Reviewed by Steve Wentz and Brandon Turman // Photos by Lear Miller
In the last few years, Germany-based Canyon has jumped from relative obscurity to one of the foremost players in direct sales of high-end bicycles. Mountain, road, kids, city... They've got it all, and while not available in the USA just yet, they're on the way soon. The Spectral CF 9.0 EX stands out as one of the biggest bang for the buck specs you can find anywhere. At just 4199, the bike has a smattering of most rider's dream parts, all put onto a 140mm travel carbon frame with angles tailor-made for charging. We put it to the test during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Read More »
Reviewed by Steve Wentz and Brandon Turman // Photos by Lear Miller
In the last few years, Germany-based Canyon has jumped from relative obscurity to one of the foremost players in direct sales of high-end bicycles. Mountain, road, kids, city... They've got it all, and while not available in the USA just yet, they're on the way soon. The Spectral CF 9.0 EX stands out as one of the biggest bang for the buck specs you can find anywhere. At just €4199, the bike has a smattering of most rider's dream parts, all put onto a 140mm travel carbon frame with angles tailor-made for charging. We put it to the test during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Phoenix, Arizona.
- Carbon frame
- 27.5 (650b) wheels
- 140mm (5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 150mm (5.9-inches) fork travel
- Four-bar suspension design with Horst-link
- Tapered headtube
- Internal cable routing
- Press fit bottom bracket
- 180mm post mount rear brake
- 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
- Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 27.4-pounds (12.4kg)
- Price: €4199
At the heart of the murdered-out Spectral is a very clean looking four-bar suspension design with a Horst-link pivot near the rear axle. It pushes the highly adjustable Cane Creek DBinline shock, which is easy to access on the fly in the frame's main triangle.
The 650b wheeled Spectral doesn't have adjustable travel or geometry like its longer travel sibling, the Canyon Strive, which has the company's very unique Shapeshifter technology to turn a descending beast into a relatively capable climber. Simply because it's missing this feature doesn't mean the Spectral is lacking in features, however. The carbon fiber beauty sports 180mm post mount rear brake tabs, frame guards in all the right places, an interesting headset bumper to prevent the fork from spinning around and kinking cables, and room for a water bottle inside the front triangle. There's also internal cable routing to help clean things up. Mud clearance with the stock 2.3-inch rear Mavic tire is relatively snug at ~10mm (3/8-inch).
There are options for 1 or 2X drivetrain models, with 1X versions sporting an upper chainguide attached to the direct front derailleur mount (it's missing ISCG tabs). We don't see top guides on some bikes these days, and the fact that the Spectral comes with one on a shorter travel bike hinted at potential to come.
With an impressive thirteen models to choose from there's likely a Spectral suited to everyone's preferences. You can pick from four carbon models, nine alloy models (three of which are women's specific), or build up a carbon or alloy frame from scratch. Note that models with "EX" come stock with a slightly longer travel fork (150 vs 140mm), making them more apt for rowdy days. We tested the €4199 Spectral CF 9.0 EX. For all you USA readers, we'd estimate pricing to be in the $3,950-$4,400 range when Canyon launches in the States.
Looking at the numbers, the Spectral CF has very generous reach measurements across the board, which makes it a good option for tall riders. The 67-degree head tube angle is on par with others in this category, though the EX model is actually a little slacker (in the range of 66.5-degrees) thanks to a 10mm longer travel fork. We measured the bottom bracket height at a pretty average 339mm (13.3-inches). The bike comes in an extended size range in aluminum models with an XS option for short riders, and standover is decently low on all sizes for added maneuverability.
On The Trail
When we first hopped on the Canyon we felt like little kids again. The slightly short top tube measurement combined with a higher front end made for a fun, casual feel. We appreciated the adjustment left in the steerer tube for bar height modifications, something that is curiously missing from many bikes these days. The reach measurement comes in at the higher end of average for size medium bikes, which allowed us to feel over the pedals instead of behind them on steeper grades. Proper angles won't do much without the right suspension under them, however, so we next set out to dial in the suspension.
Adjusting a Cane Creek shock will never be the quickest operation, but Cane Creek's suggestions and recommended initial settings shown above worked really well. We ended up on the softer side of low-speed compression, middle of the road for high-speed compression, the slower end of low-speed rebound, and slightly faster than middle of the road settings for high-speed rebound. The last thing we fiddled with was the shock sag, which Canyon recommends at 15mm (0.6-inches) on the 51mm (2-inch) stroke shock, equating to 29% sag. We welcomed the fact that the Spectral had a relatively simple fork on it, put our normal 75psi in the Pike, and noted the addition of one Bottomless Token inside for a little bit of ramp at the end of the stroke.
We rode the Canyon on some of Phoenix's best trails, starting out with mellow climbs on Javelina and Mormon trail, then progressing more and more intense as we continued to get used to the Spectral's climbing legs. Geronimo is one of the rougher trails most riders will encounter, and we were able to have lots of time there to fine tune how the super adjustable suspension would smooth out the nastiest sections we could find.
It was nice getting to know the Canyon Spectral on the way up. We liked the fact that the climbing position was comfortable, and after double checking, we saw the truth in the numbers. The seat tube angle is a very steep 74.5-degrees, putting the rider very upright. This was further aided by the bar height, and made us feel on top of the bike while climbing as opposed to behind the cranks. Coupled with 425mm (16.7-inch) chainstays that are on the shorter end of normal, it was easy to pivot around and change up lines. We thought for sure we'd be skimming the cranks off some of Phoenix's finest rock gardens given the bottom bracket height, but at the recommended sag setting we cleaned lots of climbing sections that we previously had trouble with on other bikes.
With a 1X drivetrain and 32-tooth front chainring, pedaling on the Spectral doesn't feel overly snappy, nor does it feel like you're wasting energy. It has a very smooth power delivery, which is helped by Cane Creek's DBinline shock. While the bike doesn't have ideal antisquat numbers in the 1X configuration (2X is better in this regard), the system felt firm off the top, and the DBinline's unique Climb Switch does a good job of settling down unnecessary chassis movement. The DBinline's ability to slow the low-speed rebound circuit and harden low-speed compression with the Climb Switch engaged doesn't allow for the bike to return quickly, and as a result it prevents bob and improves climbing manners. The feeling of a tall ride height coupled with a shock that sits at sag and doesn't move too much works really well, and we can't say we'd change it for the better with a different system. The last big benefit we felt with Cane Creek's Climb Switch was the consistent feeling of the compression circuits. If we were to do some power moves or lunge up rocks, the bike always felt composed and ready to react in a consistent way, be it in open or climb mode. Some other designs have platforms or blow offs which can lead to inconsistent feelings depending on how much rider input is applied. Bravo to Canyon and Cane Creek for making this system work together so well.
Further aiding the climbing ability of the Canyon was the weight, or lack of it. At a very svelte 27.4-pounds (12.4kg) without pedals, it accelerated with ease. The head angle never made the front end feel like it was wandering or searching for traction either.
Coming into flatter areas of trail, the firm suspension, snappy chainstays, and head angle made this one of the more fun bikes we've been on in a while. We could jump it easily, and it really made the trail into our playground. All is not uphill or flat though, and we soon pointed it downhill to really put it to the test. We couldn't help but make some Fabien Barel inspired comments here and there on our rides, as he was one of the chief test pilots for Canyon over the last few years. Would descending on such a nimble bike require the finesse of the famous French pilot, or can the Spectral hold its own on climbs and descents? We're please to say that it can descend with the best of them, but just like the French, it has its quirks.
When we first piloted the Spectral down our favorite Phoenix descents, the first things that came to mind was how fast we were able to go. The bike wasn't overly smooth, but it also wasn't harsh. It was both playful and planted in a way only a few bikes can achieve. It did the job well and felt very trustworthy. While the head angle is slightly steeper than most 650b bikes we throw a leg over nowadays, it works in this package. The wheelbase is long enough to give some stability, as is the front center. Make no mistake, the Spectral is not a "hold on and hope for the best" bike as it does require attention, but we feel it punches above its weight class for a 140mm travel rig. This is aided by a deep suspension feel that doesn't bottom harshly with two small pre-installed volume spacers.
The biggest gripe we consistently had was the initial sensitivity of the Cane Creek rear shock. Although the shock has great control over the suspension, we've grown accustomed to the traction and feel provided by shocks with better top end suppleness. We could feel when the back wheel started every impact ever so slightly, which was surprising given a relatively high initial leverage rate. It didn't knock us off line, it just let us know what our wheels were up to. Would the Canyon be better with a RockShox Monarch Plus Debonair to match the feel of the Pike out front? Would a FOX Float or Float X with an EVOL can work well? We couldn't help but think the bike was ever so slightly mismatched front to back because of initial sensitivity differences. The Cane Creek's initial guidelines were really close to spot on for everything else, though we did have to change the initial/low-speed compression. Even with it full open, the sensitivity of the rear never quite matched the front.
Landing in rocks we could feel a slight hang up, though we've come to expect a similar feel from other progressive designs with firm damping. This doesn't seem to slow the bike at all, but the sensation can take a little readjusting to prevent your weight from getting pushed over the front.
When you consider the rough, dry, dusty trails we were riding, the Spectral faced some of the toughest challenges a 140mm bike will ever see during our test. If it had better small bump performance there would have been more traction in the 95% loose over hardpack terrain, but kudos to the bike for making us feel confident despite this big downfall. On the limited smooth-ish terrain and jump oriented areas we could find, the Canyon felt immediately at home and nimble once again, suggesting that it's best suited to this type of terrain with the Cane Creek shock installed.
Where the Spectral really shined was in medium to larger hits, which it took extremely well. Front to back balance was extremely good, and we never felt too far over the front or the back of the bike in these instances. If we wanted to manual through sections we could. If we wanted the back end to slide it would at a moment's notice. Frame stiffness is also quite decent, aiding the sure footed nature of it. Considering the lightweight nature of the bike this is surprising, and the nimble yet stiff feel aided when descending and pumping through corners. The Spectral never did us wrong, and we dare say it could be one of the best race bikes you could have for timed downhill stages that you have to pedal up to.
Since it was so surprisingly capable and stable we kept wanting to try the bike on different terrain to see where else it might shine. Unfortunately our test was cut slightly short because we blew the rebound circuit on the Cane Creek rear shock. We've experienced this a few times on the DBinline, and it further reinforces our desire for something different which could unleash even more of the bike's potential, though it may detract from climbing performance.
Aside from the rear shock, there isn't much to upgrade on the Spectral CF 9.0 EX. It's already light, has good stiffness qualities, and other than personal preference items we see a great frame with top of the line parts.
Leading the list of gucci parts is the incredibly stiff Mavic Crossmax Enduro LTD wheelset. We had zero issues with the wheels, and we had a good experience with the freewheel's action. Even the color of the wheels added a little bit of flair to an otherwise stealthy build. Mavic didn't provide just the wheels though, as the Spectral was shod with Mavic's new Crossmax Charge and Quest tires. They worked well at 2.4 and 2.3-inches wide, respectively, and provided good flat resistance with their dual lightweight plies. The rims didn't seem that wide, but they held the tires well regardless, which we chalk up to good system design.
The rolling speed of the tires and the lightweight wheels made the bike feel fast while cruising or accelerating. When we would crest over rocky rises it wasn't painful to accelerate back up to speed. Likewise, gaining speed before jumps and rocky ledges was easy and second nature. On a few occasions though, the lightweight wheels did get held up where we've been able to carry speed with other systems. This potential downside reinforces our view that the bike is for the intermediate to advanced rider. Small mistakes or missteps can be a bit punishing on this bike, and the Spectral lets you know when something was done wrong.
One item that helped in the forgiveness category was the RockShox Pike RCT3 SoloAir fork. It seemed more up to the task than the rear suspension, though it could be a matter of the travel rather than being inherently better. We usually love bikes that have slightly more travel in the front than the back, and the Spectral's 140mm rear and 150mm front certainly fits that bill. We tuned the Pike to actually be a bit firmer off the top than usual, going just two clicks out from full firm on the low-speed compression and a click slower on the rebound than usual to make it mimic the rear suspension more. This created a ride that really liked to skim over obstacles instead of absorbing all of them. It was slightly taxing, but that effort was turned into forward motion, not up and down movement.
The tried and true SRAM X01 drivetrain features a carbon crankset, wide range 10-42 tooth cassette, and 32-tooth X-Sync chainring that all worked well together. Add in the e*thirteen top guide and you've got a very secure system.
SRAM's Guide RSC brakes felt like a luxury item, as most bikes in this price range range don't have both contact and reach adjustments. The power was great as well with a 200mm rotor up front and 180mm out back. These are head and shoulders above previous Avid designs and a welcome addition to the Spectral. With lots of different seatpost, brake, and component options available, seeing SRAM's full setup on the bar was nice as the Matchmaker clamping system could be fully utilized, making for clean lines and simple adjustments.
You'll find Canyon's own 760mm (29.9-inch) wide carbon handlebar and a 50mm stem in the cockpit, which will work well for most riders.
One issue we had wasn't so much the fault of the drivetrain, but rather an oversight on Canyon's part. The stock chainstay guard is rather slim and hard, and didn't provide enough protection from the chain's normal movement. Worse than the noise, one of our testers rides with his driveside foot in the back position, and while descending steep pitches his shoe would snag on the chain guard every so often. We advise riders to remove the stock guard and replace it with some simple 3M Mastic Tape or a similar solution.
Some additional noise came from loose cables inside the frame. A few zip ties and proper tension can fix this problem in other designs, and we see no reason why that couldn't fix the same issue here.
Long Term Durability
Canyon's carbon Spectral frame felt stout and kept tight during our test. Before riding it we had to snug up a few pivots, however. Whether this was something that came loose or should have been up to spec from the factory is beyond us, but we'd keep an eye on it if it were our bike. The blown Cane Creek rear shock we experienced is obviously another area for concern, though they've been working hard to improve reliability and have a quick turnaround time on warranty replacements. If the DBinline is going to blow, it typically does so within the first few rides, but after that they've otherwise been reliable.
The last thing we'd consider is what you would have to do if you actually had a fluke issue with something we haven't mentioned in this review. Canyon provides a two year complete bike warranty, six year frame warranty (excluding bearings and suspension), and has a three year crash replacement program should things go really wrong. That said, a warranty is only as good as your support system, so consider all options if you want to go the direct sales route. One item we found particularly odd is this statement from Canyon's website: "The guarantee also does not cover damage from jumps or overuse of other kinds." They also state that the Spectral's scope "includes occasional jumps up to a maximum height of 60cm." So if it breaks on a super massive 61cm (2-foot) huck are you out of luck? The bike is capable of far more...
What's The Bottom Line?
We really enjoyed our time on the Canyon Spectral. If you want to go fast and have the ability to be a focused pilot and not hold on and hope for the best, the Spectral CF 9.0 EX could be the perfect weapon of choice. It's fun yet precise nature makes your favorite trails even more enjoyable, and the bike seems to excel when every second counts. Thanks to a consumer direct sales model it comes spec'd incredibly well at an equally incredible price. We'd absolutely buy one, and with a few changes we think it could be one of our favorite 140mm trail bikes to date.
Visit www.canyon.com for more details.
Vital MTB Rating
- Climbing: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
- Descending: 4 stars - Excellent
- Fun Factor: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
- Value: 5 stars - Spectacular
- Overall Impression: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
About The Reviewers
Steve Wentz - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 20 // Height: 5'8" (1.73m) // Weight: 180-pounds (81.6kg)
"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." Steve is able to set up a bike close to perfectly within minutes, ride at close to 100% on new trails and replicate what he did that first time over and over. He's been racing Pro DH for 13+ years including World Cups, routinely tests out prototype products, and can squish a bike harder than anyone else we know. Today he builds some of the best trails in the world.
Brandon Turman - Age: 29 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)
"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." Formerly a Mechanical Engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 5-6 years and a really good feel for what’s what.
About Test Sessions
Four years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2016's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in Phoenix, Arizona. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Rage Cycles. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Royal Racing, Smith, Fox Racing, Race Face, Easton, and Source.