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First Ride – Canyon Inflite CF SLX cross bike

ZONHOVEN, Belgium (VN) — Canyon’s carbon Inflite CF SLX cyclocross bike balances high-speed stability with nimble handling for a well-balanced ride on technical race courses. It’s light (16.7 pounds size medium) and quick, and cross-specific details are sprinkled throughout, such as mud-shedding tube shapes and geometry that makes shouldering the bike easier and more secure.

About those aesthetics: Canyon departs from its hallmark straight lines and minimalistic design with an unusual dip at the top tube/seat tube junction. It’s no doubt a jarring design cue. Canyon says the dip—or is it a kink?—was introduced to offer more compliance without sacrificing shouldering capabilities. The top tube is horizontal toward the front of the bike to keep the front triangle open and for easy shouldering. According to Canyon, the top tube dips down at the seat tube junction to increase compliance. The lower junction provides more exposed seat post, which can flex and absorb bumps over choppy terrain. Canyon claims the bike’s kinked top tube adds up to 15% more compliance over a straight top tube design.

The kink also provides a secure nook for shouldering the bike, keeping it from jostling around when charging up steep run-ups or staircases. It’s a comfortable position for carrying the bike but unfortunately doesn’t do much to prevent that annoying carbon-on-shoulder blade discomfort that is endemic to cyclocross.

Canyon took a cue from mountain bike trends during the design phase of the Inflite CF SLX by pairing a long reach with a short stem. The size medium has a 562-millimeter top tube (393-millimeter reach) and comes with a 100-millimeter stem, which is 10-millimeters shorter than what comes with medium Canyon road bikes. This results in quick steering and makes easy work of tossing the bike in and out of tight ‘cross corners.

The bike’s zippy handling and 72.5-degree head tube angle pair nicely with a long 1018-millimeter wheelbase and 425-millimeter chainstays for a stable ride on fast and loose sections. Canyon designed a new ‘cross-specific H31 Ergocockpit handlebar and stem combo that flares three degrees at the drops. This provides even more stability and leverage for technical riding, although it leaves you slightly more exposed to catching your bars on course tape.

It’s the small details that make the Inflite a success. It has ample mud clearance for sloppy races, and the frame itself was designed to prevent mud build-up: Canyon used fewer shelves and contours in areas of the frame known for collecting mud.

The Inflite’s water bottle bosses sit low on the front triangle, making it easier to shoulder the bike even with a bottle cage installed. All cables are routed internally and all cable entry and exit ports are sealed to keep out dirt and muck.

Canyon offers a wide range of sizes from XXXS up to XXL. The two smallest sizes run 650B wheels, a carryover from Canyon’s women’s line. The smaller wheels promise a better fit for small riders while also improving handling. Traditionally, small bikes have slack head tube angles and compromised geometries to accommodate the big wheels on a small frame. This leads to sluggish handling and ill-performing bikes, according to Canyon. With the XXXS and XXS Inflite ‘cross bikes, small riders will get the same ride experience as larger riders. The catch, however, is the 650B wheel platform has a limited number of wheel and tire options for racing.

There’s no doubt Canyon’s made an exceptional bike with the Inflite. The spec sheet leaves us wanting a bit more. Canyon offers three builds including a SRAM Rival 1, SRAM Force CX1, and Shimano Ultegra 2x drivetrain. We would love to see an electronic shifting option. Where mechanical drivetrains gum up and miss shifts with sand and dirt, electronic drivetrains maintain crisp shifting long into sloppy races. Canyon acknowledges this hole in the build options and says an Ultegra Di2 version is coming. There are whispers of a new Ultegra Di2 group launching soon, so Canyon simply decided to wait for the new, rather than launch a model with the old.

Of course the cornerstone to Canyon’s global success has been in its competitive pricing, and the Inflite’s three spec options are definitely priced to be competitive within an ever-crowded marketplace. The Rival model is $2,999, with the Ultegra and Force models coming in at $3,299 and $3,999 respectively. That’s a whole lot of bike for a reasonable price. Canyon says top professionals will race the Inflite CF SLX later this fall and early in 2018.

First Ride

My first taste of the Inflite CF SLX came at the iconic Zonhoven Superprestige cyclocross course in Belgium. The notoriously tricky course features a steep and sandy plunge down De Kuil (The Ditch) along with bumpy terrain, more sand, and steep run-ups.

De Kuil is a legitimately scary obstacle. The descent is a 25-percent gradient wall of deep sand that swallows your front wheel if you’re not completely off the back of your saddle. My first run at the sandy hill went surprisingly smoothly. The Inflite felt stable, and  it didn’t dart around in the choppy sand. I let the brakes go, sat back, and the bike surfed its way down the descent without much guidance from the cockpit.

The bike’s stability was noticeable on another downhill section on the other side of the course as well. The Inflite deftly maneuvered through a smooth left-hand corner at the bottom of a steep descent, holding its line for an easy transition into the next section of trail. The Inflite maintained a snappiness up small kickers and ripped through corners without excessive rider input.

Zonhoven’s Superprestige cyclocross course lies within a large park that is crisscrossed by single-track mountain bike trails and gravel roads. Taking the Inflite on some of these twisty trails showcased the bike’s nimble steering. It was especially adept at quick line changes at high speeds.

Despite Belgium’s rainy weather, we didn’t get the chance to test the Inflite’s mud clearance capabilities. From its looks, there seems to be plenty of room between the frame and tire for shedding mud unless you hit some peanut butter mud, and in that case, no extra room, frame design, or special paint matters. Only a spare bike and mechanic with a power washer will make a difference.

After a few days on the course, I came away impressed with the quick handling and sturdy platform, and it was a smooth ride over aggressive chatter. The aesthetic of that kinked top tube still looks odd to me, though. The brain says yes — the superb ride and engineering behind it makes sense — but my eyes still bulge at the sight of that unorthodox design. But hey, any bike looks good underneath the first rider to cross the finish line. With the Inflite, the proof will be in the results.

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