A bike review is only as good as the humans providing the feedback. Since humans are about as different as the 19 bikes at the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions, our test riders needed to reflect a wide variety of style, sizes and tastes with an ability to turn experiences on a bike into words that we can all find informative. Our six test riders did just that. Get to know the crew who climbed, hucked, carved, jumped, and rallied in San Luis Obispo, California.

Dylan Stucki

Age: 26
Height: 6-foot 5-inches
Weight: 180-pounds
Bar width preference: 800mm
Flats or clips?: Clips
Where’s home?: Ogden, UT
Occupation: I mix the cool-aid.
Years riding mountain bikes: 16
Riding style: I'm a fun-haver, always looking for new ways to interpret the trail. Gettin' sidewayze and balls out fast is rad too!
Trail style preference: I prefer to queue up long days in the high alpine that incorporate everything from hellish 2+ hour climbs with long, rewarding fast and wide open descents with natural doubles, exposure, steeps, and, of course, rowdy rock gardens. I ride to escape, for the adventure, and the ineffable since of euphoria.
Accomplishments on a bike: Wheelies, no-handed wheelies, bar humps, and oh yea, I'm a Pro. No wait, I ride in the Pro category? Yea 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 ten at Big Mountain Enduro races.
What qualifies you as a good tester?: I break a lot of shit. I'm naturally a perceptive and particular rider, even the smallest details can sometimes throw me off. Also, I've been testing mountain bikes and parts as a freelancer for almost two years which gives me a great perspective on the spectrum of bikes and parts on the market.
Bikes you're looking forward to testing: I'm looking forward to riding the bike that completely exceeds my expectations. Maybe there will be one, maybe not, but I have high hopes for the carbon Trek Slash.
Favorite trail in San Luis Obispo: Rock Garden on Madonna Mountain
Random fun fact about yourself: I can shotgun a beer in under 2 seconds.

Steve Wentz

Age: 30
Height: 5-foot 8-inches
Weight: 175-pounds
Bar width preference: 760-780mm
Flats or clips?: Did you say Fish and Chips? I love flats. Flats have made me continue to think about my riding and not be mindless when I am on trails.
Where’s home?: Truckee, CA
Occupation: I have come to think of my job as helping people have fun. Whether that is building trails or helping people with bikes.
Years riding mountain bikes: 18
Riding style: I'm fairly all or nothing. I'm either cruising or really going for it, and I want to be proud of myself for overcoming doubt. That makes me tick for sure. I love the doubt and the mental fight to push myself.
Trail style preference: I enjoy trails that point downhill, are crappy and eroded by some standards, and are rough. Those are the fun ones to figure out. If it steep enough you don't need it to all be smooth.
Accomplishments on a bike: Having a ton of fun.
What qualifies you as a good tester?: I'm able to set up a bike close to perfectly (for me) within minutes, ride at near 100% on new trails and replicate what I did that first time over and over. That's the challenge I like, almost like a puzzle. Go for it and put all the pieces together, push a bike hard even if it has a long stem, or whack suspension or geometry that isn't what I like. I was also KOM on a Strava segment once. (Editor's Note: Steve's too humble to claim it, but he's been racing Pro DH for 12+ years, including World Cups. He can also squish a bike harder than anyone else we know.)
Bikes you're looking forward to testing: None in particular, but I look forward to being surprised and learning with any new bike I'm on.
Favorite trail in San Luis Obispo: Madonna Mountain had some really fun, rowdy sections.
Random fun fact about yourself: I've been to at least one new country every year since I've been 18.

Amanda Wentz

Age: 33
Height: 5-foot 6-inches
Weight: 135-pounds
Bar width preference: 720mm
Flats or clips?: Flats forever!
Where’s home?: Currently Truckee, CA, but who knows by this time next year.
Occupation: Mountain Bike Coach and Personal Trainer
Years riding mountain bikes: 10+ years
Riding style: I like riding rocky technical uphill as smooth as I can, but my rims would say all that goes out the window when the bike is pointed down.
Trail style preference: Rocky and ledgy like Sedona or Moab. I am not the fastest person up the hill so I learned to navigate technical sections where I can at least have a hope of gaining some ground.
Accomplishments on a bike: The last 10+ years have been spent soaking up all aspects of mountain biking and pushing myself to progress. In the past year and a half I have turned that passion into a career with coaching, training and becoming an ambassador for the sport through Liv. I am a PMBI and IMBA Level 2 coach and love helping others navigate the sometimes painful entry into mountain biking. I am a little late to the party but have really fallen in love with the rush of racing downhill. This past summer I completed the series at Northstar with an overall win for Cat 1 but was mostly stoked to have made it through a season in one piece. Looking forward to what racing and riding in 2015 has in store for me!
What qualifies you as a good tester?: I am testing women's bikes so having lady parts is a good place to start. But aside from that minor detail I have ridden bikes of all kinds from BMX, downhill, to tri bikes (I was young and tri-curious - everyone makes mistakes). Being naturally inquisitive I love knowing what my gear is doing and why. I also feel I have an idea of the representation women want and need in the industry so my goal is to bring them that through reviews for ladies, by ladies.
Bikes you're looking forward to testing: I have been on the Liv Intrigue all season so I am most looking forward to testing the Specialized Rumor. I haven't spent much time on a 29er so I want to see what some of the fuss is about.
Favorite trail in San Luis Obispo: The trails on West Cuesta Ridge were a rad mix of terrain. I liked the variety and thought it was perfect for testing.
Random fun fact about yourself: I can eat more cookies and M&Ms in one sitting than my husband Steve Wentz.

AJ Barlas

Age: 34
Height: 6-foot 3-inches
Weight: 165-pounds
Bar width preference: 780mm
Flats or clips?: Both. Clips for Test Sessions.
Where's home?: Squamish, BC, Canada
Occupation: Digital Marketing
Years riding mountain bikes: 15
Riding style: I've been told smooth and fluid. I get stoked on flow and I utilize my lanky stature to work the terrain and assist me in achieving this.
Trail style preference: Anything that forces me to focus in order to get a sense of achievement. I get stoked when it feels good to get down smooth while linking a bunch of pieces together. Chunky, twisty trail is at the top of that list and natural features.
Accomplishments on a bike: Fun, achieved 99% of the time I'm out riding almost any bike. DH race director for the Squamish Offroad Cycling Association (SORCA). Mid-pack racer.
What qualifies you as a good tester?: I'm super picky with equipment and have built a strong understanding of what works well and why through riding loads of different parts and bikes. Observant, mechanically inclined and always looking to learn more through new experiences and products.
Bikes you're looking forward to testing: All of them really. Highlights would be the Specialized Enduro 650b, Canyon Strive, Mondraker Foxy, and Transition Scout.
Favorite trail in San Luis Obispo: Would have to be the trails off of West Cuesta Ridge.
Random fun fact about yourself: Canalian status

Courtney Steen

Age: 27
Height: 5-foot 7-inches
Weight: Around 163-pounds. Scales and I eye each other suspiciously across the room but don't speak to each other.
Bar width preference: 750mm
Flats or clips?: I tend towards clips for most rides and then flats for rides when I'm not quite sure what gnar I'm getting myself into.
Where’s home?: Home is wherever the camper is parked. I live on the road with my boyfriend Brandon in a 5th wheel toy hauler loaded with bikes and someday a dog (fingers crossed), traveling from mountain bike sweet spot to mountain bike sweet spot.
Occupation: I do some behind the scenes work and women's apparel reviews for Vital MTB. Previously in biotech, then adventure came calling and I answered.
Years riding mountain bikes: 7
Riding style: I like to go fast on wide open trails that are turny and pumpy with some technical sections in the mix. Of course, the preferred direction of travel is downhill.
Trail style preference: Given that I'm such a lucky lady and travel to many great mountain bike spots I get to try out a variety of trails. My favorite locations include Bend, Sedona, and Whistler. I like the wide open and jump trails in Bend, the technical and punchy riding of Sedona, and in Whistler Blue Velvet and Crank It Up are my jams!
Accomplishments on a bike: I raced for my collegiate mountain bike team with a 2nd Place 4X finish, 3rd Place in downhill, and 4th Place in the individual omnium at National Champs. Other than that, each ride I make it through without horrendously crashing or being maimed for life is an accomplishment to me. I also secretly crack a smile if I get a top three on Strava. That's a secret though. Shhhhh.
What qualifies you as a good tester?: I've done some women's reviews for Vital before. After going to an engineering school, I think critically about products and how they can be improved. I also have the benefit of hanging out with some mega bike nerds. I hear what they talk about and will think to myself if I too have experienced this on my own rides and bike. Then, as an over analyzer, I ask my bike-nerd boyfriend about what I might be feeling, hearing, or how my bike is handling and learn more this way.
Bikes you're looking forward to testing: I'm excited to try them all and see how they compare. It's like speed dating. Although, that Juliana is looking pretty fine over there, and I think we should hang out.
Favorite trail in San Luis Obispo: I enjoyed the trails on West Cuesta Ridge. There seemed to be a bit of everything there, and I love variety in my trails.
Random fun fact about yourself: I used to play a mean game of volleyball and I love to cook. For the past three years I've served as chef for the Vital Test Sessions crews except for on the nights Steve makes pizza. He makes an awesome pizza. That was more than one fun fact. Oh well. We are all friends now.

Brandon Turman

Age: Though bartenders never believe me, I'm 28.
Height: 5-foot 10-inches
Weight: 175-pounds
Bar width preference: 765-775mm
Flats or clips?: Which way is the wind blowing? I chose to rock clips for Test Sessions.
Where’s home?: Where the riding is good and the weather is warm! You'll catch me traveling with Courtney.
Occupation: Vital MTB’s Product Editor
Years riding mountain bikes: 15 years
Riding style: Semi-Pro? Haha. I like to have fun, pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike and the terrain, and love to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill.
Trail style preference: My perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. I love little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives me that momentary stomach in my throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting, then mix all of those things together and you've got a winner in my book.
Accomplishments on a bike: Though I'd hardly call myself accomplished, I did race downhill and eventually worked my way up to the illustrious rank of a Pro pack filler. I had a good run in my collegiate racing days while heading up the Colorado School of Mines team (hot dog suit, anyone?). After college my focus turned to 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.
What qualifies you as a good tester?: The biggest thing is on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 4-5 years. I have a really good feel for what’s what.
Bikes you're looking forward to testing: All of them. I'm pretty pumped to try out a bunch of different platforms and price points.
Favorite trail in San Luis Obispo: The ones we can't write about.
Random fun fact about yourself: 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.

Photos by Lear Miller

So there you have it - six riders on a mission to put the hurt on 19 bikes in the mountains of San Luis Obispo, all with various qualifications and backgrounds. Test Sessions reviews will be dropping throughout January and February. Curious what bikes are in the lineup? Don't miss our intro feature for complete details and links to reviews.

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