Canyon Spectral:ON 8.0 first ride review

The best climbing bike to date, yet still a pinner back down

It has taken Canyon a while to bring out an e-MTB, but now it's finally done so. And, true to current form, it’s an impressive piece of machinery.

Canyon Spectral:ON specifications

  • Fork: Fox 36 Performance Elite
  • Brakes: SRAM Code R
  • Cranks: Shimano XT
  • Rear Mech: SRAM EX8
  • Shifters: SRAM EX1
  • Shock: Fox Float Performance Elite
  • Seatpost: KS Integra
  • Saddle: Canyon
  • Wheelset: DT Swiss HX 1501 Rims
  • Tyres: Maxxis Minion DHF 29x2.5WT (f) Maxxis Minion DHR2 27.5x2.8 (r)
  • Size Tested: Large

Canyon stressed that it wanted this to be a bike that’s more of an assisted trail bike, rather than a motorised mountain bike, if that makes sense – it wants it to feel like riding a mountain bike with a little bit of help up the hills, instead of it feeling like you’re riding a push-biked motor around.

And, on first impressions, Canyon has done that.

Canyon Spectral:ON frame

The Spectral:ON is relatively unique in that it runs on a 29-inch front wheel and a 650b+ rear (though the XS size comes with 2.6-inch 650b rubber front and back). Canyon says this is to give the same accuracy and precision that regular wheels give when descending, as well as the grip available from plus wheels. By going plus at the back and regular up front, you get the best of both worlds.

A relatively low bottom bracket and centred geometry makes for a capable handling bike
A relatively low bottom bracket and centred geometry makes for a capable handling bike

Powering the bike is Shimano’s motor and battery system, as Canyon reckons these give the most natural feel, while also being relatively light and compact.

As per all the bikes in the range, the 8.0 has an alloy frame. The battery is semi-integrated, giving easy access for charging and battery swaps, and allows Canyon to mount it a bit lower and more central in the bike.

Canyon says that it's worked on the kinematic of the suspension. This includes how it interacts with pedal and brake inputs, to give a ride that’s supportive in the mid-stroke to enable pumping on flatter trails, before ramping up a touch more than some other bikes to give control when you’re in the process of bottoming out.

Additionally, it's been designed to remain as active as possible in its early stroke under braking, as this is where Canyon believes most braking happens.

The frame includes a movable shuttle for the top mount of the shock, steepening the head and seat angles by 0.8 degrees, and raising the bottom bracket by 11mm for prolonged climbs, though for the test I kept the bike in its lowest setting.

As such in the low setting the head angle is 66.8 degrees and the seat angle is 73.8 degrees. This is combined with a reach of 465mm in size large, and 430mm chainstays.

Neat touches in the frame include a seat clamp integrated into the seat tube for a cleaner look and better spread of clamping force on the dropper. There is also easily routable cable routing with minimal kinks for a smoother shift, and a skid plate under the motor that protects the chainring and should slide over rocks and roots a bit easier.

Canyon's own skid-plate is designed to protect the motor, and not hang up when you have to shimmy over trail obstacles
Canyon's own skid-plate is designed to protect the motor, and not hang up when you have to shimmy over trail obstacles

Canyon Spectral:ON kit

I rode the second in-line model, the 8.0. All the Spectral:ON forks will have 35mm or 36mm stanchioned forks (except one of the women’s models, which gets an e-bike specific Fox 34 fork), and mine was the Fox 36 Performance Elite with 160mm of travel. The rear was controlled by a Fox Float Performance Elite shock.

The Shimano motor drove a SRAM EX1 e-MTB specific 8-speed drivetrain, though Shimano is offered on other models. All the bikes in the range have 200mm rotors front and rear, and these were clamped by SRAM Code R brakes.

A KS dropper with 150mm of travel held Canyon’s new e-MTB specific saddle, which has a raised tail supposedly to stop you slipping off the back on steep climbs.

The whole bike rolls on DT Swiss’s Hybrid HX 1501 wheels, which are built with eMTBs in mind. Up front there’s a Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5WT and at the back there’s a Minion DHR ii in a 2.8-inch width. Both are triple compound, MaxxTerra EXO versions.

Canyon Spectral:ON ride impressions

The trails round Fabian Barel's village are as varied as they are incredible – a great test location for the bike
The trails round Fabian Barel's village are as varied as they are incredible – a great test location for the bike

As per most rides, I’ll start with climbing. Basically, the Spectral:ON is without doubt one of the most capable bikes at getting up steep, technical terrain.

Yes, the motor helps no end here. The power delivery from the Shimano unit is, arguably, the best out there. In Trail mode it’s really easy to regulate the power with your own inputs, meaning wheel-spin is easy to avoid, and then easy to control when it does happen.

Shifting between modes is easy and intuitive, and with a colour-coded screen, it’s really easy to work out what mode you’re in without having to read any text.

With the chunky Minion tyre offering plenty of grip, and the torque from the motor working alongside it, the Spectral:ON seemed to generate grip where every other bike would probably flounder – I could feel the tyre conforming and contorting around the ground to give that pure mechanical grip.

Mixing wheel and tyre sizes is not quite unique, but still far from the norm – it works well here
Mixing wheel and tyre sizes is not quite unique, but still far from the norm – it works well here

All this said, to get up the steepest of trails (where I’d probably not venture with most other bikes) I dropped my elbows to keep the front wheel going where I needed it to be.

That’s because in order to keep the bike’s trail manners in a fun place, the chainstays are relatively short at 430mm, and with 160mm of travel for a 29-inch wheel, the front-end height isn’t exactly low.

Once you’re up, it’s time to get back down, and here, yet again, the Spectral:ON didn’t disappoint.

The 2.5-inch tyre doesn’t wallow and roll like plus-tyres can when pushed hard on techy terrain, and so the front end, with its well-controlled suspension and big wheel was very confident.

The Minion’s tread is grippy and predictable, so when it does start to drift it’s relatively easy to predict and control.

The geometry isn’t wild in its length or aggressiveness, but Canyon did say this is a trail bike, not an enduro-focused one. The shape feels well-balanced front to rear, and while some mismatched wheel-size bikes can feel a bit odd, this one felt just right.

The Spectral:On is Canyon's first e-MTB
The Spectral:On is Canyon's first e-MTB

The suspension, as I found on the non-powered Spectral, is good. Supple at the start of its stroke, taking out the smallest detail from the ground, yet ramping up in a controlled manner to help you deal with the bigger hits.

Kit wise I had few complaints. Having burly brakes makes a lot of sense, so the 200mm rotors and Code callipers were a welcome sight.

The SRAM EX8 groupset does get mixed reactions though. At times, with bigger gaps between the gears, it can feel like you’re not quite in the right gear, either just above, or just below where you want to be for your ideal cadence. That said, shifting across the block is accurate even under the additional power the motor provides.

Canyon’s unique-looking saddle was one place where I immediately thought ‘gimmick’ but I came away impressed. Given the traction on offer, this bike can go up some ridiculously steep pitches, and having that shelf at the back does seem to help keep you in a good pedalling position.

On the way down, I was still able to shove my weight off the back, without my shorts getting caught.

Canyon Spectral:ON verdict

E-MTBs are constantly evolving, and it feels like every new one marks a significant departure in quality. The Spectral:ON is one such bike. Though it might be late to the party with its release, Canyon has clearly done some homework.

The idea of mismatched wheels genuinely works – the back end is grippy, exactly what you need on a bike designed to ride up seriously steep and rugged terrain – the front does exactly what you want, when you want.

The choice of motor and kit is also spot-on. Decent brakes, decent wheels and a tidy finishing kit means there’s little that needs changing.

I'm desperate to get my hands on one for long-term testing, but on initial impressions, I've come away very impressed.

Tom Marvin

Technical Editor, Tech Hub, UK
Tom's been riding for 15 years, and has always chopped and changed bikes as soon as his budget allowed. He's most at home in the big mountains, having spent nigh on 30 weeks riding the Alps, as well as having lived a stone's throw from the Scottish Highlands for four years. Tom also enjoys racing events like the Strathpuffer and the Trans Nepal.
  • Age: 29
  • Height: 182cm / 5'11"
  • Weight: 82kg / 180lb
  • Waist: 81cm / 32in
  • Chest: 97cm / 38in
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Steep and super tech or fast and flowy
  • Current Bikes: Canyon Spectral, Pivot Mach 429SL, Mondraker Vantage R +
  • Dream Bike: Transition Scout
  • Beer of Choice: Gin & tonic
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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