Canfield Brothers Balance Frame, 2016

Vital Rating: (Excellent)
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Canfield Brothers Balance Frame, 2016 Canfield Brothers Balance
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2015 Test Sessions: Canfield Balance

Rating: Vital Review

Reviewed by Steve Wentz and Brandon Turman // Photos by Lear Miller

For 2015, the Canfield Brothers are bringing you the culmination of their last 10 years of trail bikes. The Balance is a 160mm slayer designed to do it all, integrating ideas from both their downhill and former 180mm travel "The One" bikes. With a build and suspension design oriented to provide maximum fun, we couldn't wait to throw a leg over it at the Vital MTB Test Sessions. The beautifully welded aluminum frame can run 26 or 27.5-inch wheels, and looks to be a beast when pointed down. A Cane Creek DBair CS shock and slack head angle point towards the gravity end of the all-mountain spectrum, but the really interesting part of the Balance lies between those cool red anodized links.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5 (tested)

Reviewed by Steve Wentz and Brandon Turman // Photos by Lear Miller

For 2015, the Canfield Brothers are bringing you the culmination of their last 10 years of trail bikes. The Balance is a 160mm slayer designed to do it all, integrating ideas from both their downhill and former 180mm travel "The One" bikes. With a build and suspension design oriented to provide maximum fun, we couldn't wait to throw a leg over it at the Vital MTB Test Sessions. The beautifully welded aluminum frame can run 26 or 27.5-inch wheels, and looks to be a beast when pointed down. A Cane Creek DBair CS shock and slack head angle point towards the gravity end of the all-mountain spectrum, but the really interesting part of the Balance lies between those cool red anodized links.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5 (tested) or 26-inch wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • Tapered head tube
  • 66-degree head angle (160mm fork, 27.5, external headset)
  • 74.2-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 346mm (13.6-inch) measured bottom bracket height
  • 425mm (16.7-inch) chainstays
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured complete weight (size L, no pedals): 32-pounds, 7-oz (14.7kg)
  • $2,100 MSRP (frame + shock)

The Canfield family has truly embraced 1X drivetrain systems that come as standard equipment on so many bikes this year. We see that as a good thing, so long as you don't want two front chainrings for climbing. Optimizing a frame for a single front ring allows frame designers to be free from the constraints of chain torque from different locations. The Balance is optimized for a 30 or 32 tooth chainring, which is what most riders will run on a do-everything bike with 27.5-inch wheels. Those red links joining the rear swingarm to the mainframe work together to change the virtual pivot location as the frame cycles through its travel. The virtual pivot is designed to move not up and down, but instead across the arc of the front chainring. By designing the parallel link "Formula" suspension this way, the Balance promises efficient, neutral pedaling while still retaining the bump-absorbing heart of a shredding machine. Shock accessibility is very good, and it should be considering all the available adjustments on the 200x57mm Cane Creek DBair CS.

In the looks department, the Balance is striking. From the skull adorned, beefy hydroformed headtube area to the remarkably intricate details that pop when you look closely, this 6061 aluminum frame is a work of art, balancing brawn and beauty while showing just how well the Brothers have mastered their craft. Out of our 19 bike Test Sessions fleet, the Balance is the one we were all clamoring for when we were setting out for our roughest trail days.

There a no geometry adjustments on the Balance, aside from the ability to run 26 or 27.5 wheels. In reality, almost all 27.5 frames can do this. If a bike is made to have clearance for 27.5-inch wheels, 26-inch wheels only drop about a half-inch from the bottom bracket height. A slightly lighter weight, slightly lower ride height, and a slightly more playful ride will likely result from that change. We stuck with 27.5 for this test, as we believe that is what most riders will stay with when purchasing new rides for the year. This setup yielded a 346mm (13.6-inch) bottom bracket height. Mud clearance out back was tight though, with just ~6mm of room for the muck with 2.35-inch Maxxis tires, likely as a result of the compact 425mm (16.7-inch) chainstays.

Additional details include a no-nonsense 73mm threaded bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, direct front derailleur mount, tapered headtube, 160mm post brake mount, large Enduro Max bearings at the pivots, a replaceable axle nut, and a bottle mount under the downtube. Cables route externally on top of downtube, eliminating the dreaded cable rattle and protecting them from stray rocks or mishaps. Canfield provides stealth-style internal routing for the dropper post, as well as the option to run one externally.

The Balance is sold as a frame and shock package for $2,100, and fork/wheel/crank/pedal packages are available to help with the build. The main frame comes in anodized black or brushed aluminum, and there are six link colors to choose from to customize the look of your ride. Small, Medium, Large and X-Large frames are made, and the claimed frame weight is 7.5-pounds without a shock.

On The Trail

The Canfield Balance was taken on numerous outings to the rockiest trails on West Cuesta Ridge in San Luis Obispo, California, and then to the coastline trails and a jump zone near Morro Bay.

Although our test rig was set up with a good mix of parts, we are going to focus more on the frame as that's how it's sold. Canfield can certainly recommend parts based on their experience, but the frame + shock combo can be built up with whatever parts you choose.

Initial setup is pretty easy, provided you follow the recommended settings for the Cane Creek shock. The myriad of adjustments can seem overwhelming, leading some riders to do nothing and just hoping for the best. Luckily for new Balance owners, Canfield and Cane Creek have two baseline recommendations. Knowing our propensity for the more gravity fed side of trails, they suggested we try their "Park" setting first. With more low-speed rebound control and minimal low-speed compression, the Balance was set to take big hits and make the most of the trail ahead. We also believed that this would be a perfect setting to see how good the claimed pedaling efficiency really was. For our 175-pound test riders we settled on a generous 38% (20mm) sag, as suggested by Canfield. The other recommended starting point is what they call their "All-Mountain" setting, which provides a firmer, more pedal-efficient bike with 33% (17mm) sag and increased low-speed compression.

The Balance sports a frame tailor made for fast fun. A 66-degree head angle paired with short chainstays encourages speed, but usually allows for a playful demeanor. The size Large frame's 438mm reach was comfortable for our 5'10" tall tester, but on the edge of our 5'8" tester's preference even with a 50mm stem. This caused Steve some trouble when trying to weight the front end, and he had to change his riding to get lower and more forward than normal. With frame sizes all over the board depending on the brand, some riders at 5'9" will prefer a Medium, and some riders at 5'8" will prefer Larges. While we usually prefer to ride longer Mediums or shorter Larges, we'd caution against thinking the Canfield's 607mm effective top tube would mean a "short" bike for the Large size designation. Even though the top tube isn't super long, the reach feels longer than other bikes in our usual size range.

Compared to some other bikes with slack actual seat tube angles, the Canfield didn't feel too stretched out while seated for either tester. We also didn't feel like we were behind the bottom bracket when pedaling, much of which can be attributed to those short stays. This gives the relatively big bike a sportier, more climb-friendly feel.

Once pointed downhill, the Balance showed us how important suspension setup is on this frame. At first we felt the bike kicking on successive hits, throwing our weight forward. It felt as if the rear suspension wasn't working to its full potential, especially considering Canfield bikes' reputations for vertical axle paths and bump eating prowess. Cornering felt decent on smooth terrain, and big hit absorption was also very good. On successive hits though, like through rough rock gardens, the Balance was certainly off. This is as it should be with the settings we were handed, though, as the "Park" mode seemed best suited to bike park use. We tried it and listened to what we were told, but on rough trails with successive rocky hits we needed more rebound speed and less high-speed compression. The Balance came alive after our changes, and would keep up with the terrain coming at it. The ability to tune low-speed rebound kept the bike from feeling too springy at the top of the travel, and the lighter high-speed compression setting allowed the back wheel to move out of the way of bumps quicker. We tend to gravitate toward more low-speed compression in general, and that made an improvement to the Balance's ride as well.


Some of our changes also focused on the RockShox Pike fork. What felt like a good initial setup needed to be changed to a few more clicks of low-speed compression and two-fewer clicks of rebound damping for our shorter tester. This kept the front end higher up in the travel and provided more support so he could lean on the front end more for traction. After all these changes, which really only amounted to a few discussions and stops, the Balance felt more like what we thought it could be. It was a high-speed machine that jumped well when compressed, but also felt glued to the ground when we wanted to keep contact with the dirt. No doubt that the initial suppleness helped with this, as well as the ramp at the end of the stroke caused by the air shock spring and the Balance's own gently progressive leverage curve. Big or small, if we wanted to get airborne, we could.

When we were going through fields of baby heads and really rough terrain, the Balance would keep its speed really well. We didn't always place the wheels perfectly, and we didn't always pump at exactly the right time, but the frame's suspension and axle path did a great job of getting up and over any obstacle in our way.

Once we had the suspension set up well for fast, rocky terrain, one of the few complaints we had was on a few big landings. Any double can be made into a single if you go fast enough, and we experienced this first hand. While the suspension was good on big compressions generated by us, if we were really pushing the limit of drops or jumps, the bike's suspension would go through travel pretty quickly. This is the tradeoff we experienced due to easing up on the compression settings we mentioned earlier. If you do go to the park with this, crank up the high-speed compression a bit more than what we had, and consider adding a volume reducer inside the shock. We don't see this as too much of a bad thing. The Balance is what it is - 160mm of travel that's great at gobbling up bumps, and even good suspension characteristics when under power. The small trade off of an occasional bottom out at the limit seems completely acceptable.

Overall, the Balance was very good when pointed downhill, but this frame is definitely capable of lots more than just descending steeps well. The suspension was very consistent on flat terrain when we would encounter chattery or rough sections. Pedaling would keep the suspension from moving too much, but felt far from locked out. It was a good kind of firm, not the kind that would inhibit bump absorption while pedaling into ledges or techy terrain. Big-footed riders may experience some slight heel rub on the relatively wide swing arm.

We wouldn't say that it was easy to change lines, but the bike would move in a hurry given enough body english. Some of the bike's weight was a part of that. We don't want to harp on the weight too much, but it is worth explaining. The 7.5-pound frame without shock turns into a 8.6-pound frame + shock combo. That's not light, but with many frame + shock combos coming between 6.5 and 7.5-pounds, it isn't a huge penalty either. We've never ridden bikes that are great at 30 but bad at 31-pounds. On the flip side, taking a pound of weight from a 29-pound bike that is mediocre will not turn it into a star.

The 32.4-pound complete bike weight is mostly because of the parts, which are entirely up to the rider. Even so, no matter how much we try to justify the Canfield's weight, there was no argument that made our quads feel better up some of the big hills we rode. It felt heavy, but not sluggish. The Balance took effort to go forward, but it was not wasted effort thanks to the suspension design's efficiency. While jumping, it also felt lighter than its build would indicate. Manualing was fun and also masked the waistline number. Powering up technical terrain was far better than one might assume at first. The rear wheel felt so glued to the ground that given enough power, the bike could motor up just about anything. The above average bottom bracket height also aided to its climbing ability. We wouldn't spike cranks nearly as much on familiar climbs as we have with bikes that were closer to the 13-inch bottom bracket mark.

We didn't end up using the climb mode much on the Cane Creek rear shock, even though the DBair CS has a cool way of dealing with climbing. Instead of locking out the rear end on a compression circuit, it calms the rebound and adds a little bit of low-speed compression so that a rider doesn't feel much bobbing. It made a difference in the climbing performance, but it wasn't that necessary, which is more of a highlight of the Canfield's great pedaling performance than anything else. The bike doesn't need many switches or performance additives, and the bar is acceptably adorned with only a dropper post cable, two brakes and a shifter cable - refreshing in a day when excessive items on a spec sheet can be all too common.

Build Kit

As mentioned earlier, components will be entirely up to each rider, so we'll focus on the bits that are unique to Canfield.

Canfield makes hubs that provide the option of running a 9-tooth small cog and then a good range after that. Considering the bike was designed around a 30 or 32-tooth chainring, the Balance seems like a perfect candidate for their hub. With a small chainring up front and a 9-36 tooth cassette, many riders will be able to climb majority of hills and still have a high enough gear to put down power at speed. Our bike was equipped with a standard 11-36 tooth 10-speed setup. It got the job done just fine, but we were oh so eager to see what Canfield's own gearing setup would be like.

We weren't left out completely from Canfield's line up of components though. Our wheels, crankset, hubs and pedals all sported Canfield's name. All worked just as they should have, with no hiccups out of any of the parts. Given the nature of the Balance, we wouldn't change much at all. Engagement on the wheels was decent, and the pedals did their job as well as they could have. Combined with the bottom bracket height, the Crampon pedals' thin profile worked wonders in avoiding rocks during our testing period.

If pressed, we would could be convinced to add a lower roller to the chainguide. There were a few noises from the chain moving around on the standard style chainring, but it never fell off with just a top guide. Adding a roller could put a stop to some of the chain rattle and add to the feeling of indestructibility the Balance imparts on the rider. Also consider adding some mastic tape to the inside of the seat stay to silence the little bit of remaining chainslap.

For a bike as lively and plush as the Balance, some riders may prefer the full on performance of a coil shock. The bike is already heavy, so that isn't going to change much. The increased suppleness wouldn't hinder much on the way up, as the suspension is so good at mitigating bob via the design. On the way down, the coil would provide even more control and a smoother ride over the majority of hits. It might even save a few dollars off the end bill.

Long Term Durability

The Balance gives us no reason to worry in the long run. The large, consistent welds are among the best we've ever seen on a production bike, and the frame has multiple places that are braced and gusseted for added strength. Aside from a few checks to the suspension bolts (which we wish had the torque specs printed on them), we see no reason why the Balance can't be in your stable for a very long time.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Balance is unique in a way that is almost hard to describe. In a world where many bikes claim to be jacks of all trades, the Canfield stands apart thanks to its superb technical climbing performance, especially among those that prefer to rally on the way down. Even so, given its comfort in berms, large jumps, rough sections, and at speed, don't be surprised when it feels like you're riding a bike with more travel.

For bikes like this, we feel inclined to forgive faults (the Balance is not made to be the lightest bike out there), and praise attributes (ride quality aside, even the smallest details on the frame are beautiful). It's hard to place Canfield's latest creation in a specific group with competitors. This bike is for those out for laughs, hollers, and good sessions with friends, and holds true to its mini-DH roots. The Balance seems to just be for those who want a Balance, and that isn't a bad thing at all.

Visit www.canfieldbrothers.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 23 photos of the 2015 Canfield Balance up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 18 years, 11 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).

Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 15 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.

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.

Specifications

Product Canfield Brothers Balance Frame, 2016
Riding Type Trail, Freeride / Bike Park
Rider
Sizes and Geometry
S , M, L, XL View Geometry
Size S M L XL
Top Tube Length 572mm 593mm 614mm 636mm
Head Tube Angle 65° 65° 65° 65°
Head Tube Length 105 110 120 125
Seat Tube Angle 75.5° 75.5° 75.5° 75.5°
Seat Tube Length 394 432 470 508
Bottom Bracket Height 343 343 343 343
Chainstay Length 420 420 420 420
Wheelbase 1155 1176 1191 1220
Standover 691 727 750 755
Reach 419 438 457 476
Stack 591 596 600 610
Wheel Size
Frame Material Aluminum
Frame Material Details 7000 Aluminum
Rear Travel 165mm
Rear Shock Cane Creek Double Barrel Air CS, 216mm x 63mm
Head Tube Diameter 44mm Upper/49mm Lower
Bottom Bracket 73mm Threaded
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 142mm x 12mm, Maxle Included
Front Derailleur Size N/A
Seatpost Diameter 30.9mm, “Stealth” Dropper Compatible
Max Tire Size
ISCG Tabs ISCG 05
Bottle Cage Mounts
Colors Ano Black or Raw Frame with 6 Link Color Options (Silver, Red, Blue, Fern Green, Orange, Black)
Warranty 2 Year
Weight N/A
Miscellaneous
Price $2,099
More Info

Canfield Website

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