Canyon Spectral AL 9.0 EX review£2,741.00

Unbeatable value all-rounder, if sizing works for you

BikeRadar score4.5/5Find prices on Bicycle Blue Book

Nobody matches price with quality like Canyon. Even when you take into account the lack of dealership costs – Canyon bikes are bought online and shipped direct to you – the mix of top-end RockShox, SRAM and Renthal on a bike at this cost is jaw dropping.

With the angles and suspension design looking like they add up, would this be a year where ‘traditional’ manufacturers fought for Trail Bike of the Year second place before testing even really started?

Canyon spectral al 9.0

Video: Canyon Spectral AL 9.0, third place in What Mountain Bike's Trail Bike of the Year awards 2014

Frame and equipment: the short and short of it

The short answer? No. And the reason is short too – Canyon’s Spectral is incredibly short. So short we felt we should screw the pedals into the fork axle rather than the cranks, then pedal it round like a kid’s tricycle. To testers around six foot, who often feel a little cramped on Medium frames, this Medium felt like a BMX. Or an inline roller skate.

Get the measurements right and the spectral offers great hard-riding geometry: get the measurements right and the spectral offers great hard-riding geometry
Get the measurements right and the spectral offers great hard-riding geometry: get the measurements right and the spectral offers great hard-riding geometry

Get the measurements right and the Spectral offers great hard-riding geometry

Usually we’d simply recommend sizing up, and indeed the Large has a Mondraker-like 24.09in top tube that more than compensates for the short stem. The trouble is that not only is Large the largest option (Canyon only makes an XL in the 29er version), but the normally accurate size advisor – such a key part of the process in Canyon’s otherwise immaculate online world – tells most riders to get a bike that’s much too small.

Assuming you’ve read this and take appropriate avoiding action, you’re potentially onto the bargain of the century as you grasp those big motocross-bred bars and lower the Reverb Stealth post into the Spectral’s impressively well detailed, stiff and light frame.

Ride and handling: light fantastic?

The geometry is well-sorted, dropping you low into the ride with the front wheel out far enough to keep trouble at arms’ length.

SRAM provides its X01 1x11-speed transmission, its tight and light Roam 50 wheels and a top-end Revelation fork. The only grumble is that the fat 2.4in Continental tyres are very draggy for such a light, responsive machine, and swapping them front to back makes a big difference – both tread patterns are better suited that way.

The revelation fork is pure quality: the revelation fork is pure quality
The revelation fork is pure quality: the revelation fork is pure quality

The Revelation fork is pure quality

Despite the quality and adjustment of the RCT3-spec fork and Monarch Plus shock, it took a huge amount of setup time to make the classic four-bar linkage system work as smoothly as we knew it should. And as it arrives in a box you’re on your own with setup – unless, of course, you’re prepared to look really sheepish and ask that local shop, whose more realistically-priced bikes and built-in after sales support you’ve snubbed.

If you get sizing and setup right, the Spectral is a superb example of a state of the art all-rounder at a price no-one can compete with, whether it’s this model or the entry-level SLX/XT, Mavic-wheeled, Reverb Stealthed, Fox-damped AL6.0 version for £1,000 less.

This article was originally published as part of What Mountain Bike magazine's Trail Bike of the year awards. What Mountain Bike is available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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