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This bike left us scratching our heads. We really could not think of a way to improve on Canyon’s Spectral CF 9.0 EX mountain bike. It is really that good.
To briefly walk back that bold statement, the Spectral is not a bike for cross-country racers with its 140/150mm of suspension travel (rear/front). It’s probably overkill for flat, smooth singletrack as well. And on the other hand, the Spectral wouldn’t likely win a true downhill race. But apart from that, it is an optimal mountain bike for a wide spectrum of rides.
Like any great bike, the Spectral’s success starts at the frame. Canyon’s carbon fiber frame doesn’t have any unconventional touches. Its proven Horst-link suspension platform is built around a 67-degree head angle that plays nice with 27.5-inch wheels. There are a number of subtle, thoughtful touches too. The down tube has a rubber guard to fend off rock strikes. Cables are internal to avoid contamination, although they do rattle a bit. If you want a chainguide, there are post mounts right above the press-fit bottom bracket.
The handling strikes the right balance between high-speed fearlessness and sensitive steering when the trail gets twisty. The front wheel flops around slightly on steep climbs, but that’s normal for most trail bikes of this persuasion.
To match the all-business frame, Canyon opted for two RockShox suspension components, the Monarch RT3 rear shock and Pike RCT3 fork. As usual, the Pike was a flawless performer out front. It offers three compression settings for climbing, plus rebound and low-speed damping adjustments. The Monarch is superb with this frame. It too has three compression settings. When the switch is open, the Horst-link design is free to express its plush, responsive, and generally linear personality. The middle “trail” setting is firmer, although we used it less often, and the locked climbing position is nice for paved roads or smooth dirt climbs.
The Spectral is happy in nearly any situation on the trail. The active Horst-link suspension mows down rock gardens despite offering just 140mm to the fork’s 150mm. The Pike’s Charger damper effectively minimizes fork dive under hard braking on steep descents. The rear suspension is also supportive on smooth corners, which helps keep the Spectral snappy.
In keeping with the suspension parts, Canyon built the Spectral with SRAM’s Eagle X01 drivetrain. The 10-50t cassette might look a bit ludicrous at first, but when paired with a 34-tooth chainring, the gear range was nearly everything we could ask for on a trail bike. The components handled grinding, steep, high-altitude climbs and ripping fast downhills alike.
Beyond the SRAM family, which also provided a stealth-routed RockShox Reverb dropper post, Canyon picked DT Swiss XM 1501 Spline wheels. Despite all of the abuse this bike endured through most of the summer, these were trouble-free. Plus, the 30mm internal-width rims were perfect to match the Maxxis 2.3 High Roller and Minion SS tires. We set these up tubeless in a jiffy — Canyon was kind enough to include some valve cores with the bike. However, if you live in a locale that tends to be muddy, the rear tire’s semi-slick tread pattern might not provide enough grip for steep climbs or heavy braking. Perhaps swap that High Roller to the rear and get a Minion DHF for the front.
Canyon rounds out the 27-pound build — impressively light by the way — with Renthal Fat Bar Lite handlebars and an Apex 35 stem. At 760mm, it’s doubtful you’ll want wider bars. Fortunately, you can always cut them shorter. The 50mm stem is just right for this and most trail/enduro bikes.
At $4,299, the Spectral 9.0 EX isn’t inexpensive, but it is several thousand dollars less than comparable models from other major MTB brands. It is difficult to do much better than this bike at this price. Canyon’s suspension design is capable. Its handling is nearly flawless. The parts chosen are faultless. And man, it just looks sleek and savage.
Canyon says the Spectral 9.0 EX will be available on its website in November 2017.