Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX bike review

For well under $5000, this is a whole lot of trail taming bike

27.5 All Mountain Trail
Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

The Spectral is a highly capable bike as long as its pilot is paying attention.

Lowdown: Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX

First a quick caveat. The bike tested for this review (a 2016 model) is not exactly the same as the 2017 iteration that will be available in the U.S. later this summer. But while some of the component spec has changed, frame material, geometry, pricing, and overall ride character remain the same. Indeed, the Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX is the German direct-to-consumer seller’s highly capable 27.5 carbon fiber trail bike with 150mm front and 140mm rear four-bar Horst-link suspension.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

At about $4300, you get a lot of bang for your buck, including a full carbon frame.

The two key spec changes are the welcomed jump from SRAM 11-speed to 12-speed Eagle, and the switch from Cane Creek’s highly tunable (but potentially overly complex) DBInline shock to the more user friendly RockShox Monarch RT3. Other changes of note include DT Swiss wheels and Maxxis tires instead of the Mavic-Mavic combo Mtbr tested. You also now get a Renthal bar and stem instead of Canyon house brand cockpit components.

Scroll down to read the full Mtbr review, which starts with a comparison of last year’s spec versus the 2017 model. As you’ll quickly discover, there’s a lot of bang for buck in this $4300 package.

Stat Box: 2016 Model Spec
Frame: Canyon Spectral CF Chainguide: e*thirteen TRS+ S3
Fork: RockShox Pike RCT3 150mm Bars: Canyon H23 Rise CF 760mm
Shock: Cane Creek DBInline 140mm Stem: Canyon V12 50mm
Wheels: Mavic Crossmax XL Pro LTD Headset: Cane Creek 40
Hubs: Mavic Crossmax XL Pro LTD Grips: Ergon GE1 Slim
Front tire: Mavic Crossmax Charge 2.4 Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
Rear tire: Mavic Crossmax Quest 2.3 Saddle: SDG Circuit
Brakes: SRAM Guide RSC Headtube angle: 67 degrees
Rotors: SRAM 200mm/180mm Chainstay length: 425mm
Shifter: SRAM X01 Seat tube angle: 74.5 degrees
Front Derailleur: n/a Stack (size XL): 644mm
Rear Derailleur: SRAM X01 Reach (size XL): 480mm
Cable routing: Internal Weight (size XL): 28.5 pounds w/tubes
Crankset: SRAM X01 32t Price tested: $4600
Cassette: SRAM X1, 10-42 Rating: 4.5 Flamin' Chili Peppers 4.5 Chilis-out-of-5
Chain: SRAM

Stat Box: 2017 Model Spec
Frame: Canyon Spectral CF Chain: SRAM
Fork: RockShox Pike RCT3 150mm Chainguide: e*thirteen TRS+ S3
Shock: RockShox Monarch RT3 140mm Bars: Renthal Fat Bar Lite 780mm
Wheels: DT Swiss XM 1501 Spline One Stem: Renthal Apex 35 50mm
Hubs: DT Swiss Headset: Cane Creek 40
Front tire: Maxxis High Roller II 2.3 Grips: Ergon GE1 Slim
Rear tire: Maxxis Minion Semi Slick 2.3 Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
Brakes: SRAM Guide RSC Saddle: SDG Circuit MTN
Rotors: SRAM 200mm/180mm Chainstay length: 425mm
Shifter: SRAM X01 Eagle Seat tube angle: 74.5 degrees
Front Derailleur: n/a Headtube angle: 67 degrees
Rear Derailleur: SRAM X01 Eagle Chainstay length: 425mm
Cable routing: Internal Seat tube angle: 74.5 degrees
Crankset: SRAM X01 Eagle 34t Stack (size M): 598mm
Cassette: SRAM X01 Eagle 10-50 Reach (size M): 430mm
Claimed weight (size M): 26.9 pounds Price for 2017: $4299

Pluses
Minuses
  • Price, price, price
  • What about your LBS?
  • Light full carbon frame
  • Must assemble yourself
  • Easy home build
  • Lack of direct bike shop support
  • All build tools included
  • Some internal cable rattle
  • Easy tubeless set-up
  • Reverb dropper lever
  • Great looking bike
  • Only 125mm dropper
  • Low standover height
  • Older suspension design
  • Well placed frame protection
  • Non-boost spacing
  • Chain guide included
  • Front end light on climbs
  • Playful and flicky
  • Some pedal striking
  • Post mount rear brake tabs
  • Suspension can get overwhelmed
  • Great braking performance
  • Tight rear tire clearance
  • Room for bottle cage inside frame
  • Balanced riding position
  • Generous reach

Review: Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX

Any conversation about a Canyon bike must start with the delivery and build process. Because unlike the “normal” bike buying process, where you roll your new ready-to-ride two-wheeler off the floor of your local bike shop, a Canyon bike shows up at your doorstep in a box and you have to build it yourself. The good news is that if you have even modest bike mechanic skills (or can put together an Ikea bookshelf) you’ll have no problem assembling your new German engineered trail tamer.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

It took about 30 minutes to turn this pile of parts into a rideable bike.

Canyon bikes arrive in an oversized box, which allows for much of the build process to happen before it gets to you. In the case of this Spectral CF, it was just a matter of attaching the bars, pulling through the already routed dropper post housing, mounting the wheels, and inflating the fork and shock. Working at a slow pace (and taking pictures along the way) it took about 30 minutes to complete the assembly process, which is explicitly outlined in the included instruction manual. Add another 10-15 minutes to do a tubeless conversation and it was ride time.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

Along with a new bike you get a shock pump, torque wrench, tubeless valves, hub wrenches, fork tokens, pedal washers, sticker kit, and component manuals for essentially every part on the bike.

Our test bike’s shipping box also included a massive general bike care manual with instructions in 16 languages (including 70 pages of English text), plus a host of other handy items: shock pump, torque wrench, tubeless valves, hub wrenches, fork tokens, pedal washers, sticker kit, and component manuals for essentially every part on the bike. If you still need a hand, Canyon plans to have a dedicated call center in the U.S. to assist its new North American customers, and has already posted tons of on-line resources, including videos such as this:

That’s not to say problems can’t (or wont’) arise, but based on our one-bike test experience, any concerns about building your own bike are likely overblown. Frankly, I think a lot of people will find the whole experience educational and empowering. The better you understand how your bike comes together, the more you’ll appreciate and take care of it.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

Total weight of our sexy-looking size XL tester was 28.5 pounds with tubes. Once set-up tubeless that number was closer to 28 even.

Spec Check

Quality components and the associated price for these components is really where Canyon shines. Draped on the 2017 model’s full carbon frame are a RockShox Monarch RT3 140mm shock and RockShox Pike RCT3 150mm fork. The RCT3 model features the high performing charger damper, and not the more basic motion control internals of the RC model.

Shifting is handled by SRAM’s much heralded Eagle X01 12-speed drivetrain with its massive gear range, and you get a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post and DT Swiss XM 1501 Spline One alloy wheels wrapped in Maxxis tires. I’ll cut off the laundry list there (you can see the rest of the spec in the stat box above). But clearly this is a smartly outfitted bike that would likely sell for at least a $1000 more in a non-direct-to-consumer setting.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

The rear end’s small bump sensitivity was lacking ever so slightly in the 2016 model, but the change in shock spec should help amend that for 2017.

Total weight of our size XL 2016 tester was a highly respectable 28.5 pounds, and Canyon claims a size medium 2017 model tips the scales at 26.9 pounds. The only real issue I’d take with the spec is the 125mm travel dropper. As you can see in the photos, I had a lot of exposed fixed seatpost to achieve my desired 82cm saddle height. A 150mm post would be a great addition to the larger frame sizes. And while we at it, how about something besides the Reverb dropper post’s sub-par actuation lever. You could also make an argument for a wider tire up front. The 2.3 High Roller II will do just fine, but this bike’s capabilities call for more girthy rubber.

On the upside, props to Canyon for the move to RockShox’s Monarch rear shock for model year 2017. This is no knock against the Cane Creek DBInline Mtbr tested. But that shock’s high degree of adjustability is more complex than most riders require, and there was some sense during testing that even when fully open the bike’s suspension was slightly mismatched front to rear because of differences in initial sensitivity. The rear end wasn’t quite where we wanted it, meaning some loss of traction in small bump sequences.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

Canyon Spectral geometry chart. Please click to enlarge.

In our case, it took a fair bit of fiddling to get the bike exactly where we wanted it. After starting with the suggested base tune (which was included on a card in the box), we ended up increasing high speed compression a touch for more bottom out support. The guess here is that the Monarch RT3, which also has extra compression tuning options, will help deliver a more balanced overall suspension feel.

The SRAM Guide RSC brakes also deserve a shout-out. They’re some of the best trail bike stoppers on the market right now, and feel like a serious upgrade on a bike at this price point. Usually you wouldn’t expect to get contact and reach adjustment functionality when spending this (relatively) little amount of cash.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

The relatively short 425mm chainstays help the bike carve through tight turns.

Canyon’s also done a nice job placing frame guards on the driveside chainstay and downtube, and the internal cable routing is tidy, though we have experienced some rattle from time to time. Lastly, it must be mentioned that this bike has neither boost spacing or the ability to run the new breed of wide trail tires. Generally speaking, I could care less about the former on a 27.5 bike, but it would be nice to have a little more tire clearance in the rear, as I’ve really grown to love the extra traction you get from a 27.5×2.6 tire pumped to 20 psi.

On the Trail

Good looks don’t necessarily bail you out of tricky situations (at least when it comes to your mountain bike), but it must be said that the low slung Spectral is one fine looking machine. We love the green paint and clean lines of this lightweight full carbon frame that’s driven by a four-bar suspension design with Horst-link pivot near the rear axle.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

The Canyon Spectral is a playful bike that loves to be popped off lips and whipped around tight turns.

In general geometry is in line with current trends. The longer reach (455mm on the size L) allows for a centered, over-the-pedals feel, and it’s especially good for taller riders such as myself. And while headtube angle is listed at 67 degrees, it’s actually about a half a degree slacker because this EX model comes with a 150mm fork versus the 140mm spec on the standard Spectral models.

The seat tube angle is 74.5 degrees, which along with a slightly taller stack, helps keep you in a comfortable climbing position. Out back, chainstays are slightly on the short side at 425mm, making it easy to snap the bike around turns, quickly change lines, or pop off small features. It’s a fun playful bike, but not one that will ever be confused with either an XC racer or enduro smasher.

On steep and slow techy climbs, the front wheel has a tendency to drift and lift. And some riders may find that the Horst Link suspension too active compared to other more stable and supportive platforms.

When pointed downhill, there is definitely a limit to what this bike can handle. The Spectral craves corners, manuals with ease, and is as poppy as they come. But it’s easy to bottom out and plowing through chunky terrain is not its strong suit. You can at least partially alleviate these issues by installing a few volume reducers in the shock to get a more progressive curve. But this is not a hold on and hope bike. If you’re smitten with the idea of owning a Canyon, but want to race rowdy enduros, best check out the longer travel Strive.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

Canyon expects to open for business in the U.S. sometime in August of 2017.

Bottom Line

The bang for buck of this bike (and many others in the Canyon line-up) is hard to beat. That’s why we’re excited that the German direct-to-consumer seller is finally going to make its North American debut. No the Spectral isn’t equipped with a latest-and-greatest suspension design. But there’s a reason four-bar has been around for so long (and is still used by the likes of Specialized, Transition, and many others). It works pretty darn well.

Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX Review

It’s not the world’s greatest climbing bike, but the steep 74.5-degree seat tube angle and tall’ish stack make for a comfortable ascending position.

Combine that with a superb parts spec and great price, and you have a very attractive package that will deliver loads of trail time fun without need for a second mortgage. Bottom line, if you want a fast and fun 27.5 trail bike, and are willing to pick your lines versus smashing them, the Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX is a great choice.

For more info on the bike please visit www.canyon.com. To stay up to date on the company’s U.S. debut bookmark their North American website.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)


About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.


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  • Bob says:

    Nice review! Sounds like a great east coast bike where agility is more critical than the attributes afforded by the “long/low/slack” straight-line trend. Also good to see the mountain bike press come around on the plus size tire sizes. Initially treated as a venereal disease, writers and editors are discovering what a lot of riders have known for some time. Welcome to the party.

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