In late 2015 months Canyon Bikes announced their entrance to the Australian market.
In late 2015 months Canyon Bikes announced their entrance to the Australian market. We are already spoilt for choice with bikes in Australia, but there's always room for precision engineered bikes. While we don't get the full product range from the fast-growing German bike brand – on a visit to Canyon HQ in Koblenz, Germany, I did get a chance to ride their newest cross-country mountain bike – the Canyon Exceed CF SLX.
While the Exceed was launched at Eurobike in late August, it already has some impressive notches in its belt. Canyon sponsor many teams, one of them being the Topeak-Ergon Team, who specialise in Marathon and Stage Racing the world over. In late June their superstar Austrian, Alban Lakata, rode off the front of the Marathon MTB World Championships in the Dolomites, on a prototype Exceed. He won the rainbow jersey, and took the same bike to the Breck Epic 3 day Stage race, and then the Leadville 100, where he won the race for the second time and broke his own course record, by going under 6hrs.
Other riders on the team such as Sally Bigham, Robert Mennen, Erik Kleinhans and Yuki Ikeda have been racing to more victories and podium finishes around the world on the new hardtail.
Canyon's continual refinement
Carbon hardtails are nothing new in mountain biking, but the Exceed is a 870g frame (in medium) that has great modern XC geometry with all the features required to make sure this frame can be built up to be an XCO or XCM superbike.
Compared to the previous range-topping Grand Canyon CF at 1170g, this is a serious drop in weight. But the frame is also longer, moving to sizing that revolves around a longer top tube, a shorter stem and slacker head angle. Canyon's aim was to produce a bike that was lighter, stiffer, and more compliant than the Grand Canyon.
With the results achieved by the Topeak-Ergon Team aboard the Exceed, it's clear that Canyon have reached those goals, producing their fastest hardtail yet.
Comparing the Exceed with the Grand Canyon, the tube profiles are noticeably different, with a move to more slender tubes and straighter lines. Less bulk has not only improved compliance, but dropped weight – especially with neater tube junctions that remove the need for composite filler. This is especially noticeable around the head tube and the seatstay junction with the seat tube.
The back end is especially neat, with asymmetrical stays that offer clearance for the disc rotor, instead of curved stays that are seen on other frames. The disc mount is built into the frame, and makes for one of the neatest setups I've seen.
The frame uses an internal cabling system that allows a neat, and quiet, setup no matter your drivetrain and brake routing preference is, including mounts for Di2 batteries, and routing for a stealth dropper if you want to get pretty rowdy on your cross country bike.
Comfort counts in XCO and XCM, and like the BMC TeamElite and Trek Procaliber, compliance has come to the hardtail. Through the use of their VCLS seatpost and the frame, Canyon claim 10.9mm of compliance – about half from the frame, and half from the post.
Going the distance with Canyon
But it's not all for low weight, Canyon always want to make sure their product is strong enough for true mountain biking – and much of their internal testing in their lab is to ensure that. They design, and test, to exceed European standards, which are well above those required for bikes in Ausralia. The down tube and top tube are reinforced internally, and the 'Impact Protection Unit' is a stopper that prevents your bars slamming your top tube. No bar spins, but less crash damage as a result.
Stretched for success
Mountain bike geometry is on the move again, and with feedback from their team riders Canyon lengthened the cockpit, and slackened the head angle. The medium I rode ran a 69.5 degree head angle, with a pretty sharp 74 degree seat angle. It also came stock with an 70mm stem, to keep the steering nice and responsive via Canyon's own wide and nicely swept carbon bars.
What's really cool is that the chainstay length grows (5mm) with each frame size. Not every brand does this, but it does keep the ride characteristics similar for smaller or taller riders. The back end is a very neat 142x12 setup, and the medium I rode had 427mm chainstays.
The result is a bike that handles really well at speed, but is still agile enough for tight singletrack – probably everything that the competitive XCO or XCM racer demands.
Riding the Canyon Exceed
Without countless hours spent in the saddle, it's not possible to write a conclusive test. But after taking the Exceed out on the trails above Koblenz it was easy to notice that it climbed just as you'd expect a sub 10kg hardtail to – like a rocket! Every pedal stroke gave the feedback you would expect, and pedalling up and over the rougher firetrails we used to gain altitude, the compliance really helped keep you in the saddle for the best traction.
While I'd probably end up trying a large for a longer test, it was easy to get comfortable on the bike while following two Canyon staff members through the well used singletrack in the forest. And while the hardtail was far from full-suspension smooth, the frame did a remarkable job of knocking the edge off the braking bumps and roots that are typical of heavily-ridden pine forest trails.
As we descended further down some steeper, and looser, fall lines, I was more than appreciative of the longer front end length and slacker head angle, as we dived in and out of erosion gullies and the myriad of trails, some even built by Canyon staff.
Riding the top spec bike meant the RS-1 also had a big role in the bike's confidence, it really is so solid in fore-aft movement when pushing an XC bike into a steep chute. But the bike itself does feel so comfortable at speed, be it pedalling fast on some 'schotterstrasse', flicking the bike from corner to corner through the forest, or following locals blindly down their steeper trails.
Like other new school hardtails, including the Trek Procaliber reviewed in this issue, it's by no means a replacement for a high quality short travel dual-suspension bike It is almost 200g lighter than the Trek's frame though, and that's a fair chunk if you take your racing seriously. But the depth of engineering that brands like Canyon have put into their hardtails have increased the life, and ability, of the modern race hardtail.
Based on the short ride on the Canyon Exceed CF SLX, I'm really looking forward to getting some ride time on more from their range.