We've always been big fans of Canyon's aluminium race frame, with the previous Ultimate AL scoring highly in past Cycling Plus Bike of the Year tests – not only because of its great value package, but also because the frameset rode as well as most carbon at the same price. In the Bike of the Year 2014, it's the winner of the best race award.
For 2014 Canyon has reworked the frame; the tube shaping remains the same, combining oversized chainstays and bottom bracket leading into a big-volume down tube. That makes for a chassis that's absolutely free of flex under pedalling.
The head tube is tapered and Canyon has also uprated the fork to the ultra light One One Four SLX all-carbon unit found on their flagship carbon road frames. The alloy used has now switched to a lighter 6000 series too. In all this has shaved 60g from the frame weight, making the alloy Ultimate more than comparable to carbon at the same price. In fact, of all 50 bikes in the test only the Canyon Ultimate CF is lighter, by just 20g; the CF is however considerably pricier.
It’s pretty much accepted that when you choose a Canyon an impressive specification for the price is on the cards. The AL SLX is most certainly no exception, starting with the rolling stock. A Mavic Ksyrium Elite S wheelset on a steed at this price is pretty much unheard of.
The wheels come packaged with the Yksion 23c pro tyre. They have impressive grip in all conditions but are slim for a 23; this gives the impression of speed and the lightweight wheel package makes the Canyon a rapid ascender (even with its low-ratio gearing). The downside, on our battle scarred road surfaces from a biblically wet winter, is more punctures than we’d have liked. A better protected and possibly bigger tyre would be welcome and wouldn’t add much to the overall mass.
Canyon has gone down the full groupset route for the remainder of the bike. SRAM’s Force 22 doesn’t tend to get the recognition it deserves – Red is renowned for its impressive performance and very low weight, but the second-tier (and Ultegra rival) tends to get overlooked. However, even our most devout Shimano and Campag fans had to admit that Force 22’s rapid positive shifts and noise free running, thanks to the Red-like Yaw front mech, which eliminates the need to trim, is highly impressive.
Up front Canyon has specified a Ritchey WCS cockpit: very classy, very light – and the swept-back, shallow drop bar is fast becoming a favourite among our testers. Aluminium doesn’t have the best reputation for comfort but Canyon has been clever in specifying such a good fork, which kills road buzz, and out back has used a VCLS comfort post that has enough flex to kill buzz from the rear.
The bike's geometry is based around Canyon's pro race setup, which means our large test bike has a super short 995mm wheelbase, a short 170mm head tube and angles of 73.25 head and 73.5 seat that are a little steeper than the norm. On the road this translates into a ride that can only be described as lively. Accelerate and attack and the SLX snaps to respond: it’s intoxicatingly sharp.
For an out-and-out race bike, the AL SLX is very hard to beat. Comparisons will be made between the alloy and carbon Canyons at the same price, but in all honesty we think this alloy bike is the superior ride. Both are sharp and responsive and above all exciting; the AL, however, somehow feels more evolved, balanced and dare we say it comfortable.
If you are looking to race, the AL is ready straight out of the box. Its drivetrain is based around classic race ratios – 53/39 – and an 11-speed 11-25 gear progression is close and, combined with the rapid shifting facilitated by Force 22, truly impressive.
However, if climbing is your thing and you want to take to the high hills, well, the low weight will help but the tall gearing won’t. If you’re a powerful climber it needn't be a problem; if, though, you're on the average side like most of us then you may find the SLX quite hard work.
Overall, as a race-ready bike at a bargain price we can’t think of a better equipped machine. Provided most of your riding doesn’t involve the steepest ascents into Alpine environs, the Ultimate should make an ideal partner for your forays.