Reviewed: Canyon Spectral AL 8.0 EX

by Tom Nash 0

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The large frame has plenty of room for race bits.

I was as excited as a kid at Christmas when I checked the tracking website and it said ‘out for delivery’! I have never received a bike in a box before, so was interested to see how difficult it would be to put the Spectral together, and how long before I could introduce it to some Scottish dust (locally known as mud). To my pleasant surprise it was pretty straightforward, but I suppose I did work in a bike shop for several months. For those less familiar with building bikes, Canyon supply a handbook with the bike, also downloadable from their website, which covers how to put the bike together in simple steps. Other nice touches included are a torque wrench to ensure the bolts are tightened correctly, a shock pump, a tool case and frame protection patches. So far, so good.

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The Spectral AL 8.0 EX is a fine looking bike. AL in the name gives away that this is an alloy frame, but that does not make it heavy. This test bike came in at 12.4kg when set up tubeless and with no pedals. The ‘Vertical Green’ colour I love, although I like to look on it as British racing green with gold trim giving an almost regal finish. Without even checking the geometry figures, looking side-on it is obvious that Canyon have it dialled. I had the large to test, ideally suited for those 181-191cm in height according to their website. At 182cm, I felt perfectly in the middle of the bike and immediately comfortable. With a slack 66.4º head angle, steepish 74.5º seat angle, lengthy 627mm top tube length and short 430mm chainstays, the bike has all the latest trendy figures and really makes for a grin-inducing all-rounder. At 145mm, the headtube is exceedingly long by modern standards meaning I had only a single 5mm spacer under the stem so I could keep enough weight over the front of the bike.

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The Spectral EX model specs a 150mm travel Rockshox Pike RCT3 solo air fork, rather than the 140mm found on the standard 27.5″ Spectral range. The Pike needs no introduction; all I did was to add two volume reducing tokens and backed off the low speed compression to increase the initial suppleness and progressiveness throughout the travel. The Cane Creek DB Inline shock is an interesting choice. There are a lot of adjustments that can be made if you are a shock tinkerer. The base tune is a good starting point but I had to do a lot of small adjustments, one at a time, to get the best from the shock and I am still not convinced I have found the sweet spot. For people that will just build the bike and head out on the trails, they may never get the best from this bike if they don’t invest time in getting the DB Inline tuned for their weight and riding style. Of note, the climb switch is one of the most effective I have used.

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The SRAM X01 drivetrain, with direct mount chainring, performed flawlessly even in some pretty wet and muddy conditions. Matched with SRAM Guide RS brakes and a sensible 200mm front rotor, slowing down was never an issue either. I missed having any bite point adjustment but that is a small, and likely personal, point. I am really not sold on four-pot brakes, certainly for UK trail riding, UK conditions and non-home mechanics. After racing the Tweedlove International Enduro, I found I had to strip and clean the callipers as the pads were squealing due to a couple of pistons being stuck and not pushing the pads out evenly. It is by no means a negative, but be aware that they might need a bit more TLC than a set of twin-pot brakes in order to keep pad wear and braking performance even.

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The finishing kit is well thought out; 760mm handlebars (note the website says 740mm) and a 50mm stem allow for a positive attack position whilst a Rockshox Reverb performs the dropper post duties. Given I am on the short end of the suggested height range for a large, and that I had 9cm of seatpost exposed above the collar, I would like to see a greater drop post fitted as standard to give more room when moving the bike around. I am a fan of the Ergon GE1 grips and had no issues of arm pump during races. The SDG Circuit saddle was a comfortable perch with no sore spots even after five hours and an E.THIRTEEN chainguide kept the chain secure.

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There is one major weakness in the Spectral AL8.0 EX’s build and that is the 27.5″ wheels and interfacing with the frame. I was surprised to see that this bike is not ‘boosted’ and uses a 12×142 rear axle and 15×100 front axle. I ride a 12×148 bike day-to-day, the reduction in rear-end stiffness was noticeable when riding the Canyon. The SRAM Roam 50 wheels seem completely miss-matched to the Spectral, especially this longer travel EX model. As SRAM advertise, the Roam 50 wheels are “one of the lightest alloy trail wheels in the market”, they have a narrow 21mm internal width and only 24 straight-pull spokes laced in a 2 cross pattern. What this equated to on the trail were unnervingly flexible wheels when loaded or pushed hard into a corner. So much so that I replaced the front wheel for the Tweedlove International Enduro in order to have a far stiffer and more predictable front wheel. Maxxis High Roller II (F) and Minion Semi Slick (R) tyres are a good choice for trail centre terrain but for more natural trails I swapped the High Roller II to the back and put a Shorty on the front to give greater all-round grip and braking traction. Tubeless setup was easy with both tyres seating first time with the use of a high volume track pump.

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After the very first ride on this bike I knew I was going to like it. A check of Strava on some of my favourite trails also showed a plethora of PRs, mostly on the climbs! The combination of the angles, and the position they put me on the bike, meant that this bike climbed exceedingly well. Point it downward, let go of the brakes and it flew! The four bar suspension system works very well but perhaps not to it’s true potential due to my still not perfecting the Cane Creek DB Inline set up. I have not been gentle with the Spectral either; in six weeks of testing I have ridden over 200km, in some grim conditions, raced (and maybe crashed) it on some of the toughest Tweed Valley trails and washed it after every ride. I have not been found wanting of more travel at any stage which is a testament to the balance of the bike and the ever reliable Pike up front. Interested to find out how easy maintenance would be given that I couldn’t just walk into my local Canyon stockist, I was pleasantly surprised to find full bearings kits readily available on eBay and the Cane Creek shock can be serviced by many local bike shops or TF Tuned.

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Conclusion: The Spectral is a very capable bike that can take on almost anything, and is certainly a contender for the ‘one bike really can do everything’ tag. Great geometry provides a comfortable and aggressive body position meaning it is a riot to ride downhill and no slouch on the uphill. However, the wheels are just not for this bike and if it’s going to be ridden by an aggressive rider or for a bit of enduro racing they will need changing to something wider, stronger and in keeping with the obvious aggressive trail / enduro persona the rest of the bike portrays. Perhaps consideration could also be given to a simpler shock, or a choice be offered during purchase, to allow the frame to unleash its full potential with less tinkering. Did you know that Joe Barnes often chooses a Spectral to race on….?

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The heart of the 140mm travel is this lovely looking linkage
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RS Pikes up front
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Stock, it comes with a Minion SS on the rear wheel, but our reviewer swapped it out for this.
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Tidy internal routing.
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This is a 2.3, but there’s plenty of clearance for bigger rubber.
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Sometimes simple is best. The head badge on this Canyon is as simple as it gets
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Decals in the paint job rather than stickers
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Our man Tom testing the Spectral in real world Tweedlove International Enduro conditions

 

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Review Info

Brand:Canyon
Product:Spectral AL 8.0 EX
From:Canyon
Price:£2849 (£2896.98 inc. P&P)
Tested:by Tom Nash for 6 weeks

Comments (0)

  1. I love complimentary torque wenches

  2. Lolz.. Fixed now. Considered leaving it 🙂

  3. The cheaper 29er is even better. Shimano stop/go and DT Swiss wheels. It’s even available this year if your quick!

  4. I would wager that the perceived lack of stiffness in the rear end is completely and solely due to the wheels / spokes flexing and not the hub axle standard…