Video: Canyon Nerve XC 9.0 review£2,109.00

Impeccable balanced all-rounder with phenomenal kit value

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Our 2011 Trail Bike of the Year winner hasn’t changed structurally for 2012 and spec changes aren’t extensive either. The Canyon Nerve XC 9.0 is still a well balanced, neatly executed, lightweight and efficient frameset, and loaded with kit that looks amazing value compared to shop bought bikes.

Ride & handling: Efficient, lightweight yet technically adept machine, and a bargain to boot

The Canyon is impeccably neutral in character. Enough stretch in the cockpit to use its low overall weight to devastating effect on the climbs. Enough width in the handlebar not to feel under-gunned when you’re arm wrestling a stubborn rooty or rocky wheel snatching section into submission. Stable enough in geometry terms to let it rip on fast loose descents or tackle steep technical trickle downs without worrying about jackknifing.

It doesn’t require extra turning room or overemphasised body language to get it round an uphill corner or keep it focused on the top of a short steep climb like slacker bikes do. There are no weak links in the structure of the suspension either. The shaped frame tubes and screw-through-axle fork are stiff enough to keep tracking accurate and stop any shimmy or twang when trying to rip the knobs off the tyres in corners. The only slight flex comes from the cockpit if you really wrestle with it, but its taut power delivery means you won’t be grinding for long before it gets into its stride.

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Video: Canyon Nerve XC 9.0

The Fox RP2 shock gives a simple choice of added ProPedal low speed compression damping or not and there’s no obvious pedal or brake input you need to balance against with the setup or your riding style. It’s simply as composed and controlled as you could reasonably hope for a 120mm-travel bike whatever you’re slapping it through or sending it off, and even if you ask a bit too much it just thumps to its stops firmly rather than doing anything unpredictable.

Frame: Stiff, extremely well detailed, durable and very light 120mm travel chassis

With tapered head tube, semi-internal cable routing and post-mount-style brake mounts, the Nerve frame ticks most contemporary trail bike boxes. The hydroformed butted tubeset is as light as many carbon fibre chassis in the 120mm category. While the silver panelled version here is painted there’s a hard anodised black version for those with more functional aesthetic tastes.

Having ridden the arse out of the 2011 version through a particularly brutal winter last year we know Canyon’s pivot bearings are impressively durable. The only slight issue that surfaced on forums after we reviewed last year's bike were some complaints about incorrect cable routing causing rub damage, but check your lines are set up right and there are protection patches at contact points and you should be fine.

After months of riding several Nerve XC bikes it’s the quality and attention to detail that shines through. Internal control routing with a patented crossed cable system to stop rattling. Radial pivot bearings, super-light yet stiff hydroformed frame. Very well balanced fast trail geometry and suspension character to match. In other words, way more than the usual generic frame used to offset a bonus component choice, but still punching way above its price on parts.

Canyon nerve xc 9.0: canyon nerve xc 9.0
Canyon nerve xc 9.0: canyon nerve xc 9.0

Equipment: Short circuiting shop buying means a phenomenal value kit selection

It’s important to underline just how good the frame is as otherwise the component spec would dominate initial impressions. Nothing else in the price range comes close to the complete suite of SRAM X0 stop-and-go gear the Canyon is carrying. The tapered-steerer Fox fork and generous length RP2 rear shock are benchmark dampers too. We rarely used the finer adjustments of the RP23 shock specced last year, so this year's downgraded unit isn't an issue on the trail.

DT Swiss wheels are light, tight and a benchmark for very smooth, long lived bearings; ideal rolling stock for a bike that’s as efficient and effective at racking up serious mileage as the Canyon is. Add the lightweight Ritchey cockpit kit and you’ve got an extremely light, performance orientated package. Canyon even throw in their road-bred VCLS seatpost to smooth our high frequency buzz on hardpack surfaces.

You can only buy Canyon bikes direct from the company's website, not in shops, but every test bike we’ve had has come impeccably set up, with a torque calibrated Allen key set for the final cockpit rebuild. If you prefer Shimano to SRAM then the Nerve XC 7.0 rolls out an almost complete set of Deore XT kit for £1,349 (€1,999). Meanwhile, the 9.0 SL is loaded with the featherlight shifting feel and outstanding durability of a full XTR groupset for ‘just‘ £2,529 (€2,999).

This bike was tested as part of What Mountain Bike magazine's Bike of the Year shootout. You can read the full feature in this month's mag, in shops now, and available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Canyon Nerve XC 9.0

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Trail Bike of the Year preview

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The testers reflect on this year's crop of bikes

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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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