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Photo: Brittany Jones

First Ride: Canyon Grail AL 7.0

An adventure bike packing a lot of punch into an affordable package, the Grail AL takes its carbon cousin and makes it more accessible.
  • Size: XXS
  • Price: $1,799

After Canyon announced its release last fall, the Grail AL is finally available to buy and ride. I hopped on a plane to test this adventure bike out at one of the premiere gravel races in the country, the Canyon Belgian Waffle Ride in southern California.

The aluminum version of the Grail offers the same geometry and capabilities as the carbon CF version, but with traditional drop bars (as opposed to the double-bar Grail Cockpit) and budget-friendly, but still very capable build kit options. The 7.0 build that I tested featured a 2x Shimano 105 drivetrain with a 50/34 compact crank and an 11-34T cassette for a 1:1 ratio as your bailout gear.

The XXS and XS sizes are spec’d with 27.5-inch DT Swiss C 1850 wheels to keep the geometry consistent with the larger sized bikes. While I can’t compare how it rode relative to the 700c-spec’d Grail AL, I can compare it to similarly sized gravel bikes that are designed around a 700c wheel. What I noticed was how compact and flickable it was through singletrack. Getting the bike through tight corners and picking my way around roots and rocks was a breeze and made the bike a lot of fun on the dirt road and trail sectors of the BWR. While this by no means felt like a bad thing, it did send me to the geo charts to look and compare what made the Grail AL feel so brappy.

Canyon emphasizes the Grail’s long wheelbase for both stability and tire clearance, and the larger sizes certainly have slightly longer than average wheelbases. But when I compared the 27.5-inch wheeled Grails to other similarly sized 700c gravel bikes, the Grails had the shortest chainstays and wheelbases. And while there are a limited number of other 27.5/650b gravel bikes to compare it to, it is noticeably shorter than Salsa’s 650b Journeyman.

This isn’t necessarily a criticism though; there’s ample tire clearance and I really enjoyed the tight turning radius and nimble handling on the Belgian Waffle Ride. It’s a fun, playful bike. But Canyon has also partnered with Topeak to offer a fully kitted out adventure option with the Grail AL – letting consumers purchase the bike and all the bags for their next overnight trip or big adventure in one fell swoop—and I’m curious how these smaller sizes with their tight geometries will handle if loaded down.

Wheelbase and chainstays aside, the geometry seems consistent with the purpose of the bike. The headtube is on the taller end, which was appreciated on the home stretch of a long day in the saddle. The overall feel was well-balanced.

While not the lightest weight wheels, the DT Swiss C 1850’s 22mm internal width and tubeless compatibility make them a solid choice for durability and compatibility with a variety of tire options. The 38mm Schwalbe G-One Bites are a fantastic all-purpose tire—they rolled surprising well on the miles of pavement featured in the BWR and were ideal for the sand and hardpack I encountered off the pavement.

The 2x Shimano 105 drivetrain performed well, especially when I needed that 1:1 ratio on some of the uglier climbs of the day. 105 shifters have a slightly longer throw than Shimano’s higher priced mechanical units, but the kit is otherwise reliable and well-performing. The 105 hydraulic brakes performed as well as any other set of road hydraulics I’ve ridden.

Versatile and fun to ride, the Canyon Grail AL punches above its $1,800 weight. It may not be a superbike aimed at the business end of gravel races, but it gets the job done for those of us in the midpack and party end of the race, and lets you enjoy a variety of terrain options whether you’re racing or not.