Canyon Strive CF 9.0 review

One of our 2020 Enduro Bike of the Year contenders, can Canyon’s updated Shapeshifter technology help to make the Strive the ultimate enduro machine?

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £4,449.00 RRP | USD $5,099.00 | EUR €4,799.00 | AUD $7,549.00
A white and red Canyon Strive CF 9.0 full-suspension mountain bike

Our review

The Strive might not feel quite as capable on the downs as the best bikes in this category, but the impressive spec and superb all-rounder capabilities make it a serious amount of fun on the trails
Pros: Shapeshifter is easy to use and makes a real difference on the climbs; well balanced, composed suspension feel; easy to ride and loads of fun
Cons: Geometry feels quite reserved compared to similarly intended bikes; G2 brakes lack a bit of oomph compared to Code equivalents
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Canyon has had the Strive in its line up for a number of years and in that time it’s seen its fair share of success under the likes of Fabien Barel and more recently Ines Thoma and Florian Nicolai.

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This latest edition gets a totally overhauled Shapeshifter and is packaged around 29in wheels.

Bike of the Year 2020

The Canyon Strive CF 9.0 is part of our annual Bike of the Year test.

Head to our Bike of the Year hub for the full list of winners, categories and shortlisted bikes, as well as the latest reviews – or read our behind-the-scenes feature on how we tested Bike of the Year 2020.

Strive CF 9.0 frame and suspension details

The new Strive is a lovely looking bike. Its clean lines and smart detailing make it really stand out in a very competitive category. Canyon only offers the latest 29er Strive in carbon, though.

At the heart of the Strive sits the new Shapeshifter Stage 2.0 system. This nifty little system has been totally re-worked with the help of Fox suspension and now features a new gas spring with two-way valve, and runs at lower pressures with less friction in the system overall.

Changing between the two modes is now easier too, thanks to the revised remote that sits below the left-hand side of the handlebar.

The three-lever remote features two levers to operate the ShapeShifter while the lowest one takes care of the dropper post. This trio of levers looks pretty busy and is a little overwhelming at first, but after just one ride it’s pretty intuitive to use.

To engage pedal-friendly mode, simply hit the ‘Click’ lever and get pedalling. The result is a switch in the suspension kinematic, making things feel firmer and more progressive, restricting the rear travel to 135mm and effectively steeping the head and seat tube angles by 1.5 degrees.

Hit the ‘Clack’ lever and ride into the first bump and you’ll once again have access to the slacker angles and full 150mm of rear wheel travel.

At the rear, the Strive deals out 150mm of travel via a four-bar linkage with a top-tier RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate shock keeping everything in check.

Canyon branded G5 bar and stem
Canyon’s own G5 bar and stem feel solid and accurate on the trail.
Dan Milner/MBUK

There are a number of neat features, including the integrated rubberised protection on the underside of the down tube and under the bottom bracket, and solid entry/exit ports for the internal cable routing that not only help with the slick styling, but also to keep things totally silent and rattle free.

There’s the Canyon ‘Quixle’ rear axle, too. While it might not sound like much, what you’ve got here is essentially an axle that looks as neat and tidy as a bolted thru-axle. But pull on the tab and a pivoted lever slides from within to allow you to loosen/tighten it without needing an Allen key.

Strive CF 9.0 geometry

The Strive comes in four sizes, but the numbers aren’t as progressive as they possibly could be. Although the Shapeshifter makes the Strive feel like a far more efficient machine when pointed uphill, the German brand hasn’t, in my eyes at least, made the most of what’s on offer here.

It feels like the descending mode could be a little more extreme. As it stands, my medium framed test bike had a head angle of 65.5 degrees in the downhill mode and a reach of just 440mm.

I certainly feel that there’s scope to stretch the reach out a little more and certainly slacken the head angle further to bolster outright high-speed stability without having any detrimental effects on the bike’s climbing prowess.

RockShox Lyrik Ultimate fork on the Canyon Strive CF 9.0 mountain bike
The RockShox Lyrik Ultimate fork is one of our favourites thanks to the control and comfort it offers.
Dan Milner/MBUK

Canyon does offer two CFR models (the ‘R’ stands for ‘Race’), which use a 170mm rather than 160mm travel fork and hence have slacker head angles. Both bikes are significantly pricier than the CF 9.0 seen here, though.

Other numbers worth noting include the relatively low 340mm bottom bracket height (which has 36mm of drop) and the 435mm chainstay lengths, which, like most brands, don’t change with frame size.

The 73.5-degree seat angle effectively steepens to 75 degrees once in climb mode and while that might not sound particularly steep, the rear suspension significantly firms up so it never feels too slack when you do start winching upwards.

A white and red Canyon Strive CF 9.0 full-suspension mountain bike
As Canyon sells direct to the consumer, it can offer serious value for money. The Strive CF 9.0 is dripping in some of the best kit on the market as a result.
Dan Milner/MBUK
  • Seat angle: 73.5 degrees
  • Head angle: 65.5 degrees
  • Chainstay: 43.5cm / 17.13in
  • Seat tube: 44cm / 17.32in
  • Top tube: 62.7cm / 24.69in
  • Head tube: 10cm / 3.94in
  • Bottom bracket height: 34cm / 13.39in
  • Wheelbase: 1,204mm / 47.2in
  • Stack: 63.1cm / 24.84in
  • Reach:44cm / 17.32in

Strive CF 9.0 specifications

Canyon’s direct sales model might mean you get no back up through your local bike shop, but you do get a seriously impressive spec for the cash.

Worthy mentions here include the RockShox Lyrik Ultimate fork and Super Deluxe Ultimate shock, which are some of the best on the market.

Both units are super supple, offer plenty of support and can easily be tuned to increase/decrease the level of progression they deliver.

Maxxis Minion DHR tyres on Reynolds carbon wheels on full suspension mountain bike
Carbon Reynolds wheels help to contribute to the Strive’s eager acceleration.
Dan Milner/MBUK

If you’re a sucker for carbon, you’ll not be disappointed with the CF 9.0 build.

Reynolds carbon wheels are wrapped in Maxxis DHR II tyres – some of my favourites – but it’s a shame there’s no EXO+ or DoubleDown casing for a little extra protection at the rear. They do come set up tubeless, though, which is a bonus.

Canyon uses its own carbon bar, while the carbon Truvativ Descendant crankset is matched with SRAM X01 Eagle 1×12 gearing.

SRAM G2 brakes on Canyon full suspension mountain bike
Considering how capable the Strive is, I’d have preferred to have seen SRAM’s more powerful Code brakes rather than the G2s seen here.
Dan Milner/MBUK

SRAM’s G2 brakes do feel a little disappointing on a bike of this nature (and this capable) and don’t quite match the power and bite of the burlier Code brakes, which are a common sight on many enduro rigs.

Strive CF 9.0 ride impressions

To get the best feel of the Strive, I rode it on a wide variety of trails. These varied from steep, natural, technical trails covered in root spreads, off-cambers and loose turns, to higher-speed bike-park trails which were littered with jumps, berms and rock gardens.

It’s worth mentioning that I’d also spent some time aboard the cheaper CF 8.0 towards the end of 2019 too.

Strive CF 9.0 climbing performance

While the Shapeshifter may seem like it adds complication, it really doesn’t, and setting up the Strive is a quick and easy affair.

Unlike the Shapeshifter of old that not only seemed to be a pain to setup (it could also be quite unreliable) but required a huge physical weight shift to engage its climb mode, the new 2.0 version is far less hassle.

Press the ‘Click’ lever, put some power through the pedals and it’ll be enough to get you into the more efficient mode. Once engaged, it really does have a pronounced effect that’s easy to feel.

The Strive isn’t a bad pedaller in the first place, but once in the climb mode it feels far sprightlier and eager to make its way up the hill, where it certainly has an advantage over many of its long travel counterparts. It helps that it weighs just 14.21kg, too.

RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock on the Canyon Strive CF 9.0 full suspension mountain bike
Controlling the Strive’s 150mm of rear wheel travel is the RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock.
Dan Milner/MBUK

The rear end feels firmer in climb mode and there’s no need to reach down and flick the shock’s low-speed compression lever.

To be honest, though, due to the shock’s inverted position, actually reaching the lever in question is pretty tricky when you’re riding anyway, so it’s handy it’s not really needed.

Strive CF 9.0 descending performance

Hit the ‘Clack’ lever, roll into the first bumps and the Strive’s full 150mm of travel returns almost instantly, while the angles relax to provide a more downhill stability.

Hammer into blown-out, full-on downhill sections and the Strive doesn’t feel quite as steadfast or as surefooted as the likes of the Specialized Enduro Comp or Whyte G-170C RS 29er, but it’s not too far off. That’s because, while the angles might not be extreme, the Strive does a grand job of delivering its 150mm of travel at the rear in a very controlled, composed way, and it’s a bike that’s easy to acclimatise to quickly.

In fact, the subtle progression does make it feel like there’s more travel on tap than the numbers may have you believe. It helps that the suspension units are some of the best out there and offer a really good balance front to rear.

The superb Lyrik Ultimate up front delivers a really soft initial touch, but never feels like it lacks support when you want to load the front of the bike up in a turn or off the lip of a jump, and still manages to ramp up enough without feeling harsh at bottom out.

It’s seriously comfy too and I never once had issues with hand or arm fatigue when tackling longer, rougher bike park runs.

However, I did find I had to run the rebound damping fully open on the Super Deluxe Ultimate shock to get things feeling as I wanted them – not ideal if you’re lighter than me at 68kg.

Cyclist in red top riding the Canyon Strive CF 9.0 full suspension mountain bike
While the Strive may only have 150mm of rear wheel travel, it delivers it in a very smooth and composed way.
Dan Milner/MBUK

When I tested the Strive CF 8.0, I mentioned the stiff Reynolds wheels that could, at times, feel a touch harsh. The CF 8.0 was equipped with Fox suspension (the 36 fork used the less forgiving FIT4 damper), which doesn’t come close to the supple feel of the CF 9.0 tested here.

That sensitive, super-active suspension may explain why I felt far less feedback through the wheels on this model, even when riding fast, rocky trails.

While I may have criticised the somewhat conservative numbers when it came to outright high-speed stability, these figures do equate to a really fun ride where the Strive feels eager to pop from turn to turn or skip from line to line with very little effort.

The low bottom bracket, supple suspension and traction-rich tyres also help make it a real ripper through the turns where loads of fun and speed can be found.

And if you’re worried that the low bottom bracket might lead to nasty crank strikes and a loss of carbon, fear not, because Canyon has wisely specced 165mm cranks on the CF 9.0.

I can’t help but feel Canyon has still missed a trick, though. The Shapeshifter would seemingly allow it to go a little more extreme with angles, and there’s definitely scope to stretch the geometry out a little more without any real negative effect on performance.

Still, there’s no denying just how capable the Strive is. It might not feel quite as planted on the really roughed up, full-on downhill runs as the best bikes in this category, but it’ll still handle them without issue, and it helps that it’s one of the easiest going bikes to tackle the climb back up to the top on.

Cyclist in red top riding the Canyon Strive CF 9.0 full suspension mountain bike
The quiet, well-damped ride helps to boost confidence in tricky terrain.
Dan Milner/MBUK

While it’s not exactly a mini-downhill, drop you heels and plough type of machine, there’s no getting away from the fact that it is one of the best long travel all-rounders on the market and makes pretty much any trail (whether super steep or flowy and mellow) loads of fun to ride.

Stick a rear tyre with a tougher casing on and swap the G2 brakes for a set of Codes and it’d be even better.

Strive CF 9.0 bottom line

While you’ll not receive the back-up of your trusty local bike shop, the Strive CF 9.0 offers a superb spec and quality ride feel.

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The Shapeshifter helps to make it one of the best long-travel all-rounders out there, and its easy going – albeit somewhat conservative – geometry means it’s really easy to ride.

With thanks to…

BikeRadar would like to thank 661, IXS, Leatt, Garmin, Facom and BlackTown Trails for their support during our Bike of the Year test.

Product Specifications

Product

Price AUD $7549.00EUR €4799.00GBP £4449.00USD $5099.00
Weight 14.21kg (L)
Brand Canyon

Features

Available sizes S, M, L, XL
Rear derailleur SRAM X01 Eagle 1x12
Tyres Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO 3C MaxxTerra 29x2.4in
Stem Canyon G5, 40mm
Shifter SRAM X01 Eagle
Seatpost RockShox Reverb Stealth
Saddle SDG Radar
Rear shock RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate RCT
Handlebar Canyon G5 carbon, 780mm
Bottom bracket SRAM DUB
Grips/Tape Canyon G5 Lock-On
Frame Carbon, with 150mm travel and Shapeshifter technology
Fork RockShox Lyrik Ultimate, with 160mm travel
Cranks Truvativ Descendant carbon with e*thirteen TRS+ chainguide
Chain SRAM GX Eagle
Cassette SRAM XG-1295
Brakes SRAM G2 200mm/180mm rotors
Wheels Reynolds TR309 carbon