to that, but yeah, downhill is awesome. I trail ride a lot just to get to the downhill parts.

Riding style: I think despite what it looks like, I'm really precise and calculated, which I'm trying to get away from. I'm trying to drop my heels more and just let it go.

Most favorite to least favorite: Steeps, fast, jumps, flow, roots and rocks tie for last place.

Best competitive result on a bike: I've been in the Top 32 in World Cup 4X and Top 60 in World Cup downhill.

Two trails that get him really pumped: The 2004 Durango National track was incredible, and Idaho's National track years back was just fantastic.

Random fun fact about him: I'll probably whoop your ass in SCRABBLE.

Top two bikes he rode at Test Sessions: Jamis Defco... wait, wait... just kidding. I really liked Evil's The Following and Canyon's Spectral, for very different reasons.

Two things he's very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Suspension and bar/brake lever roll (not too far forward like Turman runs it, he's a crazy person.).

Favorite Test Sessions moment: On one of the last days of testing we rode with Chris Cocalis and Bryan Mason from Pivot. It was one of the days I was riding the Pivot Mach 429. I was putting along in the middle of the pack, and just tried to keep motoring along. I ended up clearing every climb with no dabs, which is a feat on some of South Mountain. I think they assume I just putt along and motor up things. Then we got to do some downhill segments, and I wait and ride a separate section then catch back up to the group. I ride down this section for the first time, full speed, lots of noise and rocks flying up, and at the bottom the Chris and Bryan look at me in disbelief/horror, being that I'm on one of their lightest, short travel 29er bikes. They say "You really got the go ahead didn't you?!" I say "Well, it is testing, and this bike is pretty fun." Then I took off down another section and hucked off a drop which leads to a terrible bottom out clank, and Turman just shakes his head. That was a really fun social interaction.


AJ Barlas

Age: 35

Years riding mountain bikes: 15 or so years

Height: 6'3" (1.91 meters)

Weight: 165 pounds (74.8kg)

Preferred bar width: 30.7 inches (780mm)

Flats or clips: Both. Flats for Test Sessions this year.

Home: Squamish, British Columbia, Canada

Occupation: Graphic Design and Marketing

Brand affiliations or sponsors: None

Personal trail bike: Santa Cruz Nomad 3 Carbon

Riding background: Started out racing DH and jibbing about at the local trails (dirt jumps) and skateparks. Then got heavily into riding BMX for 10 or so years and didn’t ride mountain bikes for part of this. In more recent years I took a stab at Enduro and XC racing too, but now it’s all about getting stoked when trail riding or hitting Whistler Bike Park, which would be a good way to describe how I ride now.

Riding style: Smooth and fluid. I enjoy all types of terrain and trying new stuff, but the trails that leave me with a sense of accomplishment or all giddy at the bottom is where it’s at for me.

Most favorite to least favorite: Depends on the day, but for now... flowing fast steeps down rocks and jumping over roots.

Best competitive result on a bike: Second in AMs on Stage Two of the Whistler EWS in 2014, then I proceeded put my skirt on and blew the rest of the day.

Two trails that get him really pumped: Depends on the day really. I just watched Steezbergen and Hart on Dirt Merchant and could really go for some of that. Treasure Trail always gets me going too.

Random fun fact about him: I don’t like to eat from transparent bowls or plates.

Top two bikes he rode at Test Sessions: Transition Smuggler and Santa Cruz Bronson

Two things he's very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Tire pressure and lever position

Favorite Test Sessions moment: Learning that I’m not alone when it comes to the system for taking eggs from a carton. Discovering that koala’s don’t give a ‘f’ about being in the rain. Watching a certain member lose their mind playing box and forfeiting what was most likely a win. Gooning around Phoenix on bikes. Riding Geronimo. Riding circus bikes at Rage Cycles. Just a few... there are too many to single out just one.


Courtney Steen

Age: 28

Years riding mountain bikes: 8 years

Height: 5'7" (1.70 meters)

Weight: 25-30% sag :)

Preferred bar width: 29.5 inches (750mm)

Flats or clips: Flats

Home: Is where we park it. I live on the road with Brandon in a 5th wheel toy hauler loaded with bikes and a new dog! We've been traveling from mountain bike sweet spot to mountain bike sweet spot for four 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, CA. Then adventure came calling, and I answered.

Brand affiliations or sponsors: None

Personal trail bike: The Unicorn (aka 2014 Norco Sight Carbon 7.1)

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 four 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.

Riding style: Going downhill puts a smile on my face and I climb for ice cream. 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 venture.

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

Best competitive result on a bike: Strava? Haha. The 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.

Two trails that get her 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), Canada, 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 her: I get really excited when eating tasty food. Spirit fingers happen.

Top two bikes she rode at Test Sessions: Pivot Mach 6 and Juliana Roubion

Two things she's very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Suspension and bar width/stem length/headset spacer stack height

Favorite Test Sessions moment: Just one?! The frozen yogurt stop after a hot ride day and hot tub wine and bike discussion time with Amanda are tied for first.


Brandon Turman

Age: 29

Years riding mountain bikes: 15 years

Height: 5'10" (1.78 meters)

Weight: 175 pounds (79.4kg)

Preferred bar width: 30.3 inches (770mm)

Flats or clips: Both. Flats for South Mountain though. Can you say rowdy?

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

Personal trail bike: Transition Smuggler

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 eventual 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: 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 him really pumped: Retallack's Reco Peak Heli Drop and Exit 27 in Issaquah, Washington

Random fun fact about him: I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and previously designed massive robots to tear down decommissioned nuclear reactors. I also can't grow a beard.

Top two bikes he rode at Test Sessions: Evil's The Following and the Devinci Troy worked quite well on South Mountain.

Two things he's 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: Team dinners! We started what will likely become a tradition this year where each tester makes dinner for everyone one night. With so much to do every day, it's a rare moment to chill and I really enjoyed them all.


Amanda Richter

Age: 34

Years riding mountain bikes: 10+ years

Height: 5'6" (1.68 meters)

Weight: 135 pounds (61.2kg)

Preferred bar width: 29.9 inches (760mm)

Flats or clips: Flats

Home: Reno, Nevada, USA

Occupation: Personal Trainer and Mountain Bike Coach

Brand affiliations or sponsors: Gamut and Fox Clothing have been really awesome helping me out with some gear for this coming season.

Personal trail bike: Transition Bandit

Riding background: I started riding XC, but even from my first trail ride I was hooked on downhill. The friend who took me on my first ride was nice enough to inform me "You should go slower downhill..." I think he was slightly terrified that I would kill myself on his watch. From then on I went uphill solely to turn around and come back down. Just a season or two later I had a pass to Sol Vista and a downhill bike. Over the past couple of years I have added dirt jumping into the rotation and it has been really fun to learn new skills on a bike.

Riding style: I like riding rocky technical uphill as smoothly as I can, but my rims would say all that goes out the window when the bike is pointed down.

Most favorite to least favorite: Rocks, fast and steeps tie for second, flow and roots.

Best competitive result on a bike: 2015 Cat 1 Downhill National Champion

Two trails that get her really pumped: The Mammoth ProGRT/National Championship course for 2015 was rad. I have always and will always love Hall Ranch - a trail just north of Boulder, Colorado.

Random fun fact about her: Are you familiar with the party game that has you try to grab a paper bag or box using only your mouth, and it gets cut down shorter every round? I recently learned that while I really suck at yoga, I am actually decent at that game, and made it until the bag was only about an inch or so high. This is now my new party trick.

Top two bikes she rode at Test Sessions: Pivot Mach 6 and the Juliana Roubion

Two things she's very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Suspension and saddle height (I need all the efficiency I can get pedaling uphill).

Favorite Test Sessions moment: On the first ride I was pretty giddy when we rode the trails we would be using for testing. They were my absolute favorite type of trail - really technical and rocky. Even though we essentially rode the same trails for several days, it was perfectly fine with me!


Fred Robinson

Age: 31

Years riding mountain bikes: 13 years

Height: 6'1" (1.85 meters)

Weight: 240 pounds (108.9kg)

Preferred bar width: 30.7-31.5 inches (780-800mm)

Flats or clips: Flats... all damn day

Home: San Diego, California, USA

Occupation: Bringing stoke to the masses via Vital MTB

Brand affiliations or sponsors: LOL

Personal trail bike: Trek Slash 9.8

Riding background: I started riding BMX at the ripe old age of two until skateboarding and playing music took over my life in my teens. After thoroughly destroying my ankles on a skateboard, a close friend and roommate introduced me to downhill. I borrowed his 50+ pound 2002 Banshee Scream for the better part of a year before buying my own 2004 Specialized Big Hit. From there I started racing my local series in Cat 2, eventually joining a small team and advancing to Cat 1 to race on a national level. Currently, I find myself on the trail bike as often as I'm on the big bike, but if I had it my way I'd live at the bottom of a lift and only ride the big rig.

Riding style: Drop my heels and go. As a big guy, I lack any finesse or style, preferring the point-shoot-pray method of getting down the trail.

Most favorite to least favorite: Rocks, fast, steeps, jumps, flow, roots

Best competitive result on a bike: DFL at the 2008 US National Champs at Mt. Snow, VT. I hit a tree pretty much right out of the gate, which snapped off my rear brake. I still tried to salvage the run, but towards the bottom I looped out and landed flat on my back in a mud stream right in front of Frank the Welder, who started a 30 to 40 person slow-clap for me as I scrambled to get back on my bike.

Two trails that get him really pumped: Can't Say in Trinidad, Colorado and Borracho Burrito in Tijuana, Mexico

Random fun fact about him: I got a Jack Daniel's tattoo on the inside of my lip when I was 16.

Top two bikes he rode at Test Sessions: Transition Smuggler and Turner RFX v4.0

Two things he's very particular about when it comes to bike setup: Suspension firmness and feel, as well as a stiff wheelset and frame.

Favorite Test Sessions moment: Having drinks and watching the crew play box on "get loose" night, or Steve's turtle tip over while trying to climb the Waterfall on National.


So there you have it - six riders on a mission to put the hurt on 17 bikes in the rocky gnar of Phoenix, all with various qualifications and backgrounds. Test Sessions reviews will begin dropping January 22nd. Curious what bikes are in the lineup? Don't miss our intro feature for complete details.

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