Canyon has clearly worked hard on the frame of the new Spectral — it’s a stiff, precise unit with cracking suspension and some well-thought-out design features that put it out there as one of the best platforms around for a trail bike.
The Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women’s bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.
The rear suspension works well across its travel — it’s very compliant in its mid-stroke, soaking up most of the trail chatter for a composed, controlled ride, but ramping up heavily at the end of the stroke to cope with bigger hits.
Review of Canyon Spectral CF 9.0
This is an area on which Canyon’s engineers claimed they worked hard, and is one of the main reasons for the complete redesign of the chassis for 2018, moving from a vertical to horizontal shock placement.
A new design for the suspension linkage is here, with what Canyon claims is a much-improved kinematicMatt Wragg / Immediate Media
The mid part of the shock’s stroke is supportive, meaning the bike is mostly ridden in the upper end of the mid stroke, rather than sinking through it, which prevents a wallowy feel on flatter, less technical trails.
This support not only keeps the bike from folding in the middle when pushing through berms, but also gives it a poppy, lively feel when you want to play around through trails.
Towards the end of the suspension stroke the shock ramps up fairly significantly. This boosts control when you hit drops, jumps and big, unexpected impacts, and gives a feeling of solidity to the bike.
With a new suspension kinematic, the new Spectral is even better in chunky terrainMatt Wragg / Immediate Media
This is matched up front by the Fox 34 Performance Elite fork — the 2018 version is smoother than its predecessor, which was prone to feeling harsh with the occasional spike on bigger hits.
However, as with other 34s in our Bike of the Year round-up, you can push the 150mm chassis to its limits relatively easily — I’d be tempted by a Pike-equipped model for heavier or faster riders, which benefits from a stiffer chassis.
As you’d expect from Canyon, the rest of the component package is highly competitive. Decent-width DT Swiss wheels are wrapped in 2.6in Maxxis Minion and Rekon tyres, there’s a Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes too, while the finishing kit includes a Race Face bar/stem combo and RockShox Reverb dropper.
Shimano’s XT drivetrain is still a decent match for the ever-present SRAM GX EagleMatt Wragg / Immediate Media
Canyon has chosen the 2.6in tyres across the Spectral range (other than one 2.5in Mavic-tyre-equipped model), however, the bike would probably better suit the 2.4in or 2.5in Wide Trail options Maxxis offer.
With such a capable frame, the wider tyres don’t offer quite the same precise stability that the Wide Trail options do, when you’re pushing the bike hard down demanding tracks.
The accuracy of a slightly narrower tyre is almost lost, though it’s fair to say if I had to have a 2.6in tyre up front, the Minion DHF would be my choice. At the back, the Rekon loses out on some burliness, compared to the front tyre. This helps the bike roll faster, making it feel more reactive to pedal inputs, but if you ride in wet, loose or muddy conditions, the Rekon doesn’t offer the traction of a chunkier tyre, neither on uphill on technical climbs or when braking heavily.
2.6in Maxxis rubber — the Minion DHF is my favourite tyre in this formatMatt Wragg / Immediate Media
I also found that while the geometry is well balanced — average reach (460mm, size Large) and rear-centre measurements (430mm) and a low-ish bottom bracket (22mm drop) — the front end is high with a stack height of 634mm.
This is okay if you like a tall front end, but riders who prefer something lower will struggle to get the feel they’re after. This height at the front end doesn’t help the rider weight the front wheel in flatter corners, though it does boost confidence in steep terrain as your weight is naturally pushed a little further rearward.
The weight of the bike this year is higher than an equivalent previous model, but Canyon says it’s upped the strength rating of the frame to make it fully enduro-race-ready. Overall, I don’t feel this weight increase compromises ride quality.
Grippy plus-tyres let you lay it lowMatt Wragg / Immediate Media
The details in the frame, though, are very good. Improved sealing on the bearings should bolster reliability over the lifetime of the bike, and the integrated seat clamp theoretically spreads the clamping force over a greater portion of the seatpost, allowing slightly lower torques and reducing the risk that over-tightening will impede the dropper’s motion.
The down tube is protected by a bolt-on plastic sheath that also secures the outer brake and gear cable — effectively giving the neatness of internal routing, without the faff of routing said cables and hoses through internal guides.
Canyon will also have compatible on-bike storage boxes and a double water-bottle system available too.
Canyon’s frame detailing is among the best out there, including this neat down tube protector / cable guideMatt Wragg / Immediate Media
While the bikes come virtually fully assembled, the post may need inserting — I did find on one test bike that getting it past the top of the clamping bar, sitting vertically in the seat tube, was a bit annoying.
However, the way that Canyon delivers its bikes is impressive, and requires only the front wheel and bar to also be fitted — a basic torque wrench is included to help, along with a comprehensive set-up guide, suspension volume spacers and a shock pump.
The Spectral is a very versatile trail bike. At 13 kilograms, the weight and fast-rolling of the rear tyre mean it’s a bike that’s happily pedalled all day long, without feeling like you’re dragging a sled around just for the descents (but thankfully when you get to them, there’s little to hold the bike back on all but the fastest, roughest of trails).
We’ve had mixed experiences with Shimano’s XT brakes, but these performed well throughout the testMatt Wragg / Immediate Media
With the frame now being rated for enduro racing there shouldn’t be any qualms hitting bigger terrain.
With carbon and alloy models available, there are various Spectral models on offer for most budgets. Heavier riders, or those more likely to ride steeper, more demanding trails might want to look at a RockShox-equipped model though, mainly to benefit from the stiffer Pike fork.
Riding since the age of 13, Technical Editor Tom has ridden hundreds of bikes over the past few years, from aero race bikes to EWS-ready enduro rigs, with a fair few others in between. Most likely found in the woods practicing his scandi-flicks.