SEPT-Review – Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL

A German trail bike for the all-around fun-lover

Canyon is a consumer-direct brand from Germany that entered the U.S market in August of 2017. Canyon offers a full line of bikes designed to be raced at the most elite levels of cycling—from cross-country to downhill and even enduro. The newly updated Spectral, however, is far from a race machine. Now, don’t get us wrong, the all-new Spectral is a modern trail bike with design cues from Canyon’s downhill racer, the Sender; however, the main goal for the new Spectral is not to win races. Canyon employed the help of Joe Barnes, an EWS racer and all-around fun-lover (just check out his Dudes of Hazzard videos for evidence of that) to design this all-new bike. Barnes, a Scottish native, helped transform the Spectral into a fun and playful trail bike that could handle his muddy local trails. According to Canyon, enduro racers will likely prefer the Strive, Canyon’s long-travel race machine, to gain an edge over the competition, but the all-around fun-lover will be drawn to the Spectral. We decided to bring the Spectral to our local trails in order to see how much fun the all-new Spectral really is.

WHO IS IT MADE FOR?

As we’ve previously stated, the Spectral is designed for trail riders looking for a playful and poppy bike that dances around the trails. While the bike is probably fast enough to handle your local enduro race, its nimble handling will likely have you looking to improve your style rather than your stage times. The Spectral’s playful nature comes from its short chainstays, traction-grabbing 2.6-inch tires and three-stage suspension tune, which we will touch on later. Canyon gave the Spectral 27.5-inch wheels, along with 140mm of rear-wheel travel and 150mm up front.

Canyon sells its bikes consumer direct, so having some mechanical skills can go a long way. Our test rig came mostly assembled and only required us to mount the handlebars, slide in the dropper post and attach the front wheel. Canyon provided us with a torque wrench and a shock pump to help get us on the trails as soon as possible.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

The Spectral offers three frame options, including a full aluminum model with a low starting price of just $2500. The alloy model features a SRAM GX Eagle, 12-speed drivetrain, RockShox suspension and dropper post, and a host of other quality components. Canyon also offers a frame with a carbon front triangle and an aluminum rear, helping to balance price and weight. Our test bike, the CF 9.0 SL, features a full carbon frame and a laundry list of top-notch components. Canyon does offer one model above ours, which adds $1000 to the overall cost but comes with Enve wheels and a sweet-looking gold XX1 Eagle drivetrain.

Canyon designed all of its models with a unique cable routing system that hides the cables behind a frame protector, giving the bike an internally routed look with the easy access of external cables. The Spectral features a steering lock called the Impact Protection Unit that is designed to prevent the handlebars from contacting the frame. The bike has an integrated seat tube clamp with a large inner wedge. This wedge is said to more evenly distribute pressures to the dropper post, preventing it from binding. The rubber seal around the top helps keep the elements out of the frame. Furthermore, the Spectral has covers over the lower pivots, allowing riders to charge through foul weather without concern.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

Canyon does an excellent job of spec’ing top-quality components at an affordable price. The key standout component on our Spectral was its Fox Factory suspension that provided a plush and supported ride down the trails. The Spectral’s suspension is designed with three phases: response, stability and ramp. The bike is plush off the top, supportive in the middle and progressive towards the bottom. Shifting was made smooth and precise thanks to a SRAM XO1 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, and traction was plentiful, thanks to large 2.6-inch Maxxis tires. Our test rig came with a pair of carbon DT Swiss XMC 1200 spline wheels that proved stiff when diving into corners. The cockpit features a Renthal bar and stem, and the Reverb dropper provided us with 150mm of travel on our size-medium test frame.

Steering lock: The Spectral features an impact protection unit designed to prevent the handlebars from contacting the frame in the event of a crash. Out on the trails, the steering lock goes unnoticed even on tight switchbacks.

Smart solution: Canyon came up with a clever way to protect the frame and give the Spectral the sleek look of internal cable routing. This was done by adding removable downtube guards that house the bike’s cables, making it easy to access them.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Setting sag: Before heading out to our local trails, we referenced Fox’s web-site—www.ridefox.com—for suspension help. We decided to run 25-percent sag in the rear and 20 percent up front. We then referenced the recommended rebound and compression settings for the amount of psi we placed in our fork and shock. This gave us a solid base tune, and after a few familiar laps on a local trail, we felt right at home on the bike.

Moving out: The Spectral features short 16.9-inch chainstays, a 66.5-degree head tube angle and a 440mm reach. The bike’s geometry is similar to that of many other trail bikes and doesn’t push the limits too far in any given direction. This balanced geometry gives the Spectral a playful attitude that’s ideal for blasting around the trails. In the right hands, the Spectral can be a wicked-fast machine, but it’s not compelled to race against the clock. Instead, it’s a quintessential trail bike designed to make two wheels more fun than you thought possible.

Climbing: The Spectral powers up climbs well thanks to its efficient suspension and wide traction-grabbing tires. The bike’s suspension allows riders to accelerate quickly, but the large tires add rolling mass, preventing the bike from really flying up the hills. Steep climbs are made easy thanks to a small 32-tooth chain-ring, allowing riders to spin the pedals quickly. Canyon designed the Spectral with a 74.5-degree seat tube angle that helps center rider weight, giving the front end a planted feel.

Cornering: The catlike reflexes of the Spectral can be attributed to quite a few different factors, the first being its wide tires that beg to be leaned hard into every turn. Once in the corners, the Spectral’s suspension offers a supportive feel that holds the bike right in the sweet spot of its travel, allowing riders to pump speed out of berms. The 66.5-degree head tube angle balances stability and agility well, and the short chainstays make it easy to toss the bike around the tight turns.

Descending: The Spectral is not one to complain about a long climb, but it’s at its best when the trails point downward. The bike changes direction with ease, and its suspension is supportive when the trails get rough. In fact, it takes a big hit to really use up all of the Spectral’s travel. The bike likes to ride in the middle of its stroke, keeping the suspension active and the traction high. The carbon DT Swiss rims are quite stiff, and while we enjoy riding stiff wheels, these seemed to amplify the side-to-side rolling effect of our large tires.

TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?

Canyon packages its bikes well and provides riders with all the tools they will need to get their bikes rolling. We did, however, run into a bit of a snag when installing our dropper post. The large internal wedge was creating a small lip that was catching the bottom of our post. Making sure the wedge is pushed in flush with the inside of the seat tube will allow the post to easily slide into place. Canyon provides a torque wrench with every size bit you will need to complete the assembly of your bike. Make sure you torque every bolt on your bike properly to ensure it’s safe to ride. The wide 2.6-inch tires offer great traction but add weight where you don’t want it. Swapping these tires for equivalent Wide Trail 2.4-inch or 2.5-inch tires would further enhance the bike’s climbing abilities.

BUYING ADVICE

The Spectral is designed to be an everyday trail bike. It climbs well, descends even better and encourages you to take the fun route down the mountain. Canyon was able to offer this bike at many different price points, making it accessible to more riders. Although we tested the high-end carbon model, we know we would have had a blast riding the entry-level model as well. For the low price of $2500, that bike is hard to beat. As for the bike we tested, it’s a stellar machine for the rider who couldn’t care less about trophies and medals because he is too busy shredding trails.

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