Named after the first 24-hour relay race, the Canaan is designed to give endurance riders easy speed and control however far they go. But while the miniaturised suspension and bling kit list is excellent, the fork is potentially a real Fox among the otherwise content chickens.
As you'd expect for a bike designed to suit lean long-distance riders, the Canaan is lean and long itself. The integrated Aheadset head tube sits a long way out in front for a medium-sized frame, while the dead straight conventional pipe emphasizes length visually. The Freedrive suspension system sits centrally above the chainset in a tight, interlocking knot. Basically the front and rear halves of the frame pivot at a point much higher than most suspension bikes, for a dramatic backswing of the rear wheel at the start of the stroke. The crankset hangs between them 'floating' between each half to counteract chain pull and pedal bob. While it looks a maintenance nightmare, it's a well proven system with some real advantages, although easy cleaning isn't one of them.
It leaves ample room for a bottle, and mud room is okay with a mid-sized tyre. But gear cabling is badly exposed to spray from the front wheel. From past experiences on old i-Drives, it'll seize cables in double quick time if you don't keep them lubed religiously.
Tester opinion was divided on the ride, which we’ll get to in a moment, but the spec list is an absolute treasure trove that would be impressive on a £3300 bike let alone a £2300 one: the Stans No Tubes rims are the lightest around and Dirt Flea hubs aren't heavy either. While the Kenda Karma tyres are another set of summer-only treads, they even come ready equipped with Stan's tubeless conversion kits to reduce weight and enhance puncture resistance.
SRAM X.O shifters sit next to Avid Ultimate carbon disc brake levers for super precise fingertip control, and the carbon chainset is one of FSA's flagship models too. The i-Beam saddle system gets a carbon shafted seat post and the handlebar is the lightest riser Easton make. If we've one tiny niggle it's that our bike didn't have the super neat Matchmaker combined brake/shifter clamps it was meant to. We feel particularly spoilt pointing that out in an otherwise sumptuous kit spread, though.
It's worth pointing out that the cheaper Mongoose Canaan Elite uses the same frame and shock with a (dare we say better suited?) Fox F100RL fork, Shimano XT kit, Juicy Five brakes and lightweight WTB wheels to create a 27.3lb bike for only £1499.
However, whatever we say about the frame or 'fit for a king' kit list, it's the suspension balance that decides whether you'll like this bike or not.
The rear suspension is excellent. On one side it manages to keep all the smooth comfort, constant ground suction and outstanding traction of bigger Freedrives. On the other, the short 100mm stroke manages to lose the softness and stretchy chain feeling they normally have. While pedalling the longer travel bikes is a real chore on smooth trails, on the Canaan you can just stand up and crank without worry. In fact with the Pro Pedal lever flicked, it's totally immobile under pedalling unless you deliberately provoke it.
Yet, while the back end is supple, smooth and continually tracking the ground, the front end has a totally different feel. The F100X fork is based around Terra Logic bump sensing inertia valve technology. On smooth ground it stays totally solid for sprinting but then clunks into fluid life at the first hit, and it divided our testers really dramatically.
Our hardcore racers loved it, because they just thrashed it from start to finish. Once the first hit was out of the way, the fork stayed open over the rough stuff, and soon as they hit a smooth bit the fork locked automatically for solid sprinting. Most of them choked the shock with higher pressures or more compression damping to give a better balance but reduces subtle rear suspension smoothness and traction.
Our more technical riders weren't impressed with the "weird" or "distractingly disjointed" feel, though. Way out in front on the Mongoose the fork stayed locked at lower speeds, losing steering grip over small bumps, roots or on technical climbs. It exacerbated an already slack head angle to give slow steering feel, and several riders found the contrast between the remarkably smooth rear end and the unpredictably pattery, chattery front end really distracting.
Outside of the divisive suspension balance, the narrow bars make the handling noticeably more nervous than competitive bikes but score big on the scales. Obvious rotational flex from the low-slung front and rear frame halves gives aggressive moves a soft rather than sharp edge too.
In summary, this was a bike that really split our test team. In terms of incredible kit spec, low weight and supple but pedal friendly suspension, it's a clear winner. But the dramatic difference between the way the front and rear felt is make or break. Our technical testers hated it, but our speed freaks loved it.