Wil gives us the verdict on the 2019 Canyon Neuron CF 9.0 SL
It’s been quite a few years since we last saw a carbon fibre trail bike from Canyon. In fact, it was 2014 when the Nerve CF was last kicking about – a rather marathon-ish, lightweight full susser that featured racy geometry, 120mm of travel, and 26in wheels.
Thankfully, things have moved on just a wee bit since then, and that’s left Canyon’s range somewhat languishing without a high-end trail bike. Well, until now.
Canyon’s Carbon Fibre Neuron
Unveiled just before the end of 2018, the Neuron CF has arrived to take the mantle as Canyon’s brand new carbon fibre trail bike.
Plugging the gap between the Lux (Canyon’s 100mm travel XC racer) and the Spectral (the 150mm travel AM bike), the Neuron brings 130mm of bounce front and rear. Depending on frame size, it’s built around either 29in wheels (M/L/XL) or 27.5in wheels (XS/S).
Canyon offers both full-alloy (AL) and full-carbon (CF) versions of the Neuron. Both are new for 2019, though the alloy frame is more of a refresh, and carries over the existing frame shape and suspension platform from the pre-2019 model. Of note is that the 2019 Neuron AL shares almost identical geometry to the Neuron CF, and we’re told that the suspension leverage rate is very similar too.
It’s the smooth, plastic-fantastic frame that we’ve got on test here though, and this particular model – the CF 9.0 SL – sits right in the middle of the five-bike range, which starts off with the CF 8.0 (£2,449 / $3,949 AUD) and peaks with the 9.0 LTD (£5,099 / $8,149 AUD). There are also two women’s models that utilise the same frame, but are spec’d with a lighter suspension tune, narrower bars, a shorter 50mm stem, and a women’s saddle.
All You Need?
Canyon’s marketing tagline for the Neuron CF is ‘All You Need’. That’s not entirely the truth, because you will require pedals to ride this bike. For best results, I would also recommend shoes, a helmet, and a positive, can-do attitude.
In all seriousness though, I believe Canyon is referring to the fact that the Neuron CF is simply meant to be a good ol’ fashioned trail bike – something that pedals efficiently, and goes up ze hills equally as well as it goes down.
Indeed a quick look at the numbers will reveal that this is not the slacked-out, trail-blazing, genre-bending, adrenaline junkie from a 50to01 video. No, the focus here is much more on endurance riding, over enduro racing. The Neuron CF wants to be more Friends rather than Jackass.
Now I’d normally be down with that, but I have previously tested an alloy Neuron, back when it was still called the Nerve AL. It had a nice black anodized frame and it was spec’d smartly for the price. Unfortunately I was left completely underwhelmed by the rear suspension. Unless you pumped the rear shock up to the wazoo, it had a habit of blowing through the travel, resulting in a spectacular bottom-out on even the smallest of landings. It seriously let the whole bike down.
It seemed I wasn’t only the one either, as you’ll read in Antony’s review of the 2017 Neuron AL.
Given our prior experience, I was curious to see how the latest carbon fibre version would compare.
Would it remain an exclusively wheels-on-the-ground, slightly heavy, longer-legged XC bike? Or would I notice a noticeable improvement from the sprightly, versatile trail bike Canyon has promised us?
Time to find out.
Let’s not beat around the bush – this is one very good looking bicycle. With its matte paint job, full carbon fibre frame, and the neatly integrated composite shock yoke, the Neuron CF is uber clean. Its dashing looks have certainly proven enough to warrant inquisition on every single group ride I’ve been on with it.
At a claimed 2920g with the rear shock (Medium size), the carbon frame isn’t as light as I was expecting. Compare that to Canyon’s Lux SLX frameset, which purportedly weighs a lithe 2128g. Aside from the flattened top tube though, everything is pretty chunky and oversized.
There’s a plump tapered head tube, a huge hexagonal downtube, and the boxy chain and seatstays are both bridged for added rigidity. Given the, err, Rubenesque shape and attention to detail, I’d suggest this is a frame made for the long haul.
All the bearings are fully sealed, with the drive-side main pivot featuring dual-row bearings, and each pivot capped with plastic covers to keep crap out in the first place. Having removed a few of the pivot bolts out of curiosity, I was impressed to find them adequately greased, with the threads prepped with Loctite too.
With the new Triple Phase Suspension layout, Canyon has flipped up the rear shock, which now mounts underneath the top tube. This allows for decent standover clearance, while still providing room for a water bottle inside the mainframe.
Other practicalities include a threaded bottom bracket shell (unlike the press-fit shell the carbon Spectral and Lux frames use) and the now-familiar IPU headset, which prevents over-rotation of the bars, while providing a greater range of movement than Trek’s Knock Block design.
The cutely-named Quixle thru-axle combines bolt-up cleanliness with a concealed pop-out lever at the rear dropouts, though it does need cranking up pretty tight to stop it from working loose while riding.
Canyon earns a vivacious high-five from me for the clever cable tunnel underneath the downtube, which uses bolt-on plastic plates to both hide and protect the cables without having to resort to routing them inside the frame itself.
Genius right? Unfortunately the solitary mech cable does flap about a bit at the entry point though, and combined with some occasional chain slap on the chainstay cable guide, the Neuron CF doesn’t quite live up to its stealthy looks on the trail.
Though not the priciest option, the CF 9.0 SL still comes dressed with a schmick outfit. The Fox suspension and dropper post package complement the swish frame, with shiny black stanchions and, more importantly, high-tech internals all-round.
Reynolds TR 309 wheels are a strong spec choice at this price point. The carbon wheelset is built with straight-pull spokes, sealed bearing hubs, and a 4-pawl freehub mechanism with 36 engagement points. Confirmed weight is a reasonable 1803g, and the 30mm internal width provides a good platform for the tubeless Maxxis Forekaster tyres.
The 1×12 SRAM drivetrain is tarted up with an X01 mech and the excellent X01 trigger shifter, which possesses lovely, smooth paddles that have been a welcome change from the GX Eagle shifters I’ve been using lately.
On the note of gears, it turns out the Neuron CF will actually fit a front derailleur. The CF 9.0 actually comes with a 2×11 drivetrain as stock, but any Neuron CF frame can have a mech bolted onto a special bracket via the main pivot. I mention this 2x compatibility, because chainring and tyre clearance are a bit limited. 32t is the biggest 1x chainring you can run (38/28t for a 2x setup), and Canyon states an official limit of 2.4in for the rear tyre.
I was able to just fit in a 2.6in wide Maxxis Rekon tyre, though I personally wouldn’t recommend it, particularly for muddy conditions. Given the emerging popularity of big volume 2.5-2.6in tyres in the trail bike arena, this lack of clearance seems like a missed opportunity on Canyon’s behalf.
Sizing & Setup
At 175cm tall I fit a Medium size in most brands, and just scraped in at the lower end of Canyon’s recommended size range for the Medium Neuron CF.
Unfortunately the 445mm seat tube is too tall though. Canyon’s main competitors all feature shorter seat tubes, including the Trek Fuel EX (440mm), Giant Trance 29 (431mm), and Specialized Stumpjumper ST (410mm). Even with the 150mm Fox Transfer bottomed out on the seat clamp, the saddle was still a fraction too high for my optimum pedalling height.
I was able to make do, and you’ll be glad to know my legs are ever-so-slightly longer than they were at the beginning of the test. But it completely eliminates the possibility of upsizing – unless you were going to downgrade to a shorter travel dropper post.
This is important, because given current trends the Neuron isn’t overly long – reach on the Medium size is listed at a conservative 433mm. The head angle is also moderately slack at 67.5°. That’s very similar to the Fuel EX, Stumpjumper ST, and Pivot Trail 429, but a degree steeper than the Trance 29, and a full 2° steeper than the GT Sensor and Whyte S-120.
For rear suspension setup, Canyon recommends a sag range of 27-30%. To support my 70kg riding weight I found 190psi to work best, putting me at the lower end of that range.
The Fox Float DPS shock comes with a big EVOL air can, a decent 50mm stroke, and a light damper tune. This meant I had to run the rebound damping on the slower slide – three clicks off full slow kept the shock from pogo’ing too much.
Up front, I put 75psi in the Float 34 for 25% static sag while standing up on the pedals. I ran the low-speed compression a few clicks firmer than halfway, while rebound dial was five clicks off of full slow.
This has been my first longterm experience with Maxxis’ Forekaster tyres. The ones on our test bike are the dual-compound version, though stock bikes will feature higher-end 3C rubber. Weight is quite low for a tyre that measures up true to the 2.35in claimed width – one tyre weighed 790g and the other was 731g.
The thin casing and flexible knob construction meant I needed a bit more pressure to stop them squirming around too much, so I settled on 23psi in the front and 26psi in the rear.
With the tyres set up tubeless, our medium test bike weighs in at decent 12.56kg (without pedals).
My immediate impression of the Neuron CF was that it felt like a 29er from a few years ago. The slightly-too-tall saddle height was partially to blame, but the cockpit was kinda ungainly too.
Flipping the stem to bring the bars down helped, and over the next couple of rides I relocated headset spacers until it was slammed. With the grips lowered I felt better balanced, with more bodyweight naturally pushing down onto the front tyre.
That wasn’t always a good thing though. The Forekasters are quick, fast-rolling tyres that are absolutely fine for high-mileage trail riders darting about on dusty hardpack or softer, loamier trails. But when the surface starts to break up a bit, with loose rocks scattered over hardpack trail, those flexible and minimalist knobs tend to get drifty under pressure.
In search of more confidence in the rough stuff, I changed out the front tyre for a 2.6in Specialized Purgatory GRID, which delivered more reliable tracking through the turns.
Being the princess that I am, I also removed the stock grips early on, which felt too wooden and thick for my dainty digits. I much prefer Ergon’s softer Factory rubber compound on the GE1 EVO grips, and I also like that they widen the effective bar width to a little over 770mm.
Like all Canyons we’ve tested (and I’m going to sound like a broken record here), the bars need to be wider. At least then you’d have the option to trim them down.
Once cruising along the trail though, the Neuron CF feels roomy, comfortable, and just, well, kinda normal. Though long by today’s standards, the 60mm stem length works well on this bike, as it helps to neutralise the quick steering somewhat. I did try some 800mm bars and a 40mm stem out of curiosity, but while the bigger bars increased overall stability, the short stem made the steering too light and twitchy. I went back to the stock setup, and everything calmed back down again.
Early on it was apparent that the new bike’s suspension performance is a hefty step up over the pre-2019 Neuron. The biggest standout is its organic pedal efficiency, which is achieved via carefully placed pivots and a finely tuned leverage rate, rather than relying on heavy-handed compression damping.
With the Triple Phase Suspension design, the leverage rate starts high to allow for good sensitivity up until the sag point. From there, Canyon’s engineers have built in a healthy amount of mid-stroke support, which keeps the Neuron CF nice and steady from that sag point and beyond.
This gives a pretty firm feel through the pedals – it isn’t the softest suspension design, and you’ll get plenty of trail feedback coming through the chassis. Some will like that, and others won’t. Certainly compared to the Giant Trance 29 and Trek Fuel EX – two comparable trail bikes I’ve been riding lately – the Neuron CF’s suspension design is more biased towards efficiency, rather than raw, rock-gobbling plushness.
Along with the low overall weight and perky carbon wheels, the Neuron CF is most in its element on flowy, undulating singletrack where it keeps you connected to the trail. It’s a quick and agile bike for weaving amongst the trees in the woods, and with a superb platform and zero mushiness through the pedals, it gives a solid return on both your pedalling and handling inputs without isolating you from what’s going on underneath the wheels.
It also climbs efficiently with the shock compression set wide open, which was my preferred setting. Though not as zippy as the Lux, it’s a steady and comfortable climber that rarely complains on the ups. Long 440mm chainstays help to keep the front wheel planted as the gradient cranks up, and the spacious cockpit gives you plenty of room to move about without need to see-saw at the bars.
On chunkier, rockier climbs, the firm suspension can knock you a little off-line though. And if the conditions are loose, the shallow tread on the rear tyre struggles to drive into the trail. Instead of barging through with a sit ‘n’ spin climbing style, you’re much better off picking smoother lines and engaging a little body english to negotiate more technical ascents.
A similar story can be told when pointing the Neuron CF down rocky, blown-out descents. The whole bike tends to skip and bounce around, though its unwillingness to wallow through the mid-stroke does mean it maintains a level stance when things are getting wild. And while the rear suspension isn’t meltingly plush, it is effective. That said, the longer and rougher the trail, the more taxing that firm suspension is on your body and mental concentration.
The shorter reach and light front-end are contributing factors here too, with the steering getting a little wriggly at high speed. It doesn’t have the same planted feel that the Trance 29 and Fuel EX have, and that means on less-groomed descents, you’ll need to get your weight back while keeping a more careful watch over the grips to ensure the front wheel continues to point in the direction you want it to.
The fork itself is a superb performer. Somewhat underrated alongside the more popular RockShox Pike, the 34’s EVOL air spring delivers impressive small-bump sensitivity and a supportive mid-stroke that suits the Neuron CF well. It’s also reasonably light at 1.85kg, and easy to dial in more platform via the black low-speed compression dial.
I did manage to test out the bike with a shorter 44mm offset, compared to the stock 51mm offset. I’ll be putting together a separate, in-depth feature on my experience with testing different fork offsets, but I can say that the 44mm offset made a significant improvement in high-speed stability. There was noticeably more damping to the steering, with the front tyre feeling both calmer and more ‘stuck’ down onto the trail surface.
The trade-off with the short offset was slightly less intuitive handling on tight singletrack, with more effort to push the bars around sharp turns. That can give the bike a sluggish feel, which might be more of a problem for the beginner-to-intermediate rider that Canyon is aiming the Neuron CF at. Still, I think improving descending stability, either via a longer frame reach or a shorter fork offset, would be worth it.
On the note of forks, the Neuron CF frame is rated for up to 140mm travel, so there are avenues to explore for riders who want a more muscular feel from this bike. Given how sturdy the chassis is, I’d love to see Canyon offer some kind of ‘EVO’ or ‘SX’ option with a bigger travel and shorter offset fork, wider bars and more aggressive rubber.
But if you’re looking for the mini-enduro caper, then there are other raked-out trail bikes to consider. And if you’re one to rack up the air miles, then it’s worth appreciating that the Neuron CF is more of a wheels-on-the-ground type ride.
Sure, it has a load more bottom-out support than the pre-2019 Neurons I’ve ridden. And if you’re light on your feet then you’ll be able to coax it back down to earth pretty effectively. But for my less-than-dainty riding style, I did find on harsher, flatter landings that I was kissing full travel several times on a ride.
Adding larger volume spacers to the rear shock did provide more progressitivity to the end-stroke, though it came at the expense of firming up the mid-stroke even more – to the point where the suspension was uncomfortably harsh.
Instead, I found that the Neuron CF’s rear suspension performed best with the stock volume spacer, a little more pressure to reduce sag to around 27-28%, and an open compression setting. This kept more travel in reserve, and also kept the pedals spinning at a safer distance from rocks and roots on the trail.
Aside from general setup quirks and my own personal preferences, most of the parts hanging off the Neuron CF 9.0 SL performed fine on the trail. The slick 1×12 drivetrain, solid Reynolds wheels, and smooth Fox dropper post being particularly good.
The Guide R brakes required a very thorough bleed early on to remove some sneaky air bubbles that were causing excessive lever throw. This is a familiar story for me with Guide R & Guide T brakes, and something that is exacerbated by the fact that I run my levers quite close to the grips.
Though bleeding helped, the levers have slowly crept in again over time as the pads have worn down. And while the stock organic pads have been quiet and smooth, the lack of a Swinglink in the Guide R levers means they do lack the deep-stroke power of the Guide RS/RSC brakes.
I did have a weird issue with the blue compression lever on the rear shock, which was flipping from the Open to Trail setting on really rough and hard-hitting descents all by itself. According to Fox, this isn’t completely rare, and can be more likely to occur on certain suspension designs.
The shock was sent to Sola Sport (Fox’ Aussie distributor), and it was completely rebuilt and then upgraded with a Factory-level adjuster. This provided a slight improvement to suspension feel, since the Open mode with a Factory shock offers a wider adjustment range for low-speed compression.
Along with the grips, I really didn’t like Canyon’s own-branded saddle, which aside from looking like it’s been taken from an Sora-equipped road bike, is uncomfortably narrow relative to other MTB saddles.
Oh and for those who have expressed concern about the sliding shock yoke on the rear suspension design – I can happily report that I had no issues with dirt, mud or rocks getting trapped in there. And although I’ve only put 1000km or so into the bike so far, I can also confirm that all the pivots bearings and axles remain smooth and slop-free.
3 Things I’d Change
- A shorter seat tube. 445mm is too long for a Medium, and reduces the flexibility of up-sizing
- Either a longer frame reach or a shorter fork offset to provide more stability while descending – something that would be beneficial for all riders across all skill levels
- A more versatile and confidence-inspiring front tyre. The Forekasters are fast, but drifty on anything rough and loose
3 Things I Loved
- The efficient, stable suspension design. No need to constantly toggle settings – just set the shock wide open and forget about it
- The elegant and robust carbon fibre frame. It’s super clean and well thought-out, and the build quality is plainly evident
- Canyon’s typical value-packed component package
Trail bikes can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different riders. In creating the Neuron CF, Canyon has attempted to cast the net pretty wide, and in doing so has created an efficient and agile trail bike that, if a little vanilla, will suit a broad audience. It’s a fun and approachable ride, with few peculiarities.
Ultimately, this bike isn’t meant to be as aggressive as some of its contemporaries. But that’s ok. After all, the Neuron CF is more sporty than naughty. If ragging around rough trails and pummelling steep descents is on the agenda, then the Spectral or Strive will be a better bike of choice in the Canyon lineup.
Otherwise for a solid, comfortable and dependable trail bike, the Neuron CF is a good-looking, and well-priced option.
2019 Canyon Neuron CF 9.0 SL Specifications
- Frame // Carbon Fibre, 130mm Travel
- Fork // Fox 34 Float, Performance Elite, 51mm Offset, 130mm Travel
- Shock // Fox Float DPS, Performance Elite, EVOL Air Can, 210x50mm (195x45mm on XS, S sizes)
- Hubs // Reynolds TR3 Mountain Hub, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
- Rims // Reynolds TR 309 Carbon, 28h Front & Rear, 30mm Internal Rim Width
- Tyres // Maxxis Forekaster EXO 2.35in Front & Rear
- Chainset // SRAM Stylo 7K DUB, 30t Chainring
- Rear Mech // SRAM X01 Eagle, 12-Speed
- Shifter // SRAM X01 Eagle, 12-Speed
- Cassette // SRAM GX Eagle, 10-50t, 12-Speed
- Brakes // SRAM Guide R, 180mm Front & 160m Rear Rotors
- Bar // Canyon H15 Alloy , 15mm Rise 760mm Wide
- Stem // Canyon V12 Alloy, 60mm Long
- Grips // Ergon GA2, Lock-On
- Seatpost // Fox Transfer, Performance Elite, 150mm Travel
- Saddle // Iridium Trail
- Size Tested // Medium
- Sizes available // X-Small, Small, Medium, Large & Extra Large
- Confirmed Weight // 12.56 kg (27.63 lbs)
- RRP // £3,349 / $5,399 AUD
|Product:||Neuron CF 9.0 SL|
|Price:||£3,349 / $5,399 AUD|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for 2 months|
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