A sub-15-pound race bike with lightweight wheels and all the exceptional handling and pedaling response you expect from a brand’s top of the line offering should run you, what, eight grand? Ten?
How about $3,600?
The Ultimate CF SLX is the second Canyon bicycle we have tested in the last year, and the other bike — the Aeroad CF SLX — walked away with the VeloNews 2016 Road Bike of the Year honors. As it turns out, the featherweight Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 is equally excellent, especially given its sub-$4,000 price tag, though this particular build kit can use some tweaks.
The Ultimate’s geometry and handling instantly felt familiar: It’s aggressive and ultra-responsive. The the 27.2mm seatpost flexes when it encounters rough chatter, the single concession to comfort on this thoroughbred. The seatpost’s movement was noticeable over rough stuff, but less so on slight chatter. That means the bike maintains a connected road feel until you really need the compliance.
It’s no comfort bike, though. The seatpost flex was all I wanted on dirt roads, but the tradeoff is a fairly harsh front end. This is a purpose-driven racer, with a steep 73.25-degree head tube angle and a 155-millimeter head tube (size M) that allows you to get low and aggressive. The front-end stiffness only seemed fitting. (Dropping my tire pressure was enough to keep extended dirt road stretches from shattering me.)
The 988-centimeter wheelbase makes for some lithe handling, so quick steering and maneuvering is a given. It was a joy diving into tight corners. If you’ve ridden Specialized’s super-responsive S-Works Tarmac, you’ll know what to expect with the Ultimate CF SLX.
The only nitpicks we had about the bike concerned the build. First, we’d swap out the 100-millimeter stem for something longer. (Sizes Large and above come with a 110-millimeter stem, which would be a good addition to our size Medium.) This is an aggressive bike, and the short stem felt out of place. A longer stem would allow for an even lower, longer riding position.
Second, the Mavic Ksyrium Pro Exalith SL WTS wheels buck the wider-is-better trend that’s taken over in the U.S. road scene. While braking is exceptional on the Ksyriums, after one or two rides we found ourselves craving something wider than the Ksyrium’s 15-millimeter inner width that doesn’t capitalize on the 25-millimeter tires they’re spec’d with. So we swapped them out with Enve’s SES 3.4 wheels that have a 21mm inner rim width. This improved the already exceptional handling, especially in tight corners and during quick, high-speed maneuvering.
Still, the Ultegra mechanical group is reliable, if unglamorous. The Fizik Antares R5 is another safe bet, and the bike is spec’d with Canyon-branded aluminum components in the cockpit. This might be a good place to upgrade if you’re a carbon devotee, but the handlebar was plenty comfortable, so it’s not an urgent upgrade by any means. The Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 is also already exceptionally light in general — not just for a bike at this price range — tipping the scales at 14.81 pounds. If you upgrade, it won’t be because you need to shave grams. Sleek lines and understated graphics make this one a visual winner, too.
Frankly, this is a stunning bike. You can get a fancier build that will only improve this exceptional ride, but the Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 is ready to race out of the box at an attractive price tag.
And the answer to the big question: The Ultimate CF SLX will begin shipping to consumers in August. The wait is nearly over.