The Canyon Inflite CF SLX 8.0 Pro Race is a fast and fun cyclo-cross race bike with excellent handling, impressive comfort, commanding mud-plugging capability and a decent specification and weight for the money. If you're shopping for a new cyclo-cross race bike, this is a really good option.
- Pros: Handling, comfortable, great spec and price, easy shouldering
- Cons: Unique looks won't be for everyone
The Inflite isn't a new name in the German company's range, but this is the first carbon fibre cyclo-cross bike it has produced and is a big step forward from the more versatile and general purpose aluminium Inflite that's been a feature of its lineup for a few years.
The company's DNA is pure racing, and this bike is a clear statement of intent: a bike fit for the toughest and most demanding cyclo-cross racers and budding amateurs alike. It's light – 940g for a frame – disc brake-only and 1x and 2x compatible, and features the most distinctive top tube we've ever seen.
The top tube design might look awkward but it genuinely does offer easy shouldering and bike pickup over hurdles and other cyclo-cross race obstacles, while the extended seatpost offers impressive deflection for taking the edge off rough ground.
You can read all about the frame design below, but first I'll talk about how this bike rides, because that's what's really important. Is it any good for cyclo-cross racing?
Ride and handling
Never judge a book by its cover goes the saying. The same should also apply to bikes. The Inflite CF SLX might not be the prettiest cyclo-cross bike ever produced, but there's nowt ugly about its performance, which is nothing short of stellar.
Since it's a bike designed primarily for racing, I thought I'd better put it through its paces. So over the last couple of months, I've taken part in loads of local races on a range of courses that have really tested the Inflite CF SLX well – not to mention my fitness.
The Canyon immediately impressed. My first impressions were of sheer speed and easy handling, with a delightful nimbleness that makes it easy to steer the bike around often awkward and fiddly cyclo-cross courses.
I've come straight off racing a similarly specced Specialized Crux, and compared to that the Canyon is lighter and faster, with more comfort in the saddle and more precision when navigating the tight bends of a typical 'cross race course, with better stability at higher speeds.
Canyon has expertise when it comes to carbon fibre frame design, and that shows in the Inflite CF SLX, not only in some of the smart, and distinctive, details but in how the bike performs. It's exceedingly responsive with a high level of stiffness detectable when you stamp on the pedals, as you do often in a cross race, accelerating from near standstill.
But the stiffness is balanced with enough compliance to ensure it doesn't beat you up when riding over rough and uncompromising ground. Naturally, big volume tyres at low pressures help, but I've raced carbon 'cross bikes that feel overly rigid in comparison. The Canyon is well judged in this regard, helped in no small part by the extra flex in the seatpost and the one-piece carbon handlebar.
That distinctive – and opinion-dividing – top tube is all about racing, pure and simple. Obstacles are, and should be, an essential ingredient of any cyclo-cross race, whether hurdles, steps, sandpits, ditches, bogs or car tyres. The raised top tube makes it easier to shoulder because there's much more space in the front triangle to get your arm through. The kink also serves as a useful handle for when you only need to lift the bike over an obstacle quickly – your hand easily falls to the kink and the bike is well balanced front to rear when carrying it in this position.
It's an incredibly effective design, and when races can be won and lost on split-second mistakes, it certainly could make a difference. Okay, it's not going to give me enough of an edge to start winning races, but if you're competing at the pointy end of a cyclo-cross race, margins are small and every little helps.
Geometry has been an important area of development in the new bike. Canyon reckons that cyclo-cross race speeds are increasing, and as a result it needed to look more closely at the geometry rather than replicate tried-and-tested numbers – and it's looked to the world of mountain bikes for inspiration.
It has increased the wheelbase length and reach to increase high-speed stability, while a shorter stem and wider bar provide the necessary agility, and a longer fork rake and the 72.5-degree head angle is intended to provide fast and responsive handling.
The idea of increasing the length and using shorter stems isn't a new one; Whyte Bikes has been doing this for a number of years with its cyclo-cross models but it's still not very common. It's not unlikely that we'll see a few more brands going down this route as cyclo-cross, and to a bigger extent gravel and adventure riding, evolves away from the traditional geometry of these once-modified road bikes.
The result is a bike that is agile at lower speeds when navigating the tight corners of a cyclo-cross race course, yet at higher speeds it's very stable. You obviously can't easily change the stem length and handlebar width, but fortunately I found the one-piece carbon handlebar and stem a good fit. I'm 5ft 11in and tested a size medium, which was an ideal fit.
Away from races, I've also used the Inflite CF SLX for general rides, to get dirty in my local woodlands and mix up road rides with stretches of bridleways and byways. I also rode the Canyon in the recent CX Sportive Badlands event around the Chilterns, a long-distance mixed terrain route favouring muddy tracks. This was a really challenging ride, not just because it was uncomfortably cold but because of the varied terrain and the inclusion of lots of very muddy forest tracks and byways, interspersed with fast road sections.
It's not the sort of riding a race bike is intended for, but the Inflite CF SLX excelled. It was comfortable, the bike in no way too harsh for the longer distance and mixed terrain, the saddle noticeably moving backwards underneath you on bigger impacts. The high-speed stability of the handling added real confidence on the faster road sections.
There were a few occasions when the diminutive tyres were nearing their limits at the low pressures I was running them, but the tubeless setup kept punctures at bay and the Schwalbe X-One All Round tread pattern provided good grip in the slippery mud. There is space for wider tyres if you wanted to use the Inflite CF SLX for this sort of general purpose riding more frequently. And thankfully Canyon has seen fit to retain two bottle cage mounts so you can strap a bottle and pump to the frame for extra practicality.
Mud clearance is critical in a cyclo-cross race bike, and it's something the Canyon engineers have focused on. Not only have they increased the clearance around the tyres, but they've also sought to reduce the surface area of the frame and areas where mud can tend to clog. And it works. Despite riding in some seriously sticky mud, not once did the Canyon get bogged down, and because there are few areas for mud to stick to the frame the weight didn't gradually creep up during a ride.
So if you are looking for a highly capable cyclo-cross race bike but also want a bike that can be used on longer rides away from competition, the Canyon Inflite CF SLX is that.
Wow, it's a striking looking frame. That's the first impression most people have when they set eyes on the Inflite CF SLX, and it's either love or hate at first sight. But every decision is borne from a desire to provide the cyclo-cross racer with a bike that performs at the highest level.
A key focus for the Canyon development team has been to ensure the bike is easy to shoulder and carry. The top tube has been raised and the down tube is 1.5 degrees steeper to increase the gap between it and the front wheel so you can more easily wrap your arm around it.
To provide additional comfort, the internal seat clamp has been lowered in the frame, which means an increase in the effective bending length of the seatpost of 110mm.
Canyon has worked its engineering and carbon fibre expertise to produce a frame that weighs a claimed 940g for a size medium. Details include a press-fit bottom bracket, internal cable routing, an integrated chainguide for single ring setups, flat mount disc brake mounts and a tapered head tube.
Mud clearance is a big consideration, with more of it better when the going is wet and sloppy. Not only has Canyon looked to increase mud clearance around the rear stays and fork, it has also sought to reduce the shelves and contours that can provide an opportunity for mud to build up on the frame and add weight. There are no seatstay or chainstay bridges for example.
The bike is built around UCI-legal 33mm tyres, but there's plenty of space if you wanted to fit a wider tyre for more adventurous riding.
Canyon will be offering eight sizes, from 3XS to 2XL, with the smallest two frame sizes built around 650B wheels. The geometry has also been tweaked on these two smallest sizes to maintain the handling, with reduced trail, a steeper head angle and shorter wheelbase.
If the bumblebee yellow and black paint job isn't to your tastes (it has really grown on me) you can opt for a more modest black and grey.
The new Inflite CF SLX comes in three builds, each using the same carbon frame and fork. The CF SLX 8.0 Pro Race tested here costs £2,499, is the cheapest model, and is very well specced for the money.
There's a SRAM Rival 1 groupset with hydraulic disc brakes and an 11-36t cassette combined with a 40t single chainring, which provides a really good range of gear ratios for cyclo-cross racing as well as longer distance gravel rides.
The Rival groupset really is faultless. The chain didn't come off once, the brakes are solid and dependable, and the taller hood bodies are a benefit in slippery and technical sections, helping to cement your hands in place on the bar.
The Quarq Prime crankset is intended to make it easy to upgrade to the company's DZero power meter, because you only have to swap the spider and not the whole crankset, so adding power is relatively straightforward. SRAM kindly sent me a power meter spider to fit to the bike and there'll be a separate review of it soon.
I've been really impressed with the DT Swiss CR 1600 Spline wheels, too. They might not be flashy carbon wheels, but they're a reasonable weight, strong, dependable and stiff, and the 22mm wide rims are tubeless-ready, which I took advantage of with 33mm Schwalbe X-One tyres.
I've previously raced cyclo-cross with tubeless tyres and I'm a fan – you can run low pressures without fear of puncturing, and there's no drama about glueing tubs. The X-One is an excellent tyre, fast on harder ground and grippy in the deepest mud; a good fit-and-forget tyre.
Canyon has been rolling out its Ergocockpit CF carbon fibre one-piece handlebar to more bikes in its range since it was first unveiled on the Aeroad back in 2014, and now it's found its way onto the company's new cyclo-cross race bike. It sure look the business, and is also comfortable, with nicely shaped drops that aren't too deep, and aero top sections that are comfortable when cruising – not that much of that occurs in a cyclo-cross race. It's not excessively stiff either, but neither is it flexy, it gets the balance just right. The bar is also swept back a little, reducing the reach when on the hoods.
The main problem is that you are limited in terms of stem length and bar width, but Canyon does tailor the configuration across the size range. The 42cm width and 90mm stem length on the medium size bike I tested felt spot on. The shorter stem works with the length of the bike, the fit was good and handling excellent. You can adjust the height of the handlebar, and moving the steerer tube spaces around is an easy job.
The Selle Italia SLS saddle atop the VCLS CF seatpost is very comfortable; nicely shaped for me and generously padded.
If you were feeling flush and fancied some carbon wheels, the CF SLX 9.0 Pro Race (£3,599) gets Reynolds Assault LE Disc carbon clinchers, a carbon crankset and Force instead of Rival, which is going to save some weight and add a bit of bling. My money would be on this £2,499 8.0 Pro Race though, and spend what you save on petrol money to get you to races, and maybe a power meter upgrade if you want to seriously up your game.
And compared with a similarly specced Specialized CruX Elite X1, this Canyon saves you £500, though the Crux does boast a lighter 900g frame, so the potential for a lighter overall build is with the US company. You don't get the power meter-ready crankset on the Specialized though.
Head over to the Trek website and you'll see a Boone 5 Disc for £2,800, which also has a carbon frameset with a SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain, and it has the unique IsoSpeed decoupler borrowed from the Domane endurance bike for extra seated comfort.
This bike is ready to race, out of the box. And I've done exactly that. It's a seriously impressive bike. The weight, stiffness, comfort, mud clearance, kinked top tube... it all comes together to form a package that excels in a cyclo-cross race. There's nothing I'd change about this bike, it's nigh-on perfect.
I've dragged it through tons of mud, smashed it over roots and blasted and skidded through rocky trails, dropped it and crashed it, jet washed it and left it caked in mud in the garage after a race, and it's taken it all in its stride and is still going strong. The gears are still shifting smoothly, the brakes are fantastic, the tubeless tyres don't leak and I've not flatted once.
The top tube design might look awkward but it genuinely does offer easy shouldering and bike pickup over hurdles and other 'cross race obstacles, while the seatpost offers impressive deflection for taking the edge off rough ground.
I've look forward to every ride on the Inflite CF SLX with a smile, knowing I was going to have fun and enjoy riding it.
Fast, fun and highly capable carbon cyclo-cross bike at a great price – there's a lot to like, if you can get past the kink...
road.cc test report
Make and model: Canyon Inflite CF SLX 8.0 Pro Race
Size tested: Medium
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Canyon says: "There really is no substitute for the strength and stiffness-to-weight ratio you can enjoy using high quality carbon fibre, which is why the Inflite CF SLX 8.0 Pro Race will be among the one of the most exciting bikes to hit the cross course this season. Not only the upgrade in material over aluminium makes this an exciting addition to our line-up, but the reconceived frame design and geometry options will turn the Inflite into a functional, technically advanced racer ready to help ease the pain of 60 high-intensity minutes in the mud. The need for shoulder space led to the development of the special carrying feature that facilitates shouldering the bike for when you need to sprint up stairs, and offers a natural place to grab it when you need to fly over the barriers. It also allows for the tightening of the rear triangle, dropping the seatstays and shortening the chainstays. We have kitted this Inflite out with our H31 Ergocockpit CF integrated handlebar and stem with cross-friendly length and width combinations to make that important touch point aero and comfy. Using the SRAM Rival 1 rear derailleur will ensure snappy shifting and a level of durability that will keep you in the race even in the toughest conditions. The Quarq Prime aluminium crank arm with its 24 mm axle will top off this exceptional drivetrain combo since it provides the durability a tough cross race requires, and will give you the option of taking your setup to the next level since it is power meter ready. Race-ready and a perfect way to hit all your racing objectives this season: the Inflite CF SLX 8.0 Pro Race."
Tell us what the bike is for
FRAME CANYON INFLITE CF SLX
FORK CANYON ONE ONE FOUR INFLITE CF DISC
HEADSET CANYON | ACROS
REAR DERAILLEUR SRAM RIVAL 1, 11S
CHAIN GUIDE CANYON CHAIN CATCHER
BRAKE/SHIFT LEVERS SRAM RIVAL 1, 11S
BRAKES SRAM RIVAL 1
CASSETTE SRAM PG-1130, 11S
WHEELSET DT SWISS CR 1600 SPLINE DB
TYRES SCHWALBE X-ONE, 33 MM
CRANKS QUARQ PRIME, 11S
CHAIN SRAM PC-1110
BOTTOM BRACKET SRAM GXP PRESSFIT
COCKPIT CANYON H31 ERGOCOCKPIT CF
HANDLEBAR TAPE CANYON ERGOSPEED GEL
SADDLE SELLE ITALIA SLS
SEAT POST CANYON S13 VCLS CF (15 - 35 MM SETBACK)
SADDLE CLAMP CANYON INTEGRATED SEAT CLAMP
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Excellent build quality and finishing detail.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Full carbon fibre frame and fork with claimed 940g weight for medium size frame.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Canyon will be offering eight sizes from 3XS to 2XL, with the smallest two frame sizes built around 650b wheels. The geometry has also been tweaked on these two smallest sizes to maintain the desirable handling, with reduced trail, a steeper head angle and shorter wheelbase.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
I found the fit and reach pretty much perfect.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The bike provides impressive comfort over rough ground.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Plenty of stiffness when you sprint out of slow corners.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Well balanced.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Agile at low speeds and stable at higher speeds.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
There's nothing I'd change. It's ready to race from the box. Add a power meter if you want.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's hard to find fault with the new Inflite CF XLS 8.0 Pro Race. It's ready to race out of the box, can handle longer gravel rides, and is cheaper than its main rivals. What's not to like? You don't like the yellow? That's okay, it's available in black.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.