Sanny has been unleashed on the hills north of Barcelona where he got his sticky little mitts on the latest iteration of the Canyon Spectral:ON. Keep reading for our 2020 Canyon Spectral:ON first ride review impressions.
The Spectral:ON has been a staple of Canyon’s eMTB line for the last couple of years and it is fair to say has proven popular with riders and reviewers alike. However, not ones to rest on their laurels and recognising that a lot of riders have been using the bike on terrain that the bike wasn’t designed for, Canyon has gone back to the drawing board and completely redesigned the bike from the ground up. Talking with the designers and engineers at the press launch in Vallromanes just outside Barcelona in early March, it became apparent that with version 2, the aim was to create a progressive trail bike that was not only lighter than the existing model but also more capable. Enter stage left Fabien Barel who worked with Canyon on the development and testing of the bike. Fair to say that when Fabien is involved, there is more than a decent chance of coming up with something rather special.
With the motto “Power is fun”, Canyon have set out their stall fairly and squarely to appeal to aggressive riders who revel in steep and technical trails. As a rider of a fair few ebikes over the years, I have to admit that I was intrigued to learn how this would play out. EMTBs by their very nature are heavier than normal bikes. In my experience, that extra weight can become something of a liability and require a change of riding style. Manualling can be harder, braking often needs to be earlier and riding past the 15.5mph regulated limit can be a less than pleasant experience. Put simply, I am a fan of eBikes but not so much as to not recognise their limitations.
Integration is the name of the game.
Taking the old and new model together, Canyon has delivered on their promise of a ground-up redesign. Integration is very much the order of the day. Gone is the fugly external battery of the mark 1 model to be replaced with a fully integrated number. The main triangle is constructed from carbon fibre while the rear triangle is alloy. When I asked the engineers about this, their answer was unequivocal. Carbon in their view is perfect for the main triangle in order to both save weight and increase stiffness while the alloy back end offers greater impact resistance but with the same level of performance as a carbon one. The chainstays have been lengthened by 5mm to 435mm for increased stability on both descents and climbs while the seat tube angle has been steepened to 74.5° for improved climbing ability. The head angle has been relaxed a smidge to 66.5°. Finally, the head tube has been lengthened in order to make the bike handle better when the trails turn steep and technical.
From front to back, it is evident that the bike has been designed as a single integrated unit. Reminiscent of the bespoke integrated approach first seen with the Klein Attitude back in the day, on the top-end model I rode, the bars and stem are a one-piece affair with concealed cable routing and custom mount for the LED display. Grips with integrated clamp and saddle are Canyon’s own brand and have been specifically designed for eMTBs. The power button on the top tube features a USB – C charging port with a dinky rubberised cover that is shaped like the canyon logo. Even for a technophobe like me, I reckon that is pretty neat!
Shock wise, Canyon gave mounted the rear shock immediately beneath the top tube and employs Canyon’s triple phase suspension design – the first third of travel is designed to be sensitive, the second third stable and the final third progressive. More on that later. By placing the shock where it is, Canyon reckons the shock experiences less stress than other designs meaning that bearing life should be improved. The fork is a Fox 36 Factory 27.5+/29 model.
It’s all about the details.
Moving back through the frame, a side-loading Canyon branded bottle cage can accommodate even the largest of water bottles while there is an integrated chain guide to keep the drivetrain running smoothly. The seat clamp is an internal design while at the back, Canyon uses their tried and tested Quixle axle. I am a big fan of this as the lever is concealed within the axle when not in use. Last but not least is a carbon-reinforced skid plate that protects the motor from impact damage as well as acting as a chainring bash guard.
In terms of motor choice, Canyon has opted for Shimano’s STEPS E8000 system and 504 Wh battery pack (chargeable both in the frame or by removing the battery using the supplied 4mm Hex ON key). When asked why they opted for Shimano, the perceived natural feel of the motor compared to the competition, reliability and the availability of a global servicing network should riders require it were the answers given.
This being the top model 9.0, as you would expect, the drivetrain and wheelset are top-notch. Drive and braking are taken care of by Shimano XTR with 203 mm Ice tech rotors while wheels are Reynolds Tre carbon shod with Maxxis Minion EXO and EXO+ 2.5 and 2.6 respectively. Eschewing the fashion for a full 29er set up, the rear is a 650B number while the front is a full 29. As a dyed in the wool 29er evangelist, I was a little bit sceptical of the choice but decided to park that until I rode the darn thing.
Taken as a whole, to my eye, Canyon has achieved that rare trick of producing an eMTB that doesn’t really look like an eMTB. Everything about it just speaks to well thought out design so from an aesthetics point of view, I think they have managed to knock it out the park. The two-tone grey of the top model 9.0 looks fantastic in the flesh – it is understated but classy.
Enough tech chat Sanny, tell us what it is like to ride!
Spinning out from the car park of the hotel we were staying in, being located at the heart of the Parc de la Serralada Litoral, there was no warm-up for us to get the legs turning. The theme for the first part of the ride would be technical and entirely up in nature. Darting through a small gap in the trees, we followed a dry and dusty, rutted path that rose fairly steeply through the treeline. To our left lay an old wire fence ready to catch the bar of the unwary rider who got too close while to the right, a deep rut created by rainwater meant we had to keep on our toes lest we fall into it.
Selecting ECO mode, I found myself spinning up the trail with relaxed ease. Quick changes of direction were handled with ease while exposed bedrock and rooty step-ups were gobbled up fairly effortlessly. This was not my first time on a Canyon having spent several months riding their Strive 29er last year and the plush suspension action reminded me of that. I won’t tell you that I noticed the three stages of suspension action – frankly, I’m just not that good a rider truth be told but what I did notice was that it comfortably absorbed the bumps while pedalling seated and did not feel in any way wallowy or bouncy.
A good test of an eMTB is to try and sprint it out the saddle. It is often here that you notice the added weight. Heading up a steep section to connect with a fire road, I did just that and to my surprise, it felt pretty much like a regular bike. So far, so good.
Switching to the fire road, I happily spun away, the trail passing quickly beneath me. I left the shock fully open as I headed further into the hills, the grand vista of Barcelona just a handful of kilometres away keeping me distracted from the climb at hand. The more I climbed, both on steep, rock and root laden technical singletrack and on smooth fire road, the more I came to appreciate the suspension action. Quite simply, it got on with the job in hand without fuss. My innate prejudices had made me question why the 650B rear end before I rode the Canyon Spectral:ON but once I was up and riding, I didn’t find myself at any point wishing for a 29er wheel outback. Traction was excellent throughout with only a couple of minor pedal strikes throughout the duration of the test.
Smooth and controlled power delivery
In terms of power delivery, I am a big fan of the Shimano STEPS system. I like how it doesn’t appear to have the slightly unnerving crank judder of some other systems on the market while irrespective of cadence; it delivers its power in a smooth and controlled manner. In both ECO and Trail modes, it feels that the motor is more giving a helping hand than a whacking thump of a shove. The power delivery didn’t feel like it was overwhelming me. I felt much more rider than passenger which is occasionally a feature of other systems which I have tried in the past. While there are those out there who believe that power is king, that’s just not me. The mark of a good eMTB is that it feels and rides like a normal bike. If I wanted maximum power, I’d buy a KTM electric motorbike.
Ergonomics wise, the power button was easy to use and perfectly positioned on the bars. The LED display was easy to read even in bright sunshine although the moving power graph is one of those fun to have but ultimately pointless additions that I could easily live without. All I really need to know is battery life remaining. Everything else is redundant.
In terms of battery life, three hours of sustained riding in the morning still left me with three bars of power showing having switched between ECO and Trail modes. I would have loved to have kept going in the afternoon but sadly (or wisely) the team at Canyon swapped out batteries for fully charged ones for the afternoon session.
Up. Down. Repeat.
Cresting the top in jig time, we commenced with what was to prove to be the theme for the day – winch and plummet. Our affable guide for the day, Hector Suara, of Bicyclenightmares.com, knew the trails like the back of his hand and was determined that we should get the maximum amount of riding over the next few hours. Dropping in, I immediately found myself practically flying down the tight, tree-lined trail. If you were to describe all your favourite trail features – tight bends, fast, flowing singletrack, steep chutes, mini bomb hole G-outs, loose dust, exposed grippy bedrock, off-camber roots – chances are you would find it here just as we did. In a matter of minutes, I found myself whooping, hollering and even singing my way down the trail. Despite being on an unfamiliar bike, any initial concern that the added weight might prove to be a disadvantage were quickly dispelled. An awkwardly placed rock called for a bit of body English and emergency manualling to avoid and at that point, I had an epiphany. I realised that I had completely forgotten that I was riding an eMTB and was simply enjoying the trails for what they were –brilliant!
The more I rode, the more confident in the bike abilities I became. Position wise, the large frame felt pretty much spot on for my sometimes peculiar tastes. Despite being 6 foot 1 with a positive ape index (arms span greater than my height), I like taller front ends. In this respect, the Canyon Spectral:ON absolutely nailed it. My initial concerns about the one-piece bar and stem combo and the saddle were soon forgotten. Both proved to be perfectly suited to my body shape, height and weight. No sore wrists nor botty for me.
When it comes to riding downhill fast, as Clint Eastwood once said, a man has got to know his limitations. I don’t profess to be anything other than an Average Joe rider and make no claims about my skills. However, the more I rode the bike, the more I felt comfortable pushing just that little bit harder, searching out drops and kickers for a bit of extra trail fun. Manualling was remarkably easy, something that can be a real chore on other eBikes.
In terms of suspension action, I think more by luck than skill, I found the sweet spot from the off. Following Canyon’s suspension set up recommendations, I didn’t feel the need to make any adjustments during the ride and could just get on with the riding. The front and rear shocks felt balanced and well-matched throughout the all too short day of testing.
In terms of componentry, the XTR drivetrain and brakes performed flawlessly although that’s not really a big surprise, is it? The wheels were entirely new to me – I can’t comment on their longevity or performance to any great degree other than they kept the tyres attached and didn’t give me any problems. Could I tell they were carbon? Without doing a head to head test with alloy rims as a control, it would be hard for me to say. The Maxxis tyres performed admirably in the dry conditions throughout after letting a bit of pressure out as they were pumped up super hard initially.
As the day progressed, I found myself seeking out the roughest and more technical lines, both up and down. The bike had a habit of encouraging me to keep pushing on and just go for it. However, that’s not to say it only rewards an aggressive riding style. There were points where I was content just to chill and mooch down the trail and the bike was happy to let me do that making me think that it is the kind of bike that you could quite happily grow your skills with while also appealing to more experienced riders.
A good test of a bike is whether you want to give it back. Breaking for lunch, we had the option of one quick climb and descent – everyone in the group took it. At the end of the day, we managed to be late back, everyone seeming to be enjoying both the trails and the bike. I have to say that I was sorry to have to give the bike back at the end of the day. It had performed far better than I had hoped and had more than lived up to the billing that Canyon gave it at their briefing the previous evening.
Three things we liked:
An eMTB that doesn’t feel like an eMTB when you hit the descents.
Smooth and controlled power delivery.
The fully integrated design gives the bike a classy look and feel
Three things we would change:
Slightly more steerer tube for those who like a taller front end and are happy to cut down as required.
Not having to pay an extra 25 Euros for the (albeit excellent) eBike-specific box.
Not having to give it back.
I came to the Canyon Spectral:ON with high hopes but also the realism that eMTBs bring with them their own baggage and don’t always deliver on their promise. Seeing the bike in the flesh for the first time, I was immediately impressed by how it looked and the design details that underpin it. Everything looks and feels like it has been carefully considered before being incorporated into the final product. Ride wise, it managed that hard to achieve trick of not feeling like an ebike on the descents. It did everything I asked of it and came back ready for more. It was, to be blunt, more capable than me but at no point did I feel I was over-biked. Watching the likes of Fabien Barel, Alex from Bike Radar and Danny from MBR ride it like they stole it, they merely confirmed my impression that Canyon has come up with something really rather special.
At 21.6 kilogrammes, it is over a kilogramme lighter than its’ predecessor and is by far the prettier bike. It just looks right. The range starts at 4,499 Euros for the 7.0 and women-specific WMN 7.0, through 5,599 Euros for the 8.0 before topping out at 6,999 Euros for the top of the range 9.0 I tested. With some manufacturers charging car prices for what is ultimately just a bike with a motor, Canyon has bucked the trend and offer what I would say is the best eMTB I have ridden without an eye-watering price tag.
Throughout the test, I tried hard to find fault but the Canyon Spectral:ON managed to do everything I asked of it with ease and kept coming back for more. What’s it like in the mud? How does it perform after a year of hard riding on Scottish trails? What’s the battery life like in the real world? Sadly, I can’t answer those questions for you. However, what I can say that if you are a buyer looking to get an eBike, the Spectral ON should definitely be on your shortlist.
Sanny’s travel and accommodation were covered by Canyon.