If you've got a set budget in mind for a new bike, it's a question you may well find yourself asking: Do I buy a bike with a carbon frame, but with cheaper components? Or do I go for an alloy frame, but get a higher level component spec?
The not-so-minor details
Canyon Spectral AL 7.0 EX
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Faultless, fuss-free spec choices.
Crisp, precise handling.
Lack of Boost hub spacing dates the frame.
In cycling, we tend to conflate high performance, with carbon. But the Canyon Spectral AL 7.0 EX goes against this norm, and makes a very compelling case for a riding an alloy framed bike, dressed with top-end components. Canyon have their invested cash in the areas that will have the most tangible impact for serious trail riders, giving this bike components from the top shelf, but sticking with aluminium for the frame lets them keep the price point under $5000.
The carbon boogey man.
The other target market for this bike is the riders out there who, for one reason or another, just do not want a carbon bike. Whether it’s because of a persistent stigma that carbon is fragile, or because they feel like they might be more likely to damage a carbon bike, plenty of riders still prefer the familiarity of alloy.
This is the first alloy-framed Canyon we’ve had a Flow – we’ve ridden their carbon bikes a lot over the past 18 months, and they’ve proven to be incredibly tough (read our long-term review of the Strive Enduro bike here). The alloy Spectral has the same sleek and sturdy quality about it as the carbon bikes we’ve tested, though in comparison to the exceptional finish on their carbon bikes, the alloy bike does feel a little less refined.
What is this bike built for?
The Spectral is a trail bike, but with a mean edge; 140mm out back, and 150mm up front, and geometry that borders on Enduro bike territory. We like its no-fuss design and spec approach – it’s really built for a rider who wants the minimum of fuss, here to get down to business of riding trails as fast as possible, with the minimum of setup or maintenance.
External cabling for the dropper and rear brake line deliver the zero-fuss message too. The suspension at both end has sag gradients so you can get it dialled in quickly, and good quality tubeless wheels and tyres mean no faffing about to get it set up. The 1×12 Eagle drivetrain has you covered no matter how steep or varied the terrain you’re riding.
On the trails.
The bike shares the same geometry as the Spectral CF which we reviewed last year and loved. It’s one of the best handling 27.5” bikes we’ve ridden, full stop. There’s an awesome precision about it, the short rear end, the confidence-inspiring angles up front, the support you’ll find in the suspension, the tyres that are bitey but not too big and loafy. It’s got the right mix.
Read our review of the Spectral CF 9.0 EX below.
The way this bike attacks a technical piece of singletrack is inspiring. Rather than just covering ground, we found ourselves stopping and surveying the trail, looking for new ways to ride it. It’s that kind of bike, it opens up your eyes to new creative lines, prodding you to jump, wheelie, manual and skid your way through the trail.
The business of climbing isn’t a chore either, and while the riding position is more about the handling than efficiency, we were consistently impressed by its ability to claw up the long climbs, and the agility when the climbs got technical. You’ve got a three position compression lever on the shock, within easy reach, to firm things up if you want to.
What do you get for the coin?
At $4799, the Spectral has some stiff competition, and plenty of riders at this price are heavily focused on getting maximum bang for the buck. And when you look at the quality of the components, we doubt many rider will be itching to make any component changes before hitting the trails, we certainly wouldn’t. There really aren’t any holes in the spec choices here, and there are plenty of pleasant surprises. Items like the Renthal cockpit and the Ergon grips are nice touches, as is the use of Matchmaker clamps for a clean cockpit, integrating the shifter, dropper and brake levers. The Pike RCT3 fork and X0 Eagle drivetrain are total standouts, of course.
This tyre combo is one we really enjoy, a great mix of speed and grip. Riders in softer soils might want something more aggressive out back, but on dry trails this combo is a lot of fun and in conjunction with the light wheels you’ve got rolling gear that is quick to manoeuvre.
Where are the flaws?
It’s actually a really hard bike to find an issue with. You could make the point that it’s a bit behind the curve in that it doesn’t use Boost hub spacing, but it? It’s not like we ever found ourselves out on the trail longing for different hub spacing. Nor did we ever find ourselves missing the carbon frame either – the high end spec balances out the extra weight of the alloy frame so it’s quite a light bike overall, and while the carbon version of this bike has a calmer, quieter feel overall, the great suspension means this bike never feels clattery or rough.
Does it stack up?
When you compare the Spectral with its competition, notably the Giant Trance 1, YT Jeffsy AL1, Norco Sight A7.1, you can see that it’s dwelling in a pretty competitive sector of the market. Even though the Canyon does have exceptional spec, it doesn’t blow the competition away on that front – clearly this a segment where brands are running some tight margins. It’s fortunate for Canyon then, that this bike has some fearsome performance on the trails too, it’s not relying purely on its spec sheet to win riders over.
As a direct to consumer brand, getting a test ride on a Spectral could be a hurdle that some potential purchasers will struggle to overcome, but if you do decide to push the buy button on Canyon’s website, you’re making a sound choice with this piece of weaponry.