Canyon Spectral AL 9.9 review£2,549.00

Fast and efficient blinged-out 29er

BikeRadar score4/5

Canyon was one of the first brands to deliver buy-direct bargains in a big way, and its experience with this business model is apparent. But while the 650b wheeled Spectral has become immensely popular, the 29er version has dodged the limelight by comparison.

    Frame and equipment: flashy kit but geometry won't suit everyone

    The Spectral uses a Horst link four-bar design to deliver its 130mm (5.1in) of rear wheel travel in a controlled and pedalling-efficient manner that works well with the Cane Creek shock. The hydroformed frame felt plenty stiff throughout testing, and ISCG-05 tabs allow for a chain guide to be fitted. Canyon’s own rear thru-axle design keeps weight down but requires fiddling with an Allen key to remove. The frame reach is on the short side, and at 545mm in the XL size, the seat tube is tall, which prevents upsizing.

    Even a 70mm stem wasn't enough to alleviate the too-short cockpit:
    Even a 70mm stem wasn't enough to alleviate the too-short cockpit:

    Even a 70mm stem wasn't enough to alleviate the too-short cockpit

    The combination of Canyon’s huge buying power and direct sales approach ensures the Spectral is decked out with a flashy spec for the price. Highlights include a market-leading RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper, superb Pike RCT3 fork and powerful SRAM Guide RS brakes. The Cane Creek DBInline shock is a top performer once set up properly too, though it has had reliability issues in the past.

    DT Swiss’s XM 1501 SPLINE wheels are surprisingly stiff, but the 2.4in Continental treads fitted here are prone to carcass roll when pushed hard. The 2x10 SRAM X0 gearing gives a huge range of ratios, and the integrated chain guide kept our chain on track throughout the test period, though it did rattle when battering over rough ground. The 740mm bar could be wider but the 70mm stem is a necessary evil due to the short reach.

    Ride and handling: composed on the rough stuff but twitchy in turns

    After setting the shock up based on the recommended settings on Cane Creek’s website, we headed out on our main test loop. With the DBInline in open mode the Canyon pedals without much in the way of bob, even when sprinting hard. It’s when the trail points skywards that the Spectral’s suspension really shines though. The shock’s Climb Switch only adds a little low-speed compression – plenty for efficient pedalling on steep drags, but not so much that it affects traction – but it also slows the rebound, which prevents bucking and bouncing when seated over bumps, and is great for edge-of-the-seat uphill struggles.

    The wider-range 2x sram gearing proved distractingly rattly at times:
    The wider-range 2x sram gearing proved distractingly rattly at times:

    The wide-range 2x SRAM gearing proved distractingly rattly at times

    Despite the long stem, the short reach put the handlebar far closer than we’d have liked when climbing. Even so, the stopwatch revealed the Canyon to be impressively swift on the technical climb sections of our test course. Big wheels and efficient yet comfy suspension help it up nicely.

    The big Continental tyres are a bit draggy on the flat but the large volume eats up rough terrain. Point the Spectral downhill and the rewards keep coming. The 130mm Pike fork is well damped and stiff enough to remain composed over the roughest terrain, despite its limited travel. The rear end keeps up, taming the bumps in an efficient rather than pillowy manner. We bottomed out occasionally, but this is par for the course on a shorter-travel bike on such demanding tracks.

    Bigger wheels inherently give more stability, but canyon has overcompensated with a steep head angle, long fork offset and short reach, giving a twitchy ride:
    Bigger wheels inherently give more stability, but canyon has overcompensated with a steep head angle, long fork offset and short reach, giving a twitchy ride:

    Bigger wheels give more stability, but Canyon has overcompensated with a steep head angle, long fork offset and short reach

    The short reach (459mm), combined with a long stem and steep head angle, makes the Spectral feel twitchy in tight turns and meant we felt precariously far forward when cornering really hard. While the DT Swiss wheels aren’t too bendy, the large Conti tyres suffer from carcass roll on the narrow 22.5mm (internal) rims, making for a vague cornering feel on trail centre berms. We’d recommend replacing them with some sturdier rubber.

    Despite these limitations, the big wheels, chunky tyres and sorted suspension make the Canyon a blast for the most part. In a straight line it descends very rapidly indeed, able to batter over rough terrain or skip through sections. The powerful SRAM Guide RS brakes provide enough torque to stop the big wheels even on the steepest descents, and the supportive suspension feel we fettled from the Cane Creek shock rewarded pedalling and pumping efforts to keep speeds topped up on the flatter sections too.

    If you’re not too bothered about steep descents and aggressive corner carving, the Spectral is a versatile, fun and swift machine with a properly bling spec at a great price.

    This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

    Seb Stott

    Technical Writer, UK
    Seb is a geeky technical writer for BikeRadar, as well as MBUK and What Mountain Bike magazines. Seb's background in experimental physics allows him to pick apart what's really going on with mountain bike components. Years of racing downhill, cross-country and enduro have honed a fast and aggressive riding style, so he can really put gear to the test on the trails, too.
    • Age: 24
    • Height: 192cm/6'3"
    • Weight: 85Kg/187 lbs
    • Waist: 86cm / 34in
    • Chest: 107cm / 44in
    • Discipline: Mountain
    • Preferred Terrain: Steep!
    • Current Bikes: Focus Sam 3.0, Kona Process 111, Specialized Enduro 29 Elite
    • Dream Bike: Mondraker Crafty with Boost 29" wheels, a 160mm fork and offset bushings for maximum slackness.
    • Beer of Choice: Buckfast ('Bucky' for short)
    • Location: Bristol, UK

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