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review

Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2

9
£1,939.00

VERDICT:

9
10
Fast, lively aluminium road bike with electronic shifting and loads more besides; a helluva bike for the cash
Weight: 
7,860g
Contact: 
www.canyon.com

At road.cc every product is thoroughly tested for as long as it takes to get a proper insight into how well it works. Our reviewers are experienced cyclists that we trust to be objective. While we strive to ensure that opinions expressed are backed up by facts, reviews are by their nature an informed opinion, not a definitive verdict. We don't intentionally try to break anything (except locks) but we do try to look for weak points in any design. The overall score is not just an average of the other scores: it reflects both a product's function and value – with value determined by how a product compares with items of similar spec, quality, and price.

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This, folks, is the Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 and it's putting in an early bid to be road.cc's Bike of the Year. It's one of the cheapest bikes out there to come with electronic gear shifting and it has plenty more to offer too. You get quality components across the board and a fast, involving ride.

We'll take the best bits one by one, starting with the most obvious...

Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting

The chances are that you have some thoughts on electronic shifting by now and you'll either like the idea or you won't. If you do want it, this is the cheapest way to get it (that we know of) on a complete bike from any of the big, mainstream manufacturers.

Canyon is a German brand and you buy direct from them rather than through dealers. This means that their UK prices vary slightly over time according to the exchange rate but we've never seen the Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 priced at more than £2,000.

The Di2 components you get here are of the second-tier Ultegra variety rather than top-end Dura-Ace. In practice, that means the system is slightly heavier (by 140g) but the electronics are second generation and a further development of the original Dura-Ace components. We'd be really surprised if the next generation of Dura-Ace components didn't feature the same electronics as 2012 Ultegra.

If you really want light weight you can stick with mechanical shifting but Di2 does have a lot to offer. For a start, shifting is so easy. True, pushing a mechanical lever is hardly the most onerous job in the world but electronic shifting is just a matter of tapping the right button, a little like clicking a mouse. It's never awkward whether you're on the hoods or the drops, riding in the saddle or standing up on the pedals.

The changes are all but instant and everyone likes the autotrim feature on the front mech – it automatically adjusts its position slightly according to the sprocket you're using in order to avoid chainrub. It's not the biggest deal in the world but it's useful to have.

We won't give a complete appraisal of Ultegra Di2 here – check out our previous coverage here and here if you want more detail –but suffice to say that it works as promised and the chances of you running out of juice while you're out on a ride are minimal. You get over 1,000km (625 miles) of use per charge – more likely about three times that depending on how much gear shifting you do, and it's simple to check how much power is left in the battery, so if you do find yourself on empty, well, you've only got yourself to blame, really. Even then, the front mech stops working before the rear giving you the chance to get home as painfree as possible.

Frameset stiffness

Many people think that a carbon frame is necessarily better than an aluminium frame. They're wrong.

While I've been riding this bike over the past few weeks, loads of people have come to take a look, attracted by the electronic components. At least half of them have asked something along the lines of, 'Why would you put electronic shifting on an aluminium-framed bike?'

Well, why wouldn't you? Yes, we all know that carbon fibre allows manufacturers to produce bikes that are amazingly stiff for their weight, but let's not get carried away. Aluminium is still a great frame material, particularly when you're trying to make a price point. This is an excellent frame.

One thing that this frameset has plenty of is stiffness. Up front, the head tube is oversized at both the top and the bottom with a 1 1/4in bearing up top and 1 1/2in downstairs (rather than standard 1 1/8in bearings). Canyon call this their One One Four SLX system. Matched up to the full-carbon fork, which weighs just 295g, this means there's little sideways movement when you sling the bike hard into tight downhill bends. The steering is very precise which means you have the ability to push the pace through tight turns without needing to make any allowance for the fact that the bike might demand a bit of extra leeway to get round.

The bottom bracket is oversized too with Shimano BB91 press-fit bearings while the down tube is pretty darn burly – 60mm in diameter at its widest point.

The Maximus seat tube is designed to add to the stiffness too. It bulges out on the non-driveside to increase the cross-sectional area, but not on the driveside so as not to interfere with the drivetrain. Canyon reckon this, 'increases the lateral stiffness of the frame in the bottom bracket area by 30% compared to a conventional, round seat tube.'

Of course, it's impossible to comment on the accuracy of that figure by riding the bike but we can tell you that there really isn't much bottom bracket sway when you're riding. It feels very tight and very punchy much like a top-end race model costing two or three times the price. Hit the pedals with everything you've got and the bike launches forward with a keenness that's bound to put a smile on your face.

The Canyon climbs well too. Weighing in at 7.86kg (17.29lb) for the complete bike in the large (58cm) size, it's pretty lightweight. There are lighter two grand bikes out there but bear in mind that you have to pay a slight weight penalty for that electronic shifting. Anyway, with all that stiffness transferring your effort into forward motion, the Canyon handles the climbs as well as some bikes that are considerably lighter.

Ride quality

When a manufacturer focuses on stiffness there's always the danger that the bike will end up feeling severe, maybe even harsh, but Canyon have been careful enough to add features that improve the comfort of the ride too.

Those seat stays are pencil-thin – a large pencil, admittedly – built using Canyon's VCLS Technology (in the bike world every frame feature has to have a name, preferably one featuring an abbreviation). VCLS stands for Vertical Comfort, Lateral Stiffness and the idea, of course, is that you get a bit of up and down movement in there to dampen road buzz and dissipate shocks.

The VCLS seatpost is designed with the same function in mind. It contains basalt fibres, dontcha know – although we suspect the fact that it's a narrow 27.2mm in diameter is equally important to its bump-taming characteristics. It really doesn't matter much. What's important is that the Canyon's ride is perfectly comfortable. I wouldn't say it's plush, or even particularly close to that end of the spectrum, but it feels good.

The Selle Italia Race SE saddle is a definite bonus in terms of comfort. Well, okay, it is for me. I love the Selle Italia shape and the degree of flex you get in the shell.

Resting your hands on the Shimano Ultegra Di2 lever hoods is really comfy too. Plus, the body of the lever has a small diameter so even if you have big hands, it feels like you have a tighter fist, a better grip and a touch more control when you're riding out of the saddle.

Strong spec

Now, you might have thought that by slinging Shimano Ultegra Di2 on a sub-£2,000 bike, Canyon would feel like they'd done the hard work of getting people to notice the Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 and put on some cheapo components to make up the remainder. Not a bit of it. Everything on this bike is branded, quality kit.

The brake callipers are Ultegra too, as is the chainset. You can go for either standard chainrings (53/39) like we have on our test bike, or a compact (50/34) set up for a lower set of gear ratios. The cassette is Ultegra too – 11-23T, 11-28T or 12-25T.

The rest of the spec is just as stong. Take the wheels, for example: they're Mavic Ksyrium Equipes. These are the entry level Ksyriums but they're still great wheels. They're reasonably lightweight and plenty stiff enough but in our experience their strongest point is that they're bombproof. We've used these loads and they've always gone the distance. You get good Conti Grand Prix 4000 S tyres on there too – another bonus.

The Ritchey WCS Evo Curve bars are triple-butted alu and they have a shallow drop (128mm) and a generous amount of rearward extension. The stem is from Ritchey too – another alloy component that provides plenty of stiffness when you get out of the saddle and haul on the bars.

The headset is the i-Lock system that Canyon developed with Acros. Rather than preloading the bearings by tightening a top cap down onto a star nut or expander wedge inside the head tube, with the i-Lock you tighten the stem onto the steerer tube then remove any play with a small Torq bolt.

This means that there's no danger of damaging the steerer tube. Plus, you can swap your stem without needing to adjust the preload on your headset... which, admittedly, isn't going to be a common occurrence.

Anyway, the headset works well, like all the other components on this bike. I had no mechanical issues whatsoever over the test period, not even a puncture, and I got in hundreds of miles including plenty over some horrible roads. The wheels are still completely true, the brakes are still biting well, everything is just as it should be with no annoying little traits having developed. It's hard to fault the Canyon's spec.

Geometry

Just a quick word on the geometry to finish off. The Canyon has a pretty aggressive setup, our large (58cm) test bike coming with a 19cm head tube, a stack height (vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre of the top of the head tube) of 579mm and a reach (horizontal distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre of the top of the head tube) of 394mm. That's racy – not extreme but certainly performance-orientated, so this is a bike for people who want to get there fast.

If you want an upright, relaxed position for taking in the view, this isn't the one for you. If, on the other hand, you want to race or to belt around sportive routes as fast as possible, take a good look.

Summing up

So, the Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 is built around a strong and stiff aluminium frame and lightweight carbon fork, the electronic shifting works faultlessly every time and the rest of the spec is strong throughout. It's an efficient, responsive bike with a good level of comfort.

There will doubtless still be people who are put off by the fact that the frame is aluminium. If they're spending almost two grand, they'll want carbon. I'd say you need to look beyond that. This is a fast, dynamic bike without a significant weakness.

Verdict

Fast, lively aluminium road bike with electronic shifting and loads more besides; a helluva bike for the cash

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2

Size tested: 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 F8 Technology

Fork Canyon One One Four SLX

Headset Acros Ai-70 Fiber

Rear Derailleur Shimano Ultegra Di2

Front Derailleur Shimano Ultegra Di2

Shifters Shimano Ultegra Di2

Brake levers Shimano Ultegra Di2

Brakes Shimano Ultegra glossy grey

Hubs Mavic Ksyrium Equipe

Cassette Shimano Ultegra 6700 11-28

Rims Mavic Ksyrium Equipe

Tyres Continental Grand Prix 4000 S

Cranks Shimano Ultegra glossy grey

Chainrings 50/34

Bottom Bracket Shimano Press-Fit SM-BB91

Stem Ritchey WCS 4-Axis (31,8)

Handlebar Ritchey WCS Evo Curve

Saddle Selle Italia Race Special Edition

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?

It's a performance-orientated road bike.

Here's Canyon's write-up:

"Electronic shifting for only £ 1,939.00! The Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 combines numerous innovative concepts. We have adapted the brand new Ultimate AL frame to accommodate the new Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic shift system. We were able to completely do without the holes for the mechanical shift cables and have routed the cables on the left hand side into the top tube, then through the chain stay to the rear derailleur. Shifting is as easy as a simple mouse click, there is no delay and it does not require any force. What are the other advantages of the Di2? The front derailleur adjusts itself automatically depending on the gear you have selected and the noise of the chain scraping against the front derailleur cage is therefore a thing of the past.

"In addition, the rear derailleur can be adjusted while riding. Thanks to the precision engineered electric motor shifting is made both faster and safer than with conventional mechanical shift systems. However that's not all the Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 has to offer. The high end ensemble also includes Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheels, which you can be sure will directly transmit your power onto the road via the Continental Grand Prix 4000s tyres. The premium Ritchey WCS-cockpit beautifully polishes off this superb race machine. You just won't have experienced a better alloy road bike than this one."

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
8/10

Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?

All good - neatly done. Canyon's finishes could be a bit more imaginative but I guess the white/black colour scheme isn't going to offend anyone

Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?

It's an aluminium frame with a full-carbon fork.

Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?

It's a performance-orientated geometry with a 73.25° head angle and a 73.5° seat angle. It's not the most extreme setup ever but it's certainly more low and stretched than sit-up-and-beg.

How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?

The stack is 579mm, the reach is 394mm. The top tube length is 566mm which is a little short for a 58cm bike.

Riding the bike

Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.

Good. It's not the plushest of rides but it's certainly comfortable enough, even on big rides a few hours long.

How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?

It certainly did. This is one of the bike's strongest points.

Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?

There was a little, which is quite unusual on a 58cm bike. I had to be careful not to scuff my favourite shoes on the tyre.

How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Fairly lively.

Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?

An easily manoeuvrable bike. Pretty agile.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?

The Selle Italia saddle was a hit with me. Canyon's own seatpost helps keep things comfy too.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?

The stiff aluminium cockpit certainly helps when you're riding out of the saddle. The pressfit bottom bracket helps with efficiency too.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for climbing:
 
8/10

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
9/10

It's going to come down to whether you like the idea of electronic shifting or not

Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
9/10

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels and tyres for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for comfort:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for value:
 
8/10

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
9/10

Excellent shape, super-easy shifting.

Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for weight:
 
9/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
9/10
Rate the controls for value:
 
7/10

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes

Would you consider buying the bike? I would, yes.

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
9/10

Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?

This is a great bike. I get to test bikes all the time and am often eager to move on to the next one, but I'll be sad to see this one go. I'd happily ride it day in, day out. Do yourself a favour and don't be put off by the fact that it's an aluminium frame. There's more to life than carbon.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 41  Height: 190cm  Weight: 75kg

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, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,

 

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, 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 winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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