Canyon’s online-only ‘direct sales’ model always makes for decent value, but the kit on this Canyon Exceed CF SL cross-country race frame still shocked me when the bike landed in our workshop. The drawback is that you can’t go to your local shop for a test ride or post-purchase support.
Canyon Exceed CF SL frame
This version of the Exceed was first seen in 2015, when its shape shone compared to the competition. Now, though, its geometry is in-line with much of the competition with a reach of 441mm, 69.5-degree head and 73-degree seat angles, and 432mm chainstays in a size large.
The frame’s carbon construction is smart, with clean lines, concealed cables, protection from chain suck and the brake mount nestled within the rear triangle. A smart pop-out ‘Quixle’ handle makes the rear axle quick and easy to remove.
Canyon Exceed CF SL kit
For the price, it’s incredible that Canyon has managed to spec Reynolds TR 249 carbon wheels and a RockShox SID fork (with a remote lockout).
These are backed up by a triple-compound Maxxis Rekon front tyre and standard Maxxis Aspen at the back, a SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain and Level TL brakes, and Race Face finishing kit.
My only complaint was with the Selle Italia SLS saddle, which I found slippery when putting the power down.
Canyon Exceed CF SL ride impressions
At 10.38kg in a size large, the Exceed was the lightest carbon hardtail I had on test, with a lot of weight saved in the wheel-and-tyre combo.
Combined with a fairly direct-feeling frame, low-rolling-resistance tyres and that traditional geometry, the Canyon is a nippy bike to ride. There’s no lag between pedal inputs and forward motion, with every ounce of effort seemingly going into acceleration.
On smooth surfaces, on- and off-road, the Rekon and Aspen tyres roll quickly and quietly. Their skinny treads do give up grip in loose or slippery conditions though, demanding sharp handling skills to correct losses of traction.
A wider-diameter post means easier fitting of a dropper in future, although there’s theoretically less twang, and therefore comfort, than with a narrower post. Russell Burton / Immediate Media
RockShox’ SID fork is a classic in XC circles, and for good reason. The chassis offers the stiffness needed on such a bike, and the damper delivers great feel and control.
You get an on-bar lockout, which feels snappier than the Fox 32 equivalent on the Cube Reaction C:62 SL (pushing the lever forward to firm up the fork feels more intuitive than releasing cable tension to do so). The fork comes with RockShox’ Torque Cap dropouts, designed for use with wider-diameter hub end-caps.
Many wheels (including these) don’t have Torque Caps, so threading the axle through the fork and hub is a slower process.
Carbon wheels add cachet and help reduce weight. They enhance the bike’s reactive personality, and contribute to an aggressive overall feel. However, the Canyon’s front end feels a touch harsh and I think this is likely due to the wheels.
I ran the tyres a touch softer than on the other bikes on test to offset this, although you can’t reduce pressures too far without affecting tyre stability under load.
Canyon specs a 720mm handlebar – I rather a wider one that could be cut down to preference. Russell Burton / Immediate Media
Mirroring this aggressive nature is the 34t ring on the GX Eagle drivetrain. Clearly, Canyon wants you to be pushing big watts and high speeds on the Exceed.
Compared to the XT drivetrains on the Merida Big Nine XT and Cube, GX feels a touch clunkier. The dual-release click of the XT shifter also helps you move the chain up the block faster, which could make a difference in a race.
The Canyon is a sharp-handling bike, especially on tight, twisty trails. With the fork offering decent control and the wheels spinning up to speed quickly, it thrives between the trees and picking accurate lines around and over rocks.
On rough, flat-out tracks, the traditional shape and stiff hoops lead to a fairly skittery ride, albeit not one that’s out of control. It just doesn’t have quite the same planted feel as the Specialized Epic or Merida.
The Exceed has plenty of top-end kit and while not ground-breaking in its approach, it won’t hold you back on anything but the most technical XC courses.
Canyon Exceed CF SL 7.0 geometry
Sizes (* tested): S, M, L*, XL
Seat angle: 72.9 degrees
Head angle: 69.5 degrees
Chainstay: 43.2cm / 17.01in
Seat tube: 48.5cm / 19.09in
Top tube: 62cm / 24.41in
Head tube: 11.2cm / 4.41in
Bottom bracket drop: 6.3cm / 2.48in
Bottom bracket height: 31cm / 12.2in
Wheelbase: 1,138mm / 44.8in
Stack: 62.5cm / 24.61in
Reach: 44.1cm / 17.36in
How we tested
The bike was tested as part of a four bike carbon hardtail test with a price-point of £2,000 to 2,500.
Testing took place before the Covid-19 lockdown regulations on local cross-country loops, and included short sprints through the woods on natural and purpose-built trails. Comfort was also tested on longer rides.
Bikes also on test: