Canyon has launched a new three-model range of women-specific bikes, available now and priced from €1,499 to €6,199 (around £1,270-£5,260). All three are disc brake-only – which Canyon thinks is the future – and all three are available in five sizes, catering for riders from 152cm (5ft) to 186cm (6ft 1in), the smallest two sizes using 650B wheels.
The brand new Ultimate WMN CF SLX and Endurace WMN CF SL models, both with carbon frames, are available in four builds, ranging from €2,999 (£2,540) to €6,199 (£5,260) for the Ultimate and €1,999-€5,899 (£1,690-£4,990) for the Endurace, while the aluminium-framed Endurace WMN AL is available in two builds, Shimano 105 for €1,499 (£1,270) and Ultegra for €1,699 (£1,440). (All UK£ prices are approximate.)
Although 3XS and 2XS might sound tiny compared with the usual XS, S, M, L and XL of other brands (if, indeed, there are that many women-specific bikes in the range), in Canyon sizing terms it’s not. The German company has chosen to use the same sizing system for all its men’s and women’s models – so, for example, the medium men’s/unisex bike and medium women’s bike are for the same height rider.
What is completely new to Canyon is that the two smaller sizes – 2XS and 3XS – are designed around 650B wheels rather than 700C, to maintain the same handling traits as the larger sizes. Using smaller diameter wheels on the smaller frames keeps the ‘trail’ measurement the same across the five sizes (trail is the horizontal distance from where the front wheel touches the ground to where the steering axis intersects the ground).
Canyon says it has worked with its partners to ensure continued supply of 650B wheels and tyres for aftermarket choice; the top carbon Endurace and Ultimate models have Reynolds Assault LE wheels, all the others have DT Swiss. All are shod with 25mm Schwalbe Pro One tyres. (You'll be able to see the full specs at canyon.com.)
Using smaller diameter wheels also solves the potential problem of toe overlap on smaller frames.
Although Canyon already has WMN-labelled models in its range, they’re unisex frames specced with women-specific parts. The brand new bikes have frames designed specifically for women, with a slightly higher stack measurement and shorter reach (stack and reach are the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube).
Canyon used feedback from riders in its Canyon//SRAM women’s racing team and data from over 60,000 entries from women on its Perfect Position System – which showed that women are generally shorter and lighter than men, have shorter arms, narrower shoulders, and greater pelvic flexibility, but no more variation in leg length in relation to the rest of their body than men.
Why disc brakes rather than rim? In December last year Canyon revealed it was going all out on disc brakes for men, and product manager Katrin Neumann, who had overall responsibility for the new women's range, told me: “Once I’d experienced the advantage of disc brakes, I thought, OK, this is the best way for women.
“Disc brakes don’t need the same force, the same power in the fingers, and the modulation is a lot better – you only need one finger for braking. For a lot of women their fingers can start to hurt on a long descent – it’s a lot easier with a disc brake. Then there’s the safety issue – in bad weather discs are a lot better.
“Rim brakes have their advantages, but in my opinion disc brakes are the future, and I wouldn’t buy any other any more.”
Canyon//SRAM pro rider Tiffany Cromwell certainly seems to approve. “I’d never ridden disc brakes on a road bike before and I’m already sold,” she said at the presentation of the new range in Koblenz, where Canyon is based.
Tiffany, who’s 166cm tall and rides a 2XS, also gives the smaller diameter wheels the thumbs up, finding them much quicker to accelerate out of corners.
All three new models feature:
- flat mount disc brakes
- 12mm thru-axles
- aero forks
- aero down tubes
- internal cable routing
- clearance for 33mm tyres
- aero cockpits (H17 Ergo or H31 Ergocockpit)
The new Ultimate is designed to be stiff and lightweight, with an aero focus. Designed in the wind tunnel "where the magic happens", it features Canyon’s Sport Pro geometry, giving a slightly more stretched riding position than the Endurace, and is aimed at pro racers and those who like to ride fast.
In its research, Canyon concluded that women don’t need a bike to be as stiff laterally as a (generally heavier) man does, so it could reduce the sizing and mass of the tubes, keeping the stiffness to weight ratio largely unaffected.
According to Canyon, the new Ultimate frame is 6.5 per cent lighter than the unisex model (a claimed 789g for the XS), has 10 per cent more vertical compliance, and provides a 5 watt aero saving.
Going for narrower tubing and thinner lines also helps the aesthetics of the new frame, particularly around the head tube/top tube junction, where smaller frames can look ‘squashed’.
Both Endurace models are built around Canyon’s Sport geometry, which provides a more relaxed, upright riding position than the Ultimate.
Designed for long-ride comfort, the new carbon Endurace uses Canyon’s ‘rear compliance clamping concept’: the seat tube has a built-in ‘Comfort Kink’, which combines with the S15 VCLS 2.0 seatpost to produce a bow-like shape, designed to enhance comfort.
The AL frame uses what Canyon describes as ‘high end alloy’, and offers women the same advantages of the higher-spec designs in terms of geometry and disc brakes in an affordable package.
As with the Ultimate, there’s space for up to 33mm tyres and scope to use the bikes on gravel and cobbles, though none feature mudguard eyelets.
At the launch of the new bikes at Canyon's HQ in Koblenz, Germany, I rode the two new carbon models in their top-range builds (in size XS, so 700C wheels – Reynolds Assault LE). Ignoring the saddles on both – neither of which I got on with – first impressions were very good.
Both models were equipped with SRAM RED eTap – my first outing using electronic shifting and I love it – both, slightly surprisingly I thought, with the same gear range: a compact 50/34 chainset (which changes to a semi-compact 52/36 on the smaller 2XS and 3XS sizes) combined with an 11-32 cassette. It makes the climbs a doddle, though I was surprised it wasn’t a more racy setup on the Ultimate.
My first ride was on the Ultimate, and from the first moment of turning the pedals – just a quick scoot to see if the mechanic had got the saddle height correct – it was a joy. It felt light, stiff and very, very responsive – it’s odd how, even though you’re the person pedalling, a bike can feel like there’s something else helping too, like someone’s given you a shove or there’s a secret engine tucked away in there.
All set up correctly, we set off downhill from a lovely old mill restaurant in the hills above the river Mosel, straight into a fast descent where immediately the disc brakes came into action. Another revelation!
The geometry might have been tweaked, so the top tube is shorter than on the same size unisex model, for example, but it still felt quite stretched for me – though not uncomfortably so. In fact it felt pretty comfortable for a racier style bike than I’m used to.
We bombed along the valley floor – a good chance to practise getting the hang of the electronic shifting – before turning off up into the hills, where the light weight and low gearing meant it zipped up easily. A big swoopy descent was just reward for our efforts, and the bike felt planted and smooth. An emergency stop after following the ride leaders up a wrong turn put the SRAM disc brakes to the test again – they are superb, just so reassuring.
After a delicious lunch back at the old mill, it was time for our second outing. I felt immediately more at home on the Endurace’s slightly more upright ride, which was more natural and comfortable for my style of riding. The responsiveness was also more muted than the Ultimate, though it was pretty marginal, I thought – there's certainly nothing power-suckingly spongy about the Endurace.
We followed the same descent to the river, disc brakes once again in action, then crossed to the other side for another long and winding climb through forest, this time heading back towards Koblenz. The forest 'road' had seen better days, but the Endurace took the slightly bumpy and rough tarmac in its stride. If it hadn't been for the saddle I could have carried on climbing all day…
The ride was full of new experiences for me, one of which was using an aero bar with a wide, flat top – a great resting place for your hands when sitting up and climbing steadily.
Reward for the climb this time was a series of tight hairpins descending from a country park, past errant toddlers and meandering grandparents, through trees to the river – all perfectly safely thanks to the excellent disc brakes. I'm a convert. Canyon product manager Katrin reckons rim brakes will disappear in the next few years (see below) and I’m inclined to agree.
• We’ll be getting one of the new models in to test more fully, but in the meantime you can read more at canyon.com
Q&A with Canyon product manager Katrin Neumann
Why do you prefer disc brakes?
I’m used to them from mountain biking; of course there’s not as much mud on the road, but you still profit a lot – in a group, if others have disc brakes and I don’t, I miss out on the corners. With disc brakes I can ride fast for longer, brake later on, and it gives me a better feeling of control over the bike.
What do you think will happen with rim brakes?
In my opinion, they will disappear, though how long it takes will depend a bit on the UCI. In mountain biking it took a couple of years, and originally I thought it would take more or less the same time [for road bikes], but now I think, as soon as people get used to it, it will happen faster than in mountain biking; then it was completely new.
What would you say to a woman who’s just bought one of the unisex models?
The unisex model is not a bike she cannot ride – the new bike is just an improvement. It’s just the detail which makes it even better. Also, I wouldn’t say every woman fits best on a woman’s bike, but the average woman does (I’m sure a lot of men would fit on a woman’s bike better, too, but they’d never ride it).
Do you think you have the road bike market covered for women with these three models?
The range goes from the entry-level AL to high-end, sporty, racy bikes that are more aero and lightweight than current ones. You can pay less for rim brakes, but I think prices will drop for disc brakes.
Can you reassure smaller riders that there will be a full range of 650B wheels and tyres available?
We talked to our partners and they will supply us with enough spare rims and tyres, and Schwalbe tyres in all sizes are already available in shops or to order. If you want to change wheels you can buy them direct from Canyon, but I think the advantage is so good that a lot of other companies will stock them too.
Which is your favourite of the three models?
All three have their advantages – but if I had to choose I’d say the Ultimate, because I’m from the racy side.
What are you most proud of?
My goal would be to reach the point when men say ‘that’s a better bike and I want to have that bike’. Because then you step out of the women’s bike corner, that idea that women’s bikes don’t count as much as men’s bikes – “if you’re not a serious rider then you can buy a women’s bike”. If we reached that point, it wouldn’t be one special bike I’d be proud of, just that the whole topic would take a big step forward.
Tass is our production pedant, who boldly goes hunting for split infinitives, rogue apostrophes and other things up with which she will not put. She's ridden off-road but much prefers on, hasn't done half the touring she'd like to, and loves paper maps.