A while back I had a conversation with a mate about what our perfect bike would be.
“I’d love a bike that climbs really well, is stable, can smash rowdy downhills and bike park laps, jumps well and doesn’t weigh a tonne,” I described.
My mate laughed and retorted, “OK, Goldilocks!”
While bikes have come a bloody long way over the past five years, the manufacturers’ quest for the perfect do-it-all bike remains elusive. Longer and slacker usually means a more sluggish pedaller. A lighter frame and more efficient geometry is often at the expense of stability and capability when things get steep and techy.
So when German direct-to-consumer bike company Canyon announced the all-new Spectral 29 with a campaign that essentially spouted that this is the only bike you’ll need in your garage, the ears pricked up.
In the past Canyon’s traditionally been a little slow off the mark as far as modern bike geometry (slack head tube angle, steep seat tube angle, longer top tube etc) goes, but the specs on the new Spectral were a big jump forwards in progression. This isn’t their 27.5 model with wagon wheels whacked on – the Spectral 29 is a completely new bike from the ground up, with a satisfyingly slack 64.5-degree head tube angle, combined with a steeper seat-tube angle of 76.5 degrees.
I tested the CF 8.0 large size ($6,949) and it sported a roomy top tube length of 636mm, with a standover height of 767mm and a 460mm seat-tube length. Combined with a shorter 437mm chainstay length, a Shimano Deore XT 12-speed drivetrain, a 150mm Fox DPX2 shock and 160mm Fox 36 Performance Elite fork, Canyon’s new offering ticked all the boxes of a lively rig that promised to climb well and descend with aplomb.
The Spectral 29 is also Canyon’s first foray into the flip chip world, which quickly and easily raises the bottom bracket height by 0.5mm and steepens the bike’s geometry by 0.5 degrees. While most riders are likely to keep the chip in the low position, I found high position certainly helped when grovelling up long, technical climbs, although it did come at the price of a slightly more excitable front end on steep descents.
Stopping power comes courtesy of Shimano XT 4-piston brakes, while the DT Swiss wheels are wrapped with a Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 and Maxxis DHR II 2.4 combo.
As well as an exceptional bang-for-buck componentry build, the Canyon R&D team has made the new Spectral 29 as idiot-proof as possible by incorporating technology from their World Cup race teams. Threaded inserts on the key pivot points will keep ham-fisted home mechanics happy, in-frame cable routing ensures the aesthetics remain clean and cable replacements a breeze, all of the suspension pivot bolts (except the driveside chainstay pivot) are located on the non-driveside of the bike, and a threaded bottom bracket makes servicing a lot simpler.
Let’s get one thing clear right from the outset: the new Spectral 29 is a hell of a fun bike to ride. The carbon frame strikes a near-perfect balance of being stiff enough to ensure the bike is responsive and lively, but forgiving enough to encourage you let the brakes go and tackle that hairy line that’s kept you awake at night.
On the ascents, the Spectral is certainly capable. It’s no greyhound and won’t earn many KOM Strava awards, but Canyon’s “Triple Phase” shock technology with improved anti-squat means it’s a respectable climber and an efficient pedaller, even with the shock remaining in the open position.
Heavier riders might find moving the shock up to the middle position will improve pedal efficiency on longer grinds, but most will find it’s not necessary.
It’s when the trail pitches down that the Spectral really comes alive, though, and the harder you push it, the more dynamic it becomes. The Fox 36 fork does a superb job of keeping the bike planted and stable through the chundery stuff and when railing corners, and at no stage did it feel like I was pushing the bike’s comfort zone. If anything, the opposite was true.