New Canyon Grizl Reviewed: Beyond the Grail

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You probably remember Canyon’s last gravel bike – if you don’t remember it was called the Grail, you will at least recall those handlebars. You know, the two tier ones that made the front of your bike look a little the back of a modded Subaru Impreza? Well, the Grail lives on, but Canyon has gone in a different direction for its latest gravel addition: the Grizl.

The Grizl is a notch or two up the aggregate grading from the Grail – while the Grail will take you on gravel trails beyond the road, the Grizl is aimed at those wanting to tackle singletrack and the lumpier end of our bridleway network. Available in seven models at present split across two carbon fibre frames (the SLX is the Di2 compatible model made from a slightly lighter carbon fibre construction and has nothing to do with the mountain bike components of the same initials), the Grizl deliberately offers a more standard build spec in order to achieve a bike that is great off the peg, but can also be modified to suit the specific needs of its rider.

Wheels are size specific, with size 2XS and XS coming with 27.5in wheels and sizes S and up coming with 700C wheels. There’s room in the frame for up to 50mm tyres, though the bikes ship with 45mm Schwalbe G One Bite tyres at all spec levels – and this is the maximum width if you want to add mudguards. You can pick from top end electronic shifting from Campagnolo and Shimano, though there’s no SRAM with or without electronics (as yet, perhaps – there’s an Aluminium model due at some point, subject to 2021 supply shenanigans, so perhaps we may yet see a SRAM equipped model?). Eschew the lighter frame and electronics and you can pick from the Shimano 1x GRX 800 build we have here on test, or add a front derailleur on GRX 600 and 400 builds, or some women’s specific contact points.

Canyon Grizl Model Options

  • Grizl CF SL 6 – £2,199
  • Grizl CF SL 7 – £2,499
  • Grizl CF SL 7 WMN – £2,499
  • Grizl CF SL 8 – £2,999
  • Grizl CF SL 8 1BY – £2,949
  • Grizl CF SLX 8 Di2 – £4,999
  • Grizl CF SLX 8 1BY – £4,899

SLX frames are a touch lighter than the SL and come without the extra bottle cage mount under the down tube since that’s where the battery port is in the SLX. Personally I only ever use a bottle cage mount under the top tube for a tool keg, and in the case of the SL frame it also arguably provides a degree of shielding from wayward rocks. Not having seen the SLX model, I can’t say whether it includes any rubber frame protection under the down tube, but as a mountain biker used to seeing downtube protection I think it would be a nice addition for both models. You also get compatibility for a front mech on all models should you choose to add one, and there’s routing for a dropper post.

To make room for those tyres while retaining a road bottom bracket width, the drive side chainstay is dropped. Canyon was aiming for a stiffness akin to a road bike, so offset any flex from the slim and dropped chainstay on the drive side, the frame has been stiffened around the down tube and bottom bracket, plus there’s a more built up non-drive side chainstay.

Canyon Grizl

Main triangle cage mounts, a top tube mount and ‘anything’ triple mounts on the fork offer up plenty of potential for luggage carrying. All these points, plus the seat post clamp and front mech point, are annotated on the frame with the size and torque setting – so if you do lose one in the middle of nowhere you know what to go asking for in the local bike shop in Uzbekistan, or wherever you find yourself.

Perhaps to encourage you to use all those luggage points, Canyon has partnered with Apidura to create a bespoke collection of bags for the launch of the Grizl. These are available to purchase separately, and the bike comes with a range of frame protection stickers to help prevent any rubbing issues. These bags are intended more for pack free daily riding, rather than the rigours of that multi-month epic to Uzbekistan.

Frame geometry has been designed to be less aggressive than Canyon’s ‘Ultimate’ road bike range, but less relaxed than ‘Endurance’ models, putting it in the same reach and stack zone as the Grail. At 175cm tall with an inseam of 79cm, I sized up as a Small on Canyon’s size guide. My test bike arrived with a week to go before the launch, so having set about adding protective stickers all over the Grizl CF SL 8 1BY frame, I loaded up and headed for the trails.

Grizl CF SL 8 1BY – Setting Up

It is of course way too much to expect that bikes could be designed and pre ordered to align with the design of the bags, but it would be a really nice touch if the paint job on the frame gave an indication of where the bags would go – and where the protective stickers should be. As it was, my ‘hold the pack up to the frame and apply stickers’ was met with mixed success. Some were quite well placed, others not so much. The fork stickers were easy to line up, but I made a pig’s ear of actually getting them to stick, despite applying them straight out of the box. I’d strongly recommend taking the time to apply the stickers immediately – don’t be tempted to have a quick first ride before you try putting them on. Careful hand washing, a spray degreaser (there weren’t any wipes supplied) and a little heat from a hairdryer will also likely improve the finish.

A minor note, but the thru axles on the bike are a joy – tighten them up, then pull them out and turn the handle to whichever point you want them to be at in relation to the frame. There’s none of that putting the wheel on and tightening everything up only to find that the handle end is pointing forward ready to joust with trailside branches.

After the first couple of rides I realised my front Shimano GRX brake was losing power. Investigation revealed fluid was leaking out (and air in) through the diaphragm in the hood. Swapping the diaphragm and reservoir cap achieved a bleed, and everything has been working fine on subsequent rides. Chipps has been using GRX brakes for a while with no similar issues.

The only other quirk on the bike was the seatpost and seat clamp. The clamp is actually buried inside the frame and accessed from just in front of the rear wheel. This is a little tricky to get in to with a stumpy multi tool, however Canyon does provide a tool specifically for the job. If this were my bike, I’d be devising some sort of cover to place over this point – it’s way too in the firing line for all the filth the trail can throw at it, and I can see the head filling up with grit and being especially vulnerable to road salt in the winter. In the short test period I had this bike for, it wasn’t an issue, but it does seem a likely vulnerable spot.

The seat post on this test model is a ‘VCLS’ two part leaf design, not unique to the Grizl in the Canyon line up. It’s designed to offer flex and therefore comfort. It’s easy enough to adjust the angle of the saddle – you just slide the two halves along each other – but it took me a few attempts of removing the post, loosening the screw that lets you slide the leaves, tightening, then reinserting and tightening the clamp again to see whether I’d got the angle right. Not an issue if you’re ok to invest the time in getting it right so you can leave it there, though perhaps a pain for a hire or holiday fleet bike.

Grizl CF SL 8 1BY – The Ride

The fit felt great – gravel sizing seems to vary a lot, and I mix between medium and small bikes depending on the manufacturer. The height guide here seems spot on. I’m a fan of relaxed and more upright positions on a gravel bike and did wonder if the fork steerer could have been left a little longer to offer more flexibility of set up. However Canyon advises that the fork steerer is about as long as it can be for a full carbon fork. That does give a bit of a trade off when it comes to heading down the trickiest of trails. Then, on the drops and reaching for the brakes, the ride position with saddle up your bum become quite apparent and you might well long for a dropper so you can move around the bike a bit more. Of course, if that’s the case then you can add one – the routing is there.

I really liked the shape of the GRX hoods for riding along – they’re big enough that they’re almost like bar ends, giving a position for your hands that’s almost entirely clear of the bars – rather than the half on half off I get with some levers. The brakes are great too – nice and powerful and easy to use from the hoods for ‘just riding along’ – not surprising perhaps given you get 160mm rotors, can size up to 180mm if you like, but the bike isn’t compatible with 140mm. All that on the hood comfort did catch me out a couple of times however, as I found myself heading down trails with hands on hoods, only to greet water bars that needed me properly on the drops to get that bunny hop up and over them while reaching for the brakes. Here the GRX hoods combined with the no-flare bars meant that it felt more like a taking the hand off the bars and then replacing them on the hoods kind of a movement, than a smooth traverse around the bars and levers to shift positions.

We’ve plunged straight into the techiest of trails in this review, and the bike is certainly capable enough that you’ll likely finding yourself doing just that on the trail. The fork is nicely stiff, with no disconcerting flex on square edged hits like the packhorse trail slabs that abound where I live. However, while the leaf saddle and rear chain stay design do appear to offer comfort to one’s bottom and back, the stiffness up front does take its toll on the arms and wrists when toughing it out down a rough descent with tension through your hands and wrists as you use the brakes. Even with the 45mm tyres and a relatively low pressured tubeless set up, the hits travel up into the bars. If I were to own this bike, I’d like some more comfortable bars with a flare because that’s what I find eases the pressure on my wrists. If you’re not going to regularly do silly things like slam your fork into packhorse trail, you might not feel the need for the added comfort of flared bars.

Indeed, the compact feel of the stock set up combined with the light weight and pleasing response to pedalling had me wishing for miles of North Downs Way or some other such less gruelling rock strewn terrain than the Calder Valley. For a fast spin out covering decent off-road mileage in a day, the Grizl would be great. I can really picture myself pedalling until lunch at a view point and cafe, chomping down on beans on toast and stashing a cake in my bento box on the top tube as an afternoon snack, then completing the ride at a pub somewhere not too far from home, extracting my jacket and beanie from the saddle pack as the sun goes down. I would definitely consider it as a bike for an event like the Dirty Reiver – though I’d perhaps like a bit of rubbery frame protection on the downtube for tackling fast and loose fire roads with all those pointy shale stones that the Forestry Commission seems to have got a bulk discount on.

The wheels on this model are a perfectly adequate but relatively budget DT Swiss G1800, which on a £3k bike I’m tempted to say feel a little stingy. However, the slightly more expensive DT Swiss G1600s are lighter but have a lower weight capacity – which might be an issue for the bike packer.

This was my first time on some Shwalbe G Ones – I’m really not quite sure how I’ve not actually ridden them before as they’ve been around for ever – and I was quite surprised at how well they performed. How do all the other tyres treads come with scientific sounding claims of directional knobs, siping, angular treads and whatever else, and then this collection of dots works? It does work, but the tyres do have their limits when it comes to fast cornering and muddy trails.

Instead of minor component changes and the choice between 1x or not, I’d have liked to have seen a ‘faster lighter’ spec and an ‘adventure spec’ – one as this model but with lighter wheels, and another with a burlier tyre and flared bars, to give buyers the choice at the outset to lean towards one use of the other.

The Grizl is not as comfortable or quite so ‘I’ll chase that mountain biker’ as the Sonder Camino AL I tested last year, but the ride has a speed and eagerness to it that I can see translating well to gravel events and group rides where that competitive edge creeps in and taking in the scenery becomes a little less important. For the Sunday club rides where the roadies are tired of doing battle with the traffic and eying up the countryside around them, I can see this being a big hit. If I lived on the edges of a city and had a few miles to pedal before hitting the good stuff I would definitely have this on my list of potentials.

Those making the shift from drop bars on the road to drop bars off-road will likely find the stiffness and snappy ride appealing, and you’ll find yourself being surprised at how lumpy your off-road rides can get on this bike. If you’re coming to this from a mountain bike, you might find it a touch more racy than some gravel models, and those with ache prone wrists might well wish to add knobblier tyres and flared bars to make this more of a monster-crosser. That said, just as I can appreciate the surge of speed you get when pedalling a nice race hardtail compared to a full suspension bike, for me the Grizl does a good job of delivering a balance of speed and capability that I’m looking for when opting for drop bar off road adventures.

The Bags

I fitted the bags in a sort of ‘well, they’re there so I’ll use them’ way, rather than thinking I’d find them especially useful. In fact, they proved perfect for the kit I like to carry on a ride. On a mountain bike I’m totally happy to ride with a pack – in fact I prefer it because I like the back protection in the event of a crash. But on drop bars it’s not so comfortable getting a pack to sit, and I don’t have the same crash frequency to want the protection on standby. I discovered that the top tube bento box or side pocket of the frame bag were great for my little wallet and giant phone. The main section of the frame bag has a pair of Velcro loops in it for holding a pump in place – handy if you need a spare Velcro loop for a frame bag, but elastic would be easier for the purposes of getting your pump in and out.

I found the frame pack wasn’t big enough for my packable jacket, so I put that in the seat pack. I never loaded the seat pack up with anything heavy, but as a receptacle for spare layers and tubes it worked just fine and it never alerted me to its presence by waggling about. I can confirm the the frame pack may not be big enough for a jacket, but it is big enough for a single can of beer – if you don’t mind the can looking like it’s been attacked by an army of tiny elves with tiny hammers.

If I was looking at the bags, I’d buy all three in order to enable easy pack free riding. I think that losing any one of them would see a compromise on what I could carry, and they’re just not noticeable or annoying to ride with so why not treat yourself. The only niggle with having them there is that the frame pack stops you using the second bottle cage – at least on my size small, the official launch images show the packs fitting – though a side loader might let you just squeeze one in. While I had no problems with the frame and top tube bags, the seat pack did eventually succumb to the sustained spray from the rear tyre and the waterproofing gave up and water soaked through – somewhat disappointing.

Must be a bigger frame than I tested?

Three things I’d change

  • Move the seat post clamp or include a rubber cover to protect the bolt from all the road and trail can throw at it.
  • Have flared bars, at least on one model – ideally as a more adventure spec package.
  • Add some rubber frame protection to the down tube to reflect the rougher trails you’ll likely subject this bike to.

Three things I like

  • The fork is sturdy and not at all twangy. With a bigger tyre and flared bars for comfort, I’d have no qualms about loading this bike up and heading into the back of beyond.
  • The frame bags. I’m totally sold on pack free gravel riding.
  • The spritely ride – skipping along at speed seems like an attractive prospect rather than an exercise in self flogging. I’ll race you to the next sheep.

Overall

This is a pleasing departure from some of the bespoke integrated components we’ve seen from Canyon of late. I like the simplicity of the build with standard sized components and this does offer the buyer the room to tweak and adapt to their own needs. The range of mounts and ports on the frame, combined with annotations, adds another layer of flexibility while maintaining simplicity.

Canyon Grizl

The ride is snappy enough to feel fast and efficient, but comfortable enough to take on more than light gravel and a poor quality minor road. If you’re not going to take it down big hits, it’ll be great out of the box. Treat yourself to the bags to get the most out of that fast and free feeling. Last one to the cafe has to pay for the cake!

We understand that a limited number of bikes are ready for order and shipping at launch, Canyon having stocked up on parts to ensure availability. Go to Canyon’s website to order now.

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