Spanish multiple Classics winner Alejandro Valverde’s weapon of choice for the Ardennes Classics is Canyon’s Ultimate. This frame is equivalent to that of the Movistar team, and shares the drivetrain’s soul, albeit with mechanical Campagnolo Super Record rather than EPS electronic shifting. Frankly, this isn’t that much of a hardship.
Thanks to Canyon’s internet-only business model, this bike’s value is mindblowing. There are no groupset deviations, just unadulterated Campagnolo carbon, keeping the bike’s basic weight to – UCI commissaires, look away now – a mere 6.29kg. Its straight tubes are all about maximum simplicity and efficiency. Asymmetric chainstays and seat tube, plus sizeable squared down tube, all hint at the frame’s performance, and its stealthy look oozes menace.
Accelerating up to speed, the Canyon is less caged tiger than wily old fox, feeling content to wait for just the right moment before unleashing fury. It zips along with mild restraint, but stamp on the pedals and it changes character, sending you surging headlong at the horizon.
Not finding our rhythm didn’t stop the Canyon from flying uphill
Bounding up a La Redoute-like lengthy stepped ramp on one of our test routes, the Ultimate’s climbing prowess came to the fore but, fly as it might, we struggled to find a rhythm when really putting the pressure on. Nevertheless, it was a speedy ascent, and after taking in some rough gravel we dropped back down the other side, which tested the Canyon’s high-speed handling and deceleration.
Mavic’s R-Sys wheelset is a super lightweight, rigid number, which aids accelerations but can deliver a rather choppy ride. Over a long corrugated gravel section the frame and VCLS seatpost worked hard to iron out the roughness surprisingly well, but the carbon-spoked wheels aren’t that forgiving, skipping across the bumps instead of conforming to them. The feeling was similar when descending, with the hoops' rigidity limiting our confidence to go all out despite Mavic’s new 25mm tyres proving a huge improvement over their 23mm predecessors. And then we had to stop…
Exalith braking tracks have a seemingly eternal lifespan, never showing any signs of wear, but maybe that’s partly because the noise they create makes you reluctant to use them. This is a recognised issue, and in our experience the pads need to be set up with more care than with other rims, toeing them in to reduce the noise levels. They’re still likely to be noisier than most for the first few hundred miles, and they can be embarrassingly loud under rapid braking during that period, but over time this will abate.
Canyon’s Ultimate is a great package, but its Mavic rims are noisy
Valverde has the pick of Campagnolo’s carbon tubulars, which avoid this issue, and even though the R-Sys is a high-performance wheelset, it would be the first thing we’d change. The Mavics do little for the Canyon, almost deadening the ride.
With up to 35mm seatpost setback and Canyon’s pro geometry 15cm head tube, the aggressive position was perfect to stretch out and rail around the ever-changing corners. The frame is a point-and-shoot weapon, ultra-rigid for punchy attacks but composed enough to relax between the action. It’s not specifically an aero machine, but when the terrain’s contours are all-absorbing, that’s hardly a consideration.