The Spectral AL 29 6.9 is, as you might guess from the name, one of the big-wheelers. Pricing the cheapest bike in the range at this level might seem a bit ambitious, but a look at the spec sheet – highlights include a dropper post, Fox dampers and a Shimano SLX based transmission – shows this is no entry-level ride. Can it mix it with longer-travel 650b machines?
Frame and equipment: all about the details
These days we’re used to small details on frames being well worked out, even from brands that once might have been regarded as bit players in the bike world. The attention to detail on the Spectral AL, though, takes the German reputation (or stereotype) for obsessiveness to new levels … and yes, that’s a good thing.
Take, for example, the way the frame’s lines flow seamlessly from the tapered head tube to the rear dropouts. It’s a minor aesthetic point, but the closer you look, the more it becomes obvious how the fine points have been sweated. The seatstays morph into the rocker, which leads your eye on to the identically-angled top tube. It just looks right.
Attention to detail is almost obsessive – check out the chunky bolt-on chainstay protector
Practicalities haven’t been forgotten either. Gear cables run internally, reducing clutter and maintenance. The rear cable emerges at the back of the solid, bolted-on plastic chain guard. About the only missing feature is an ISCG mount for a chain guide. Oh, and a rear axle skewer with a handle – we’re not fans of Canyon’s Allen-key-driven through-axle, even if it does look neat and shave a tiny amount of weight.
On the suspension front, matched Fox Float CTD units – a relatively rare, and welcome, sight at this price – provide 130mm of travel at each end.
A RockShox dropper post is the icing on a generous spec cake
The highlight of the spec sheet is lurking under the saddle – a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper seatpost with obligatory bar-mounted remote and hidden cable routing inside the seat tube. It’s unusual to find a dropper post as standard, but it makes sense on a bike with this much travel. Even getting back on after a dismount on a technical climb is easier. Drop the saddle, clamber back on, clip in and raise it up again as you start to move.
The rest of the kit adds to the impression that the price is a misprint. Race Face cranks with 29er-friendly chainrings, a Shimano SLX drivetrain (with Deore XT rear derailleur) and Avid Elixir 5 brakes with 200mm and 180mm rotors are hard to argue with for the money. Canyon’s finishing kit is well finished, and Mavic’s Crossride wheels shod with grippy, floaty Continental rubber top off the spec.
Ride and handling: nails a tricky balancing act
Big wheels and big travel are hard to get right. It’s all about keeping a lot of plates spinning – fitting all that travel in, keeping the weight reasonable, sorting the geometry, keeping everything stiff enough to handle big hits without pinging the front off into the bushes, and so on.
Canyon has got the balance right at 130mm travel front and rear
We’ll cut to the chase – Canyon has got the balance right. Fox’s 32 Float fork can be a bit flexy in its longer-travel incarnations, but in 130mm trim on the Spectral it avoids the worst of the steering vagueness that can afflict a long fork/big wheel combo. That’s a good thing, because the Spectral AL really wants to play hard. The wide bar inspires confidence to muscle through sections of baby-head rocks that you might ordinarily – on a shorter-travel big-wheeler, at least – hold back on, and the Canyon responds well to a front-weighted, aggressive riding style. Put the boot in and the rear end drives forward willingly, while the front goes where you point it without fuss.
Very occasionally we were able to provoke a trace of front wheel shimmy on bigger off-camber hits, but it wasn’t anything to lose sleep over. Would a smaller-wheeled bike be more accurate? Yes. But the Spectral AL 29’s trump card is the easy rolling of those big wheels. Combined with plenty of travel, it’s a potent combination for chewing up trails in comfort.
Fluid handling, reasonable weight, lots of travel and big wheels work brilliantly
It’s no slouch on the climbs either, thanks to a combination of low weight, a willingly supple but firm rear end, and wheels that are light for a mid-range 29er wearing big rubber. If you ride super-technical rocky trails you might still be better off with a 650b bike. But for all-round use – and taking into account spec per pound – there’s little at this price to touch the Spectral AL 29.