Canyon Nerve AL 9.0 SL review£2,645.00

Direct-buy full suspension bike with value spec

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Buying a boxed bike direct from Germany – dodging the costs of traditional retail – makes Canyon models look incredible value. But online performance is one thing. Trails are quite another. 

Ride & handling: Lightweight climber

The handling is neutral and vice free, but it’s obviously biased more to going up and along than blasting downwards. That occasionally felt odd and slightly sketchy in company with the more stable, slacker trail bikes on test, but it’s totally predictable and appropriate to the fast XC/Trail character a lot of riders want from their rides. 

It’s the bike’s lack of weight – and of wheel weight – that make the biggest impression, with the Canyon charging out of corners and floating away from other bikes up climbs. 

It’s not just a cut price clothes horse; this frame is tight and eager, with the CTD Trail Adjust dampers on the shock and fork letting you set small bump sensitivity/pedal firmness to taste.

Canyon nerve al 9.0 sl:
Canyon nerve al 9.0 sl:

Frame & equipment: Incredible value

The Nerve AL frame isn’t new to our Trail Bike Of The Year test; it won in 2011 and took second in 2012. It’s a finely wrought piece of alloy – extensive hydroforming puts metal only where it’s needed for a light yet stiff result. The first year we hammered it through the worst conditions imaginable – including Scotland’s Strathpuffer winter 24-hour race – and its bearings and anodised finish held up admirably. 

There’s no doubting it’s the unbelievable spec value that puts the Canyon cat among the shop-sold pigeons. At a price where XT would be impressive, Canyon do XTR cranks, BB and rear mech (cassette, shifters and front mech are XT), Mavic CrossMax ST wheels, powerful Formula T1 brakes, a carbon Ritchey seatpost, a light Selle Italia saddle and top-quality Schwalbe Evo tyres

The classic four-bar rocker linkage also gains a full ‘Factory’ spec Kashima rear shock for the ultimate in smooth control. It’s phenomenal value, but sensibly chosen too; the 180mm rotors, chain-quietening clutch rear mech and ST rather than SLR wheels make the Nerve trail tough, despite it weighing only just over 11kg (24lb). 

The obvious downsides to buying direct are having to build up the bike yourself and a lack of immediate support, free servicing back up and potential future kit deals from your local shop. Try before you buy opportunities are limited too, so make sure you use the very thorough Canyon ‘Perfect Positioning System’ online sizing tool.

If you want more, it’s not the only Canyon option; the Nerve AL+ range covers the slacker and longer-travel side, while for going even lighter there’s the Nerve CF range.

This bike was tested as part of magazine’s What Mountain Bike 2013 Trail Bike of the Year feature – read the full results in issue 147, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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