Canyon Spectral:ON 2021 Review | One of the best-handling e-MTBs we’ve tested


The not-so-minor details

Product

2021 Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8

Contact

Canyon Bikes

https://www.canyon.com/

Price

$10,899 AUD (plus $199 shipping)

Weight

22.4kg

Positives

- Beautifully crafted and well-integrated frame design
- Spunky handling delivers incredible agility
- Perky motor performance with tuneable power delivery
- Plush, comfortable and easy to tune suspension
- Bulletproof Shimano drivetrain
- Tough DT Swiss e-MTB specific wheelset

Negatives

- Seat tubes are on the long side
- EP8 clacking noise
- Tyres are too light duty for rough & rocky conditions
- Quirky bar and saddle won't be to everyone's tastes
- You still need to BYO tubeless valves and sealant

Wil reviews the Canyon Spectral:ON

Earlier this year, Canyon delivered some exciting news for electric mountain bike fans when it announced that its entire e-MTB lineup would finally be available to the Australian market. About bloody time eh? The German brand also marked the occasion with the official launch of its 2021 e-MTB range, which included the brand new Torque:ON and the freshly revamped Spectral:ON we have here.

We’ve had plenty of experience with the regular Canyon Spectral, both in its 27.5in and 29in flavours, but this would prove to be our first in-depth experience with the electrified version. Given the opportunity, we decided to put the new Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8 through a proper long-term test to see what it’s all about, and what it means for the competition.


Watch our video review of the Canyon Spectral:ON here!


2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
The Canyon e-MTB range is finally available in Australia, including the newly updated Spectral:ON we’ve been testing for the past few months.

The Spectral:ON – Canyon’s party e-MTB

Slotting in between the Neuron:ON (the 130mm 29er trail bike), and the Torque:ON (the 175mm travel 27.5in park bike), the Spectral:ON splits the difference both in terms of suspension travel and wheelsize.

Designed to thrive on technical singletrack, the do-most-of-the-things Canyon Spectral:ON features 150mm of travel front and rear. It’s built around a mullet setup, with a 29in front wheel and 27.5in rear wheel, which allows Canyon to keep the rear centre length very short at just 435mm. Along with the low-hanging BB and grippy, high-volume tyres, this is an e-MTB built for maximum agility and fun times on the trail.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
Yiewwwww! The Canyon Spectral:ON delivers a seriously fun and dynamic ride on the trail.
2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
A 27.5in rear wheel means Canyon can build the Spectral:ON with a very short 435mm rear centre.

Sleek integration

The entire Canyon Spectral:ON range is built around a single frame option, which pairs a carbon fibre front-end to a welded alloy sub-frame. There’s a proper four-bar suspension platform, with the rear shock driven by a separate yoke and a one-piece rocker link that wraps around the seat tube to increase stiffness. It’s certainly a sleek design and, at least aesthetically speaking, a vast improvement over the first generation Spectral:ON with the old external battery pack.

New for the 2021 is a move to Shimano’s latest EP8 motor, which brings with it increased power, reduced drag, lower weight and improved tune-ability. You’ll also now find a larger 630Wh battery inside the downtube, which can easily be removed for charging separately.

There’s a whole load of refinements elsewhere too. Canyon equips the Spectral:ON with its own direct-mount chainring, and there’s a lightweight upper guide that mounts directly to the main pivot. A heavy duty plastic skid plate protects the motor, while helping to integrate it more cleanly into the overall frame design.

You’ll also find a SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger, the brilliant tool-free Quixle, and a sturdy rubber bung around the top of the seat tube to keep out moisture and muck. There’s a hidden wedge for clamping the seatpost, and an internal steering limiter to protect the frame from the fork crown.

Even with the piggyback shock, there’s room for a water bottle inside the mainframe. Huzzah! You’ll need a side-entry cage though, and Canyon’s own 750ml bottle just clears the shock reservoir. Highlighting the lengths Canyon’s engineers have gone to make it all fit while maximising standover clearance, there’s a subtle divot in the underside of the carbon top tube, which is there to provide clearance for the shock’s air can during compression. There isn’t enough room to fit the bigger Float X2 shock however, and Canyon doesn’t recommend coil shocks either – you’ll have to look towards the bigger travel Torque:ON for those sorts of shenanigans.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
There’s just enough clearance for the piggyback shock and a water bottle.

That handlebar

While most Canyon Spectral:ONs come with a conventional cockpit, the top two models (the CF 8 and CF 9) receive a one-piece carbon fibre handlebar and stem that’s designed and produced in-house. These bars have a 780mm width and a ‘virtual’ stem length of 50mm. Because of the unique back and upsweep however, the dimensions feel a little different on the trail – something I’ll touch on later.

The one-piece construction does reduce cockpit adjustability – you can’t tweak the bar roll, and you can’t easily change to a different length stem. Assuming you gel with the design however, Canyon says it creates a lighter and stronger structure due to the lack of a separate bolt-on faceplate and the use of longer uninterrupted fibres in the carbon layup. And along with the neatly integrated Shimano EM800 display, internal wiring, matching headset spacers and top cap, it certainly affords a classy look that ties in nicely with the rest of the frame.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
Both the Spectral:ON CF 8 and CF 9 are equipped with a snazzy one-piece carbon handlebar and stem.

Canyon Spectral:ON price & spec overview

There are six models in total in the 2021 Canyon Spectral:ON lineup. Prices start at $8,599 AUD for the CF 7, and top out at $13,549 AUD for the CF 9. Because Canyon bikes are sold direct to consumer however, you will need to add on an extra $199 for the obligatory shipping fee.

All models are built around the same frame, a Shimano EP8 motor and 630Wh battery. And regardless of price, each Spectral:ON is equipped with a Shimano 1×12 drivetrain, 4-piston brakes, and a Maxxis 3C tyre combo with a 2.5in Minion DHF up front and a 2.6in Minion DHR II on the rear.

You can get a closer look at the full lineup, along with the latest Neuron:ON and Grand Canyon:ON models in our 2021 Canyon e-MTB range overview feature here. Right now, we’ll be diving straight into our experience of testing this bike here – the Spectral:ON CF 8, which sits one step down from the top of the range.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
All Spectral:ONs feature the same frame, Shimano EP8 motor and 630Wh battery. The CF 8 (tested here) is one step down from the top model.

2021 Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
The Spectral:ON making short work of the windy Woolybutt trail at Mt Buller.

Batteries included, but sent separately

Our Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8 test bike flew over from the Koblenz factory in Germany, arriving on my doorstep inside a sturdy, e-MTB specific cardboard box. As with the non-negotiable shipping fee, you’ll be charged an extra $29.90 for the ‘Bike Guard’, though it’s worth holding onto for future travel needs, as it’s about as good as bike boxes get.

Another important note is that the bike is sent battery-less, and that’s because you can’t airfreight full size e-Bike batteries. Instead, the Shimano battery is sent separately via road freight. Once that arrives, you’ll need to affix the downtube plate, before clipping the battery into the frame and charging it. The bike is supplied with Shimano’s newer generation charger, which takes just under five hours to fully charge the battery.

Setting up the bike is otherwise as simple as installing the handlebar, front wheel and dropper post, plugging the Shimano Di2 wire into the display unit, and fitting your own pedals. The gears were already beautifully tuned from the factory, and the brake rotors were rub-free without any adjustment necessary. They have since needed bleeding though, after exhibited some classic Shimano Variable Bite Point™ throughout testing.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 emtb shimano ep8
As with all Canyons, the Spectral:ON is airfreighted directly to your address from the factory in Koblenz. The battery is sent separately via road freight.

Suspension & tyre setup

For my 68kg riding weight, I setup the Fox 36 as per the pressure chart with 78psi inside the EVOL air spring. It comes from the factory with two volume spacers inside, though I added a third spacer to bolster the fork’s mid-stroke support and keep it riding a little higher in the travel.

Otherwise the GRIP damper offers superb small-bump sensitivity and is very easy to dial in. There’s a single rebound adjuster at the base of the fork, which I ran as recommended with 10/23 clicks. I set the blue compression lever 1/3rd of the way through its range to provide a little more low-speed damping control, though cranking it all the way allows you to lockout the fork entirely.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8 fox 36 grip
The Performance Series Fox 36 features the cheaper GRIP damper.

The Float DPX2 also has a 3-position compression lever, though I personally never ran anything other than fully open. Canyon recommends 30% sag for the rear shock, which works out to be 18mm at the O-ring. It does require high operating pressures – I needed 210psi, and I’m not exactly a heavyweight. Given the Float DPX2 has a maximum pressure rating of 350psi, I’d suggest that bigger riders may want to look at tuning the rear shock with larger volume spacers.

Speaking of, the Spectral:ON’s shock rate isn’t as aggressive compared to the regular Spectrals. Canyon has fitted a smaller 0.4³ volume spacer as standard, which still achieves decent progression, but the suspension is more linear and active overall. To make the most of that activity and keep things responsive, I ran the rebound damping almost all the way open at 11/14 clicks. Any slower than that, and the back end would start to feel too boggy.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8 fox float dpx2
We setup the rear shock with 30% sag, and set the rebound dial nearly all the way to full-fast.

As for the tyres, I set these up with 21psi in the front and 25psi in the rear. However, I need to point out that while the rims are taped and the tyres are tubeless compatible, Canyon still expects you to BYO valves and sealant to set them up tubeless, which is ridiculous on an $11K bike. Given these bikes are sold direct to consumer, it surely isn’t too much to expect them to be properly tubeless ready out of the box.

Once I’d ditched the inner tubes, confirmed weight for our Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8 test bike was 22.4kg, weighed without pedals.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
Our testers ranged from 175-178cm tall, so we picked the Medium size in the Spectral:ON.

Canyon Spectral:ON sizing

At 175cm tall, Canyon recommends a Medium frame size for me in the Spectral:ON. Sporting a healthy 445mm reach, it’s right in the ballpark alongside the Merida eOne-Sixty (440mm) and the Specialized Levo S3 (452mm), though a fair bit shorter than the recently-released Polygon Mt Bromo (470mm).

As with the eOne-Sixty, the Spectral:ON’s 440mm seat tube is a touch long compared to edgier bikes on the market. The fit was fine for me with the stock 150mm dropper post, and there’s even some room to spare – an improvement over most Canyons I’ve tested in the past. However, when you step up to the Large the seat tube grows by a whopping 40mm, while the reach is only 20mm longer.

This is an important consideration for riders in the 175-180cm height range, who may be tossing up between a Medium and a Large. Certainly any rider with shorter legs for their given height will want to pay close attention to Canyon’s recommended saddle height range in the geometry table.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
We had room to spare with the 150mm dropper post, but the seat tube lengths are on the longer side.

It’s a comfortable all-day pedaller

With a nice open cockpit, the Spectral:ON delivers a comfortable riding position right out of the box. It feels a touch longer than the Levo and eOne-Sixty, and it’s noticeably roomier than the Mt Bromo. The main reason for this is the Spectral:ON’s seat tube angle, which at a claimed 74.5°, is quite a bit slacker than its peers.

The other reason is the handlebar, which helps to stretch you out over the bike. The 780mm width is good, and I’ve no complaints with the sweep profile either. However, directly compared to the cockpit on the Levo, which has the same 780mm width bar and 50mm stem length, the grips on the Spectral:ON sit quite a bit further ahead of the steerer tube. It’s as if the bar has been rolled forward slightly, resulting in an effective stem length that’s closer to 60mm.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
The carbon handlebars have a great profile, though they do bring you further forward over the front of the bike.

This isn’t necessarily a downside. In fact, I quite like the way the bar profile encourages you to bring your chest forward and properly weight the front wheel. It also enhances the open cockpit feel, providing more balanced weight distribution between your contact points. I found this particularly noticeable when jumping from the Spectral:ON onto the Mt Bromo, the latter of which puts a lot more pressure on your wrists due to its steeper seat tube angle and super-short stem.

As for the contact points themselves, the grips do offer a nice textured profile, though the compound is too firm for my liking. I’d consider swapping these for a softer grip with more vibration damping.

I also found Canyon’s e-MTB specific saddle to be a little love/hate. Cruising along the bike path on my way to the trails, the rear scoop is very pronounced – more so than Ergon’s similar kick-tail saddle that comes on the Norco Sight VLT 29. While my arse got along with that Ergon saddle really well, the Canyon saddle had a habit of shunting me forwards, especially if I hit the brakes. Tilting the nose up helped in this regard, but resulted in way too much perennial pressure on the climbs. In the end I setup the saddle with the nose level, and just dealt with the occasional sliding.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
Canyon’s e-MTB specific saddle received mixed reports from testers.

Climbing is good – mostly

Once the front wheel is pointing upwards however, that kick-tail really saddle comes into its own. You get excellent support for your sit bones, with the scooped profile locking you in securely to prevent you from slipping off the back. And with the saddle pushed all the way forwards, it also helps to steepen the effective seat tube angle – I measured our test bike at 75.7° (from the BB to the middle of the rails), which is much closer to the competition.

Along with the forward-leaning handlebar, the Spectral:ON delivers an excellent seated climbing position. With the new Shimano EP8 motor lurking between the crank arms, it’s certainly an enthusiastic performer on the ups. There’s terrific punch from the small but mighty EP8 drive unit, and while it still performs best when you’re spinning a higher RPM, the power delivery is very smooth and predictable.

On purpose-built climbing trails, the agile Spectral:ON dispatches tight switchbacks with ease. The responsive steering, supportive suspension and short 435mm rear centre length gives it a sprightly feel, requiring very little effort at the bars to nip ‘n’ tuck its way through each turn.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8 mt buller
The Spectral:ON feels perky on the climbs, with quick handling and responsive power delivery.

The steeper and rougher it gets though, the less planted the whole bike feels. The short back end reduces the amount of weight you can put on the front wheel, and that sees the steering becoming a little too light.

This was something we encountered when riding the Spectral:ON on the same blown-out moto climbs as the Specialized Levo and the Norco Sight VLT 29, both of which felt more planted overall. The Sight VLT 29 in particular, with its humongous 458mm rear centre, delivers a more stable ride on uber-steep climbs. In comparison the Spectral:ON felt more likely to loop out earlier, and it required a whole lot more attention over the front wheel to keep it from wandering off-line.

It’s worth noting that taller riders will notice this attribute more, since the rear end is identical between all four frame sizes. Needless to say, if your e-MTB riding experience is framed around climbing the steepest, gnarliest tech and exploring moto trail networks, there are more suitable options out there. But if you’re more likely to frequent purpose-built mountain bike trail centres and bike parks, the Spectral:ON is a perfectly comfortable and vivacious climber.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
The EP8 motor may be small, but it packs a mighty punch.

A diamond in the rough

Really though, it’s once you’ve hit the top of the climb and started to make your way down some fast and rocky singletrack that the Spectral:ON really starts to shine.

The suspension performance on this bike is brilliant, with a plush and comfortable feel throughout the entire 150mm of travel. There’s excellent balance front to rear, particularly after I’d fitted that extra volume spacer into the fork. The piggyback shock is also a welcome spec choice for the Spectral:ON, with the larger oil volume mitigating the effect of heat on damping performance – an important attribute when you’re packing in maximum descending time on a heavy e-MTB.

Bump absorption is effective even while pedalling seated along rougher trails, with minimal disruption through the chain. There is still some feedback through the pedals, but overall the four-bar suspension on the Spectral:ON feels smoother and less interrupted compared to a single pivot platform like the eOne-Sixty.

This lends well to the Spectral:ON’s sprightly pedalling performance and, along with the reactive suspension, allows you to build speed effectively when traversing along chundery, undulating singletrack.

With the less aggressive shock tune, there’s useful activity deeper into the travel too, with none of that rampy ‘wall’ that you can get with some overly-progressive suspension designs. This gives a calmer feel to the bike when whacking the rear wheel into repeat impacts at speed, and even with flat pedals, my feet were never blown off uncontrollably.

While I was able to engage the majority of the Spectral:ON’s travel, I never hit full bottom-out during typical trail scenarios, and always had a millimetre or two left on the shock stanchion. In the spirit of science however, I embarked on several huck-to-flat endeavours, which resulted in a firm and noticeable ‘clunk’ on each occasion. Unlike the big bottom-out bumper in the larger Float X2 shock, the Float DPX2 makes do with a basic O-ring, which doesn’t provide anywhere near the same cushioning support when you smack it down. While that was never a real-world issue for me or any of our other testers, if it is for you, consider fitting a larger volume spacer to boost support.

The Spectral:ON’s floaty feel on rough terrain is enhanced by the supple Maxxis tyres, which feature an EXO casing on the front and an EXO+ casing on the rear. You get excellent damping out of the high volume rubber, particularly the cushy 2.6in rear tyre, which is well supported on the 35mm wide rim.

Traction has been reliable on the dry and loose trails we typically encountered during the test period, though they’re not as idiot-proof as something like an Assegai with a softer Maxx Grip compound, particularly in wet and sloppy conditions. The flip-side is that the Minion DHF/DHR II combo, with its firmer Maxx Terra compound, is nowhere near as draggy. This lends well to the Spectral:ON’s sprightly pedalling performance and, along with the reactive suspension, allows you to build speed effectively when traversing along chundery, undulating singletrack.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
With supple suspension and grippy high-volume rubber, the Spectral:ON floats nicely over rocky terrain.

Watch those pedals…

On ruttier sections of trail however, the Spectral:ON can occasionally make you aware of its low-hanging BB. I measured the BB height at 334mm off the ground, and Canyon lists the BB drop at 35mm in the geo chart. That’s pretty darn low – lower than both the eOne-Sixty (17.5mm) and the Levo (27-33mm).

When riding with chunky flat pedals, it meant I was more likely to catch an edge while pedalling through narrow gullies and dried-up riverbeds. Both the crank arms and motor skid plate are now wearing quite a few scars, and I even managed to gouge a tooth on the chainring. Full-blown rock-strikes were less frequent than I expected though, which is likely due to the rear suspension’s stability under pedalling. Still, I suspect some riders may wish for shorter crank arms than the stock 165mm length.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
With a 35mm BB drop, the Spectral:ON’s belly hangs quite low.

Unlike the regular Spectrals that features High/Low settings, there’s no geometry adjustment built into the Spectral:ON frame. That keeps things simple, both for the manufacturer and for the user, but I can’t help thinking that this would be a useful feature for adapting the bike to different terrain.

If you did want to prop up the bike a little further, it’s worth noting that the frame is rated for use with up to a 160mm travel fork. For those who wanted to explore such an option, that would lift the BB height, kick back the angles, and give the whole bike a little more oomph on rougher trails, particularly if you fitted a burlier Fox 38.

Still, the low BB does mean that you feel very much in-the-bike. It certainly has a more profound effect on an e-MTB too. After all, for every millimetre the BB is closer to the trail, you’re bringing both the motor and battery down too. This helps to lower the bike’s overall centre of gravity, and therefore improve stability.

…and the tyres

As my confidence grew in the Spectral:ON, I did encounter shortcomings with the stock tyre combo. While the traction and comfort has been terrific, the EXO/EXO+ casings are on the light side for an e-MTB.

Confirmed weight was just 979g (DHF) and 948g (DHR II). Compare that to the tyres that came on the Polygon Mt Bromo, which weighed in at 1,350g each. Crikey!

However, if you’re particularly rough on your equipment, you may want to consider upgrading to heavier duty tyre casings straight away

As a result, I pinch-flatted the rear tyre numerous times. At one point it had about five Dynaplugs holding it together, until it eventually gave in with one fatal on-the-bead cut that’s relegated it to living the rest of its life with an inner tube inside.

This wasn’t really the tyre’s fault – I should have fitted some kind of rim protection, given the violently haggard state of my local test trails, and the exuberant way the Spectral:ON encourages you to ride them. A tubeless insert like CushCore would have been a great way to boost the rear tyre’s pinch-flat resistance, without adding a tonne of weight and increasing rolling resistance. In hindsight, that’s exactly what I should have done right from the beginning.

However, if you’re particularly rough on your equipment, you may want to consider upgrading to heavier duty tyre casings straight away, like the Double Down tyres that Merida is spec’ing on the latest eOne-Sixty. This brings me to another point – it’d be swell to see Canyon offer some more customisability in its webshop, so riders could change things like tyres at the point of purchase. As it stands, what you see is what you get.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
One of the many tubeless plugs that occupied the rear tyre throughout testing.

Handling is dead-brilliant

I would be reluctant to add too much rotational mass to the Spectral:ON though, because the stock tyres do well to make this bike feel lighter than the 22.4kg stated on the scales. The reduced gyroscopic effect allows you to change direction more easily, and along with the stiff chassis and mullet wheel setup, this is a really sporty and easy-to-pilot bike.

In fact, I’d have to say that the Spectral:ON is one of the best-handling e-MTBs I’ve ridden to date. It’s certainly the most agile, with the 27.5in rear wheel, short rear end and low BB allowing you to push into, and steer off the rear wheel. The sensitive suspension generates heaps of traction, and combined with the grippy Minion tyres, the Spectral:ON delivers outstanding cornering performance.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
So fast and nimble – the Spectral:ON loves ducking and weaving through twisty singletrack.

The 51mm fork offset helps to keep the front-end steering light and responsive, and only the deftest of touches on the inside grip is required for the whole bike to initiate a turn. Indeed the way it tips into corners at the mere whiff of a directional change becomes thoroughly addictive. It’s nice and flickable thanks to the tight rear end too, encouraging a hard and sharp cornering style, and it’ never a big ask to engage in last-minute steering corrections. Whereas many e-MTBs can feel quite blunt in their line choice, the Spectral:ON is refreshingly easy to place on the trail.

Frothing on flow trails

Even with the heavier 630Wh battery inside the downtube, the Spectral:ON is totally willing to pop the front wheel when required. The energetic suspension performance enhances this lively feel on the trail, encouraging you to search out opportunities to get both wheels off the ground.

While the suspension is plenty active, there’s still enough support to give your feet and hands something to push off of, and combined with the robust chassis, this bike relishes in jumping and playing with the terrain. It’s an absolute hoot to ride down fast and flowy jump trails.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
This bike hides its weight well, relishing in jumpy flow trails.

Those same attributes can make it a bit pingy on really rough, high-speed chop though. Unlike some slacker and longer bikes equipped with heavier duty tyres and suspension, the Spectral:ON is less of a plough-mobile, particularly on much steeper enduro-style trails. It requires more of your attention at warp speeds, and the front wheel can occasionally feel a touch wobbly when slamming through fast, high-load berms. Not helping things on steeper descents, my arse would occasionally make contact the saddle’s kick-tail, which made me second guess whether I’d compressed the dropper down fully.

If it’s high-speed ploughing on double black diamond trails that you’re into though, the bigger travel Torque:ON will likely be a more attractive option. Still, there is more stability on offer here than perhaps the Spectral:ON’s geometry chart suggests.

The head angle on our test bike actually measured slacker than claimed, coming in at 65.7°. And the low BB works wonders in keeping the whole bike grounded at speed. Combined with the excellent weight distribution, effective suspension and high-traction rubber, the Spectral:ON certainly isn’t lacking in technical trail control. While it is more inclined to dance and jump its way over rocks and root gardens, rather than steamroll through those sections, that’s really what makes it so damn fun and involving to ride.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
The short back end and 27.5in rear wheel gives the Spectral:ON so much pep and attitude.

How’s the fuel economy?

The 630Wh battery promises 25% more range than the 504Wh battery found in previous Spectral:ONs, and the new EP8 motor also boasts lower weight and less drag compared to the old E8000 motor. However, the EP8 drive unit is also more powerful with a peak torque output of 85Nm. That means if you spend most of your time riding in Trail or Boost modes, it’s also thirstier.

On one range-testing mission, I clocked up 48.8km of riding and 1,473m of elevation gain in Trail mode before the battery ran flat. And while out testing the new Levo at Mt Buller, we rode out to Mt Stirling and back via Stonefly – a 36.5km ride with 1,087m of climbing, which saw us arrive back the village with two bars of battery left. On that last point, we’d love to see Shimano list the remaining battery life as a percentage, rather than five vague bars, which would really help on those longer backcountry trail rides.

When you step down to Eco mode, range does increase more substantially over the E8000 motor – around 20% according to Shimano. Furthermore, you’ve got a whole lot more tuneability on offer via the E-TUBE app, which allows you to tweak the peak power output, assist character and acceleration response of each mode. That’s something we’ve been playing around with quite a bit, both on the Spectral:ON and eOne-Sixty, and you can read more about that in our separate Shimano EP8 review.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
The Shimano display is nicely integrated into the carbon handlebar, but geez we’d love to see a battery percentage instead of those five vague bars.

Component highs & lows

As a complete package, the Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8 has impressed all-round. The suspension is excellent, the brakes plenty powerful, and the shifting is positive thanks to the superb Hyperglide+ drivetrain.

I’ve smashed the rear mech on a number of occasions, but it’s managed to shrug off all of those impacts so far. During one rock-based encounter, I experienced the brilliance of the UDH for the first time, which is able to rotate backwards when met with sufficient force. I then pushed the mech and hanger back around into the usual position and carried on riding. Still, a good reminder to carry a spare hanger when riding out in remote alpine locations…

As with the derailleur, crank arms and motor skid plate, the rear end of the frame is wearing a few scars too. A good decision for Canyon to build the chain and seatstays out of metal instead of carbon then.

While I would like to see more generous chainstay protection, the finishing details on the Spectral:ON are otherwise pretty good. The Quixle is both neat and functional, and the internal steering limiter is effective though totally unnoticeable while riding. It’s also nice to see additional bearing covers around the rear pivots, providing an extra barrier to dirt in a mucky part of the bike.

Unfortunately the chain guide has been slightly chewed up from contacting the chain at full compression. The guide isn’t adjustable, so there doesn’t appear to be anything you can do about it. It isn’t a huge deal functionally speaking, it just looks a bit shit. Also, the Sideloader bottle cage is best used with Canyon’s own bottles – I found it to be a loose fit with other brands, and it’s worth noting that most 750ml bottles won’t clear the shock’s piggyback reservoir.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
The e-MTB specific DT Swiss wheels feature tougher hubshells, reinforced internals and a heavy duty ratchet mechanism.

I soon discovered an annoyance with the carbon handlebar too, which eschews the traditional round profile in favour of a more angular structure. This makes mounting lights and GPS head units trickier, and in some cases, impossible. The internal routing and integrated Shimano display are very slick though.

I do have to give props to Canyon spec’ing such a solid wheelset on the Spectral:ON. Weighing in at a confirmed 2,203g, the DT Swiss H1700 wheelset uses an e-MTB specific build with eyeleted rims, heavier-duty spokes, reinforced hub shells and tougher internals. They haven’t flinched with all the abuse they’ve copped, which is impressive. And really, aside from the punctured rear tyre, that’s been a consistent theme for the whole bike.

merida eone-sixty 9000
The Merida eOne-Sixty is an absolutely brilliant all-round e-MTB, and a worthy opponent to the Spectral:ON.

Canyon Spectral:ON vs Merida eOne-Sixty

Out of all the e-MTBs we’ve been testing lately, the Merida eOne-Sixty is for sure the most logical adversary to the Spectral:ON.

The pricing is very similar, with the Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 coming in at $10,999 AUD. Of course there’s no shipping fee to factor in, with Merida bikes being sold through bricks ‘n’ mortar bike shops, so it’s actually a touch cheaper than the Spectral:ON CF 8.

The eOne-Sixty 9000 also features a carbon/alloy frame, and it’s built with the same Shimano motor and battery. You also get a Shimano Deore XT groupset, but Merida upgrades you to hollow crank arms, DT Swiss HX 1501 wheels, a 160mm travel Fox 38 fork with the high-end GRIP2 damper, and a Performance Elite DPX2 shock. You get more aggressive tyres too, with Double Down casings and a stickier Maxx Grip Assegai up front.

The result of all that is about a half kilo of extra weight, and a noticeably burlier feel on the trail. The eOne-Sixty is more planted at speed compared to the Spectral:ON, and the front end offers more confidence thanks to the bigger fork and aggressive rubber. It strikes a nice balance though, remaining quite agile and easy to handle thanks to the mullet setup and moderate geometry. This wider performance scope potentially makes it more appealing to a broader range of riders, particularly those who are frequently hitting up rougher and more technical trails.

However, there’s no denying that the Spectral:ON is the more playful bike of the two. It feels lighter and more nimble on the trail, and the suspension is also more reactive, with greater freedom deeper into the travel. I found it easier to build pace and slice up twisty trails on, and it’s got a real appetite for getting airborne and whipping its way through high-speed flow trails. Whereas the eOne-Sixty leans more towards the burly enduro side of things, the Spectral:ON exudes a speedy technical trail bike vibe.

That being said, I don’t think you can really go wrong with either bike – both are fantastic all-rounders in the e-MTB world. You also get a pretty broad range of spec levels with each brand, though Merida does allow you to access a cheaper starting price with the option of full-alloy models. With Canyon, you’ll need to look at the Neuron:ON range if you’re on  tighter budget.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
Fast, agile and engaging to ride – if you love to play with the terrain, the Spectral:ON is an absolute ripper.

Flow’s Verdict

We’ve been anticipating the arrival of Canyon’s e-MTB range in Australia for some time now. After putting a load of riding hours into the Spectral:ON over the past couple of months, we can confidently say that it’s been worth the wait.

This is a nicely finished bike that comes packed full of thoughtful details and integration, highlighting the German brand’s extensive e-MTB experience. The frame looks fantastic, and it incorporates the Shimano EP8 motor and 630Wh battery more cleanly than any of its competitors. While some riders may want to consider burlier tyres, and others may find the saddle a little too weird, the build kit on the Spectral:ON CF 8 is otherwise spot-on, with excellent suspension, sharp shifting and tough wheels.

Of course it isn’t the slackest or burliest e-MTB around. And it’s not the most planted when it comes to really steep and rough terrain, whether you’re climbing or descending. But what the Spectral:ON lacks in ploughability, it more than makes up for it with its addictive agility. It rides lighter than it is, and with the mullet setup, short rear end and low BB, it absolutely rips through corners with speed and precision.

Without doubt the Canyon Spectral:ON is one of the best handling e-MTBs we’ve tested, and one that rarely fails to put a big shit-eating grin on our face every time we ride it.

2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
It may not be as slack or as burly as the eOne-Sixty or Levo, but unless you’re riding super steep death tech, the Spectral:ON has proven to be one of the most fun e-MTBs we’ve tested to date.
2021 canyon spectral:on cf 8 e-mtb shimano ep8
Enough talking, time to go riding!

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