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2015 Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race (discontinued)

Vital Rating: (Outstanding)
2015 Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race
2015 Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race 2015 Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race
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2015 Test Sessions: Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race

Rating: Vital Review

Reviewed by AJ Barlas and Dylan Stucki // Photos by Lear Miller

At the end of the 2013 race season there was quite a bit of curiosity around what Fabien Barel's prototype bike had hiding under a strange looking cover on the rear shock. All would be revealed in early 2014 when Canyon released the new Strive, including details of their new "Shape Shifter" technology. With the push of a lever the system changes the bike's geometry and travel between "DH" and "XC" modes. It's an interesting concept and one we looked forward to trying out during the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions in San Luis Obispo, California.



  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 130 or 160mm (5.1 or 6.3-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front travel
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66-degree (+1.5-degree) head angle
  • 73.5-degree (+1.5-degree) seat tube angle
  • 338mm (13.38-inches) measured bottom bracket height
  • 423mm (16.65-inches) chainstays
  • SRAM X-Type bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size Race Large, no pedals): 28-pounds, 3-ounces (12.81kg)
  • MSRP 4299€

Making a bike that climbs like an XC rig and descends like a DH sled has been the goal of pretty much every manufacturer with a 160mm bike in their catalogue. The inherent problem with this eternal equation is that traveling uphill requires a fundamentally different tool than when you head back down said hill. It's not only about weight, nor is it only about geometry - it's about a total package that is put together in the optimal way to tackle the task at hand.


Many companies have tried to come up with solutions that involve the on-the-fly tuning of the shock and fork, changes in shock travel, or even changes in fundamental geometry. But to this day none have really managed to find a solution that actually adjusts all these aspects in an uncomplicated and non-proprietary manner. Canyon's new Strive looks like a pretty big step in the right direction.


The Strive's use of Shape Shifter technology is definitely the bike's key feature. A rider can compress the rear suspension while pushing the bar-mounted lever and ride at a lower, slacker stance. Pushing the button again while slightly unweighting the bike will result in the bike landing at a taller, steeper stance. The difference between the two modes in terms of static numbers is a 19mm change in bottom bracket height, a shift of 1.5-degrees at the seat and head angles, and 30mm less travel. Here it is in action:

Canyon's sizing system is interesting for the Strive. They offer Standard and Race versions with different geometry numbers intended to allow you to pick a bike to suit your style. Regular geometry is for "those seeking agility" and Race geometry is for "those looking for more stability at speed." Comparing the numbers, the Race versions gain about 26mm in the reach and top tube department. The chainstays on both bikes are identical at a very short 423mm. It’s a little confusing for sure, but with everything else being the same it really is a matter of knowing which front center length works best for you.


Additional details on the carbon frame include a threaded bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, internal cable routing, and bottle mounts inside the front triangle. Mud clearance is good with about 1cm of room for the muck.

The Strive CF is offered in five models. The 9.0 Race that we tested falls right in the middle of the bunch. Aluminum framed versions are available as well.

On The Trail

Prior to hitting the dirt we discovered that setting up the bike can be a little finicky, as the Shape Shifter device needs to be precisely adjusted in order for it to operate properly. Once we set the bolts at the top of the link to the correct torque spec, adjusted the cable, and inflated the Shape Shifter to the specified range it was game one. As shipped from the factory we struggled to get it to change modes.

Geometry for this model is what one might expect from an Enduro race machine. In DH mode the numbers resemble those of some downhill bikes from five years ago and altogether make for a confidence inspiring ride. The head angle is in line with a number of bikes in this category at 66-degrees, as is the 73.5-degree seat angle. Static bottom bracket height is a very reasonable 338mm with a BB drop of 12mm. The chainstays are short at 423mm. At 468mm and 648mm respectively, the reach and top tube lengths on the size Race Large frame is at the upper end of size Large bikes, allowing riders upwards of 6-feet tall to ride it comfortably.


The Strive was taken straight to the loose, rocky, chunky terrain of West Cuesta Ridge and Madonna Mountain in San Luis Obispo. On the climb up we activated the Shape Shifter switch and were pleasantly surprised at how obvious it was that changes had been made. When in XC mode the bike props the rider further up over the front end, which is great for steeper or more technical climbs. When in the DH setting the bike still climbed up the initial fire road remarkably well, scooting along when we put power down.

Pointed downhill the Strive gets on with business. It tracks very well, whether in loose baby heads, loose turns or high speed straightaways. The shorter rear end and reasonably tall stack height make it easy to lift the front end while also allowing for some comfort in steeper terrain. All of the above also helped make the bike agile when direction changes were required, whether at speed or not.

The suspension feel on the Canyon is controlled and planted, riding higher in its travel than some bikes tested when set to the suggested 30% seated sag. While the bike is capable of pointing through a line, it is up to the rider to be on their game to pull through any situations that may result in being a little out of control. This is a race bike through and through and has been developed as such. Take control and it is a weapon, but get lazy or make a big mistake and you will have to pull out of it or face the consequences. Run at 35% sag the bike was more forgiving and allowed a more point-and-shoot approach, yet still rode exceptionally well.

We found that the firmness in the suspension also translated into being a relatively good climber even when in DH mode. Sure, the head angle is a little slacker, but the 73.5-degree seat angle is more than suitable for getting the rider up over the cranks for efficient power transfer. Combined with a suitable top tube length it allows the rider to get up over the bars to take control of the front end of the bike while keeping the front on the ground.

When the Shape Shifter lever is depressed and the rider unweights, the bike feels as though it stands up as it enters XC mode. This position makes for a more aggressive climbing position and adds some good clearance to the pedals if striking rocks or roots is a concern. We never noticed any discernible feedback through the pedals in either position, and the rear tire stayed glued to the ground providing exceptional traction.


On rolling trails we found that descending sections with the bike set to the XC mode was a bit awkward, with the tall stance and now 67.5-degree head angle making it less stable. The firm suspension in XC mode definitely contributes the instability as well, taking away the planted feel that the bike has otherwise. Because the bike climbs better in DH mode than it descends in XC mode, we wound up spending more time with it in the low and slack mode, which made it a lot of fun to ride. Changing between XC and DH modes has little impact on the bike's anti-squat properties.

Not only do you get shorter travel in the XC mode, you also get a lower leverage ratio, effectively making the suspension stiffer without adjusting the air pressure of the shock itself. In DH mode you get a higher leverage ratio, making the suspension more supple while still ramping up towards the end of travel thanks to the progressive characteristics of the air shock. The fact that sag as a percentage also changes between the two modes is testament to the change in leverage ratio, and again, this provides a neat solution to the issue of building a dual-personality bike.

It's worth noting that the Shape Shifter system is not a quick or natural adjustment, which makes it difficult to change modes on the fly. We feel like it works better for long, sustained climbs rather than as a mid-trail shift. Perhaps it's something that would become quicker once the movement becomes second nature, but with the bike's ability to climb as well as it does in DH mode we think the majority of people will be more than happy to run it in that mode most of the time.

Our test bike was surprisingly noisy, not from the usual cable rattling or chainslap though, but from some annoying creaks that we had trouble amending in the main rocker link area. We lubed up each pivot to no avail, leaving us to wonder if it was the cable noodle for the Shape Shifter making contact with the innards of the rocker. There was wear on the noodle, signaling that there was indeed some form of rubbing going on.

Build Kit

The Strive CF 9.0 Race is decked out with one of the best off the shelf kits we've seen. It comes with trusty Maxxis rubbers, quality Ergon GE1 grips and comfortable SM3 Pro Carbon seat, and a set of Renthal Fatbars and Apex stem. This model runs with SRAM all over, from the great quality Rail 50 wheels, to the Guide RSC brakes, X01 drivetrain and Reverb Stealth dropper. It even came with a quality E-Thirteen upper chainguide.


The RockShox Pike RCT3 fork performed how everyone has come to expect. Combined with the Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair rear shock the bike was very well balanced bike and exceptionally easy to setup. The rear shock does require a lot of pressure thanks to the bike's higher leverage ratio (we had to run between 230 and 250psi in order to achieve proper sag).

SRAM's new Guide RSC brakes are a big improvement over previous Avid models, providing a very consistent feel at the lever and plenty of power and modulation. They're well suited to the bike and will no doubt challenge Shimano in the stopping department, provided they stay this way for a good period of time. The addition of a 200mm rotor up front to the 180mm rear was also a welcomed addition to the bike.

The Rockshox Reverb dropper post performed flawlessly with the Stealth style cable routing kept it clean and uncluttered.

Maxxis EXO treads provided a great mix of brawn and traction with loads of confidence when battling down rock strewn sections of trail. Even when landing on some nasty rocks after a few questionable lines choices keeping air in the tires was no problem for this trusty set of rubber. The tire profile on the SRAM Rail 50 wheels is good with the High Roller 2. The Minion DHR2 is a little rounder in profile, but worked well out back regardless.

We were stoked to have a good cockpit on the Strive, with a solid set of 780mm Renthal Fatbars up front, clamped into Renthal's new 40mm Apex stem. The combination made for great steering and no odd delays thanks to excess flex.

Ergon's GE1 grips have a great shape and worked well for us, even when riding without gloves. The choice to run the rubber of the grip out to the end of the bars and only provide a clamp in the inside is something that we will undoubtedly see a lot more of, and was something we were thankful for. It does change the position of the hand on the end of the bar, which requires a little adjusting of the grip to combat it. There is also a little flex out there thanks to the soft ends, but once used to them it isn't an issue.

The bike's suspension was designed to work best with a 1x11 system. Canyon fitted the bike with a 34-tooth chainring, allowing us to have all the gears required rather than spending all our time in the lower end of the cassette. This may not suit all riders and is easy to change if so, but it was something we were glad to see. Consider adding some protection to the inside of the seat stay to eliminate chain slap.

Long Term Durability

There's a potential for extra service time thanks to the addition of a gas spring in the Shape Shifter system. We're also curious of what would happen on trail if the system were to leak and no shock pump was available. The noise we had coming from a relatively new bike was also a minor concern. Aside from simply liking our bikes quiet, the fact that it was making this sort of noise early on indicates that the pivots needed to be pulled apart and greased well ahead of the suggested service schedule, or that the Shape Shifter's extra parts were causing some issues. Canyon backs the bike with a two year warranty should any real issues develop.


What's The Bottom Line?

The Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race is a bike that rallies, remains stable in the air, climbs like a mountain goat, and rewards precise and assertive rider inputs. It's a fun, fast, and aggressive ride. Keep your game up though, because should you slip you'll find you need to pull yourself out of the situation. We don't see this as a negative, but those seeking a bike that will bail you out of any mistake may want to look elsewhere.

Considering Canyon has developed a way to use a standard shock, the ability to adjust the Strive's ride qualities at the flip of a lever is next level. While the bike is designed well enough to be run in the low DH setting all the time, the added versatility is a nice feature for those that want it and does make climbing a little easier. More moving bits may be a concern for some, however.

Because they're consumer-direct, Canyon is able to offer very competitive price points for all the builds. The components on the CF 9.0 Race are all top shelf, and as a complete package it's a great ride.

Visit for more info.

Bonus Gallery: 22 photos of the Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race up close and in action

About The Testers

Dylan Stucki - When he's not busy popping no-handed wheelies or shot-gunning beers you're likely to find Dylan comfortably inside the top ten at Big Mountain Enduro races. Since he's a big guy and charges hard he breaks a lot of stuff. He's naturally a perceptive and particular rider who picks up on even the smallest details.

AJ Barlas -In 15 years on the bike AJ has developed a smooth and fluid style. Hailing from Squamish, BC, his preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.


About Test Sessions

Three 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 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.


Product Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race
Model Year 2015
Riding Type Enduro / All-Mountain
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
S, M, L View Geometry
Size S M L
Top Tube Length 600mm 629mm 648mm
Head Tube Angle 66°, 1.5° 66°, 1.5° 66°, 1.5°
Head Tube Length 115mm 125mm 135mm
Seat Tube Angle 73.5° (+1.5°) 73.5° (+1.5°) 73.5° (+1.5°)
Seat Tube Length 430mm 430mm 460mm
Bottom Bracket Height 12mm Offset 12mm Offset 12mm Offset
Chainstay Length 423mm 423mm 423mm
Wheelbase 1158mm 1188mm 1207mm
Standover 778mm 782mm 788mm
Reach 422mm 448mm 468mm
Stack 606mm 615mm 627mm
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b)
Frame Material Carbon Fiber
Frame Material Details 27.5" Reinforced Carbon
Rear Travel
  • 160mm
  • 135mm
Rear Shock RockShox Monarch Plus RC3
Fork RockShox PIKE RCT3 Solo Air, Tapered Aluminium Steerer, 15mm Thru-Axle
Fork Travel 160mm
Head Tube Diameter Tapered
Headset Cane Creek 40
Handlebar Renthal Fatbar Carbon, Width: 780mm, Rise: 30mm
Stem Renthal Apex, Length: 40mm (S,M), 50mm (L)
Grips Ergon GE1
Brakes SRAM Guide RSC, Tool-Free Reach and Contact Point Adjustment, Matchmaker X Compatible.
Brake Levers SRAM
Drivetrain 1x
Shifters SRAM X01 Trigger
Front Derailleur N/A
Rear Derailleur SRAM X01, X-Horizon, Carbon Cage, 11-Speed
Chainguide e*thirteen XCX
Cranks SRAM X01
Chainrings 34 Tooth
Bottom Bracket SRAM X-Type
Pedals N/A
Chain SRAM XX1
Cassette SRAM X01 XG-1195, 10-42 Tooth, 11-Speed
Rims SRAM Rail 50 Wheelset
Hubs SRAM Rail 50 Wheelset
Spokes SRAM Rail 50 Wheelset
Tires Maxxis HighRoller II TR EXO Front // Minion DHR II MaxxPro Rear
Saddle SDG Circuit
Seatpost RockShox RS Reverb Stealth
Seatpost Diameter 30.9mm
Seatpost Clamp Standard
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 12mm Through Axle
Max. Tire Size
Bottle Cage Mounts Yes
Colors Factory Enduro Team, or Electric Blue
Warranty 2 Years
Weight 27 lb 12.5 oz (12,600 g)
Miscellaneous Canyon Torque Wrench, Canyon Shock Pump, and Canyon Frame Protection Included
Price N/A
More Info

Canyon Website

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