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Canyon doesn't rush things. It studied the disc brake market before finally taking the plunge on its road bikes and now it has entered the gravel scene with the Grail, and boy was it worth the wait. The Grail CF SL 8.0 SL is light, nimble, fun… and that handlebar – laugh as much as you like, it's a clever design that brings a lot to the ride, especially if you want to go fast on a constantly shifting surface. What a machine!
In the last 12 months I've ridden a fair few gravel/adventure bikes; in fact, I probably spend about fifty per cent of my riding time on the trails these days, and if Canyon's creation is what they are evolving into I'm not going to be stopping any time soon.
The weight is just 8.45kg (18.6lb), which is light for a machine that needs to be able to cope with the rigours of off-road abuse, and it feels even lighter out on the trails.
It's responsive to any acceleration and hard effort out of the saddle for those short, sharp climbs. And if there is no way to avoid that pothole/tree root/large rock, it bunnyhops like a pro.
Above all, though, it's the way it just deals with everything in its path that's so impressive. It's so planted, especially at speed, which, with some of the military tracks on Salisbury Plain having swooping descents where you can easily touch 45mph plus, is certainly something you need.
Canyon's CP01 cockpit handlebar is a big help when it comes to providing stability and a real feeling of confidence. When descending in the drops at warp speed, you can wrap your thumbs around the base bar to give you a good firm grip. No amount of vibration or whack from a pothole is going to see you lose contact with it, and I found it easy enough to pull the brakes on full from this position too.
This medium model comes with a 46cm bar width from outside to outside (44cm c to c) at the hoods, but that flares out to around 51cm at the bottom of the drop, giving you a big wide stance to aid balance when you're swooping through the technical stuff.
The steering is beautifully direct too. Canyon has gone for a 72.5-degree head angle which is a good 1-1.5 degrees steeper than most gravel bikes to take some of the quickness out of the steering for riding on loose terrain. The 1,209mm wheelbase helps keep some stability and reassurance too.
The Grail just seems to float over the surface, though the handling never feels twitchy and it's so precise with loads of feedback from the entire bike. Even when you are going near sideways when the surface has broken away underneath you, you can just stick to your guns, aim for the line and keep the power on – it's an absolute blast!
Canyon has chosen to spec the Grail with Schwalbe's 40mm G-One Bite tyres and that is a bit of a masterstroke because they are some of the best gravel tyres out there for performance. Pair that with such an excellent frameset and you've got a winning package.
You don't need to be living the life of an adrenaline addict to enjoy riding the Grail, though. With excellent comfort levels coming from the S15 VCLS seatpost and the 'flex' top part of the handlebar, you can cruise on this thing for miles.
I did at least two rides of over 100km purely off-road during the test period, taking in loads of varying surfaces, and not once did I end up with pins and needles in my hands or any wrist, back or knee pain from the punishing terrain.
Another metric century ride which was on about 70 per cent tarmac and saw me hitting the chalk trails and rutted gravel with tyres pumped up to a road-friendly 55psi saw no issues either.
The frame is very stiff without ever feeling harsh, so it's a good base for the seatpost and cockpit to work with.
Canyon has specced a double chainset throughout the range, and that is something I like. I don't mind a 1x setup off-road but I often find the gears too gappy on the road for my pedalling style. With a 34x34 bottom gear I could get up most inclines in the saddle, which over the course of a long ride saves a huge amount of energy.
The fact that the bike feels so light and responsive actually made for some fun climbing.
The Grail isn't only a massive blast off the road, it's a very capable machine on it too. Canyon has stuck with geometry similar to that of its Endurace road range and with things like that steeper head angle and an aggressive seat angle of 73 degrees, makes for a spirited ride.
The Schwalbe tyres are grippy on the tarmac too, so you don't feel like you are trudging along the road on a set of knobblies crying out for a return to the fun stuff. Stick some wide slicks on the Grail and it'll be a very capable performer for a long distance tour or audax; after all there is loads of bar bag space on that cockpit.
It's certainly a frameset that'll get lots of attention mostly because of its front end, but personally I like the look of it.
The stem is integrated into the head tube/top tube junction for a clean and smooth look where it runs into the lowest bar section, which aids stiffness when you are in the drops.
The top part of the handlebar looks as though it sits high, but it's in exactly the same place as a traditional head tube/stem setup with a couple of spacers between the two.
Having the top part of the bar 'floating' allows for the narrow section to flex, something that is quite apparent when you are riding on the tops off-road. Hauling on the bar at the hoods for climbing isn't affected, though, so when you need to put the power down the bike never feels squidgy.
It's a clever design and I really liked using it, my only criticism being that you can't fit light brackets and the like to the flat profile of the bar. And a lot of gravel/adventure rides can easily span from daylight into darkness.
The cockpit has full internal cable/hose routing to keep things clean and tidy, and this continues into the frame.
This obviously keeps the cables out of the elements and they pass through the frame until their exit points a few millimetres from where they are needed which should cut down on maintenance.
At the front the frame has a 1 1/4 to 1 1/2in tapered head tube to match that of the fork, providing that very direct and tight handling. This blends into the large down tube whose cross sectional area is a mix of radii and straight edges, which Canyon's designers have no doubt developed to create a tube that offers stiffness in certain areas with comfort in others.
The bottom bracket junction is pretty meaty but nowhere near as excessive as we see on some carbon race bikes. Canyon has gone press-fit, which is at odds with the way a lot of the market is going with a return to threaded outboard cups, but fair play to the Grail, it hasn't creaked once after plenty of treks out in both the wet and the dusty dry.
The chainstays have quite a large square profile for providing plenty of stability when really getting the power down. In contrast, the narrow seatstays have been designed to create a little bit of flex, a common feature and one that works here alongside the seatpost.
The top tube narrows as it travels from the front to the rear, again for stiffness to start with before becoming more comfort biased. The shape of the tube with its flat section near the head tube and then the small gusset where it blends into the seatstays works perfectly with a frame bag; I was using the Topeak Midloader and it fitted a treat.
The integrated seat clamp, which you tighten with the hex key bolt inserted in what would normally be considered the rear brake bridge, holds the seatpost tight and again gives a smooth look to the finish of the frame.
As you'd expect, the Grail comes with thru-axles, 12mm at both the rear and the fork, which benefits stiffness and resists the forces applied by the disc brakes. You also get flat mount calliper mounting plus two sets of bottle cage mounting points.
The fork has the same flat mount calliper mounts as the frame, and the brake hose runs down the inside of the fork leg to keep it out of harm's way.
Maximum tyre clearance is 42mm for the fork and the frame, although it's only really the chainstays where things would get tight.
The fork is a full carbon fibre job with a claimed weight of 295g with 210mm of steerer (fitted, ours is about 70mm shorter than that), which is very impressive indeed, especially for a fork destined for off-road abuse. Canyon hasn't sacrificed stiffness to achieve it either.
The frame is available in seven sizes, from 2XS through to 2XL, with the smallest two sizes using 650B wheels to keep things in proportion. A claimed weight of just 1,045g for this medium size frame is also very good indeed.
There are two frame models available at the moment, the CF SL and the lighter (830g in M) CF SLX, with an aluminium alloy option to arrive later in the year.
Sitting at the top of the table is the CF SLX 8.0 Di2 which gets the lighter frame and a full Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset plus Reynolds Assault ATR Disc Carbon wheels for £4,199. The CF SLX is available as a frameset-only option too for £2,349 – you get the frame, fork, seatpost, headset and cockpit.
In CF SL 8.0 guise there are three models: the CF SL 8.0 SL model we've got here, which I'll go into more detail about in a second, a CF SL 8.0 Di2 which gets the Ultegra Di2 groupset and a DT Swiss C 1800 wheelset for £2,999, and the CF SL 8.0, which I reckon is the best value for money model in the range at £2,349, which swaps the Di2 for a mechanical Ultegra groupset but keeps the same DT Swiss wheels.
There are then two CF SL 7.0 models which swap Ultegra for 105, with one of them being the WMN women-specific model. They are both £1,999.
It's great to see hydraulic braking right through the range.
Right then, on to our model…
We've basically got the same as the CF SL 8.0 model but with an upgrade to the Reynolds wheels found on the SLX model; that's what gets you the extra 'SL' for £3,249.
The latest Ultegra groupset, R8000, is an absolute beauty and totally suits a bike like the Grail. The shifting is light, quick and very precise even when the chain and sprockets are covered in dust or mud.
Shifts under load are never a good thing but with the way the chain skips up the cassette it doesn't make you wince as much as on Shimano's cheaper groupsets.
As I mentioned, Canyon has specced a double chainset – a compact using 50/34 tooth chainrings – paired with an 11-speed 11-34 cassette at the rear. Yeah, there are a few gaps at the upper end of the cassette, but considering how light this bike is you very rarely need them; if you do, a change in cadence isn't going to be a massive issue.
On the gravel and the road I spent most of my time in the big ring, so it shows you just how quick this thing is.
Terrain and riding style can make a difference to your gearing preference, and I know Dave Arthur would probably disagree with me on the ratios here, judging by his thoughts on the same setup on the (slightly heavier) Trek Checkpoint.
Dave and I have very different riding styles, and he lives in the Stroud area where things are a bit steeper than the flowing and fast gravel tracks near me, where even on the steepest climbs you can be carrying quite a lot of speed into them. That said, even on one real toughie, going from a road crossing straight up onto the ridge and easily 25%, I was out of the saddle and over the 'cockpit' to keep the front wheel on the ground but I could still climb it without a struggle. I certainly wouldn't want to sacrifice the higher gearing for lower ones.
Perhaps it would be nice if Canyon had a SRAM 1x offering, so you could choose your preferred option.
Shifting is taken care of by the new ST-8020 levers, which also incorporate the hydraulic reservoir for the braking. The hoods are a lovely place to spend a lot of time considering they barely feel any bigger than the mechanical version.
The braking consists of ST-8070 flat mount callipers and 160mm SM-RT800 rotors which use Shimano's ICE technology to reduce heat build-up. It's an awesome setup which offers loads of power but has massive amounts of feel for modulation, especially important when you are braking on a loose surface where you need to fettle to stop the rear wheel locking up.
The Reynolds Assault ATR wheelset is very good indeed. They are light, which really aids acceleration and climbing, plus they are able to take a whack or two. I'm normally a little wary of carbon wheels off-road but these didn't creak or make that horrible cracking sound when you hit unavoidable rocks or potholes.
Their 23mm external rim width works well with the 40mm-wide G-One Bite tyres, and like I said when talking about the ride, above, they are an awesome set of rubber for use both on the gravel and riding to get there. Ours were set up tubeless, which allows you to drop the pressures for a bit of extra grip and comfort without the risk of pinch punctures.
The quality keeps coming too, with a Fizik Aliante R5 saddle as standard. The Aliante is one of my favourites, as I really get on with the shape. It has very minimal padding, but you don't need to worry as the Canyon seatpost with its leaf design suspension takes care of any bumps.
Like I said above, I think the model a couple below this one is better value for money – the CF SL 8.0 with the alloy DT Swiss wheels for £2,349. Compare it with, for example, Specialized's highly regarded Diverge Comp (we tested the S-Works model) at £2,600 for a 105 hydraulic groupset and Axis Elite wheelset.
The Merida Silex 9000 is a similar beast to the Grail in a lot of ways: a gravel machine that focuses on speed. It costs £3,500 and comes with alloy Fulcrum wheels, a SRAM Force groupset, 42mm tyre clearance, and a very close frame weight even though the whole bike comes in a little lighter at 7.98kg.
With that in mind, I'd say the Grail range offers great value for money, but I think this SL CF 8.0 SL comes down to whether you want a very good, lightweight wheelset and are willing to pay the extra for it.
If I was ever to do something like the Dirty Reiver again then this is the bike I'd want to be riding. It's a product of great engineering, not just the frameset but the Canyon components too. It's been designed as a complete package – you can call them gimmicks if you like, but wow, they all add up to an awesome ride.
The Grail is fast, smooth, comfortable, light and has great handling, but above all else it's masses and masses of fun.
The fastest and most fun gravel bike I've ridden by far with an adrenaline grin factor of 10/10!
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Canyon Grail CF SL 8.0 SL
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:INNOVATIVE CARBON GRAVEL FRAME - SUPERLIGHT CONSTRUCTION, LONG WHEELBASE WITH SUPREME AGILITY
SIZE 2XS IN 650B
5TH GEN. MAXIMUS SEAT TUBE
12 X 142 MM THROUGH AXLES
INTEGRATED SEAT CLAMP CANYON GRAIL CF SL DISC
FORK:CANYON ONE ONE FOUR SLX
OUTSTANDING HANDLING ACCURACY GUARANTEED THROUGH HIGH TORSIONAL STIFFNESS
TAPERED CARBON FORK SHAFT: 1 1/2" - 1 1/4"
TUBE PROFILES OPTIMISED FOR AERO EFFICIENCY
HEADSET CANYON | ACROS
REAR DERAILLEUR SHIMANO ULTEGRA, 11S
DERAILLEUR HANGER DERAILLEUR HANGER FOR ROAD DISCBRAKE MODELS/INFLITE CF SLX
FRONT DERAILLEUR SHIMANO ULTEGRA, 11S
BRAKE/SHIFT LEVERS SHIMANO ULTEGRA DISC, 11S
BRAKES SHIMANO ULTEGRA DISC
CASSETTE SHIMANO CS-HG800, 11S
WHEELSET REYNOLDS ASSAULT ATR DISC CARBON
TYRES SCHWALBE G-ONE BITE
CRANKS SHIMANO ULTEGRA, 11S
CHAINRINGS 50 | 34
CHAIN SHIMANO CN-HG600-11
BOTTOM BRACKET SHIMANO PRESSFIT
COCKPIT CANYON CP01 COCKPIT CF
HANDLEBAR TAPE CANYON ERGOSPEED GEL
SADDLE FIZIK ALIANTE R5
SEAT POST CANYON S15 VCLS 2.0 CF (25 / 13 MM SETBACK)
SADDLE CLAMP CANYON INTEGRATED SEAT CLAMP
Tell us what the bike is for
Canyon says, "When designing the Grail CF SL 8.0 SL, we wanted to do more than just join the gravel gravy train, we wanted to develop a fast gravel oriented bike that would answer a lot of the uncomfortable questions about riding road bikes on gravel or unpaved roads for long periods of time. As more of a long distance, endurance answer to gravel riding, as opposed to the Inflite cyclocross racer, the lightweight (1040 g) Grail CF SL carbon frame offers the snappy ride of an Endurace with a similar Sport Geometry, so that you can feel fast and comfortable at the same time. The handling needs to be spot on, so we have made sure the frame remains rigid and responsive while designing the 2XS and XS size to fit 650b wheels, to ensure there are no untoward compromises with the geometry and handling in the smallest size. For the wheels, we have spec'd the Reynolds Assault ATR Disc Carbon as the ideal aero gravel wheelset with their wind cheating profile and 23 mm wide rims to accommodate the 40 mm wide Schwalbe G-ONE Bite Gravel tires for fantastic traction. But the most notable, and recognizable innovation of this gravel bike is the special cockpit that has been designed to be comfortable by offering a degree of shock absorption as well as ergonomically optimized so that you will feel in complete control in multiple hand positions. And for the rear end, our Canyon S15 VCLS 2.0 with the integrated seat clamp offers additional micro bump absorption, ensuring all touch points will be spared that post-ride hand buzz that leaves you feeling fatigued and wrung out. And eyelets for fender mounts will give you the option to keep your bottom free from grim. Kitted out with the latest Shimano Ultegra groupset with powerful disc brakes, the Grail CF SL 8.0 SL will be the perfect bike to buy so you can line up for a gravel Gran Fondo or take on a long weekend of bikepacking."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It's a beauty. Well made with a great finish.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Both the frame and fork use a variety of carbon fibre grades in their construction.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's racier than a lot of gravel bikes, with a steeper head angle, closer to that of a road endurance bike.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Going by the sizing charts it's difficult to tell, as Canyon has measured stack and reach at different points to most. From riding it, I'd say the position is exactly as I'd expect for a bike of this size.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very comfortable indeed. The frame isn't harsh but the handlebar and seatpost really take the sting out of things.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, hard efforts are easily repaid.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Very much so, the way it just absorbs the gravel vibrations means that you can just blast it across any terrain.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Lively enough to be exciting without being twitchy.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Canyon has made the steering perfectly balanced and exciting off-road without sacrificing it on the road.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Definitely the Canyon seatpost, it really takes the sting out.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The cockpit is a stroke of genius, stiff where you need it and flexible where you don't.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Schwalbe's G-One Bite tyres work so well off and on road that they help make the bike very quick indeed.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Shimano Ultegra is great and Canyon has chosen a really good range of gearing here for the type of riding the Grail will see.
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
The wheels are very good indeed with no worrying noises from plenty of abuse. I'd be happy to sacrifice a bit of weight for an alloy option, though, to save a bit of money.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so
I'm a big fan of the G-One Bites for use on road and off so it's great to see them specced here as standard.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Canyon's own finishing kit, like the seatpost and cockpit, are works of true engineering and it's a shame more manufacturers aren't taking this route. Both components provide comfort to the ride without taking anything away from stiffness and performance – exactly what I want.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? In a heartbeat.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
There are a lot of good bikes out there but the Grail is one of the greats. There are some really clever touches here which don't just stop with a well-designed frame, it's the complete package – and by far the best gravel bike I've ridden to date.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike 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: 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!