Named after the legendary US 24-hour race, the Canaan is designed for caning round technical trails for hour after hour, but its supple high traction suspension and surefooted handling make it serious fun whatever kind of riding you’re into.
Taking out a summer tyred race bike in trail conditions better suited to an ark, we were expecting to end up in the river that runs along our test trails.
Actually though, we had a total blast.
True, the tyres were as likely to go sideways or completely swap ends as go forward, but the Mongoose surfed the slides astonishingly well. The slack (for a racer) steering angles help it hold a line when lack of traction or tiredness is taking its toll, and the short stem lets it snap react to corner changes or slide catches.
The Freedrive back end glues the rear wheel down incredibly well, powering us up climbs that no comparable bike managed despite far grippier rubber and/or lower weight. It’s really smooth over small stuff too, making the Canaan a comfy all day cruiser.
The only downside is a slight softness in power transmission that you’ll notice on smooth climbs, but flicking the ProPedal lever across firms the shock up enough to erase it.
The fast rolling tyres and the breathing room in the frame easily negated the effect of the extra weight.
The Fox shock and the way the rear end moves also means it sucks up bigger and squarer hits far better than most 100mm (3.9in) bikes.
You’ll still need to pick your lines, because the fork needs nursing through the big stuff, but it’s more controlled and coherent feeling than a lot of ‘race bikes with riser bars’ we’ve tried.
While it’s impressively confident and fun on technical trails, its naturally fast feel hasn’t been lost by budgeting. In fact, it gives such effort-encouraging posture and speed sustain that we pushed it so hard we puked trying to beat our best laps on timed runs.
Whether we faced a long, lung busting climb or a slick, steps, roots, drops and dirty gulley-infested descent, the Canaan had the same attitude: “Don’t back off, just go for it and see what we can manage.” Smooth, surefooted suspension, sweetly balanced handling and excellent brake control meant we had a huge amount of fun ‘having a go’, and that’s our favourite benchmark for deciding test winners.
The Canaan chassis is in its second year, and the 08 model has a few strengthening plates added to pass the latest safety standards. This toughening up means it’s not the lightest frame around, but we’re going to see a lot of currently featherweight bikes suddenly getting a lot heavier soon.
The top spec Canaan Team is still down near 25lbs so it retains its ample upgrade potential, which in turn boosts its core value.
Otherwise, the proven layout stays the same, with a generously long and low top tube stretch and similarly low slung rear subframe separated by the complex ‘knot’ of the Freedrive system.
The various links, bearings and bits mean the chainset acts semi-independently of what either end is doing. From a practical point of view it’s a bit of a bugger to clean, and the gear cables need regular lubing to stop front wheel spray seizing them. But besides that, we’ve never had problems with Freedrive bearings and mud clearance is pretty good.
The occasionally spiky Tora fork is the only obvious trade off in spec versus the hardtails but you certainly won’t get anything better on a £1,000 susser. It’d be our first upgrade, but it’s a reasonable weight and super reliable for now.
The Float RP23 shock is a real score though, giving wide ranging compression control for super accurate suspension tuning.
The combination of Shimano Deore XT Shadow rear mech and Deore transmission is also a superb choice for the money, and we’re really impressed with the modulation and power of Hayes’s new Stroker brakes.
Wheels are a robust long running set, and you even get an Easton handlebar.
The only things we’d maybe change are the tyres. They’re super fast and great in dry or gravelly ‘trail centre’ conditions but you’ll be sliding everywhere come the winter.