Direct-sell German brand Canyon are setting a new performance-for-price benchmark with their outstandingly well-specced, sweetly designed and permanently enthusiastic Nerve XC all-rounder. That's why it's just been named Trail Bike Of The Year.
Ride & handling: Pretty much flawless all-rounder at a bargain price
The Nerve's long stem and relatively steep angles (69° head, 72° seat) meant it was more reserved than radical on black run descents, but frame stiffness, fork control and top-quality rolling stock kept it precisely communicative for pushing the pace. Rocky riverbed and old quarry track descents at the end of middle-of-the-night, sub-zero Yorkshire Dales trail poaching sessions didn’t phase it, and neither did full-day snow epics.
Balanced suspension responses front and rear, excellent pedalling manners and a much lower weight than any of its competitors meant the Canyon spent most of its time leading the pack, opening up gaps and leaving others grovelling in its wake. It even put in a couple of laps under one of our testers on the way to his solo win in the infamously brutal Strathpuffer 24-hour race.
The parts spec is so good that you’re essentially getting the frame for free, but it’s the overall ride quality and performance of the Nerve XC that makes it such a great buy. It handled whatever we threw at it on the trails with confidence, utter competence and real enthusiasm.
Frame: Light, stiff and well made, with balanced suspension
This isn’t a generic off-the-shelf frame from the Far East dressed up with a posh parts pick. The Hydro 14 frame is as extensively hydroformed as the name suggests, with the tapered head tube backing onto a diamond-shaped down tube with a large throat gusset for support.
The teardrop top tube ends in a tall fin for maximum weld area with the seat tube, which also gets a long shoe to support the rocker pivot. The rectangular chainstays are offset for chainset clearance while the strut reinforced seatstays are asymmetric to handle the offside brake force without adding extra driveside weight.
The cold forged dropouts, spilt linkage plates and seatstay bridge are all heavily hollowed out to minimise mass, with double-sided dovetail ‘Clevis’ joints on the linkage plates and FSR-style rear pivots which keep the back end impressively stiff. The main pivot runs on a radial pivot bearing for maximum longevity and the long 55mm stroke on the XV-sleeved Fox RP23 shock gives an almost 2:1 ratio for the 120mm of rear wheel travel.
There’s room for a conventional bottle and the seatpost can be dropped right down for steep descents. While tyre clearance isn’t vast it’s not an issue. If you need any more convincing that Canyon have sweated the details on this frame, they've used internal down tube gear routing for clean looks and crossed the cables over inside to stop them rattling.
Cosmetic detailing is equally impressive. The black frame is hard anodised for very long lasting looks, with a light grey painted option for those wanting a less stealthy look. Full chainstay chainguard, rubber cable bumpers and a thick sticky-backed plastic down tube protector are all standard. The bike’s also shipped direct to buyers in an extra heavy-duty cardboard box that can be used as a flight case for foreign trips.
Equipment: No corners cut here, just quality, trail-worthy kit
Canyon’s market share and buying power in Germany, and the fact that you’re getting the bike direct rather than through a shop, means the spec levels on the Nerve XC 9.0 are jaw-droppingly good. The top line Fox F120 RLC FIT fork gets a tapered steerer and 15mm screw-through axle, plus high and low-speed compression damping including adjustable lockout threshold.
Full-carbon-crank SRAM X0 stop and go kit is linked with weight-saving Matchmaker handlebar clamps. Tough yet light Mavic CrossMax ST wheels with top-spec Schwalbe Pace Star Evo tyres are worth £750 alone. An Easton bar and Syntace stem are top quality and there’s an Easton carbon seatpost under the super-light saddle.