The Grind: Three Canyon Grails in three days
A few weeks ago, I called the Canyon Grail weird. Canyon responded by inviting me to come ride a few versions of the gravel bike in Northern California so I could make a more informed position than simple armchair heckling.
I got to test three bikes, ranging from the $1,899 AL to the $4,999 range-topping CF SLX 8.0 eTap on everything from singletrack and fireroads to bombed-out pavement and deep gravel. I also got to jump into Miguel Crawford’s legendary Super Sweetwater Grasshopper Adventure Series event.
My bias hopping onto these bikes was pretty simple: Canyon makes great bikes at exceptional prices, but what’s up with that bar? A few VeloNews staffers had spent ample time riding and racing various Grails, but I hadn’t pedaled one myself much until this year.
I will get reviews up soon on the two CF bikes, but I thought I’d share my quick thoughts here on all three machines.
Day one: Chasing Pete Stetina on the CF SLX 8.0 eTap
After a shakedown ride the prior evening to get the fit dialed, we met up with Pete Stetina to ride some of his local paved and dirt training grounds in Sonoma County, much of which is used for a few of the Grasshopper Adventure Series.
From the first pedal strokes, the CF SLX 8.0 eTap is impressively light (830g frame, 18.3lb complete) with DT Swiss GRC 14000 Spline carbon wheels. The bike comes with Schwalbe G-One Bite 40mm tubeless tires, which are a personal favorite for how supple and fast they feel.
So, the bars: The double-decker configuration is designed for flex on the tops. For me, having a bit of give near where the stem normally is isn’t a big sell, since when the riding is rough I am usually on the hoods. What I didn’t realize is that the bars also flex a bit with your hands on the hoods. Here, it’s more of a tilting fore and aft, pivoting on the stabilizing cross bar.
For me, that little bit of give is quite welcome, much as is the noticeable flex in Canyon’s VCLS 2.0 seatpost. So much of gravel racing or even riding is hitting rocks or other bumps at speed, often without a good line of sight, so being able to stay in the saddle and have the bike (and the tires, of course!) absorb a bit of the rattling is a good thing, in my book.
The downside to the bars is that the unique monocoque design dictates a few things. It dictates your thumb position in the drops (you have to hook it over the crossbar), it dictates a small amount of adjustment (15mm of stack changes), and it dictates that you can’t bolt on aerobars or normal computer or light mounts. Also, the stem length and bar width are obviously both fixed, so if you want to tweak stem length you need to buy a new bar.
But how does the thing ride? It was a blast! With geometry that’s on the more nimble side of the gravel spectrum and super light wheels, the CF SLX 8.0 is easy to accelerate, flick around, and hop over stuff.
The SRAM eTap 1x group has a massive, massive 10-50 Eagle cassette, which when paired to the 42t ring offered enough range to crawl up 15% dirt trails and still not get spun out too easily on gentle paved descents.
It was a joy to ride.
Day two: Surfing singletrack on the $1,899 AL
A gravel bike with Shimano GRX600, DT Swiss wheels and Schwalbe’s best tires for $1,899? Try to find that from Trek, Specialized or event Giant.
For day two, we explored some dirt roads and, on Pete’s advice, some swooping singletrack. Compared to the previous day’s top-shelf ride, the 20.5-pound AL felt a little portly just picking it up. And while the alloy DT Swiss 1800 wheels aren’t carbon featherweights, at 1,895g they aren’t tanks, either.
Aside from weight and parts package, the alloy frame offers a few differences from the carbon bike. Its geometry is a touch more relaxed, as the chainstays are longer without carbon’s benefit of creative shaping. But most crucially, the standard bar and stem mean you can adjust your handlebar stack and reach with a few spins of a wrench, and easily clamp on computers or aero bars.
While the Schwalbe tires performed their normal admirable job of soaking up much of the chatter, the alloy bike and bars with a standard seatpost deliver a noticeably firmer ride than the CF SLX. Although some of it could be attributed to the terrain, my hands felt more beat up at the end of the ride than on the carbon machine.
Day three: Chasing Stetina on the $2,999 CF SL 8.0
On Saturday, we put some Continental GP 5000 32mm tubeless tires on the bikes and lined up for the Super Sweetwater Grasshopper. Normally this event includes a fair amount of dirt, finishing up the Willow Creek climb, but landslides had closed the road and ruled that out. (Although we did ride Willow Creek two days prior. Shhh.)
Starting out from Healdsburg, California en masse with about 500 riders, Super Sweetwater quickly funnels riders into a rough, potholed stretch of pavement heading up to the Sweetwater climb. There, I very much appreciated having a bit of cush in the bike – at the low-pressure tires, at the flexing seatpost and at the bars. Reducing pressure over rattling surfaces reduces the stress in a big group, where you often don’t have a clear line of sight.
The CF SL is a carbon bike but one with a simpler and thus slightly heavier lay-up than the SLX. Built up with Shimano GRX 810 and the same alloy DT 18000 wheels as the Grail Al, the complete bike weighs 19.1 pounds.
With 9,000 feet of climbing on the day — some of over some steep roads — I was happy to have the gravel gearing of a 48/31 crank and an 11-34 cassette. You better believe I used that 31-34 quite a bit.
I found the 48-11 top gear to be perfectly adequate for the gran fondo style in the flats. I wouldn’t want it for a criterium, but for a long sportive it was great.
In terms of geometry, the Grail with its fixed cockpit put me in the same ballpark as my normal position, with a drop of about 9cm instead of 10 on a Medium bike with a 76cm saddle height, and a reach that was about a centimeter shorter than I normally use. Of course this will vary for every rider.
You can get other length cockpits, but Canyon won’t swap them out for you when you buy; you have to purchase a complete bike, and then buy a cockpit separately.
Grail reviews coming
In a perfect world, I would have had reviews on these bikes along with video from each done by today. But, alas. You can look for those in the weeks to come.
Bottom line, I was happy to have ridden the Grails in a variety of settings and get an appreciation for how the bar can also flex a bit when on the hoods, as well as just on the tops. If you’re interested in a Grail, I can vouch for the huge value of these machines. I would just encourage you to do your homework on your fit and the cockpit geometry.