Wow. Just simply – wow. Bang for buck, you'll struggle to find a better race machine than the Canyon Ultimate SF SLX 9.0. But even taking value out of the equation, you'll be hard pressed to beat the weight and performance of the German company's 'all-round' racer. I spent a month testing the updated frameset around the West Country lanes, and one of the best just got better.
A glimpse of summer recently hit the South West, and with the Ultimate's test period coming to a conclusion, I decided a trip to the Dorset coast and back would encapsulate what the Canyon is good at – pretty much everything really.
An early morning start while most were still languishing in bed meant for little traffic, so a quick blast down a deserted dual carriageway for 10 miles showcased the Canyon's ability to just absolutely devour miles without any real feeling of effort. Canyon has concentrated on aerodynamics with the new Ultimate and it certainly felt quick sitting at a steady 25mph on the flat, smooth tarmac.
It's not aerodynamic in a way that Canyon's Aeroad is, or Storck's Aerfast, as once you start to pass 25mph on the Ultimate you can really feel the wind resistance increasing. The true aero bikes like the two mentioned take much less effort to go above this speed, but the Ultimate makes a good compromise.
This Ultimate sports a newly designed down tube profile – a box section with the bottom face (closest to the road) being rounded to create a 'D' shape. Compared with the previous Ultimate, the profile is narrower with a rounder nose, which is designed to decrease flow separation by ensuring the air sticks to the tube. Making it narrower has an impact on stiffness, though, so Canyon has developed a new box section top tube and wider seatstays to provide the necessary frame stiffness.
The all-in-one H36 Aerocockpit CF handlebar/stem is surprisingly comfortable, and with quite shallow anatomical drops offers loads of hand positions for practically every rider. Canyon claims an advantage of around 5.5W at these sorts of speeds (around 45kph) over a standard handlebar and stem setup.
It's when you get into the rolling lanes that the Ultimate really comes to life, though...
Going to the coast means lots of hills, and if you've read any of my other reviews you'll know I like descending as fast as possible, and if things get a little out of shape when you find the limits... well, it all adds to the fun, doesn't it?
No such luck with the Ultimate. If you find the limits of this frame then, boy, you must be pushing it hard. Thankfully the sheer speed achievable provides all the excitement and adrenaline you'll need.
Twisting B-road descents are an absolute joy. The bike is so stable, so composed no matter what the speed, even at 50mph-plus the tiniest little input just keeps the Canyon exactly where you want it.
With your weight on the pedals, thighs positioned towards the rear of the saddle, face dropped near to the stem and the lightest grip on the bar, you can just let the bike do what it wants to beneath you; give it enough rein to absorb the bumps and, should your trajectory need a tweak, just a touch of weight on either side of the bar changes your line with confidence and accuracy.
Canyon has actually ditched the oversized tapered head tube on this new model for aerodynamic reasons, going for matching diameter bearings top and bottom. They are still a pretty meaty 1 1/4in diameter so this hasn't impacted on front end stiffness at all.
What goes down has to come up, but obviously with a weight of 6.53kg even the most challenged climbers aren't going to have problems on the ascents. Shimano's 11-28 toothed cassette range gives a pretty low climbing gear when paired with the semi-compact 52/36 chainset – pretty low for a race bike at least.
Stiffness through the wide press-fit bottom bracket junction is impressive, as is the front end, so every pedal revolution you put out gets delivered to the road whether you're in or out of the saddle.
The only fly in the ointment is the Mavic Ksyrium Pro Exalith SL wheelset; it's a phenomenally light set of aluminium race wheels, but I could get a good deal of brake block rub due to flex when really putting the power down.
As well as aerodynamic improvements, Canyon has really concentrated on comfort – especially at the seat tube junction.
Changing the standard style seat clamp for an integrated version has left an amount of seatpost exposed from the frame, which will then flex under load.
The adjustment bolt sits at the rear of the frame between the seatstays as they merge into the seat tube, so it sits quite low down. Inside the seat tube is an aluminium shim covered by a soft seal which spreads the load of the bolt over a much larger surface area to protect the post and create a tight seal. Our Ultimate came with a pack of carbon fibre paste and it's always a good idea to use this between mating surfaces; there were certainly no slippage issues.
At times you can really feel the seatpost flexing, which can be a little disconcerting, especially when you first ride away – I guarantee the first thing you do is to look back to see if you have a soft tyre.
What it means from a riding point of view is that you never suffer from any muscle fatigue or soreness from being battered by rough roads. You don't need to fanny about with tyre pressures to get a cosseting ride – just pump them up to where you want them and let the frame and fork deal with it. After seven hours in the saddle, I got off without the slightest feeling of pain, just that of turning the pedals over.
The fork legs allow a bit of fore and aft to control vibrations at the front end, and while the bike still feels direct and stiff, the bangs and crashes don't make it through to your hands or forearms.
The spec list is impressive when you consider all the kit is being attached to a Grand Tour-ready 760g frame and 295g fork.
Shimano Dura-Ace is a beautiful groupset that has a noticeable jump in performance from Ultegra, with a really quick, slick shift – although the acceleration of the Ultimate means you could sometimes do with something a little snappier like Di2 to keep up.
The power from the Dura-Ace dual pivot brake callipers is awesome too.
Speaking of braking, the Mavic Ksyrium wheels use a coating called Exalith, which is added to the aluminium during manufacturing and makes it stronger, so less can be used to make the rim lighter for the same strength.
The swirly rim pattern benefits braking by shedding water in the wet, stopping pads from becoming glazed due to high temperatures in the dry. The only downside is that they absolutely eat pads, and being Mavic-branded Swissstops, they ain't cheap.
When the wheels first came out, Mavic said this was only the case with the first set of pads, so hopefully that still applies for this newer compound, as I've probably eaten through a third of the pad in about 500 mainly dry miles.
I mentioned the flex in the wheels, and it's worth bearing in mind if you are a bigger or powerful rider, but on the whole the Ksyriums are great all-rounders.
I'm not such a big fan of Mavic's own tyres, which come with most of its wheels these days as a package, mainly because they have such poor grip levels, even in the dry.
Thankfully it doesn't seem to affect things at really high speed or flowing bends, it's more the slower, tighter ones like roundabouts or junctions. They just seem to break away with little warning. The Ultimate that I rode in Germany recently came with Continental tyres, and the more engaging feel and confidence-inspiring grip levels were very evident.
The rest of the components come from Canyon, and I've already mentioned the Aerocockpit handlebar for its stiffness and comfort. For our medium test bike, the stem length is 100mm and the bar 410 mm wide. Both are 10mm smaller than I would normally use, but everything felt right when I sat on the bike; there was no adjustment or settling in period required (if you don't get on with your assigned size, Canyon will replace them for you).
In relation to the rest of the bike, I found the Fizik Aliante R5 saddle quite harsh and stiff. I was certainly thankful for the flex in that seatpost at times.
Although £3,599 isn't cheap, on the flipside it's not often you can ride a frameset straight from the pro peloton with full Dura-Ace and £1,000 Mavic wheels for such a good price.
It's not just the spec list, though – the ride quality, the behaviour and the weight of the Ultimate stands head and shoulders above a lot of bikes we've tested costing much, much more. It's an impressive package, even if you do need to add on another 50 quid for delivery.
I had never ridden the previous model of the Ultimate, but I know a man who's got a 2014 model, so with wheels swapped over I was ready for a bit of back-to-back testing to see whether all these tweaks actually make a difference.
Comparing the old and new models, you'll find very small differences between the two. Each change has quite small benefits in isolation, but added together they create a much more refined frame. The new Ultimate feels snappier, more responsive and quite a bit more comfortable – which all together will make you faster.
You don't want to discount Canyon's aerodynamic claims either, as although it's difficult to quantify, the new frameset does feel quicker, especially above 20mph.
Overall, Canyon has taken its highly revered Ultimate frameset and tweaked it to create a slightly more polished product with better refinement, speed and comfort while maintaining its excellent value-for-money selling point.
Stunning performance from a bike that balances stiffness and comfort, and stability and excitement
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0
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.
FRAME: CANYON ULTIMATE CF SLX CARBON FIBRE
FORK: CANYON ONE ONE FOUR SLX CARBON FIBRE
REAR DERAILLEUR: SHIMANO DURA-ACE, 11S
FRONT DERAILLEUR: SHIMANO DURA-ACE, 11S
BRAKE/SHIFT LEVERS: SHIMANO DURA-ACE, 11S
BRAKES: SHIMANO DURA-ACE
CASSETTE: SHIMANO DURA-ACE, 11-28
WHEELSET: MAVIC KSYRIUM PRO EXALITH SL WTS
TYRES: MAVIC YKSION PRO GRIPLINK MAVIC POWERLINK
CRANKS: SHIMANO DURA-ACE, 11S
BOTTOM BRACKET: SHIMANO PRESSFIT
COCKPIT: CANYON H36 AEROCOCKPIT CF
HANDLEBAR TAPE: CANYON ERGOSPEED GEL
SADDLE: FIZIK ANTARES R5
SEATPOST: CANYON S13 VCLS CF (15 - 35 MM SETBACK)
FRAME SIZES: 2XS, XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL
COLOUR STEALTH: ASPHALT GREY | STEALTH - RED
INCLUDED IN DELIVERY
TOOLS CANYON TORQUE WRENCH
FRAME PROTECTION CANYON FRAME PROTECTION
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 says, "For a decade the Ultimate series has stood at the pinnacle of the Canyon road bike range. These framesets are meticulously designed to combine low weight and maximum stiffness with outstanding ride quality to create an unparalleled overall package. With our Sport Pro Geometry the rider can achieve the ideal position on the bike for optimum performance and comfort for hours in the saddle. Available in a wide range of carbon or aluminium models, these machines have been proven at the top level for years and are the ride of choice for pros and enthusiasts alike."
Canyon do seem to have achieved the near perfect balance of a race bike's speed and handling but with the comfort levels of an all-day machine.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Canyon has often mentioned that a product recall would be a disaster for it, considering the 'direct sale' setup, so quality control at its HQ is probably some of the strictest in the business with x-rays and the like being carried out on carbon components, frames and forks.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Canyon keeps the exact material choice and layup close to its chest but from what I found out the company uses a range of different grade high modulus carbon fibres. This is the same for both the frame and fork, running right through to things like carbon dropouts to reduce weight.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The Ultimate uses what Canyon calls its Sport-Pro geometry. It describes it thus: "A balanced geometry for enthusiasts. The Sport Pro Geometry lays emphasis on performance while maintaining rider comfort."
It basically takes what would be considered a long and low race position and softens it just a little by increasing the height of the head tube and shortening the top tube a touch. It's not by much, though, as don't forget this is still a frame that is used in the pro peloton.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
You get a stack to reach ratio of 1.45 – exactly what you'd expect for this kind of geometry.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Unbelievable comfort through the seatpost area, which gives you such a supple ride quality that you can keep riding for hours.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Out of the saddle efforts find a frame and fork that gives nothing away in power wastage.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, very efficient. Acceleration is unbelievable.
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? Very quick but incredibly balanced.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The Ultimate is one of the most balanced bikes I've ever ridden, with razor-sharp, pin-point handling that never becomes twitchy or vague.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The amount the seatpost is allowed to flex by is the biggest contributor to the overall comfort of the bike. The forward and back movement seems to soak up the harshness and vibration out from poor road surfaces before it reaches the rider..
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The Shimano Dura-Ace chainset is one of the stiffest out there. Canyon's own cockpit is beautifully stiff without being harsh.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The Mavic Ksyrium wheels are light, which aids climbing and acceleration, although there is some flex under load causing brake block rub and therefore a slight detriment to efficiency.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Dura-Ace doesn't command such a high price for nothing. The shifting is slick, direct and very fast, plus the dual-calliper brakes are some of the best on the market.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so, what for?
The Ksyrium wheels do suffer with some flex under load if you are a bigger, powerful rider. They are exceptionally light for alloy rims and thanks to the Exalith coating they offer exceptional braking, wet and dry.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so, what for?
The tyres are a weak point, with limited grip levels that reduce your confidence to push the bike to its limits.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The Canyon cockpit is very comfortable, with multiple hand positions, and offers excellent stiffness for a carbon bar.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Absolutely
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
So, so close to being a 10 overall but hey, nothing's perfect. For me this Ultimate model is let down a little by the slightly flexible wheels and the poor Mavic tyres reducing confidence thanks to their limited grip. Slighty rough overspray around the bottle cage rivets too, which cheapens the finish slightly – as you can probably tell, I'm being really finicky as the Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 is a truly astounding race bike.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Mason Definition
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: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!