The Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

Canyon bikes - I've never seen them in my local bike shop and neither have you. The main reason for this, is that pretty much since they started making bikes around 1998 they have adopted the now very trendy concept of selling direct from the factory to the customer, via another trendy concept...the Internet.

Canyon is owner operated company with a state-of-the-art production facility in Germany and has been big on the road scene for some time. Lately they have been making some rather wicked mountain bikes that have been causing a bit of a stir worldwide. Most of you will be familiar with their Enduro bike, the 160mm Strive which popped up a couple years back with a radical concept of an air piston hidden in the shock rocker that at the flick of a switch changed the rear shock position to make the bike have less travel, steeper angles and a firmer compression stroke for climbing and pedalling sections. This race season saw Kiwi Justin Leov sign with Canyon as they announced that finally they would be selling bikes to Australia and New Zealand. I've been riding the Strive's little brother, the 140mm Spectral over the last couple of months and here's the scoop...

I know, it's almost pornographic. The designers at Canyon must have finished top of their class at school.

What we have is a full carbon 140mm travel trail bike with very modern geometry, a horst link style suspension system and a quality build kit for $7399, which is delivered to your door for only $249 shipping . Obviously cutting out the middle men gets this bike to you at a very good price, but is there a price to pay later on when/if things get bent out of shape?

The Spectral arrived at my door in a rather fancy bike box direct from Germany. I opened it up and there it was almost ready to ride. All I had to do was slide the already set-up seat dropper into the frame, attach the front wheel and fit the handlebars into the stem and it was good to go. With the bike comes an easy to understand set up guide, some assembly paste, a torque wrench, shock pump and Mavic wheel spares all in a cool little tool pouch. The gears were already tuned, cables and hoses trimmed to correct lengths so all I did was pump up the tyres and hit the trails.

A Pike RCT3 150mm fork mated to the 140mm travel rear. 

There are three Spectral models in carbon and five in alloy. You can also get both in frame only but when you look at the pricing, they are practically giving away the build kit. This mid level carbon Spectral comes with a CCDB Inline, a Pike RCT3 fork, a full XO1 drivetrain (except an XG cassette), Reverb Stealth dropper , Guide RSC brakes and the new Mavic Crossmax XL Pro wheelset shod with Mavics own Charge and Quest tyres. 

Canyon brand 31.8 x 50mm stem and 760mm carbon riser bars. No need to change those out.

The ride... I have to tell you that my job of testing bikes and then telling you guys all about it is getting harder and harder. Why? Because there aren't really any bad bikes these days. Suspension technology is great. Manufacturing processes are great. This Spectral rides great. What concerns me these days is more personal. What are the frame geo details? Who looks after me when the shock fails, or some frame part cracks. Is it too flexy for a fat bastard like myself? Will everyone get jealous when they see my new bike?

Look! I came away very impressed with the Spectral. It has a long reach which suits me. It was very stiff laterally which suits my 87kg body. It didn't give me any problems and I rode it hard. The one thing is though that on my third ride there was an annoying creak under torque. As a Canyon customer, I couldn't go back to the shop I bought it from to complain could I? Luckily I double as a top notch mechanic and I swapped out the wheels to confirm that the spoke heads were creaking in the hub flange. A few drops of oil and it was gone, but that potentially could have cost me a few hundred dollars at my local bike shop while they were sniggering in the background at my mail order bike. Secondly, the internal cables rattled like hell inside the down tube. I had to push them into the frame to jam them up and added a drop of hot glue to the frame port tab to hold them there. This is a very common occurrence with internal cables and I wish more brands would run internal cable shrouds. But I'm still impressed non the less. My conversations with Canyon Bikes (the Australasian help desk is in Melbourne and there will soon be a couple of authorised service centres in NZ) left me with the impression that customers will get fast and efficient service. You'll be dealing with the source, and they can send you replacements out from Australia very quickly. Canyon ask you to keep the box (you'll need to do this for 6 years as that's how long the frame guarantee is for) and if you pay attention to how it's packed then it's pretty easy to pack it back up and Canyon will arrange a courier to collect it from your house or work. Another interesting fact is that Canyon have a CT scanner in Germany and one in their factory in Asia. They randomly scan bike frames to check that quality is top notch, and they scan every carbon road fork just to make sure. We're talking about Germans here, they can be very fussy and that translates to impressive quality control.

You can see how the spoke heads lock into a flange pocket. It's pretty easy to imagine that under heavy torque you might get a bit of noise from this area. A few light drops of oil fixed this up for the duration of the test period. 

Oh yeah, the ride. A pike fork and a CCDB Inline shock will make any bike ride ride good but this frame is a ripper. Stiff, agile and lightweight, it is a trail shredders dream. The suspension design is a winner, and the ride is crisp and really suits an aggressive or heavy rider. My only complaint - It was harsh over the stutter bumps. It took me about 3 seconds to realise that it has skinny rims, 23mm internal. Mavic are funny with their rim widths, they are one of the last companies to believe in narrow rims. I'm sure you all know what a fan I am of super wide rims. I went from my 35mm/18psi wheelset to these 23mm/28psi Mavics...of course it felt harsh. I'm fine with Mavics difference of opinion on rim widths, but what is odd is that the other two Carbon Spectral models come with DT Swiss' new wide 30mm rims and fatter Conti 2.4" tyres. Turns out that the EX models (there's one in alloy as well) all have the 150mm fork (whereas the others have a 140mmm front end) and are aimed at a more aggressive rider, and apparently the skinny rims give a rounder tyre profile which gives more bite on aggressive cornering?

Plenty of rear tyre clearance around this Mavic Quest 2.3" tyre. Up front is the Mavic Charge 2.4", great tyres, soft widely spaced front and a faster rolling rear.

The longish reach means the bike excels at speed and keeps the front wheel down when climbing the steeps. A 67 degree head angle is standard for this travel and while the geo numbers have been misprinted on the site for the bottom bracket drop, I've worked out that it's 6mm lower than my Bronson which is probably why Canyon have used a 170mm crank. Yes that's pretty low and with the short 16.73" stays, means this bike is super agile when it gets tight. I didn't suffer any pedal strikes, so the bb height with the 170 cranks was great. Strangely, the other Spectral models run a 175mm crank (except the small size)

The whole bike is beautifully crafted with clean swooping lines and nothing out of place. No, the wheel base isn't adjustable in this Horst link style rear end in case you were wondering at this axle tab. Full XO1 groupset but with a pinned XG cluster.

I did run a wheelset with the 35mm Derby rims for a days riding, and that dreaded trail chatter disappeared. I don't want to put you off with my wide rim fetish, each to their own. I still meet phenomenal riders who swear by skinny rims, just like I meet people who swear by rotary engines (when we all know supercharged V8's are where it's at).

The new E13 TRS + S3 top guide with a soft rubber sleeve to deaden noise and a "tension latch"  so you can open it to remove the chain with no tools. Also there is a bonded in place chain suck plate and a screwed on chain stay protector, both great features. 

Check out this fantastic device screwed into the top tube. It acts as a stopper for when you crash and the bars spin around, the lugs on the headset cap hit the stopper and prevent the wheel and bars going all the way around and pulling out your cables/hoses or scuffing your top tube. This means all hoses and cables can be trimmed heaps shorter for a much tidier birds nest up front. Removeable hose port tabs for easier cable threading (that's where I dabbed the hot glue).

Modern geometry and with a fairly long reach. Pretty standard for an aggressive bike that is meant to be ridden fast. That bb figure must be the height, not the offset.

The CCDB cs performed well and can be tuned by you with the supplied allen key. High and Lo speed separate compression and rebound circuits and a climb switch which increases damping in both directions.

I've had a lot of experience with the Double Barrel Inline Climb Switch shock. They work great and offer fantastic twin tube performance in a non-reservoir package. Unfortunately they have suffered from a few reliability issues. What I have worked out though is that if you have a dodgy one, it will develop problems very quickly and will be warrantied in a flash. I have spoken to many Inline CS owners who have had no issues and love them to bits. The good news is that the Cane Creek agents in New Zealand are a great team who work hard to sort things out and I would have no qualms buying a bike running this shock. It certainly offers a wide range of tunability and the climb switch is a great feature that as well as slowing the low speed compression circuit, also slows the rebound, therefore works well when you ride a big jump line and need a more controlled rebound for those big hits.

This is personal but I just love the way this bike looks. Sexy, aggressive, long and sleek. It rides good too.

As a complete package you sure are getting a lot of bike for the money. It's well spec'd, great looking, performs very well, not too heavy not too light and appears to be backed by a company that wants to see you right. My experience so far with the bike and communication with Canyon has been excellent and I really can't see any issues if you became a customer. Sure, maybe you will get some flak from your local bike shop as they see their potential earnings dwindle even further but a smart shop will bend over back wards to keep you on side because the future is indeed the future and it's pretty obvious what that holds for retailers going forward. And a smart Canyon Bikes customer will take beer/coffee and chocolate biscuits when they wheel their bike in through the door.

Have a look at the Canyon website and you will see model availability and colour options, throw in your credit card details and you'll have a bike in a box at your door before you know it.

Canyon Bikes