Canyon's previous Ultimate CF SLX road racer was a superstar in terms of stiffness and rear-end comfort. But the overly firm front end disrupted what was otherwise a flawless ride.
Canyon has rectified the situation with this latest-generation chassis, however. It's gloriously efficient, handles fantastically, and now offers an impressively smooth feel that's perfectly balanced from end to end. Toss in the reduced weight and reasonable pricing and you've got an undisputed winner.
· Highs: Stiff chassis, excellent comfort, balanced feel, refined handling, fantastic pricing, multiple build kit options
· Lows: Non-convertible internal cable routing, slightly finicky headset adjustment, narrow rims and tires, hard to come by in the United States or Australia
The latest Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Pro is an outstanding all-around road racer
Ride and handling: Fast yet comfortable
The main objective of any pure race bike should be outright efficiency and speed, and the new Ultimate CF SLX chassis nails both requirements. Despite shedding nearly 200g with the redesign, the sub-800g modular monocoque frame has seemingly lost none of its predecessor's outstanding rigidity, either in the girder-like rear triangle or the stout front end.
The bike eagerly and instantly shoots forward when you apply power to the pedals, with no discernible loss of energy or mushiness. Climbing feels remarkably quick and – dare we say it – easy, full-effort sprints are rewarded with big bursts of speed, and even high-speed cruising feels rewardingly direct and tactile.
Meaty chainstays and a wide, flattened seat tube contribute to the efficient rear end
Canyon makes good use of that stiffness when it comes to handling characteristics, too. Although some may find the steering to be a bit on the twitchy side, it's appropriate for its purpose and utterly precise. Initial turn-in is immediate but on-point, and there's ample feedback to let you know what the tires are doing at either end. Mid-corner line corrections are but a thought away.
It would be fair to expect that such efficiency and handling acumen would also come with a brutal ride quality but, in this case, that's anything but true. Despite the rather stiff-riding Mavic Ksyrium SLR alloy clincher wheels and matching, barely-22mm rubber (inflated to our usual 100/105psi front/rear operating pressures), the Ultimate CF SLX chassis is surprisingly forgiving.
Both the front and rear ends are very comfortable with a balanced feel from front to back
Crudely chip-sealed pavement barely registers through the contact points, and even bigger potholes are squelched with a dull thud that does little to upset your rhythm. One of our favorite test loops includes a fast, switchback-laden descent with a persistently washboarded dirt surface that invariably forces you to check your speed. On the Canyon, we not only just skirted across the tops but could actually still feel our hands afterward.
Prospective buyers should carefully research their fit using the provided stack and reach dimensions though, as we found the sizes running slightly bigger than their labels suggest. Handlebar heights have come down a smidgeon across the board, too – a common complaint with the previous generation from racer-types who often just couldn't get quite low enough – but some might still find the front ends too high. Even with the stock Acros i-Lock headset preload ring (which takes up about 10mm of valuable stack height and requires a tiny T-6 Torx wrench), though, we had little trouble replicating our usual position.
Exercise caution with the sizing as the frame sizes seem to run a tad large
Frame: Function-over-form design with creak-free fittings
That many top-end frames are starting to look very similar shouldn't come as a surprise given that everyone seems to be arriving at the same conclusions: that nominally roundish tube profiles, smooth transitions, and big section diameters offer the best path to maximum structural efficiency.
As a result, Canyon graces the Ultimate CF SLX frame with a very big and broad down tube, its trademark 'Maximus' flattened and flared seat tube profile, fat asymmetrical chainstays anchored to an extra-wide PF86 bottom bracket shell, and a tapered head tube that surrounds the common 1 1/2in steerer down below but Canyon's usual 1 1/4in upper diameter for additional stiffness as opposed to the more common 1 1/8in dimension.
Shaping throughout the frame is relatively modest all things considered
The source of the Canyon's enviable comfort is easy to see, too. The seatstays are broadly spaced up at the seat cluster to keep the rear end from wagging, but they're very slim in profile. Compared with the previous version, the fork blades are substantially shallower in depth while still retaining the meaty, hollow carbon crown.
Hidden inside Canyon's VCLS seatpost, however, is an infusion of basalt fibers into the carbon blend, which Canyon says allows for more flex over bumps – something that sounds hokey until you notice just how much it's actually moving. It's no surprise, given the bike's ride quality, to learn that basalt is also mixed into the fork blades and seatstays.
The included VCLS seatpost really works
The basalt apparently adds little – if any – unwanted mass, either. Actual weight for our so-called 'XS' size frame is just 780g, including the burly seatpost collar and rear derailleur hanger, the water bottle bolts, and all requisite cable routing hardware.
The Ultimate CF SLX may be built with structural efficiency (read: low weight) in mind but it doesn't appear to have come with any shortcuts that might negatively impact the long-term durability. The headset bearings, for example, press tightly into permanently bonded-in aluminum head tube inserts instead of sitting into molded-in carbon seats that would be easier to manufacture and lighter. And while the bottom bracket shell uses a carbon sleeve, it makes for a refreshingly tight and even fit around the bearing cups.
Even after eight months of testing, we heard no creaks anywhere
Perhaps most telling is that during eight solid months of testing, we heard not a single creak.
Our one real complaint lies with the internal routing. It's easy to live with and cleanly executed with direct cable paths, generously sized exit ports, and no risk of housing rub.
But, remarkably in this day and age, it isn't convertible for electronic drivetrains. Instead, Canyon builds a second variant with dedicated electronic-only ports.
The internal routing is unfortunately specific to electronic or mechanical drivetrains, not both
Equipment: Workhorse Campagnolo Record group and sturdy Mavic Ksyrium SLR wheels
Our Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Pro model arrived with lightweight Mavic Ksyrium SLR alloy clincher wheels, a durable aluminum Ritchey WCS cockpit, and a Campagnolo Record mechanical group. It's a package that offers lots of performance but retains a workhorse flavor and doesn't compromise on durability.
Total weight as shown here is just 6.38kg (14.07lb) without pedals.
That Campagnolo's Record group is so rarely seen at the OEM level is an utter shame as it's a fantastic ensemble that many riders unfortunately never get to experience. Compared with Shimano's very light action and SRAM's somewhat raw feel, the Record Ergopower shifters manage to split the difference. There's plenty of tactile feedback for your fingers but with more muted and refined-feeling detents, and it runs more quietly than SRAM's Red 22.
Ergopower also trounces its competitors in terms of multiple shifts.
The Campagnolo Record group unfortunately sees little play at the OEM level
Alas, Campagnolo still lags behind a bit in terms of shift precision, though, and while the front derailleur's micro-adjust trim feature is nice to have, we frequently found that the steps were still too big. Regardless of setup, certain gear combinations in the outer chainring produced some degree of cage rub – something that we hope has been rectified with the new version coming out later this year.
The brakes could stand for a bit of updating at this point, too. Overall power is good and modulation is superb, especially with Mavic's textured Exalith 2 sidewalls, which are thankfully worlds quieter than the original version without sacrificing their fantastic all-weather consistency. There still isn't the aggressive bite of the latest models from Shimano or SRAM, however, nor do the levers feel quite as positive under hard braking.
The included Mavic Ksyrium SLR clinchers aren't remarkably feathery on paper, nor are they even remotely aero with their fat aluminum and tubular carbon spokes and shallow rims. However, their outstanding stiffness makes them feel lighter than they are and, as we've often found in the past, they're fantastic on steeper climbs.
The stock rims and tires are very narrow. The textured Exalith 2 sidewalls yield impressive braking performance
Mavic's persistently deliberate product development continues to frustrate in terms of rim width, though. Internal width is just 15mm and the matching Yksion Pro clinchers barely measure 22mm across. That said, the supple casings and grippy rubber compounds still lend a silky ride quality and excellent grip – just don't be tempted to drop the pressures below traditional values.
Heavier riders should consider taking advantage of the bike's fairly generous tire clearances at both ends – 25mm-wide rubber fits easily and we even found room for some 27mm-wide models, too.
The bottom line: Fantastic machine with just a few minor complaints
The few negatives we noted on the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Pro don't in any way detract from what is essentially an absolutely fantastic bike. It's gloriously stiff and efficient, handles brilliantly, is surprisingly comfortable, and yet also comes with a remarkably aggressive price tag owing to Canyon's direct-sales business model.
In fact, there's really only one major flaw – at least for prospective buyers in the United States and Australia: you can't (easily) buy one. For everyone else, it's a screaming deal for an incredible bike.
Complete bike specifications
- Frame: Canyon Ultimate CF SLX
- Fork: Canyon One One Four SLX
- Headset: Acros Ai-70 Fiber
- Stem: Ritchey WCS 4-Axis 1 1/4in
- Handlebar: Ritchey WCS Evo Curve
- Tape: Canyon Ergospeed Gel
- Front brake: Campagnolo Record Skeleton w/ Mavic Exalith pads
- Rear brake: Campagnolo Record Skeleton w/ Mavic Exalith pads
- Brake levers: Campagnolo Record Ergopower
- Front derailleur: Campagnolo Record
- Rear derailleur: Campagnolo Record
- Shift levers: Campagnolo Record Ergopower
- Cassette: Campagnolo Record, 11-27T
- Chain: Campagnolo Record 11
- Crankset: Campagnolo Record Ultra-Torque, 50/34T
- Bottom bracket: Campagnolo Ultra-Torque OS-Fit
- Pedals: n/a
- Wheelset: Mavic Ksyrium SLR clincher
- Front tire: Mavic Yksion Pro GripLink clincher, 700x23c
- Rear tire: Mavic Yksion Pro PowerLink clincher, 700x23c
- Saddle: Selle Italia SLR
- Seatpost: Canyon VCLS