You won't have seen Canyon bikes in the shops because the German brand sell direct to the consumer, cutting out the middle man. This Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 is built around the same carbon fibre frameset that's used by the Omega Pharma-Lotto pro team, and it's equipped with Shimano's top-level Dura-Ace groupset. On the face of it, that looks like incredible value for money...
The Omega Pharma-Lotto team, home to Classics specialist Phillippe Gilbert, actually ride the more aerodynamic Aeroad CF for some races/stages, and the lightweight Ultimate CF SLX for others. They use a different component mix - you can buy a replica model - but whereas some teams use custom-made frames, all of Omega Pharma-Lotto's come from stock, so you can ride the exact design that, for example, Bart De Clercq rode to victory on stage 7 of this year's Giro d'Italia.
When the designers first got together to draw up the blueprints for this bike, they must have had the word 'rigidity' written on the flip chart in big letters... or whatever that is in German. This has to have been one of the key objectives here. Check out the head tube. It's a chunky old beast that houses a 1 1/4in bearing up top rather than the usual 1 1/8in, and a 1 1/2in bearing at the bottom. On our 58cm test bike, most of that tube is reinforced by the junction with the down tube; the area where they meet being over 10cm tall.
The axis of the down tube's ovalisation switches along its length so that it reaches right across the bottom bracket for more rigidity down there - really right across; it couldn't be any wider - and meaty chainstays provide more support at the back. The seat tube is interesting. Canyon call it their Maximus design. It starts out skinny at the top before bulging out massively on the non-driveside. It doesn't swell as much on the driveside but instead squares off with a flat outer face. The idea is to provide as much frame rigidity as possible while still offering enough clearance for the front mech and the chainset. Cervlo use a similar design having come to an arrangement with Canyon involving various patents, a couple of sets of lawyers and a judge.
The top tube slopes down significantly while at the same time tapering from its wide head tube junction to its narrow seat tube junction and the seatstays, in stark contrast to the rest of the frame, are super-skinny - just 13mm in diameter, if you want to get precise about it. Canyon call these VCLS stays - vertical comfort, lateral stiffness. Basically, it's a different way of saying that they engineer in some good old vertical compliance; they make them slim so they'll flex a bit for an improved quality of ride.
The VCLS post is designed to do a similar thing. It's 27.2mm in diameter which is slender by today's standards, and Canyon include basalt fibres in there. You know basalt, yeah? It's a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. Oh yes, we all know that. Okay, I might have had some help from Wikipedia there but the point is that basalt fibres are more elastic than carbon fibres, apparently, so they provide better damping to absorb shock.
The blades of Canyon's One One Four SLX fork contain these basalt fibres in with the carbon for the same purpose. It's a sub-300g fork and the carbon steerer is held in place by an i-Lock headset that Canyon have developed with fellow German brand Acros.
With most headsets these days you preload the bearings by tightening the top cap which is attached to a star nut or an expander cone inside the fork's steerer. Then you check the stem is straight and tighten its bolts. With the i-Lock system, you push down on the stem and tighten it to start with, then you remove any play with a tiny Torx bolt. What's the benefit? The idea is to remove any possibility of damaging the steerer. Plus, you can swap the stem or adjust it without affecting the preload on the headset.
You might be different, but I can't say any of that has been a massive problem for me in the past. Still, it's a system that works well. My only reservation is this... You're away from home and you need to adjust the headset: what are you more likely to have trouble laying your hands on, a 5mm Allen key or a tiny torx wrench? That's my two-penn'orth. Of course, if you were a Boy Scout or Girl Guide and you're always prepared, that won't be a problem.
In terms of looks, the Canyon divides opinion. There are those who like the simple black and white approach, and those who think it's a bit dull. It's a matter of taste, of course. You can go for exactly the same bike in matt black if you prefer.
The Ultimate CF SLX is available in five different builds, the most expensive being the Campagnolo Super Record and Mavic R-Sys SL-equipped 9.0 Team (£3,909). This 8.0 is the cheapest model but the spec sheet still reveals an all-star cast.
The groupset is Shimano top-level Dura-Ace which provides excellent shifting at a light weight and some of the best all-condition braking out there. The usual Shimano groupset on bikes of this price is next-level-down Ultegra. We have a standard 53/39 tooth chainset on our test bike along with a 12-25T cassette although you can go for a compact 50/34T option if you prefer, and a wide-ranging 11-28T cassette. Horses for courses.
The wheels are Mavic Ksyrium Elites. Ksyriums have been around for years now but they still keep on performing. At 1,550g the pair, the Elites are reasonably light although not featherweight. The best thing about Ksyriums, in my experience, is that they last ages with very little attention. I've ridden thousands of miles on them with very few problems. Hit a tooth-shattering pothole... not a worry. The straight-pull, bladed spokes don't snap and the rims are still straight. Get them soaking when you're caught in a cloudburst and the cartridge bearings keep the water out well. Of course, other people might not have been so lucky, but I've got only good things to say about them... and this is my review, so there. The Conti Grand Prix 4000 tyres are great too, offering very good grip in all conditions and they're a reasonable weight.
The aluminium cockpit comes from Ritchey in the shape of a WCS 4-axis stem and Logic II bar - lightweight and reliable stuff - and the saddle is a Selle Italia SL Kit Carbonio. Each to his/her own on the saddle front but this is a popular option with quite a bit of flex in the body to smooth the ride. I've mentioned the VCLS seatpost already - volcanoes, remember? - but it's also worth pointing out that you can shimmy the clamp 20mm fore and aft to alter the setback and, effectively, the seat angle.
Speaking of angles, our 58cm test bike's has both head and seat angles of 73.5, which is pretty standard. As ever, they're slightly different for different frame sizes.
Okay, enough of this nonsense. How does it ride?
If you saw the pics of the Ultimate CF SLX and thought, 'That looks like a bike that combines efficiency with an unexpected amount of comfort,' you'd be absolutely right. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Efficiency really is the key here. The Canyon's bottom bracket shell is actually a fairly restrained size by modern standards but it doesn't shift to any noticeable degree when you punch the pedals around with all the power you've got. It's the same at the front end, which isn't all that surprising given the size of the head tube/down tube junction,
If I ride a bike that flexes up front, even if it's just a small amount, I struggle to trust it. I find myself backing off a little going into tight corners and braking on fast descents just in case it does something, you know, weird. The last thing you want when you're leaning the bike over at 40mph is for it to head in a slightly different direction to the one you're expecting. You want to point it where you want to go, then end up in that exact spot without making any allowances or needing to adjust things.
That's what you get here. The Canyon is very precise and very well-behaved... and that translates into confidence and speed. It's not all down to the frame and fork, of course, the Ksyrium wheels help on that score too. They're not as stiff as their R-Sys stablemates but they certainly hold their own when you sling them through the tight turns. And one other factor that allows you to take everything at a gallop is the braking. Dura-Ace anchors are excellent in all weather whether ('weather whether'? I'm going with it) you're feathering off a bit of excess speed or performing an emergency stop.
The Canyon is almost as impressive in terms of response speed too. Our 58cm model weighed in on the road.cc scales at 6.96kg (15.3lb). We get used to hearing crazy-low weights bandied about but don't forget that this is a £2,649 bike - not cheap but, compared to top end bikes from most other brands, not mega-expensive either. Sub 7kg is pretty darn impressive. As we never tire of pointing out, a light weight means nothing if you bend it like Beckham as soon as you get busy on the pedals, but that's not the case here. What happens when you put the power in is that you get an immediate reaction.
The time you'll be most thankful of that light weight/ impressive stiffness combo is when you head uphill. The Ultimate CF SLX is as keen to get to the top as you are. Spirited, I'd call it. Eager. Words like that. I keep going on about the Ksyrium wheels but, again, they do a fine job on the climbs, working with you rather than against you. As I said before, there are lighter wheels out there, and there are stiffer wheels out there, but these are a good combination of the two. Add in reliability and you're onto a winner.
The one other big characteristic is the comfort. I don't know about you but when someone tells me they've put basalt - or anything else out of a volcano, for that matter - into a seatpost or a fork, it triggers a little alarm in my head. There's this whirring noise and a flashing light and I start to think there might be some hardcore baloney coming my way. Just to put my cards on the table, like.
Now, whether or not it's down to the basalt (basalt, for goodness sake!) I couldn't say for sure, but this is a comfortable bike. I always do a 5hr ride on every bike I review (I don't test folders) and I felt absolutely fine and dandy at the end of my big ride on the Canyon. Personally, I'd put that down to the skinny seatstays, the slimline nature of the seatpost and plenty of vibration-damping flex in the saddle more than anything basaltic, but I guess I could be wrong.
What else useful can I tell you? The Dura-Ace drivetrain played nicely throughout; it always does. The lever hoods provided a comfy, flat perch for my hands, as usual, and the lengthy straight section on the drops of the anatomic bars was great for just resting on or for grabbing tight for an out of the saddle sprint.
I'm struggling for anything negative to say, to be honest, because this is an incredibly good bike for the money. Yes, if you paid a bit more you could get some truly lightweight wheels, for example, but you could always say that. You really can't complain about a bike with this spec priced at £2,609. It's an absolute bargain.
A pro-level frameset at the heart of a fast, efficient and comfortable bike that's exceptional value for money
road.cc test report
Make and model: Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8.0
Size tested: White 58cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Canyon New F10 technology - carbon fibre
Fork Canyon One One Four SLX - carbon fibre
Headset Acros Ai-70 1.25in - 1.5in
Rear derailleur Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Front derailleur Shimano DuraAce 7900
Shifters Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Brake levers Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Brakes Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Cassette Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 11-28
Wheels Mavic Ksyrium Elite
Tyres Continental Grand Prix 4000 S
Chainset Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Bottom bracket Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Stem Ritchey WCS 4-Axis (31,8)
Handlebar Ritchey WCS Logic II
Saddle Selle Italia SL Kit Carbonio
Seat post Canyon VCLS Post
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Canyon say, '"Canyon has sent one of the fastest and lightest bikes with a super frame into the race." This was the opinion of Roadbike in its 03/2010 edition. The bike received the overall mark Very Good. The ride characteristics also impressed the testers from Roadbike: "The bike follows every command from the handlebar with razor-like precision and accelerates uncontrollably in a way that few other bikes on the market can match." Naturally, because this bike represents the first one in the elite category. Outstanding ride characteristics thanks to the innovative fork and an outstanding combination of stiffness and comfort thanks to the optimised carbon lay ups.'
It's a performance road bike.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Spot on; no worries at all.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is multi-modulus carbon fibre, and the fork is all carbon too.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Our 58cm model has head and seat angles that are both 73.5 and a wheelbase of 99cm.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Pretty standard. The 58cm size has a seat tube of 57cm and a top tube of 56.5cm.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, comfortable enough even on long rides on crap roads.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, stiff and efficient through both the bottom bracket and at the front end.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Manoeuvrable.
Excellent spec, especially on a bike of this price
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, very much
Would you consider buying the bike? I'm not after anything similar but if I was it be one to consider
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
An absolute bargain
About the tester
Age: 40 Height: 190cm Weight: 74kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.