First Ride Review – Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL 2018

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Canyon first released the original Spectral at Eurobike back in 2013. Now, five years later, our intrepid fly-boy Dean Hersey travelled to the home of southern trail riding, the Surrey Hills. Here, he takes up the story for us…

I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon with Daniel Oster, a Senior Product Manager at Canyon. Daniel was accompanied by riders Fergus Lamb and Liam Moynihan of the Dudes Of Hazard fame, who had all (along with Joe Barnes) had an input into this new bike’s design overhaul. This acted as a great introduction to the 2018 Spectral. Together we discussed the frame’s testing, development and a preview into its key design features to create the bike that we would get to ride together the following day on the trails around Peaslake.

A new shock configuration of the new Spectral

The new Spectral has taken its styling and design cues from its bigger brother, the Sender, a DH bike that has been used to great effect on the World Cup downhill race scene by Aussie ripper Troy Brosnan. Following where the Canyon Sender started, the 2018 Spectral takes a step forward into a new era and the revised Spectral now only has the mixture of 150mm front and 140mm rear suspension travel in common with its previous namesake.

Surrey Hills in ‘no flat’ shocker.  Pic: Rafal Skiendzielewski

 

Dean was careful to keep on tyre knob on the floor at all times. Pic: Rafal Skiendzielewski

 

We spent a little time familiarising with the complete bike line up to help best explain exactly where this Spectral fits into the range. Canyon established a range scaled and ‘Categorised’ based upon their bikes designed purpose. With gravity mountain bikes like the Sender (DH race bike) and the Torque (bike park hucker) at the big end of the spectrum graded a Category 5. The dropped bar road, CX and recreational bikes, intended to keep both wheels firmly on terra firmer are at the opposite end of the scale at category 1.

Both the Full suspension and hard tail mountain bikes like the XC race (Lux and Exceed) bikes and ‘fun’ (Neuron and Grand Canyon) mountain bikes are then placed as Category 3, midway in the scale based on the occasional lift off over small jumps and intended to be used for off road riding. These ratings have been backed up by in-house testing both in the impressive Canyon HQ lab (featuring CT scanning equipment) and on the trail in the hands of pro riders like Fabian Barel, Joe Barnes and the Dudes of Hazard

So where does this leave the 2018 Spectral? Billed as a trail bike by Canyon, it interestingly categorises this bike together with and alongside its EWS stage winning Strive Enduro bike, thus bumping the new Spectral up from the previous Category 3 rating. Both bikes are now listed as Category 4 by Canyon, showcasing the ability and intensions of the Spectral and it had to undergo harder bench test scenarios during development including ‘jump load testing’.

The Scottish band of merry men aptly named “the Dudes of Hazard” played a huge part in the development and marketing of this new bike. Anyone who has seen the back catalogue of videos will tell you the characteristic way the Dudes ride on their home town trails of Fort William, mostly featuring them sliding about on mountainsides, pedal deep in wet, Highland loam and most of all having fun on their bikes.

The Range

The 2018 Spectral range includes eight models at various price points from the bottom end (impressive starting price under £2000) aluminium models sized from XS through to XL and sharing the same tweaked geometry as their higher priced stable mates. The mid range bikes with various builds utilises a hybrid design with a carbon front triangle mated with an aluminium rear swing arm for £2699 for the Spectral CF 8.0. At the top end the Spectral bags you a full carbon fibre frame for £3599 for the CF 9.0 PRO and then the bike tested here Spectral CF 9.0 SL costing £4499. The jewel in the crown and the range topper is the CF 9.0 LTD dripping in ENVE carbon wheels and SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain for £6349.

The Spectral is also available as a frameset for £2299. However just like the carbon/aluminium and full carbon models, it will only be available in S to XL frame sizes, so if you require a XS sizing you will need to opt for the full aluminium bikes. While I’m talking about sizing, the XS and S bikes have adopted a size specific suspension kinematic that combine a lower leverage ratio with smaller shocks and therefore a shorter stroke, alongside a lower BB height and reduced standover height proportioned to the rider’s height. Canyon claimed an increase in suspension sensitivity and benefits in dampening for smaller and lighter riders.

The Bike

This bike may be all new with a focus on the suspension and its performance, but Canyon has chosen to keep the geometry familiar and have steered away from the much ‘longer, lower and slacker’ trend, instead opting for a tweak in the geometry rather than a radical new idea. Pro Canyon rider Joe Barnes professed to enjoy riding the original Spectral design so it seemed crazy to change the feel of the bike up completely.
As mentioned, visually the 2018 model has changed. Canyon has swapped out the old four bar linkage and rocker type shock mounting in favour of a new horizontal rear shock position taking the bike’s DNA and inspiration from its bigger brother, the Sender. This change was explained by Daniel and was fundamentally made to help achieve a similar suspension kinematic and curve to the Sender.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL 2018
Asymmetric back end with loadsa room. Credit: Dean Hersey
Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL 2018
Ready for a frosty day in the Surrey Hills! Pic: Dean Hersey

The request by Joe to keep the original bike’s playful charm meant that Canyon completely redesigned the suspension to give a supple start and a more improved, controlled and stable mid stroke and finishing up in the end stroke with a more progressive feel. This is dubbed by Canyon as “Triple Phase Suspension” philosophy. Not only does this change offer the claimed improved suspension kinematics that Canyon was after, but it was also developed to sustain a better shape while charging hard, deep into the shock’s stroke. It also gives an improved feel at the start of the stroke when tracking over the ground to improve the rider’s confidence with added grip and traction.

Along with the main aim to change the rear suspension kinematics, Canyon has taken steps to improve the reliability to keep the bike’s performance and feel for longer. This is a welcome attribute given the winter riding conditions we currently find ourselves in. Canyon has gone on in the vein of reliability by utilising frame bearing cover seals. These covers are used over all the pivot bearing in the swing arm further adding to the protection and forming a double seal to reduce mud and water ingress. This theory is to keep you and the bike out on the trails for longer especially in less than favourable conditions.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL 2018
Press-fit BB. You can’t win ’em all. Pic: Dean Hersey

Eventually when the Spectral is due in the service stand, you’ll be greeted by the new addition of the cable channel running down the down tube. The idea is that the replaceable plastic cover creates a void to house the cables and hoses to allow easier access for maintenance, an improvement on those frame designs with hoses that are completely internally routed. The cover has all the associated benefits like increased protection for the cables and also this feature gives the downtube some degree of added protection. It’s a simple idea that I personally really like.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL 2018
Headset includes bump stops to save your downtube. Pic: Dean Hersey

All the Spectral builds come with 27.5in wheels but crucially the frames have enough clearance to house the latest beefy 2.6in ‘semi plus’ tyres to aid you in finding the maximum grip and ensuring that playful ride characteristic while keeping some mud clearance at the rear. All the frames feature all of the normal modern delights like internal dropper post routing, a tapered steerer, 30mm wide rim width, internal cable routing and 180mm direct post mount brakes.

Other features offered on the carbon framed models is the addition of Impact Protection Unit (IPU), an added piece to protect the top tube from side impacts with the brake levers and shifter in a crash when the bars are forced around. The IPU is basically a sacrificial bump stop integrated into a custom bottom headset spacer. Frame protection doesn’t stop there, a neat integrated chainstay protection is applied to both the upper and lower surfaces to prevent damage and keep noise to a minimum.

A tidy integrated seat clamp borrowed from the road bike range has been created to stiffen the area between the seat tube and the top tube with added material without the need of an ugly brace in that area. The seatpost clamp design also alleviates over-tightening onto the dropper post which can affect performance especially on RockShox Reverbs.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL 2018
The gold and black theme continues with the Renthal bars and stem. Pic: Dean Hersey
Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL 2018
A smart stance, eh? Pic: Dean Hersey
Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL 2018
Neatly protected pivot bearings. Pic: Dean Hersey

All but the XS frame features a mounting for a contoured storage box underneath the top tube and tucked up behind the steerer. Although it is not neat internal storage solution like the Specialized SWAT, it is removable and its design is to compliment the frame’s lines while offering a stowage option if you think you could make use of it.

To accompany the storage box design Canyon have gone to the effort of designing multiple side loader bottle cage options for you to choose allowing access to the side that best suits you. They have even developed a neat smaller profile twin loader bottle and cage to separate water and your preferred isotonic refreshment or just to carry more of your chosen wet stuff for a longer day on the bike.

The Ride

As we left the hotel we were all greeted by an icy cold and crisp clear blue sky morning. We made the short trip to the iconic sleepy village of Peaslake. With Jack Noy the local and the Event Coordinator from Canyon UK as our guide, I was excited to try the bike on some trails of Surrey Hills that I would be familiar with and also I had high hopes that Jack would show me some new bits and pieces.

Dean’s ‘paying attention’ face. Pic: Rafal Skiendzielewski
Ridin’ out… Pic: Rafal Skiendzielewski

Once we arrived at the Walking Bottom Car Park we spent a little time fine tuning our steeds. With sag adjustments and seat heights nudged we left the van to the sound of cracking frozen puddles under our tyres. We started with a couple of steady runs on trails close to the car park that I happen to have ridden before, just to ensure everything was working and fitting perfect. This conveniently gave the Dudes time to find the meeting point after getting lost. They spent the best part of 30 minutes heading in the completely wrong direction after leaving the hotel with Rafel, our photographer for the day. With the guys from North of the wall all mounted up and ready to roll, we eventually all left together.

The first sensation felt was in climbing. The bike had a snappy pedal action and even with the Fox Float DPS rear shock permanently left in the open position. It still made light work of the short and steep climbs. After all, pedalling is a trait that true trail bikes must possess. Something Daniel had claimed to have concentrated on, with the level of anti squat increased compared to the older model to increase pedalling efficiency.

And… gaze! Pic: Rafal Skiendzielewski

We dropped into a well known steep and rutted trail from the infamous trig point on Pitch Hill. The trail is fairly steep to start with and after a succession of rutted out corners, the gradient lessens and you enter a series of drops and jumps much to the excitement of Fergus and Liam. The dudes confessed to having hardly any jumps back home in Fort Bill. Instantly I noticed that the Spectral had a real bottomless feeling to it, and it certainly felt more stable and capable than the frame’s 140mm of rear travel may suggest. The mid-stroke support was impressive. The top of the stroke ramped up nicely dealing with the landings, no blowing through the travel or harsh bottom outs.

Leaning the Spectral in. Pic: Rafal Skiendzielewski

We hung around the bottom jumps for a while and the feeling of the lively, poppy ride denoted the intentions of this bike were clearly to bring a smile to your face as shrieks and whoops rang out in the air. Pushing back up the steep hill to have yet another go and push myself a tad further on each run.

I spent a brief moment lying on the ground after an impressive acrobatic over-the-bars, while trying my hardest to replicate what the Dudes and Jack were doing on the steep and loamy line that had been freshly skidded in. I was unhurt and the bike undamaged and quickly back on the bike now instilled with more confidence, letting me take full advantage of the Spectral’s well balanced chassis.

Dean was impressed with the bike in the loam. Pic: Rafal Skiendzielewski

Riding the numerous other new trails that day in loamy soil and splashing through the thawed out puddles I came to the conclusion that the bike uses its composed suspension, solid construction and light weight build to produce a settled, yet spritely and poppy feel. The bike is easy to place and hold on line. It picks up over undulations perfectly helping the rider to maintain speed. The light weight aids acceleration out of sections and obstacles when the trail forces you to slow up.

Wooooo-ooom! Pic: Rafal Skiendzielewski

The Fox 34 forks worked perfectly and gave plenty of support of the trails of Peaslake and myself as the pilot. I thought the choice to use a Fox Float DPS shock in this build is a testament to the frame’s suspension design and the work of Canyon. It is lovely and light and didn’t feel like it was out of its depth at all during the day. Both Fox units felt controlled under hard braking helping to boost confidence letting you push on.

Overall

OK, so the 2018 Spectral is not shouting from the rooftops with super progressive geometry or glossy, in your face neon colourways. It goes about trail bike duties in a quiet and efficient manner almost unnoticed. The bike didn’t put a foot wrong and I cannot complain about the build and the spec of the CF 9.0 SL for the money. At a claimed 12.6Kgs (or 27.7lbs) for the medium size, It’s a light package and as near as silent when rolling.

I would love to ride the Spectral over a longer term to really test how reliable Canyon have made this design by putting some serious hours into the bearings and the longevity of its paint finish. It looks like an excellent bike for riding local trails in the week, with a monthly visit to more challenging venues.

The bars and stem felt good for me and complimented the size large that I was riding. I found that I was positioned centrally on the bike and the ride had an air of familiarity about it that I enjoyed. It didn’t take me long to adjust to riding the Spectral even though my personal trail bike is a 29er. I believe the delightful comfort is a combination of the well-sorted suspension package and the choice of 2.6in tyres.

I really like some of the well thought out features like the downtube hose void, the added sealing of the pivot bearings and the neat integrated seat clamp. All items I think we should see more of on mountain bikes.

So anything I didn’t like? Well I’m not a huge fan of press fit bottom brackets as I’d prefer to do the majority of bike maintained myself at home.

It is definitely not a negative, but with the various constructions and builds on offer I would have a tough choice to decide on which bike build I would choose to spend my hard-earned on. I am not sure if the price jump from the Spectral CF 9.0 SL up to the CF 9.0 LTD is worth the extra cash just for the bling, as I was very impressed with how the SL performed over the day. But hey that’s just me.

I also believe the “Category 4” frame is so capable that for a slight weight increase, bolting in a pair of Fox 36 forks and a piggyback shock you would be well setup for trail riding in the big mountains of Europe and even racing enduro.

The Dudes paying attention too… Pic: Rafal Skiendzielewski

First ride impressions are of a great all round UK trail bike with an impressive specification culminating in a light weight package that is surprisingly capable for a 140mm travel frame. For 2018, it has some welcome new features, but most of all, it’s (still) a fun bike to ride that put a beaming smile on my face.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL

Frame // Full Carbon Fibre Frame, 140mm Travel
Fork // Fox Factory 34 Float, 150mm Travel
Shock // Fox Float DPS Factory EVOL (metric)
Hubs // DT Swiss
Rims // DT Swiss XMC 1200 Carbon, 30mm wide
Tyres // Maxxis Minion DHF 2.6 and Maxxis Rekon+ 2.6
Chainset // SRAM X1 Eagle Carbon , 32T X-Sync Chainring
Front Mech // N/A
Rear Mech // SRAM X1 Eagle, 12-Speed
Shifters // SRAM X1 Eagle , 12-Speed
Cassette // SRAM XG-1295 Eagle, 10-50t, 12-Speed
Brakes // SRAM Guide RSC, 200mm Front & 180mm Rear
Stem // Renthal Apex 35, 40mm Long
Bars // Renthal Fat Bar lite Carbon, 760mm Wide
Grips // Ergon GD1
Seatpost // RockShox Reverb Stealth, 30.9mm, 150mm Travel
Saddle // Ergon SME30
Size Tested // Large
Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
RRP // £4499

Disclosure

Travel and accommodation costs were paid for by Canyon.

Comments (6)

  1. How does it compare to something like the orange five?

  2. JPS is the colour scheme of the year.

  3. Press fit. You lost me.

    yep me too

  4. Me 3, all that garbage about protected pivot bearings and then fitting a PF BB

  5. FFS, was thinking about this for my next new bike. Maybe they’re change that in 2019.

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