Since its entry into the UK market a few years ago, Canyon has made a name for itself as purveyors of well-made bikes that exhibit often extraordinary value. The secret (or catch, depending on your point of view) is that the brand doesn’t have dealers – it ships bikes directly to your door.
That means you have to do some basic assembly before you can head out for a ride, but it’s well within the ability of anyone who’s loaded a bike into the back of a small car, and Canyon includes a simple torque wrench and decent instructions.
If anything goes wrong, Canyon will pick the bike up to sort it out. Whether that’s more convenient than going to a shop depends on your availability for couriers and ability to store the rather large cardboard box just in case.
Frame and equipment: direct-sales model means big value
The Nerve has been in the Canyon range for a while, but the 2014 bike has been redesigned around 650b wheels. It’s an extremely smart-looking frame (although the humpback top tube is a bit Marmite), with a hard-wearing anodised finish.
The seat tube is a particularly interesting piece, with a double-cranked shape that puts the rocker pivot in the right place, gives plenty of rear wheel clearance as the bike goes through its 120mm (4.7in) of travel and provides space for the direct-mount front derailleur to rotate – because the mech is bolted to the front of the seatstay rather than the seat tube, it tracks around the chainrings as the suspension compresses.
The seat tube shape does limit how far the seatpost will drop, but there’s a hole in the seat tube for a ‘stealth’ dropper post cable, which would be the way forward if you’re a regular seat dropper.
The gear cables are hidden away inside the frame, leaving only the rear brake hose on view. The cables run inside the substantial hexagon-section down tube, emerging near the press-fit bottom bracket shell before heading towards their respective mechs.
There are more shapes in the back end, with rectangular chainstays and triangular seatstays designed to give ample tyre clearance and stiffness. The seatstays drive a Performance Series Fox Float CTD shock via a minimalist forged rocker link, complete with neatly shielded bearings. At the other end, the shock mounts to the frame near the bottom bracket.
There’s no doubt that the Canyon is a value champion. Even allowing for the £1,799 headline price becoming slightly inflated by delivery charges, Fox suspension at both ends, a full Shimano Deore XT transmission and DT Swiss wheels is a pretty stonking spec for the money. Most impressively, the whole bike hits the scales at a tiny bit over 27lb.
Avid Elixir 5 brakes aren’t our favourites, but they do the job. Out back there’s a Shadow+ clutch rear mech for all your anti-clatter needs. We’d prefer a RockShox Maxle or similar QR through-axle to the bolt-through X12 at the rear, but having to get an Allen key out to remove the wheel isn’t really that big a deal. The DT Swiss M 1700 wheels that the axles hold in place are a tidy choice – they’re light and reasonably stiff.
Ride and handling: nimble and lively
While it’s bang up to date in terms of construction and components, the Nerve offers up quite a traditional ride that’s definitely more suited to cross-country riding than all-mountain.
With its relatively steep geometry, low weight and fairly narrow (by 2014 standards) handlebar, it’s a nimble and lively bit of kit, but if you’re looking to tackle super-steep tech or descend extremely quickly you might want something a bit more laidback.
Canyon nerve al 8.0: canyon nerve al 8.0 Steve Behr
It’s good to have choices though (and Canyon offer a more aggro alternative in the form of the longer-travel, slacker, RockShox Reverb equipped Spectral) and a lot of people will feel right at home on the Nerve.
It helps a lot that the suspension works well over all sizes of bump – although the Performance Series Fox fork can spike a bit on sharp hits – and that the chassis stiffness is high enough to give you enough confidence that you’ll keep going the way you intend. The back end is well controlled under power, and we didn’t have any problem riding around in the CTD shock’s open ‘descend’ setting most of the time.
The slightly-bigger 650b wheels are effective too – the difference from 26in wheels isn’t anything like as marked as jumping to 29in, but when you’re buying a whole new bike (rather than a frame to fit your old bits to) there isn’t any massively compelling reason to avoid the ‘new’ wheel size.