After a couple of months aboard Canyon's well-priced alloy Spectral, what did we think of this newly pumped up trail brawler?
The not-so-minor details
2019 Canyon Spectral AL 6.0
- Hooligan-friendly handling and suspension
- A Fox 36 and a DPX2 shock for under $4K? Yes please!
- Tough & wide DT Swiss rims paired to aggro Maxxis rubber
- The seat tube could be shorter and steeper
- Canyon's own dropper post is ok, but lacks refinement
- The seriously sluggish 3C Maxx Grip front tyre
The Canyon Spectral is the German brand’s aggressive long-travel party bike. Sitting pretty between the 130mm travel Neuron trail bike and the 160mm travel Strive enduro race machine, the Spectral differs from those two bikes in that it’s built around 27.5in wheels. That puts it more inline with the likes of the Trek Remedy, Santa Cruz Bronson, Norco Sight, and Specialized Stumpjumper EVO.
See the 2019 Canyon Spectral AL in action in the video here
The Spectral was completely overhauled for 2018 with a new frame, a new suspension platform, and lots of little tech highlights that we covered in our launch story here. For 2019, the Spectral frame carries over, but it’s been pumped up with a bigger fork and a bigger stroke shock to increase travel to 160mm on the front, and 150mm out back. A 10mm increase in travel (over the previous bike’s 150/140mm combo) doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but after two months with the Spectral AL 6.0, I can confidently state that this bike’s character has actually changed quite a bit.
A Trail Bike For Many Budgets
With no fewer than 12 spec options in the range, the Spectral is clearly a popular model for the German brand. The Spectral is available with alloy, carbon/alloy, and full carbon frame options, with complete bikes starting at $2,779 and going all the way up to $10,199. Frame sizes range from Extra Small through to Extra Large, and there’s a women’s specific Spectral available too.
The model we have on test is the Spectral AL 6.0 – the highest spec option with the alloy frame.
2019 Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 Specs
- Frame | 6061 Alloy, Triple Phase Suspension Design, 150mm Travel
- Fork | Fox 36 Rhythm, GRIP Damper, 160mm Travel
- Shock | Fox Float DPX2, Performance Series, 230x65mm
- Wheels | DT Swiss M 1900, 30mm Inner Rim Width
- Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO 27.5×2.4in Wide Trail, 3C Maxx Grip Front & 3C Maxx Terra Rear
- Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 w/Descendent 6K 32t Crankset & 10-50t Cassette
- Brakes | SRAM Guide R w/200mm Front & 180mm Rear Rotors
- Bar | Canyon G5 Riserbar, 20mm Rise, 780mm Wide
- Stem | Canyon G5, 50mm Length
- Seatpost | Iridium Dropper, 145mm Travel
- Saddle | SDG I-Fly MTN
- Confirmed Weight | 14.53kg
- RRP | $3,649 (plus shipping)
What Makes It Special?
It’s basically impossible to discuss a Canyon without discussing the parts-per-dollar-o-meter, and it’s no different with the Spectral AL 6.0. For less than four grand, you’re getting a Fox 36 Rhythm fork, a piggyback shock, broad DT Swiss rims, and high-zoot Maxxis 3C tyres. Along with the dropper post, wide bars, and big front rotor, it’s a tough-looking bike that comes locked and loaded for some seriously rowdy riding. There is basically nothing else available in Australia that we could find with such a package at this price point. The value is bonkers.
Of course none of that matters if the parts are strapped to a poor quality frame, but Canyon seems to have that stitched up too. The raw alloy finish looks the business, and the frame shape and geometry is shared with its pricier carbon siblings. That means you’re getting the same four-bar suspension design, clearance for a water bottle inside the mainframe, a neat internal seatpost clamp, bolt-on pivot shields, and the Quixle thru-axle. The alloy frame skips the IPU headset though.
Further adding to the Spectral’s clean lines is the Cable Tunnel, which provides sort-of-internal-but-not-really cable routing via three bolt-on plastic plates. As well as providing easy access to the cables and brake hose within, the plastic plates provide additional downtube protection. Mick isn’t a fan of the fiddly process to refit the cables and the plastic plates, but I still think it’s a neat and easier alternative to fully internal cable routing.
Spectral AL vs Spectral CFR
The alloy frame is heavier than the carbon version, but not as much as I thought it would be. I spoke with Canyon to get the exact weights for each of the three Spectral frame options, and here’s what we got back;
- CFR (full carbon): 2395g
- CF (carbon mainframe, alloy back end): 2570g
- AL (full alloy): 2870g
So the Spectral AL has a 300g weight penalty over the CF frame, and 475g over the full carbon Spectral CFR frameset. That’s a reasonable percentage for sure, but it is less than I expected.
How’d We Set It Up?
Standing at 175cm tall, I’m bang-on for the Medium size. The cockpit fits well too, with a not-super-long reach of 440mm working well with the 50mm stem and 780mm bars. The head tube is quite tall though, so I dropped the stem down a couple of spacers to get the grips lower down. Oh, and I already mentioned the long seat tube in my first ride review, so I won’t harp on about that again…
The fork has been absolutely superb out of the box, and I’ve not had to touch it since day one.
As for the contact points, Canyon’s own lock-on grips deserve a mention, with a thin but nicely tacky compound and in-board flange giving great tactility. I’ve been less thrilled with the narrow SDG saddle. That’s personal preference of course, but being a bike that’s sold direct-to-consumer, there’s no option to have it swapped out at the point of purchase.
To support my 68kg riding weight, I set the Fox 36 with 67psi inside the air spring. Rebound was set 10 clicks off full slow, and I ran the blue low-speed compression adjuster halfway. The fork has been absolutely superb out of the box, and I’ve not had to touch it since day one. It is very active, and relatively linear in action compared to the very progressive rear suspension design. Because of this, heavier riders will want to add a volume spacer or two to the fork to better balance it with the rear.
Speaking of, Canyon recommends a 25-30% sag range for the rear shock, though the difference between the two changes up the back end’s behaviour considerably. To begin with, I set the rear shock at 195psi for 30% sag. The DPX2’s damping feels quite sticky and slow, so the rebound dial ended up just four clicks off the fastest setting (9/13 clicks).
Canyon supplies the Spectral AL 6.0 with inner tubes fitted, but both the rims and tyres are tubeless ready. I added my own valves and sealant, set the tyres to 23psi on the front and 27psi on the rear. Having ditched the tubes, the total bike weight came down to 14.32kg without pedals.
What Does It Do Well?
Early on in the test process, it became apparent that the Spectral is an absolute pig for fast and rough riding. This is no speedy mile-munching trail bike like the Neuron. It’s too heavy, too slack, and too active for that. Instead, the Spectral relishes mostly in going downhill and rumbling over as much chunder as you can possibly find.
Because the suspension design is so progressive, it feels near-bottomless, and I can’t once recall having bottomed out the shock.
The combination of the sticky Maxxis tyres and supple Fox dampers means the Spectral hoovers up trail irregularities with incredible aptitude. The back end has a nicely supple and floaty feel to it, with a responsive and willing mid-stroke. Because the suspension design is so progressive, it feels near-bottomless, and I can’t once recall having bottomed out the shock. Flat pedal riders might find it a touch too progressive on spiky, high-speed machine-gun hits, where I occasionally found my shoes could get blown off the pedals. Because the red rebound dial only adjusts low-speed rebound, your only option to mitigate this is by increasing the rear shock’s air volume to make it more linear. More on that in a moment.
It’s also one of the best jumping bikes I’ve ridden in quite a while. There’s great pop and support from the suspension, which is amplified by the Spectral’s compact 430mm back end and the not-uber-long cockpit. That makes it an easy bike to jump when needed, while the heavy wheels and tyres help to maintain a nice and predictable trajectory, and (most of the time) a reliable landing. I’m not exactly a slopestyle rider, but the Spectral coerced me into hitting a lot of the doubles and drops that I’d usually shy away from. The stout front end certainly aids in the confidence levels here.
It’s a proper Dudes Of Hazzard hooligan trail bike that thrives on jibbing and being thrown about with reckless abandon.
I’m also no back wheel bandit, but the Spectral is. Again, it’s that combination of the tall-ish front end and compact rear centre that helps you to lift the front wheel off the ground with ease, while the active rear suspension happily squats into its travel to help support manuals, wheelies and take-offs. It’s a proper Dudes Of Hazzard hooligan trail bike that thrives on jibbing and being thrown about with reckless abandon. I were going to own it long term, I’d certainly be putting a tyre insert inside the rear wheel.
It’s intuitive, with very little technique modification or drastic weight shifts required to have it railing confidently.
As for cornering, the Spectral is sharp and agile, and I found it a pleasure to weave from left to right through successive chicanes. Whereas 29ers in this travel bracket tend to need a bit of working over through tight turns, the Spectral cuts them up with ease. It’s intuitive, with very little technique modification or drastic weight shifts required to have it railing confidently.
The short back end helps no doubt, as do the grippy and stable cornering blocks on the Maxxis Minion tyres, but it’s the low bottom bracket that I noticed most while carving the Spectral. Mind you, at just 288mm off the floor while sitting on the bike, I certainly noticed the low BB in other ways too.
What Does It Struggle With?
The Spectral AL 6.0 is not a naturally gifted climber. I found the active suspension design, slow-rolling tyres, and overall heft worked against me any time I wanted to move upwards at anything other than cruising pace. Those same factors mean the Spectral feels pretty dull on flatter and less gnarly terrain. It really needs rough and steep descending to get the most out of it.
…the softest and stickiest rubber that Maxxis makes, and quite possibly manufactured from a combination of treacle and gecko’s hands.
Partway through the test period, it dawned on me that while Canyon has spec’d Maxxis Minion DHR II tyres front and rear, the front tyre employs the 3C Maxx Grip compound – the softest and stickiest rubber that Maxxis makes, and quite possibly manufactured from a combination of treacle and gecko’s hands. Of course it’s a stupendously grippy tyre, but it also has the effect of feeling like you’re pedalling with the brakes on. There were countless times where I stopped to check if I had a puncture, or to see whether the brakes were rubbing.
In search of more speed, I took the front 3C Maxx Grip tyre off, put the firmer 3C Maxx Terra tyre into its place, and fitted a new Maxxis Dissector onto the rear. As well as being a touch lighter, the Dissector also has less rolling resistance than the Minion DHR II. That change in the tyre combo provided an instantly noticeable, and very welcome improvement in acceleration and the ability to maintain speed while rolling down the trail. Of course not everyone has a spare $90 Maxxis tyre kicking around in their workshop, so that’s a modification worth factoring into your budget.
There is zero doubt that a steeper seat angle would make a huge improvement to the Spectral’s climbing abilities.
The Spectral is still quite a slack bike though. The longer fork has slackened the 2019 version over the 2018 model, and according to our measurements, comes out at around 65°. That’s great for descending, but it hasn’t come for free. Of course the seat angle has also slackened out too, and along with that active suspension design, sees you quite far behind the bottom bracket when you’re pedalling uphill. I slid the saddle all the way forward on the rails, which certainly helped, but I was constantly reaching for the shock’s blue compression switch anytime the trail turned upwards. There is zero doubt that a steeper seat angle would make a huge improvement to the Spectral’s climbing abilities.
Reducing the rear shock’s sag to 25% also helped with climbing, both by bringing more perky pedalling to the party, while also improving the dynamic pedalling position. It also reduced pedal strikes – something that’s relatively frequent due to the Spectral’s low bottom bracket height. I did find I wasn’t getting anywhere near full travel though, so I downsized to a smaller 0.2in³ volume spacer in the DPX2 shock (it comes with a 0.4³ volume spacer as standard) to help open up the end of the stroke. In the end this was my preferred setup, with 210psi in the air spring, and the rebound set at five clicks off of the fastest setting.
With this setup and the speedier tyres, the Spectral was much more pedal-friendly, and more willing to get up technical singletrack climbs. I’d still run the blue compression switch in the medium position for extended climbs, but otherwise it was noticeably less boggy at the pedals.
Component Highs & Lows
While it does require some tuning to get the most out of it, the suspension package is easily the standout on the Spectral AL 6.0 for sure. The high-speed control you get from the DPX2 shock and the GRIP damper in the 36 fork means this bike can carry some serious speed when the trail points downhill.
Fitting a 200mm rotor up front is a winning move on Canyon’s behalf, as it gives the 4-piston Guide R brake calliper a load more bite – especially on sustained descents. The brakes were also bled superbly out of the factory, so I didn’t run into the usual ‘excessive lever throw’ problems I’ve had with other Guide T/R/RS brakes in the past.
There were otherwise few issues that I had with the parts package throughout the test period. Press-fit BBs get a hard time these days, but the SRAM DUB unit was tight and quiet during my time with it. The DT Swiss wheels were also solid, which I expected given they weighed 1931g on the Scales Of Truth™. Being a cheaper DT model, they do miss out on the Star Ratchet freehub mechanism. But while the 24pt engagement wasn’t particularly fast, I never once had the 3-pawl system pop or skip under pressure.
Unlike a bike shop that might let you make modifications and upgrades to the parts on your new bike, currently Canyon doesn’t offer the option to change specification at the point of purchase.
The only thing I’d look at upgrading if this were my bike would be the dropper post, which suffers from a wobbly lever and less-than-slick compression and rebound. Ultimately it does the job, but its action is not nearly as fast or light as something like a Fox Transfer.
I mentioned the tyres and saddle already, but they’re worth reiterating, since the Spectral you click ‘buy’ on the website, is exactly the Spectral you’ll have turn up on your doorstep. Unlike a bike shop that might let you make modifications and upgrades to your new bike, currently Canyon doesn’t offer the option to change specification at the point of purchase. With that in mind I’d be squirrelling some cash aside, at least for some faster-rolling rubber anyway.
Canyon Neuron vs Spectral vs Strive
This is a question we get asked a lot: how does the Canyon Spectral compare to the smaller travel Neuron, and the longer travel Strive? It’s a great question, because there is a certain degree of overlap between all three bikes, which have travel figures that come within just 30mm of each other.
I’ve spent a load of time on the new Neuron CF, so it’s a bike I know very well. With more efficient pedalling manners, lighter weight tyres, and sharper geometry, it is very different to the Spectral. It climbs much better, though it doesn’t have the descending confidence that the Spectral has. Overall it’s designed to be a comfortable and easy-to-ride trail bike, and in my experience it feels more like a safer and longer-legged XC bike, rather than the mischievous high-speed trail ripper that the Spectral is. If you want to read more about the Neuron, check out our review on the Neuron CF 9.0 SL here.
The Strive is an interesting comparison, because it shares exactly the same travel figure as the Spectral; 160mm front and 150mm rear. Its geometry isn’t too far different either, with very similar reach measurements between the two. Factor in the 29in wheels, the carbon fibre frame, and the Shapeshifter suspension system however, and the Strive’s character is pushed more towards high-velocity racing.
Being able to adjust the geometry and rear suspension behaviour on the fly gives it some serious climbing chops, which is an important attribute for competitive enduro types. The Spectral is still enduro-capable, and indeed Canyon puts it into that category on its website, but it’s more play bike than race bike. For more info on how the latest Strive performs, check out our longterm review of the Strive CFR 9.0 Team bike here.
Flow’s Final Word
With 10mm more travel at both ends and an enduro-ready build kit, Canyon has made the latest Spectral it’s most raucous yet. It’s a playful, mischievous bike that loves being thrashed about, preferably downhill, at speed, on rough and chundery trails. While it’s currently surrounded by 29ers that are taking over the market, the Spectral does a bang-up job of exemplifying the advantages of 27.5in wheels. It’s a bucket-load of fun.
It isn’t exactly light though, and its newly slackened geometry hasn’t helped its climbing abilities. For riders who are looking for a speedy, long distance capable trail bike for big days in the hills, you’ll be better off at looking at the Neuron. And if enduro racing is your thing, then you’ll be more competitive on the Strive.
But if you just want a fun bike to ride, and you love jumping, pulling cutties and manuals, or you’re after a bike that will let you progress and develop that skill set, then the Canyon Spectral is one tough cookie that’s ready to survive all your mistakes along the way.