If you’re in the market for a serious trail bike with progressive, trail-ready geometry and impressive spec, then the Canyon Spectral needs to be high on your list.
Canyon, the direct-sale brand based in Germany, has an extensive range of bikes in its lineup, and has always included a sizeable contingent of women's bikes alongside its unisex/men's range.
The Spectral WMN - guess what the letters denote - is based around an aluminium unisex Spectral frame with women's specific finishing kit. It comes in a stealthy grey and turquoise colour, pictured, or a navy blue and magenta, if brighter colours are your thing.
But looks aside, it's a bike that really does tick all the boxes when it comes to trail bikes. It's got a component list that would be at home on a bike several hundred pounds or dollars more expensive, it's light, and it's an absolute riot to ride.
Aluminium frame, but she ain't heavy
The Spectral frame is a unisex geometry shared between both the women's and the unisex/men's Spectral bikes, with female specific finishing kit including an SDG Allure saddle.
This is one of those bikes that proves that a high-end aluminium frame with quality components can be as light as a carbon bike, because those cables and gears and levers carry a chunk of weight. Weighing in at 12.8kg, it's the second lightest bike in our 2017 Women's Trail Bike of the Year test and that's partly due to the well constructed aluminium frame, and also the top notch spec it comes with, more on which later.
It features boost spacing, with the Canyon through axle system which means you do need to have a multi-tool handy to remove the front wheel, though that's not an issue for the well organised mountain biker, right?
Progressive geometry, confident ride
The geometry is pleasingly progressive for a trail bike: a slack 66.4 degree head in conjunction wide 740mm bars and a pleasingly short stem make for a confident, stable feel and plenty of control on technical descents. Course corrections get a quick response, and it moves nimbly around obstacles, switchbacks and twisty trails.
Wheelbase (115cm) and reach (430mm) are similar to both the Cube Sting and the Trek Fuel EX, both also part of our Women's Trail Bike of the Year test, and all have a planted feeling when in the saddle. A chainstay length of 430mm, relatively short, gives the bike a playful feel when popping off drops or over roots, but the Spectral never feel skittish, always controlled.
When it comes to climbing, it might not have quite the rapid abilities of the more cross-country trail bikes the Liv Pique and Specialized Camber, but it's no slouch. The low weight helps, of course, but the steep seat-tube angle at 74.5 degrees helps keep rider weight over the bottom bracket for a more efficient pedal stroke to get you up those hills.
Soar (uphill) like the Eagle
The test panel were keen to get on the Canyon Spectral for a number of reasons, a big one being that they wanted a go on the SRAM Eagle 1x12 gearing. The single ring up front does away with the need for a front derailleur and shifter, which saves weight, but a concern that many riders have with 1x systems is not having enough gears on the low end to get up steep technical climbs, or allow you to spin up at a leisurely pace when you're worn out after a long day of riding.
I was seriously impressed with the range the X1/XO1 Eagle groupset provided; the easiest gear remained untouched for most of the majority of trail-centre based climbing, and came in very handy on longer rides and bigger climbs. Sometimes you just want to spin up and conserve your energy, and the huge range on the Eagle cassette - 10-50t - provided that with simple, smooth and responsive shifting.
Interestingly, the whole groupset isn't XO1 Eagle: X1 Eagle cranks go to show that you can put together an efficient Eagle groupset without using full X01.
As a fan of 1x systems for the simplicity, performance, ease of use and low maintenence, the extra range solves the one niggle I had which was range of gears. The inclusion of Eagle 1x12 on the Spectral is a pretty massive plus point on the performance side of things.
Amazing value components
The componentry magic continues with RockShox Pike RCT3 forks with 150mm of travel, which give a plush, reliable feel on big hits making for a confident feel on technical descents and drops, and small bump sensitivity that smooths out braking bumps and root sections, ensuring good ground contact and therefore excellent traction. There are three shock positions: open, pedal and lock. Pedal proved an efficient setting for technical climbs, but even leaving the system open the whole way around the test loop didn't massively compromise speed or efficiency.
At the rear, the RockShox Monarch XX provides a further 140mm of travel with a remote lockout attached to the handlebars. First, this caused a little confusion as it's the same controller as the Reverb dropper seatpost, but mounted on the opposite side of the handlebars. Second, it seems a little unnecessary for the majority of trail centre and single track climbing encountered in the UK, but for longer climbs it is useful to get a more efficient power transfer from pedal to drivetrain for getting up those mountains.
Both fork and shock perform well out of the box, once the usual adjustments have been made. You don't need lots of tuning and fiddling to get them feeling balanced and responsive. Like the other women's specific bikes tested for Bike of the Year, both fork and shock have a lighter tune, designed to suit the lighter-on-average weight to height of women.
SRAM Guide RS brakes provide powerful performance with good modulation and a lot of adjustability. Sensitive control gives a consistent feel when feathering through technical sections and plenty of stopping power when it's needed.
In combination with the geometry and suspension the result is a confidence-inspiring bike that encourages you to try that rock garden, rooty drop or steep chute.
RCT3 forks can also be easily adapted to give more or less travel by inserting a different airshaft so if you wanted you could go up to 150mm or 160mm on the front, which would slacken the bike out even more.
Quality rubber and finishing kit
Quality wheels and rubber also contribute to the lightness and handling of the Spectral. The Mavic XA Elite are tubeless-ready trail wheels with a 25mm inner width which are a stable option with enough flex to give you some pop cornering as well as being sturdy enough to handle big terrain.
Rubber-wise, a considered pairing of 2.4 wide Maxxis High Roller II on the front and grippier enduro-style Ardent at the rear provide serious traction in a range of conditions.
The Spectral has a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper seatpost with internal cable routing and a pleasing 125mm of travel. The cockpit, confusing RockShox levers aside, is well set up with a Canyon HI5 Rise Al aluminium handlebars and Ergon GE10 Slim grips providing good traction and comfort. The SRAM X01 shifter has a responsive, pleasing movement and the SRAM Guide RS brake levers have reach adjustability so you can dial them in our out to suit your hand size.
While the Spectral is classed as a trail bike, it's definitely more towards the all-mountain/enduro end of the spectrum. It's burly and slack enough to make short work of technical terrain, but not so all-mountain focussed that it sucks the fun out of flatter trails. The ride is smooth, precise, and above all fun. This is a bike that screams capability and confidence, whether you want to progress your skills, push your racing, or just take on more technical terrain.
As a one-bike, all-rounder it's hard to beat, particularly for the weight, price and quality of components it features. It's a hell of a ride, our test panel loved it, and I do, too.
Sizing, pricing and availability
The Canyon Spectral comes in a good range of sizes: XS, S, M and L which means tall women get a look-in here, too. We tested the size medium frame, with all testers being in the region of 5'8/1.76m, so a large will work for riders above that.
Canyon is a direct-sell brand, so you'll need to order the bike from the Canyon website. Canyon has been working hard to overcome delay issues it faced with certain bikes in 2016, and those issues seem to have been resolved with the opening of a huge new European HQ and distribution centre.
As of time of publication, there was good stock availability of most sizes and colour options.
You will need to pay extra for shipping on top, which includes a 'bike guard' box which protects the bike in transit and can be reused. You'll also get a shock pump, torque wrench and manual so you can assemble your bike once it arrives, which will just entail popping the wheels and handlebars on.
Canyon doesn't currently ship to the USA.
Price: £2949 / AU$4799 / Not currently available in the US
How we tested
This bike was tested head-to-head against a number of other women’s specific trail bikes as part of the BikeRadar Women’s Bike of the Year awards for 2017. Each bike was tested multiple times on a test loop that incorporated a variety of terrain from technical climbs and descents to rooty single track, steep chutes, berms, rollers, tabletops and drops.
The size tested was a medium frame, recommended for a rider of my height at 5”8/1.76m.
In addition to the solo testing conducted, each bike was also test ridden by a panel of five BikeRadar Women readers, all of a similar height and with a range of riding backgrounds, preferences and experience. Their views have been incorporated into this review.
What our reader panel say
This bike was tested as part of the 2017 Women’s Trail Bike of the Year Awards, and it’s important to BikeRadar that we take into account the views of the women the bikes in the test were aimed at. All the bikes were ridden by at least three members of the panel, who have provided their feedback which has been incorporated into this review and into the judging for the overall title.
Rebecca Smith: "Great range on the cassette: easy to climb, good low range for sprinting, gains speed easily."
Jennifer Purcell: "Shame about the cable lock out - my personal preference would have been to have it on the shock."
Natalie Fraser: "Responsive and felt planted, jumped well, felt really smooth and gave good feedback through the bars."
Women’s Trail Bike of the Year
Look out for the results of Women’s Trail Bike of the Year coming soon to BikeRadar Women and What Mountain Bike magazine. We’ll give you the lowdown on the testing, introduce the reader panel, show you the shortlisted bikes and of course reveal that all-important winner. Which bike will take the coveted title? Not long to wait now to find out.