When news that one of our most favourite trail bikes was receiving an overhaul, we expected an update to the latest standards, like everyone else, blah blah blah. Though we'd never have expected quite what we saw. Everyway you looked at it, the new Spectral is loaded with marvellous engineering and unique features.
The not-so-minor details
Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 SL
The frame is a masterpiece.
Traction and confidence boosting ride.
Tremendous value in comparison to other major brands.
Tall seat tube and head tube.
Cable routing system favours non-Australian brake setup.
2.6" tyres not for everyone.
The Spectral is Canyon’s all-rounder trail bike using 27.5″ diameter wheels, striking a middle ground between a cross-country bike and an enduro bike, using 150mm travel forks and 140mm out the back. We’ve had so much great experience with the Spectral over the years, a bike that has always reviewed well due to its efficient suspension, agile character and value for money.
We won’t go on too much about what’s new with the new model, we’ve covered it in great depth here, there certainly is a lot to look at:
How did the Spectral ride?
The Spectral is a reasonably neutral feeling bike, every time we jumped back on it; the fit felt comfortable and ready for long rides. While some bikes are going down the ‘long, slack, low, rad’ path, the Spectral keeps it more conservative. So when we took it to our familiar trails everything we were instantly at home, cruising through the turns and tracking up steep climbs very easily. That’s precisely what we look for in a good all-rounder trail bike!
That said, the big rubber, powerful brakes and roomy cockpit allowed you to blast your way into the corners with a reckless approach, the Spectral is super fun to get rowdy. Getting on the gas out of the corners the whole bike felt spritely and supportive, even more so with the FOX shock in the middle trail mode with added compression support.
We noticed that compared to the older Spectral, the rear suspension feels more supportive when pedalling hard, this might be mistaken for a firmer ride at first, but it still felt smooth and supple despite resisting wallowing deeper into the travel when pushing the bike forward.
2.6″ width tyres on 27.5″ wheels = loads of grip, but would we keep them on always?
The big 2.6″ tyres polarised us, where most bikes in the similar category would be rolling on 2.4-2.5″ tyres, the rounded 2.6″ tyres give the bike a very different feel and are best used with lower tyre pressures. It’s not just the width and greater surface contacting the dirt, the large volume of the tyre plays many roles and Canyon have selected them for this bike for very good reason. The 2.6″ tyres help cut out vibration from the trail for a very smooth ride, and the tyre conforms to chunky and changing surfaces exceptionally well, giving the bike fantastic traction.
But with the large tyres comes a lack of precision and somewhat vague feeling on the trail, more experienced riders might find the larger rubber detrimental on terrain that doesn’t necessarily warrant it. We encountered a couple of flat tyres too, pinching the lightweight casing of the rear tyre on sharp rocks.
We tried a set of 2.4″ Kenda tyres with tough casings on the Spectral when riding on faster trails; we appreciated how you could push the bike a little harder with the tyres feeling more stout and concise below you.
Back on the 2.6″ tyres we really couldn’t help but love the generous traction when clawing up and down loose singletrack or tackling steep technical sections where holding your line was crucial to making it out the other side safely.
Our thoughts on the tyres? While it might be rider and terrain specific, swapping out to a pair of 2.4 or 2.5″ tyres with a robust casing would be our pick. At least tyres are not too much of an expense to experiment with.
After a few rides, we wanted to get the bars down lower. By fitting one spacer into the air spring, and dropping the pressure to let the fork sag a little lower the fork rode a little lower, and in conjunction with flipping the stem, a respectable bar height was achieved.
The Maxxis Rekon rear tyre was not quite robust enough for the faster trails, where impacts would reach the rim a little too easily. Despite loads of tubeless sealant, we still had to install an inner tube on a ride and repair the tyre when we got home.
Watch that sizing; the Spectral is a tall one.
The Spectral’s new frame design uses a seatpost binder system that integrates neatly into the frame removing the need for a traditional collar and clamp system, a nice touch but the seat tower stands very high. Our test bike is size large and was ridden by two of us at Flow; one was borderline between a medium and a large, the other was firmly in the range for a large. In both cases, we found the seatmast so tall that the RockShox Reverb dropper post was slammed all the way down.
The front end is also quite tall, restricting the adjustability to drop the front end height for own preference sake.
Why would this matter, we hear you say. Well, this bike could well be served as an enduro race bike, where most people would generally seek a longer bike for stability at speed. Some riders might run into issues with a bike too tall if upsizing to a larger bike for length is their preference. We’ve seen bikes like the YT Capra and Ibis RipMo stay low in height, growing in the length as you go up the size chart.
Epic value, chapeau Canyon! Many nice bits.
When compared to the competition, this bike is tremendous value. The CF 9.0 sits second from the top of a vast range, covering a wide range of price points from just over $3000 for an aluminium frame option, right up to the blinged-out $10000 model. This one for $7199 would be many other major brands top offering, comparable in many ways to a $12000+ S-Works.
The full-SRAM build is excellent, DT Swiss carbon wheels with wide rims give the bike a stiff and precise ride, and the SRAM Guide brakes with a 200mm rotor on the front will stop you in a hurry. Ergon is a German brand doing great things, and the saddle and grips are parts we use on our personal bikes, top stuff indeed.
Stellar frame engineering.
It’s worth stopping and taking a closer look at the Spectral to properly appreciate the unique approach to frame design that this German brand has. The headset has a rotation stopper to remove the risk of the bars spinning around in a crash, saving the brake lines from pulling out or the sharp cockpit parts smashing the frame.
The suspension pivot bearings are sealed behind an additional shield, and the rear axle houses its quick release handle inside itself for a clean look but not needing any tools to remove it.
Underneath the frame is an intelligent design, both adding protection to the carbon frame and a casing for the brake, seatpost and gear lines is a plastic casing fastened to the frame via allen key bots.
While it seems like a straightforward approach to cleaning the bike’s appearance by hiding the cables without them travelling inside the frame, it favours those who run the brake levers opposite to how we do in Australia, with the front brake on the right-hand side. It also requires at least three hands to assemble, tricky with just two.
Routing the rear brake line around the headtube for a cleaner setup isn’t an option, a shame, but no biggie.
The new Spectral was always going to be good, who’s it for?
It was always going to be a sure bet that when Canyon re-vamped their immensely popular trail bike, it was going to be good, and despite the frame height and cable routing (which certainly won’t bother all riders), they have hit the nail on the head.
The Spectral would best be appreciated by someone with an eye for quality and engineering and ride demanding trails. Traction, efficiency and playfulness sum up the Spectral just right.