Grand Canyon AL 9.9 - First ride review£1,409.00

Direct-sell race hardtail

BikeRadar score4/5

Buy a bike from German brand Canyon and it turns up on your doorstep in a sturdy box, rather than being wheeled out of your local bike shop. If you’re okay with remote (and faceless) retail, this race- or epic-ready hardtail is an absolute bargain.

Ride & handling: Race rapid, trail happy 

Slippery grips aside, our months riding the Canyon have only underlined our initial feeling that it’s an extremely competent and cost-effective all-round cross-country hardtail. The geometry is more relaxed than a lot of race big wheelers, but the wide-ish bar and dinky stem help offset the slight increase in effort needed to nudge that inherently more stubborn front wheel off line. 

You can whip it round tight singletrack relatively easily once you’re used to its front-end feel. You can also swap the stem for something longer for free in the first 30 days of ownership, should you prefer a more old-school tramline effect. 

Once you’ve dialled the fork’s Terralogic threshold to your preferred level, there’s plenty of confidence to push the bike hard through corners. Big wheels and spot-on damping mean plenty of traction, whether the trail is smoothly groomed or a mess of roots and chopped up peaty loam. The relatively relaxed front end and plenty of weight pushed forward by the seat tube mean the Canyon is naturally well balanced for really planting your feet into high-speed turns and railing round hard. 

The terralogic fork’s adjustable damper can be set to suit your ride style:
The terralogic fork’s adjustable damper can be set to suit your ride style:

The Terralogic fork’s adjustable damper can be set to suit your ride style

The semi-slick tyre naturally pushes the short back end out first if you’re pushing hard, and it’s easy to flare this bike out with a tap of the rear brake if you want to hurry turning up. The screw-thru axle keeps communication from the rear very clear too, in contrast to many twangier 29ers. 

The Canyon is also impressively quick when it comes to rough descents. While you will definitely want to be out of the saddle over proper lumpy stuff, it’ll certainly keep up with short travel small-wheeled bikes in most situations. Just be careful with the thin-walled tyres if you’re charging through a lot of sharp geology, as they’ll soon turn a scuff into a split if you’re not careful.

While the Grand Canyon’s not particularly light (11.58kg/25.5lb), the tight wheels and very solid power transfer from those big chainstays help it hurry up to speed with a real sense of purpose. 

And once you’re cruising, the increased rollover ability becomes more pronounced the rougher the trail gets. And, as trivial as it sounds, we really appreciated the very positive front upshift when launching attacks in mates’ races. The super-low bottom gear also means as long as you can keep the rear wheel connected there’s very little this bike won’t get up – it’s a real help at the end of a long epic day. 

The skinny stays and seatpost do take some sting out of the trail, reducing fatigue, but not as dramatically as the company’s carbon bikes. Good news, then, that Canyon fit a reasonably comfy saddle rather than some arse-aching racing blade. 

This is an extremely well-equipped, fast yet confident bike. It’s not the lightest option out there but its strong-hearted control and trail versatility significantly extend the remit of race-style hardtails – the Grand Canyon’s performance takes it well into short-travel full suspension territory.

 If you can’t stretch to the 9.9 then the 7.9 model, featuring the same frame with Fox QR15 forks and Mavic CrossRide 29 wheels – is an absolute bargain. 

Frame & equipment: Well equipped for the price

While you’d be forgiven for thinking Canyon might cut corners with the frame to hit that complete bike price, you’d be wrong. After several months of hard labour on the bike, we can confirm the road furniture-style anodised black and white finish is extremely tough. 

That hefty tapered head tube (with inset lower bearing) keeps things low and tight, the cables disappear neatly into the big hydroformed down tube – and then cross over internally to stop them rattling – and the front mech uses a stiff, 3D direct mount on the asymmetrical, tapered and offset Maximus seat tube. It’s all highly detailed design, one that’s worthy of the parts hanging off it.

The rear brake is an easy-adjust post-mount fit and the rear axle is a Syntace 142x12mm screw-thru, complete with a neat, vertically bolted gear hanger – bang up to date, then. The VCLS seatstays are skinny to reduce rear end shock and the seatpost is relatively slim (and dropper post unfriendly) for the same reason. 

Cables cross over once routed inside the down tube, to prevent annoying rattles:
Cables cross over once routed inside the down tube, to prevent annoying rattles:

Cables cross over once routed inside the down tube, to prevent annoying rattles

Canyon spec a 36/22T double chainset to compensate for the increased gear effect of the big wheels, and the front mech is a higher X0 spec than the rest of the X9 shift setup. 

Technical aptitude is boosted by a decent width 690mm flat bar, a relatively short stem and a screw-thru axle on the Fox fork. The DT Swiss wheels are taut and reliable. Mismatched Schwalbe tyres keep weight down with a grippy Rocket Ron front and semi-slick Racing Ralph rear – they suit the high-speed intent of the Grand Canyon really well. 

The auto lockout Terralogic damper is perfect for brain-out racing efficiency if you like a rigid feel on smooth terrain, and can be dialled fully open for a conventional feel if you prefer. 

The only thing we can find to grumble about is the lack of bolted collars on the grips, which leaves them free to twist and slide in/outwards in wet weather. 

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, 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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