Ah Canyon, direct-sales custodian of our hearts. Your Germanic marketing and ridiculous value for money are forever the bane of bike reviewers trying to carry out fair group tests.
We’ve tested Canyon’s Ultimate AL in a few different builds and it’s always done well, and this time we asked Canyon to send us one of its weight weenie specials. While the SLX 9.0 Aero isn’t the lightest build the company offers, it has an impressive spec that includes Shimano’s excellent Ultegra Di2 groupset, some stylish Reynolds carbon clinchers, and the usual decent finishing kit.
This is one bike that doesn’t need to make any apologies for its choice of frame material. Built around a very nice aluminium frame weighing a claimed 1,170g, the Ultimate AL is light for a metal bike, and within spitting distance of decent carbon ones.
It doesn’t hide its construction, having welds that are prominent and visible, but they do nothing to detract from a smart, purposeful-looking package. We wouldn’t mind a bit more colour — in true German bike maker tradition, the paint job is rather conservative with black dominating.
Canyon makes specific versions of this frame for electronic and mechanical groupsets, with the former lacking the necessary holes in the frame for gear cable outers. It makes it look nice and clean, but it’s something to bear in mind if there’s a chance you might want to switch. While we’re on practical matters, the non-standard 1.25in fork steerer reduces aftermarket stem choices.
Though this build differs from those we’ve previously tested, the Ultimate AL’s inherent talents were as evident as ever. It’s not one for smoothing out cobbles, but it’s comfortable for a race bike, and the skinny stays and VCLS (Vertical Comfort, Lateral Stiffness) seatpost deliver on their promises. The chainstays may look relatively insubstantial, but with a chunky bottom bracket, the flared ‘Maximus’ seat-tube and stout down-tube, there’s little sense of energy going to waste under hard pedalling.
Geometry is racy but not hardcore, with reach on our medium bike a standard 384mm; a 150mm head-tube offers a middling 558mm of stack, so saddle-to-bar drops won’t be as extreme as on some rivals.
The Reynolds wheels supply the ‘aero’ part of this bike’s lengthy moniker, and they’re solid performers. Their 41mm-deep rims are relatively well behaved in crosswinds and braking is powerful, if not quite up there with the best in terms of modulation. We do wonder if they’re an ideal match for this bike though.
Although the Ultimate AL isn’t harsh, its thin-walled aluminium construction makes for a somewhat resonant frame, and our test machine was afflicted by a bit of cable rattle over bumps — not unsolvable, but annoying. Adding clattery carbon rims to the mix doesn’t help, as the result is a bike that never quite shuts up. They also don’t quite feel in keeping with the spirit of the Ultimate AL — despite the name, this is a classic climber’s machine in essence and low-profile rims seem more appropriate.
The Ultimate AL remains a stunning bargain of a bike whether in this spec or another. It's race-ready out of the box and there are no half-measures on the spec.