Long gone are the days when you bought a Canyon as a kit donor to another frame. These days the Germany based direct-sale mega-brand is churning out class winners all over the place. The 650b wheeled Spectral is a capable all-rounder trail bike with modern geometry and sorted suspension.
Frame and equipment: slackened angles and superb kit
That diminutive ‘EX’ on the end of the name signals a small but significant deviation from the standard 140/140mm travel balance Spectral AL 8.0 in Canyon’s line-up, namely adding an extra 10mm on the fork. That not only adds a touch of rock, root and drop eating ability, but also slackens angles, subtly changing the bike’s character to something slightly harder edged when the going gets really rough.
As the ‘AL’ suggests, this is from the cheaper line of alloy bikes, rather than the spendier carbons. It shares the frame with the non-EX Spectral, and the geometry sheet is encouraging reading – a long-ish 627mm top tube (Large), short-ish 430mm chainstays, 66.4 degree head angle and 74 degree seat angle all signal that good things await.
The Renthal cockpit is a nice touch at this price, with plenty of width for extra control
A four-bar suspension system, common across Canyon’s suspension bikes, is there to give consistent suspension performance whether pedalling or braking. It’s held together with the Cane Creek DBInline, one of the most adjustable and tunable air shocks on the market.
As alluded to above, Canyon has always been known for the great kit it can package with its frames, and the 8.0 EX is no different. The RockShox Pike RCT3 fork has an enviable and well earned reputation, as does the 11-speed SRAM X01 groupset.
SRAM’s Roam 50 wheels, and Guide RS brakes are complemented by a tidy finishing kit including a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper, Renthal alloy 780mm Fatbar bar and 50mm Apex stem combo, plus e*thirteen chainguide.
Ride and handling: playtime partner for the shock fettlers
What strikes us about the Spectral is just how comfortable you feel on it as soon as you jump on. It’s the kind of bike you could give to a beginner rider and they’d feel at home – and yet an advanced rider could hammer all day long.
The 627mm top tube length (for a size Large) feels good, giving plenty of room to move around the bike, heightened by the low-slung top tube that allows the bike to move easily below you without clanging your knees. The slack 66.4 degree head angle, matched with the long reach and wheelbase, is most at home when the trail gets steep or speeds increase.
The bike has a tall head tube, so you’ll want to drop the stem to keep balance
Steep turns and loose trails are despatched with minimal fuss, allowing you to open the throttle and hang on. We did find that lowering the bars as far as we could helped to counteract the slightly tall head tube.
Hit jumps and roots, and the playful nature is apparent. The Spectral doesn’t suffer vertigo and encourages you to seek new lines through the rough stuff. The capable Maxxis High Roller 2 keeps the front wheel going where it should, with an aggressive shoulder giving plenty of bite in the corners and the ramped central knobs reducing rolling resistance, while the attention to detail extends to having a faster rolling Ardent out back. Both are tubeless ready and have the reinforced EXO casing.
We could wax lyrical about the RockShox Pike fork – the RCT3 is the top line version with enough adjustment to get the best out of it, without you needing to be a suspension genius. With a shock pump and perhaps a volume adjusting Bottomless Token or two, you should be able to set it up pretty sweet from the off.
The same can’t be said of the Cane Creek DBInline shock. If you’re dedicated enough to spend lots of time repeating run after run, it can be set up very, very well, but you need to invest time in it to get it perfect.
Cane Creek goes so far as to supply a tuning booklet and pencil to get it set up right. Canyon’s base settings are a good start, but without putting the effort in, you may only achieve 95 percent of it’s potential, once your kit-laden weight and riding style are taken into account.
The Canyon encourages aggressive lines through rough territory
From the box we found the DBInline to be a touch linear. This is especially noticeable coming out of berms and compressions where the Spectral is prone to sitting down into its travel, leaving your weight too far back. We’d recommend adding some volume spacers to get a bit more progressivity from the shock and to stop it blowing through its travel so easily.
It’s also worth mentioning that we had reliability issues with our first shock, with air filling the negative chamber, shortening the shock’s stroke. Canyon sorted us out a new one very quickly though and Cane Creek has excellent and proven warranty backup. The shock’s Climb Switch is a great touch too.
While the increase in low speed compression damping isn’t as hard as you’d get from a Fox or RockShox shock, Cane Creek also adds damping to the low-speed rebound circuit when in climbing mode, which nicely damps your pedal stroke, ensuring traction is maximised. This makes the Spectral an accomplished climber, readily dispelling the myth that longer, slacker bikes can’t get up steep stuff.
The extra length means you can centralise your weight between the wheels easily, keeping the front end planted and the back end grippy.
The Roam 50 wheels are decent enough, but there’s a slight hint of flex from the back, and their 21mm internal width is relatively narrow, making the rear prone to squirming out of berms, especially when run at lower pressures.
As we’ve come to expect, the rest of the spec is largely faultless. The SRAM stop and go gear is excellent, just be aware that if you live somewhere hilly it comes with a 34t chainring as standard.
If you want a bike to just jump on and ride, we’d look at the slightly cheaper 7.0 EX with the very impressive RockShox Monarch DebonAir and Pike RC. However, if you’re happy to assume the rear shock reliability issues will get sorted and invest the time to carefully tune it, the 8.0 EX adds up to a top trail bike at a great price, ready for pretty much anything you dare to throw at it.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.