The new Grail is the best gravel bike Canyon has ever made.
Thoughtful accessories and well-designed integration elevate the new gravel bike above others, but it’s the handling and comfortable ride that truly stand out.
Those fussy about their fit will have kittens about being tied into the new Double Drop bar, but most riders will be satisfied with the system.
I’ve been testing the third-tier Grail CFR Di2. It’s not exactly a storming bargain at £6,699 / €6,999 (this model is not available in the USA), but compared with similarly-priced gravel race bikes from its competitors, the build actually packs a punch. As ever, moving towards the middle of the range presents far better value for money.
While my review is based on time spent riding the Grail CFR Di2, geometry and most of the accessories and integrations are shared across the new Canyon Grail range.
Canyon Grail CFR Di2 spec overview
The Grail CFR Di2 is the third-tier bike, sitting beneath the SRAM Red AXS-equipped Grail CFR AXS (£6,699 / €6,999) and limited-edition Grail CDR LTD (£9,500 / €10,000).
Canyon Grail CFR Di2 ride impressions
Canyon says it wanted to build on the stable ride of the first-generation Grail, improving its high-speed handling while remaining agile.
In summary, Canyon has nailed it.
The new Grail is one of the best-handling gravel bikes I have ever ridden. It is stable, surefooted and confident when smashing about at high speed, without being dull on slower technical terrain.
It ploughs through rattly gravel roads, with no urge to wander when honking on the bars in a sprint.
The ride position is also appropriate for a race bike. There’s a little bit of saddle-to-bar drop with the bike setup as pictured, and you could have a slammed position should you so desire.
This calmness is most welcome when riding hard on rough gravel roads (the bike’s raison d’etre).
Compared to less stable bikes, the front end’s almost self-correcting quality meant I was better able to focus on watching my heart rate climb concerningly high as I chased down imaginary foes.
No one figure defines any bike’s geometry, but comparing the Grail to its contemporaries, its wheelbase stands out.
At 1,080mm for a size large bike, the wheelbase of the new Grail is 27mm longer than the previous generation bike.
That’s notably long for a go-fast gravel bike.
I tested three similar race-focussed gravel bikes last year. The new Grail is 22mm longer than an equivalent-sized Trek Checkpoint (1,058mm), the longest bike on test and one I lauded for its high-speed stability and calm ride.
Few (if any) gravel bikes from mainstream brands are longer – only pseudo-mountain bikes such as the YT Szepter (1,095mm), or Evil Chamois Hagar (1,154mm), are longer. Only the suspension-equipped Lauf Seigla is longer in our roundup of the best gravel race bikes.
This calm ride means it takes a little more forethought to avoid, for example, an unexpected pothole. The Grail is not reactive or like a cyclocross bike at speed, as so many early gravel bikes were.
But that’s not to say the bike feels sluggish, particularly at slower speeds.
The long-ish reach in combination with the steep-ish 73.5-degree seat tube means it’s easier to shift weight forward and get your hips over the bottom bracket without feeling as though you’re dangling over the front wheel. This is a real boon on technical climbs.
Despite all having a shorter wheelbase, the bikes in the aforementioned test have basically the same chainstay length as the Grail:
- New Canyon Grail: 425mm
- Trek Checkpoint: 435mm
- Specialized Crux: 425mm
- Wilier Rave: 423mm
Long chainstays aren’t always a bad choice, but all else being equal, increasing chainstay length makes a bike feel less reactive and harder to lift the rear wheel.
Increasing the length of the front centre also reduces the chance of toe overlap – a complaint about the original Grail from some testers.
While I never suffered from toe overlap with cleats slammed all the way back on my size 43 gravel shoes, this will be a welcome change for those with bigger flippers or riders on smaller-size frames.
I will close this section by saying (as I do in many reviews) that no bike’s handling is truly difficult or unwieldy. Equally, few bikes are lazy or boring to ride. All bikes sit on a spectrum of fast to slow handling, with few mainstream options falling outside of that common bell curve.
The Grail sits towards the calm-handling side. That’s the right choice for a go-fast gravel bike, but it’s no slouch either. It’s well-balanced and, most importantly, tremendously fun to ride fast.
Good riddance to the Hover bar?
Canyon says it killed the Hover bar as it was less aerodynamic than a conventional drop bar.
This is, perhaps, no surprise. With essentially double the surface area of a normal handlebar… well there’s more there, isn’t there?
In the place of the Hover bar is the new Double Drop Bar.
This is a one-piece cockpit designed specifically for off-road riding.
The tops sweep down from the ‘stem’ towards the ramps. The hooks and drops are then gently flared outward.
The ramps are long enough to give you lots of room to shuffle about, the tops are flat but not too broad and the drops roomy enough to not smoosh up my fat phalanges.
The lightly D-profiled hooks feel great and the ergonomic curves put your hands and wrists in a neutral and comfortable position.
While I got on well with the bar, I still have mixed feelings about one-piece cockpits.
Unlike the Endurace and Aeroad road bike cockpits, the Double Drop Bar does not offer width adjustment. That means you’re set with whatever cockpit your size bike comes with – in my case, a 44cm wide bar with a 70mm equivalent stem.
Canyon is also offering ‘pro’ fit aftermarket bars that are 40cm wide and 15mm lower, but these will have to be purchased separately.
The standard 1 ⅛ steerer and simple cable routing means you could also swap to a wide variety of aftermarket cockpit options. However, the hassle and expense of doing this will, as ever, be considerable.
It would be unfair to pick on Canyon specifically for speccing a one-piece cockpit – that tide has long since turned and almost all gravel race bikes feature a similar setup.
Still, those with specific fit requirements should look elsewhere, or build a bike up from a frameset.
The Gear Groove is groovy
The ‘Gear Groove’ is an indented slot moulded into the cockpit. This is where accessories, including bike computers and an aero cockpit, are mounted to the Grail.
Only the Double Drop bar (CP0039) on the Grail CFR and Grail CF SLX feature the Gear Groove – it is absent on the cheaper Grail CF SL cockpit (CP0045).
The aero cockpit for the Grail is borrowed directly from the Speedmax Tri bike, with the base wings broadened to better suit gravel riding.
Aero bars aren’t universally loved in the gravel racing world, but for ultra-endurance races, they’re a must.
I received an aero cockpit prior to publishing but did not have sufficient time to test it.
Two additional accessories make the Grail more adaptable than some of its competitors.
First off, Canyon has designed really tidy quick-release full alloy mudguards to accompany the bike. These mount via quick-release skewers that slot inside the thru-axle. They are easier to fit than conventional mudguards.
They provide ample coverage and feel solid. They also don’t impact tyre clearance.
Being fussy, I’d have preferred fitments for any old mudguards – the Trek Domane is the best example of low visual impact mudguard mount integration.
However, so few gravel race bikes are designed with any mudguards in mind, so I’ll let Canyon off.
The patented Fork Sleeves will also be of interest to ultra-distance (or thirsty) cyclists.
These slide over the fork and clamp in place, providing up to 3kg of carrying capacity on each fork leg.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with festooning a fork with additional mounts – even a barnacle-like fork wouldn’t keep me awake at night.
But, those who like a clean-looking bike will appreciate the option to choose between an uninterrupted and utilitarian silhouette.
The Aero Load System is the fancy marketing name Canyon has given its down tube storage compartment.
In its press pack for the Grail, Canyon makes slightly spurious claims about the potential aero savings of this setup versus carrying tools in your pockets.
I couldn’t give a monkey’s about this – the important thing is the system is well-designed, easy to access, quiet and practical.
My bike came pre-loaded with a full suite of accessories, but complete bikes will only come with a small multi-tool.
That’s not such a big deal. So long as you have a small enough mini pump, I reckon you’ll be able to fill up the bike with stuff you already have.
For example, my Lifeline Performance Road mini pump fits fine. Using this makes it a bit more fiddly to open the hatch than the Topeak Micro Rocket (which the storage is designed around) but it’s not a big deal.
The compartment also provides access to the Di2 battery on my bike and will greatly aid servicing when re-routing cables.
The access hatch for the downtube storage does look a bit like the battery cover for a Gameboy Colour. However, it’s easier to use than the locking door hidden beneath the bottle cage on a Trek Checkpoint or Specialized Diverge.
Note that only the top-tier Grail CFR and Grail CF SLX feature the downtube storage system. It’s a real shame this system isn’t included on the third-tier CF SL, but you can always just use a handlebar bag.
Limited but appropriate tyre clearance
The Grail’s clearance for 700x42mm gravel tyres is limited compared to some gravel race bikes.
Canyon says it opted to limit tyre clearance at 42mm as it’s generally the maximum tyre width used by gravel racers.
It also enables riders to use road bike cranksets (up to 52/36t) without resorting to using a dropped chainstay or extending chainstay length.
I find no fault in this approach. If I were serious about gravel racing and felt a course warranted a tyre wider than 42mm, I’d probably prefer a mountain bike. I wouldn’t say the same of an all-rounder gravel bike, but it’s not an issue here.
Though Canyon wouldn’t condone this, one may be able to run slightly wider 650b wheels, but I would argue it’s not really in keeping with the go-fast ethos of the bike.
Most bikes in the Grail range are specced with Schwalbe G-One RS tyres.
This is a great tyre for go-fast riding. It’s, perhaps, a bit specialist, but the slick central section is fast rolling, doesn’t hold onto mud and the transition to the side knobs is predictable.
The tyres are, however, a bit delicate for especially rocky riding. I experienced a handful of small punctures during testing, though they were all attributable to idiotic riding.
I’d persevere with the tyres if this bike were my own, but I’d probably add a little extra tubeless sealant and tyre inserts for peace of mind.
Compliant, but not excessively so
The new Canyon Grail does away with the split leaf spring VCLS seatpost seen on Canyon’s previous gravel bikes in favour of a D-shaped post. The same post profile is used on Canyon’s Endurace endurance road bike.
Canyon said the VCLS seatpost has been dropped in order to provide a more direct pedalling feel based on feedback from pro riders.
The new seatpost is comfortable and flexes amply when weighted, but it doesn’t have the cosseting, springy feel of the VCLS, which did so much to take the sting out of trail chatter.
The integrated wedge-based seat clamp is a bit fiddly to unseat once set. This makes quick minor adjustments a pain but most integrated clamps suffer similarly. Equally, I didn’t have any issues with the seatpost slipping, which is preferable to unwanted movement.
Incidentally, this clamp uses a T25 Torx head instead of a more typical 4mm hex head. Some will bemoan this but I think it’s a good thing – it’s much harder to round out a Torx head bolt.
Canyon Grail CFR Di2 bottom line
The new Canyon Grail is a well-rounded gravel race bike that is adaptable to a wider range of riding than many of its competitors.
Most importantly, the geometry is dialled – it’s what makes this such a compelling bike. If I were looking for a fast gravel bike today, the new Grail would be my pick of the bunch.
All of that said, this particular build wouldn’t be my pick of the Grail range.
It’s got a pretty much faultless build with appropriately deep wheels, a full Di2 groupset and nice finishing kit.
However, the CF SLX 8 Di2 looks almost every bit as good at £4,799 / €4,999, with the same groupset, a marginally heavier wheelset and a slightly weightier frameset.
Critically, this bike retains the downtube storage and Gear Groove. Both are, frustratingly, absent on the cheaper CF SL builds.
However, if you aren’t fussy about integration or accessories, these bikes should be an equal delight.
|Price||br_price, 5, 3, Price, AUD $10599.00EUR €6999.00GBP £6699.00|
|Weight||br_weight, 5, 6, Weight, 8.71kg (Large) – Weight includes accessories in down tube storage, Array, kg|
|Year||br_year, 5, 9, Year, 2024|
|Brand||br_brand, 5, 10, Brand, Canyon|
|Available sizes||br_availableSizes, 11, 0, Available sizes, 2XS, XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL|
|Cassette||br_cassette, 11, 0, Cassette, Shimano GRX, 11-34t|
|Chain||br_chain, 11, 0, Chain, Shimano 11-speed|
|Cranks||br_cranks, 11, 0, Cranks, Shimano GRX FC-RX810-2, 48/31t|
|Frame||br_frame, 11, 0, Frame, Canyon Grail CFR R121|
|Front derailleur||br_frontDerailleur, 11, 0, Front derailleur, Shimano GRX Di2 FD-RC815-F|
|Handlebar||br_handlebar, 11, 0, Handlebar, Canyon CP0039 Double Drop Bar with Gear Groove|
|Rear derailleur||br_rearDerailleur, 11, 0, Rear derailleur, Shimano GRX Di2 RD-RX815|
|Saddle||br_saddle, 11, 0, Saddle, Fizik Vento Argo X1|
|Seatpost||br_seatpost, 11, 0, Seatpost, Canyon SP0072 Comfortpost|
|Shifter||br_shifter, 11, 0, Shifter, Shimano GRX Di2 ST-RX815|
|Tyres||br_tyres, 11, 0, Tyres, Schwalbe G-One RS 40mm|
|Wheels||br_wheels, 11, 0, Wheels, DT Swiss GRX 1100|