Review: Canyon Nerve AL 7.0

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Canyon is a manufacturer determined to take back the quick and dirty direct sales model, and refashion it as an upmarket alternative to the conventional bike shop. The Nerve is its “do it all” bike, sitting between their enduro gnarpoons and stiff-backed XC race bikes.

None more black
None more black

It has 120mm of travel at each end, and 27.5in wheels. It’s also available with 29in wheels and 110mm travel, and in a women’s specific version which will set you back an extra 100 notes. As a brand selling direct from Germany, you’d expect Canyon to be particularly vulnerable to recent fluctuations in the exchange rate. The official word is as follows, from Frank Aldorf, Canyon’s Chief Brand Officer:

“We respect the decision of the British electorate. It is a significant decision, which will have a considerable impact, the extent of which will not be known yet. The only thing we can do is consider, how it will affect our business in the short and in the long term. There will be a period of transition before an actual exit takes place. So there will be time to implement any changes and be prepared to comply with new laws, trade restrictions and duties. We will monitor the developments very closely and will adapt accordingly while prioritising the interests of our customers and our employees. Our primary focus remains serving our customers’ needs.”

It's the bike, not the rider
It’s the bike, not the rider

This version of the Nerve weighs about 28 lb with pedals, which is jolly respectable for a full susser in this price bracket. The frame is well-finished, and comes with ready applied helitape, cable bumpers and internal routing, including a stealth dropper post port. The own-brand finishing kit is very nice looking too, thanks to subtle but purposeful graphics.

Subliminal graphics and neat cable bumpers
Subliminal graphics and neat cable bumpers

The bike is available in two colour schemes, but I particularly like the matt black paintwork with shiny black decals, which suits the angular, Stealth bomber-esque tubing to a tee. Overall this is a very nice looking bike, although the clean look of the frame is slightly marred by the plethora of cable ports, guides and bottle cage mounts on the down tube – 9 of ‘em – which give it the appearance of a futuristic space-age bassoon.

Dat tube
Dat tube

Canyon’s model structure is to keep the same frames through a product line, but spec them out with increasingly swanky build kits.There is a dizzying array of choice – the Nerve alone comes in 15 different build options – and you’re not necessarily tied to using a particular suspension or drivetrain manufacturer. This is near a bottom-of-the-range bike, but even so, it’s got Fox suspension and a 10-speed XT/SLX drivetrain. The cranks spin happily, for the duration of this review at least, in a press-fit BB. Shimano SLX brakes arrest the motion of 24-spoke Mavic Crossride wheels. Even the Continental tyres are proper Black Chili jobs. It’s hard to see where corners have been cut to make the price point, with one glaring exception: the frame is designed for a bolt-through axle, but the wheels and fork are quick release. This also means that to get the rear wheel out, you have to remove the QR skewer completely, then splay the dropouts apart. Unhelpfully, Canyon don’t tell you about this anywhere, despite supplying the bike with a user manual the size of a King James Bible.

Mavic roundy roundy bits
Mavic roundy roundy bits

Look more closely at the spec, and a couple of other anomalies jump out. There’s a triple chainset, which apparently is a concession to the German market. The bike also comes with a stonker of an 80mm stem, although this isn’t too much of an issue as the top tube is short and the bars have a fair bit of sweep. It’s tempting to mark it down for these component choices, but both long stems and big rings are still being used quite happily by many people in the real world, outside of Bike Review Land. However, the choice of parts does drop a heavy hint about this bike’s intended use, more of which later.

It's 2016, and bikes still come with triples
It’s 2016, and bikes still come with triples

The Nerve’s lean, honed appearance is borne out once you start to ride it. The custom-valved Fox shock has the usual climb/trail/descend modes, but predictably enough, I ended up leaving it in the middle setting for 98% of the time. Even in trail mode, this bike climbs very well indeed . It’s not a racey, sprint up the hills sort of machine, but it dispatches them very efficiently, like a secretary taking dictation, and I cleaned a fair few climbs on this bike that had previously stumped me. The well-tuned platform damping makes the bike noticeably less tiring to ride, and also meant pedal/ground interfaces were few and far between. The Fox 32 fork is from the budget end of the company’s range, and doesn’t exactly iron out everything in its path, but it does the job just fine for trails that sit low to medium on the Gnar Index.

Guess how much travel?
Guess how much travel?

Point the Nerve down something precipitous and sketchy though, and some issues become apparent. I know that all bike reviews these days bang about about head angles in a very tiresome fashion, but there’s a good reason for this: all other things being equal, a steep bike simply won’t descend as well as a slack one. The head angle of the Canyon is 69.5 degrees, and the platform suspension, which makes the bike so good on the climbs, means the back end tends to sit up and make it feel even steeper. You don’t notice this on moderate downhills, and in twisty singletrack it helps speed up the handling, but on the sort of trails where you can look down and see the tops of people’s heads, the bike becomes a bit skittish.

Nice cockpit graphics
Nice cockpit graphics

Under heavy braking, the forks start to feel like they have much less than 120mm of travel. The relatively skinny tyres also make things interesting. And to cap it all off, you can’t drop the saddle properly due to the kink in the seat tube. I’m not the world’s most confident technical descender – frankly I need all the help I can get – and the Canyon doesn’t offer much assistance. Nor is it a bike for people who love to punt skywards. The rear suspension tends to blow through its travel, and the light tyres and ultra-light inner tubes are no match for ham-footed landings on rocks and roots. Rewind a few years and we were happily riding bikes like this down all sorts of stuff, but things have moved on.

Run to the hills
Run to the hills

Canyon is all over the Enduro World Series at the moment, and the Nerve might look similar to its big travel all mountain monsters, but it’s made for a very different purpose. On techy descents it’s a bit of a lemon, but it also climbs like a demon. The attention to detail and the quality of the finish of this bike are second to none at this price point, as is the componentry. The Shimano drivetrain and brakes are all proven kit and work as excellently as you’d expect, plus they won’t break the bank should you have to replace any of them. And some of the spec choices are a bit odd, but actually make a lot of sense for someone buying it as a long-distance mile-smasher.

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Overall: If you’re a wheels-on-the-ground sort of rider who eschews fall-line trails in favour of big days in the hills, you could do a lot worse than the Nerve. The geometry, cockpit and drivetrain might be a bit unfashionable, but at least the price is too.

Frame // Canyon Nerve AL
Shock // Fox Performance Float DPS
Fork // Fox Performance 32 Float 27,5 120 Fit 1,5T
Hubs // Mavic CrossRide FTS-X
Rims // Mavic CrossRide FTS-X
Tyres // Continental Mountain King II, 2,2″
Chainset // Shimano Deore XT
Front Mech // Shimano SLX
Rear Mech // Shimano Deore XT Shadow Plus
Shifters // Shimano SLX, 3×10 speed
Brakes // Shimano SLX
Stem // Iridium 3-5 80mm
Bars // Iridium 3-5 720mm
Grips // Canyon
Seatpost // Iridium 30.9
Saddle // Iridium
Size Tested // M
Sizes available // XS, S, M, L
Weight // 28 lbs

Review Info

Product:Nerve AL 7.0
Price:£1,449.00 plus shipping
Tested:by Antony de Heveningham for 6 weeks

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