Canyon‘s problem – if you can call it a problem – is that it makes other makers look bad by offering more value for money than seems reasonable, possible, or fair. At a price point where most manufacturers don’t even give you a full Shimano 105 groupset, the Ultimate AL SLX 9.0 comes with full Ultegra, not even skimping on the cassette.
Ok, so it’s got a nice groupset, must have rubbish wheels then, right? Nope – you get Mavic Ksyrium Elites, which retail at over five hundred quid a pair. Add in a respectably light (1.2kg or so) frame with a full carbon fork and you’ve got a pretty potent combination, all for one and a half grand.
Highs: Remarkable spec for price; well rounded ride quality
Lows: Non-standard steerer requires special stems; direct-buy only
Buy if: You want a race-ready machine at a more than fair price
That Ultimate AL’s muted black on black paint job is characteristically understated – we’d probably favour the slightly flashier version with white logos and detailing. In any case, it’s a good looking machine with a frame that’s more sophisticated than just a handful of pipes welded together.
Some may find the black-on-black livery a little too understated: some may find the black-on-black livery a little too understated Robert Smith
Some may find the black-on-black livery a little too understated
The substantial down tube broadens at the top to make the most of its interface with the head tube, and also neatly houses the gear cables, which emerge underneath the Shimano standard BB86 bottom bracket shell. The top tube is slim and round where it meets the seat tube, but it squares off and gets wider at the front too, while the seat tube itself uses Canyon’s signature ‘Maximus’ design – skinny at the top, and flared at the bottom for, according to the spiel, “maximum power efficiency”. The back end is notable for its slim seatstays, while the chainstays are fairly conventional.
Canyon is no exception among bike makers in its fondness for fanciful acronyms, and both the 27.2mm carbon seatpost and the seatstays carry its VCLS designation, which standards for ‘Vertical Comfort Lateral Stiffness’, a variant on the old bike reviewer’s cliché. It’s not a bad description of the Ultimate AL’s ride quality though. The Canyon is a race bike through and through, but it does manage a very acceptably trade-off between power transfer and ride quality. It would be unfair to call it ‘good for alloy’ – it’s good by any standard, as long as you’re content with a sporty, direct road feel.
At 138mm on our small tester, the head tube will let you get fairly low if you want to, and where the bike shines most is in climbing and sprinting, offering responsiveness without a hint of vagueness from the back end. The Mavic wheels help here: they have the aerodynamics of a Volvo estate from the 80s and they’re narrower than we’d like, but their stiffness to weight ratio is phenomenal, perfect for those with racing ambitions. We’re pleased to see them fitted with 25mm tyres as standard now too.
The ksyrium elites offer a phenomenal stiffness to weight ratio: the ksyrium elites offer a phenomenal stiffness to weight ratio Robert Smith
The Ksyrium Elites offer a phenomenal stiffness to weight ratio
Other highlights include the Fizik Antares saddle and the bars, which have slightly swept tops that make cruising along a pleasure. The only sticking point with the spec is Canyon’s insistence on a non-standard 1 1/4in steerer, which greatly limits your choice in third party stems if you want to adjust your fit. They will supply any size you want, however.
The last version of the Ultimate AL we reviewed featured a SRAM Force groupset with some fairly uncompromising gearing. Canyon has relented on this one, supplying the Ultegra kit with a 52/36 chainset and an 11-28 cassette. That still offers more than enough speed potential for most of us, but with a little respite at the bottom end.
The Ultimate AL is incredibly light and well-equipped for the money, and backs it up with balanced ride quality. If you’re happy to buy direct, it’s a solid investment.