Canyon Ultimate CF 9.0 ES £1799

Race bike with ultra-light frame

BikeRadar score 4.5/5

Canyon’s bikes can’t be found in your local bike shop. That’s because the German brand’s business model is to sell direct, cutting out the costs of widespread distribution and passing the savings on to you. 

The theory is a good one, but the downside is that if you have any issues with the bike you’ll need to contact Canyon to get it sorted – a much more drawn-out process than taking it back to the shop you bought it from.

Frame & equipment: Light with a great value spec

The Ultimate CF frame was Canyon’s top-of-the-range lightweight, but it’s since been surpassed by the super-light SLX (790g). Not that the Ultimate CF’s 1kg frame weight is to be sniffed at, and our 58cm test bike is one of the lightest in the Bike of the Year roundup at 7.28kg (16.05lb). 

The frame’s understated looks hide a wealth of technology. The front end uses a tapered head tube that’s more substantial than most – it shapes from a large 1 1/4in at the top to a broad 1 1/2in at the bottom. 

Above the steerer is a dedicated Acros headset, which features a locking collar underneath the bearing to further bolster and stiffen the front end. The Canyon One One Four fork plugged in up front has a broad, wishbone-like crown that quickly tapers into slender legs. Within the fork leg material, Canyon have blended the same basalt fibres they use in the remarkable VCLS seatpost. This adds comfort-giving flex without sacrificing strength. 

The down tube rotates its squared-off profile from taller vertically to wider horizontally along its length. It meets an oversized bottom bracket shell, but one that takes standard-sized BB axle cranks. 

The seat tube is massive at the bottom bracket joint but rapidly tapers through its length; its design is very asymmetric – flat and straight on the driveside, for drivetrain clearance, with the bulk of the mass on the opposing side. 

The deep, thick, square chainstays are straight and fuss free all the way back to the minimal dropouts, a feature Canyon claim maximises the stiffness of the frame’s rear end. The seatstays also use VCLS technology to be infused with basalt.

Component-wise, Canyon score maximum points for value. For starters, the use of a complete Shimano Ultegra groupset with no omissions is impressive for the price. 

Even more astounding is the wheel package. Mavic’s Ksyrium Elite S is a 1,600g set of hoops that carries a premium of £470 if bought separately. That’s a quarter of the bike’s price on wheels alone, and it’s money well spent. 

The wheels feature a 22mm, highly machined front rim, with the rear growing to 25mm. The hubs are highly machined, with star-like flanges designed to take the straight-pull, aero-bladed and butted spokes. Mavic also supply the tyres in the form of the Yksion Pros, sensibly specced at 25c.

The cockpit is all aluminium, and very classy indeed coming from Ritchey’s WCS range. The EvoCurve bar has a compact drop and an oversized and ovalised top section that also sweeps slightly rearward before it makes its forward bend. The WCS stem is a fine companion. 

What will turn heads, however, is Canyon’s latest VCLS 2.0 post. We were big fans of the original seatpost – its abundance flex could turn the hardest-riding rear end into a much plusher experience. 

The 2.0 has been completely redesigned, though. The post now splits into two separate half moon shapes. These act independently of each other, tied at the top by a clever self-levelling clamp and bonded at the section that sits within the frame. 

The previous post did tend to move backwards significantly over bigger hits, and it was something we were happy to live with for the comfort it provided. But Canyon’s new design, with its split sections, keeps the comfort while reducing the amount of backwards movement.

Ride & handling: Exciting and racy but that front end takes no prisoners

Ride the Canyon and you can immediately feel the lack of mass – that and some significant frame rigidity. The front end tracks brilliantly; it’s simply never flustered by road surfaces, lean angles or sprints out of the saddle. 

The basalt-infused fork legs we aren’t completely sold on. Yes they dull big hits, crashing through potholes and the like, but you can still feel the road surface. It never translates into numb hands but there are smoother front ends available within the Bike of the Year test. 

The remainder of the frame feels brutally efficient; this is oversized aluminium bike stiffness at its best, the oversized chainstays, huge seat tube and broad down tube all doing their job admirably. 

Canyon’s oh-so-clever seatpost isolates your hindquarters from this stiffness remarkably well. Over the roughest of surfaces you’ll feel the floatiness at the back, although the front end’s rock-like nature can seem a little disconnected.

The choice of 25c tyres should also be applauded. With no discernible downsides and improved comfort, toughness and wet weather grip, we think other brands should catch on to the 25c niche sooner rather than later.

Groupset performance is exactly what you’d expect from Ultegra – slick, smooth, consistent and quiet. The Ultimate’s frame has fully external cabling for the gears, which is easy to service but requires a little more maintenance. The 50/34 gearing combined with an 11-28T cassette means the Ultimate’s well suited to climbing, the low overall weight and light wheelset making it a brilliant companion on long ascents.

With parallel 73.5-degree seat and head angles and a wheelbase of 990mm on our 58cm test rig, the Ultimate has an aggressive stance. That makes for a rapid-handling bike that you can have more than enough fun with. Combined with the rigid frame, this characteristic makes it an ideal privateer’s race machine. 

On longer rides we didn’t feel as though we were compromising on comfort. The seatpost does an admirable job and the rearward sweep of the EvoCurve bar gives a slightly shorter, comfortable position when you’re riding the tops, perfect for taking a breather.

For the price, there’s very little to fault with the Canyon. 

This bike was tested as part of Cycling Plus magazine’s 2013 Bike Of The Year feature – read the full results in issue 273, available now on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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