Maybe it’s just us, but we hear ‘German full-sus 29er’ and picture something designed for minimum weight and mountain summits – with suspension and handling tuned for fireroads. There are certainly several bikes we’ve ridden that fit that stereotype perfectly, but Canyon’s Nerve AL 29 9.9 is a lot more versatile and broad minded.
Ride & handling: Neutral, but well balanced and versatile
We big-ringed straight onto the grassy off-camber corners round the back of the council offices (we know, glamorous) with reckless enthusiasm. Faced with less grip than prison soap, the Canyon whipped its back end away from the direction of thrust faster than an inmate on his first night.
But rather than sprawling us into the snowdrops under secretaries’ windows, a flick of countersteer and a panicky foot dab had the flowers safe and us fleeing the scene unscathed. Sprinting through the trees with spiked adrenaline, we ran through the black box recording of what happened and why we weren’t plastered in shame and shit.
Catching a slide like that is a reaction rather than a conscious thought process, but the tight-tracking wheels, screw-thru rear end, massive chainstays, sturdy rocker link and gusset-free hydroformed mainframe mean the Nerve feeds synapses seriously precise feedback.
Up front, the short, broad stem and fairly steep head angle delivered the traction-gathering responses we needed before our conscious brain had even started to silently mouth “Oh shiiiiiiiii...”
Frame curve isn’t just for show; it works brilliantly
As our week of rides progressed and we introduced the Nerve to more legitimate trails, our positive first impressions were increasingly reinforced. The tapered head tube, very clever one-piece moulded and fork-ended top tube and stout rocker – with double-sided clevis junctions onto the seatstays – produce a properly pin sharp, traction-enhancing ride.
While the bar’s a bit narrow, serious front end strength lets you crowbar the front end out of low speed boulder field screw-ups on black rated bridleway descents. Every time we thought we’d have liked a more relaxed head angle to really let fly on fast, slippery descents, it would then do a really well-weighted corner hook or climbing nudge on the way back up, and we’d appreciate the fast reactions again.
The slight backwards curve on the seat tube – there to allow decent tyre clearance – isn’t enough to cantilever rider weight too far back and wave the front end in the air or make it wash out in corners, as it does on some bikes. There’s decent (if not full depth) seatpost drop before it bottoms out on this curve as well, and you can use the rear brake’s optional under-top tube routing for a dropper post if you want.
The Fox fork feels far more composed and controlled on seriously technical trails than any 100mm unit has a right to. While like many CTD shocks it’s eager to show you the full stroke without much provocation if you use the Descend setting, we still dropped some pretty big hits without any obvious bottom out slam.
The easy mid-stroke access of the shock helped slacken, lower and stabilise the bike just through foot pressure when we were pushing the pace through corners. It’s still impressively stable when grunting hard in the granny ring with the damping fully open too, although performance pedallers will surely stick to the pert, less dive-prone action of the Trail setting.
The Fox Float shock provides 100mm of travel at the rear
The Nerve’s stiff frame, lightweight wheels and fast rolling tyres mean it’s impressively encouraging when hill sprint intervals are on the agenda. They also mean it dispatches the dull Tarmac bits with gratefully noted alacrity if you’re dodging the worst of the mud via back lane short cuts – admit it, you do it too…
The potential for a fully locked-out front and rear meant we even chased a tanker lorry up gasworks hill on the way home one day. Until our lungs imploded. It’s that kind of bike.
The more we rode the Nerve AL, the more we realized that Canyon have created a proper dark horse here. It’s a naturally fast, singletrack-agile mile eater for marathon fans, but it’s also capable of pushing much further into chaotic trail situations than you might expect.
Frame & equipment: Weighty but great value
Typically for its shop-dodging bike-in-a-box strategy, Canyon’s new offering is a serious bargain when you realize where the money’s spent. If that statement sounds odd, we’ll run you through our first week of testing, right from when we received the distinctive black reusable packing box.
We prefer not to taint initial impressions with too much pre-research, and having just sent back the 26in-wheeled Nerve AL – £2,645/US$4,049, 11kg (24.3lb) – our misconceptions of a feathery racer were firmly intact.
The weight we heaved out of the box was higher than expected. Chunky looking mid-range CrankBros kit fell into the adequate rather than aspirational category on a bike we were expecting to blow our socks off for value; Shimano XT isn’t that amazing on aggressively priced bikes, even shop-sold ones such as those from Cube.
So we stepped back and took a longer look. Its weight is actually very competitive – at least a full kilo lighter than most 29ers for the same money, and only undercut by the Giant Anthem X 29er 1. Also, we’re talking full XT here, not a rear mech-only disguise over hidden SLX or Deore chain, cassette, shifters or front mechs. That full set alone would be very good value, but then we clocked the wheels.
On every sub-£3,000 full suspension bike test we’ve done this year – and on many £3,000-plus bikes too – 29er rolling stock has been average at best, leaving the host tarred with a ‘needs better wheels to realize its potential’ somewhere in the review. But these Mavic CrossMax ST29s with their signature fat alloy spokes don’t just cost £650 at retail, they’re worth it.
Internal cable routing – neat
Punching far above their price in standalone tests, they make a lot of twice-the-price carbon-rimmed wheels feel lethargic and inaccurate on the trail. Fit the supplied the UST valves, slop in some sealant and the tubeless-ready versions of the classic Schwalbe Rocket Ron front, Racing Ralph rear tyres go commando for rock shrugging, weight-dropping benefit. The rubber is even the trustworthy Evo triple compound rather than root-phobic plastic lookalikes.
Top quality kit, an anodised finish and meticulous metalworking add long term value to its impressively versatile performance, and prove that choosing Canyon may well be boxing clever – yet again.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.