Canyon Grail CF SL frameset: it’s all about the Hover bar
The Grail CF SL is Canyon’s second-tier carbon frameset, sitting below the top-spec SLX version. According to Canyon, a medium SL frame is roughly 210g heavier than an SLX. The geometry of the two variants is identical.
The Hover bar (or CP07 Gravel Cockpit) is the Grail CF’s defining feature and your feelings about the bike will likely be dictated by how well you get along with the biplane on the front, both in terms of fit and look.
Unusually, the default position for the cockpit is at the top of the stack of headset spacers, and you need to leave it there if you want to preserve the clean transition from top tube to stem. If you need to go lower, there are 15mm of spacers you can remove below the stem.
Cockpit aside, the Grail resembles other Canyon carbon frames. It’s a nice mixture of boxy tubes and sculpted sections, with seatstays that flow into the top tube neatly.
Unlike the cyclocross-focused Inflite, which gets a horizontal top tube for shouldering purposes, the Grail has a more compact frame with a top tube that’s gently sloped, kinking slightly to level off just before it meets the head tube.
The Grail also has mounts for mudguards, a key point when making comparisons with the Endurace road range, none of which feature the necessary bosses.
Canyon Grail CF SL geometry: this is where it gets confusing
The non-standard Hover bar makes normal geometry comparisons complicated.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
A quick glance at the Grail’s geometry table may be somewhat confusing because Canyon doesn’t quote standard reach and stack figures, and the top tube measurements appear very long for a given size (557mm on a small), while head tubes appear comically short (78mm on a small).
This is down to the Hover bar, which necessitates a very non-standard frame with rather unconventional reach and stack figures.
To address potential confusion, Canyon adopted reach+ and stack+ when the Grail launched, a system of measurements that includes cockpit dimensions in the quoted figures. It makes a lot of sense in theory and it’s perfectly valid as a means to compare bikes within the Canyon range, but it won’t help you a great deal otherwise because it’s not widely used in the industry.
As a dutiful bike reviewer, I decided to stick to Canyon’s sizing recommendations. Based on my height and inseam, I’m apparently towards the lower end of the range for a size small. Canyon suggests a small will fit riders from 172 to 178cm tall (I’m 174cm), and it has 442mm of reach+ and 638mm of stack+.
I should point out that, in most brands, I favour a size medium or 54cm. As it turns out, I should probably have stuck with a medium for the Grail too, because it feels very short to me.
With most bikes, this wouldn’t be a particular issue, I’d simply chuck a longer stem on. With the Grail, the one-piece cockpit makes fit adjustments a non-trivial endeavour.
The stem bolts are cleverly hidden on the Grail.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
I asked Canyon what customers’ options are if they’re not happy with their sizing, and there are a couple of things they can do.
If you’re unhappy with the whole bike, you have 30 days to inform Canyon, and it can be collected for exchange or refund.
If you just want to adjust the fit, Canyon will also let you swap the cockpit for a different size, free of charge, if you remove it and send it back to them.
There are eight variants of the Hover bar in total ranging from the smallest 45×400mm option (i.e. 45mm effective stem length, 400mm bar width) up to a huge 105×460mm bar.
Swapping the bar is a fairly big job because you’ll need to route the cables and hoses, and rewrap bar tape, so it’s likely one most riders would prefer to pay someone else to take on.
All of this leads me to one important conclusion: it’s worth making very sure that you’re confident of the sizing if you’re shopping for a Grail because the cockpit doesn’t offer the easy flexibility of a conventional bar and stem setup.
Again, because normal stack and reach figures aren’t quoted, comparing the fit of the Grail to any other brand’s gravel bike is challenging, so do your homework.
The Hover bar also doesn’t accept accessories as readily as a standard bar. There are bosses on the underside of the lower bar to accept an out-front mount for a Garmin (Canyon sells this separately for £32.95), but many bar mount accessories won’t work because there’s no round cross-section bar to clamp to. That means you’ll mostly be limited to strap-mount lights and other accessories solutions.
The bar doesn’t make it particularly easy to attach accessories, although o-rings and strap mounts work well enough.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
If you opt for the out-front mount and you want to carry a bar bag for some Instagram realness, the two are going to be competing for space.
A further consideration when examining the Grail’s geometry is wheel size. The numbers on Canyon’s table jump around a bit (a small has a shorter head tube than an extra small), and that’s because the two smallest sizes of Grail (2XS and XS) are designed around 650b wheels, while the rest of the range is 700c-only.
It’s entirely likely that 650b wheels will work on the larger bikes, but Canyon didn’t design them with these in mind.
Finally, the Grail is a unisex frame. Canyon sells women’s specific versions across the range, but these differ from the unisex models in their finishing kit only.
Canyon Grail CF SL 7.0 build: GRX is here
Canyon updated its Grail range for 2020 to offer Shimano GRX builds at various levels.
The CF SL 7.0 is the most affordable of the carbon Grail builds and it gets 11-speed GRX components with 105-equivalent RX600 shifters and cranks, and Ultegra-level RX810 derailleurs.
If that seems slightly odd, remember there are no 105-equivalent GRX derailleurs because Shimano doesn’t offer a like-for-like GRX alternative for every one of its road groupset components.
The main advantage of GRX over Shimano’s road components is the more gravel-friendly gearing. The Grail CF gets a 46/30t crank with an 11-34t cassette, giving a huge range that works well both on- and off-road.
You also get a clutch-equipped rear derailleur, which aids chain security, and reduces the tendency for it to slap against the frame.
The wheels are DT Swiss C 1850 Spline db clinchers, which offer a usefully-wide inner rim width of 22mm that’s a good match for gravel tyres. They’re fitted with Schwalbe G-One Bite 40mm tyres with stylish tan-walls.
With Canyon’s own cockpit and seatpost and a Fizik Aliante R5 saddle, my small test bike weighs in at almost exactly 9kg.
Riding the Canyon Grail CF SL
From every angle, the Hover bar dominates one’s impression of the Grail.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
Leaving aside the bar, the Grail is very much what you’d expect from a decent carbon gravel bike.
The light, stiff frame gives it a lively, efficient feel. It climbs well and, thanks to that big MTB-style cassette and the tiny 30t inner chainring, you’re rarely short of gears.
2× gearing might not be very fashionable on a gravel bike but I happen to think that, for the majority of us whose gravel riding incorporates a fair amount of tarmac, it’s a good choice.
Relatedly, the Schwalbe G-One Bite tyres are a pretty good all-round choice too. They roll surprisingly well on the road, feeling much like slicks, but, as the name implies, they have a little bit of bite that helps on dirt and gravel.
No one tyre can do it all – the Schwalbes don’t have aggressive enough tread to offer much in sloppy mud and they’ll clog up quickly on sandy fire roads – but they are reasonably versatile. Of course, if you do mainly use them on tarmac, the knobs will wear quickly.
The Schwalbe tyres are a good all-round choice although their tread does load up with mud and sand quickly.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
The GRX components proved to be a delight, offering light, positive shifting and excellent braking. The ergonomics are indistinguishable from those of Shimano’s road groupsets. Overall, I really can’t fault the Grail’s spec.
Of course, I can’t ignore that cockpit as it’s so central to one’s experience of the bike.
There’s no avoiding its unique aesthetics and, personally, they don’t really do it for me. I love the way the top tube flows into the stem – it reminds me of the old Look 795 – but the double decker bar looks ungainly, and the cables and hoses running from the upper bar to the frame are somewhat untidy.
However, I do believe Canyon’s claims about the bar adding useful flex. The Grail’s ride feels refined at both ends and, as with any bike wearing 40mm tubeless tyres, there’s further comfort on offer courtesy of low pressures.
The Hover bar is designed to flex for comfort.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
The Hover bar offers essentially the same three hand positions as a standard set of road bars, but when you’re on the drops you can hook your thumbs onto the lower bar for a more secure grip than you’d normally get.
This is useful for descending but you may not want to be hunkered down so low on steeper stuff off-road.
The flexy tops are a good place to rest your hands but, as they’re not ultra-wide and you can’t reach the brakes from them, you won’t want to use them on technical terrain.
Off-road, the Grail feels nimble and composed. Its wheelbase is a touch longer than a typical road bike’s (1,020mm on a size small), which likely contributes to its good manners on rough surfaces.
It manages to feel fast and relatively uncompromised on the road too, giving up less than you might imagine to an endurance road bike.
Canyon Grail CF SL 7.0 verdict
The Grail CF SL 7.0 is an accomplished and versatile gravel bike with an excellent spec.
If it fits you out of the box and you like the idea of the Hover bar, it’s a great choice for riding on mixed terrain.
Not all riders will get on with the cockpit however, and it does come with some practical compromises.
Matthew Loveridge (formerly Allen) is an experienced mechanic and an expert on bike tech who appreciates practical, beautifully-engineered things. Originally a roadie, he likes bikes and kit of every stripe, and he's tested a huge variety of both over the years for BikeRadar, Cycling Plus and others. For a long time Matthew's heart belonged to the Scott Addict, but he's currently enjoying Specialized's sublime Roubaix Expert and having a torrid affair with a Giant Trance e-MTB. At 174cm tall and 53kg, he looks like he should be better at cycling than he actually is, and he's ok with that.