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First Ride: 2018 Canyon Spectral

The mischievous trail bike gets a makeover

Canyon sure knows how to make an entrance, or at least how to make that entrance last. Their U.S. debut had been rumored long before it officially happened this past August. And one bike that was on that slow boat was the Spectral. The 140-millimeter rear, 150 front 27.5-inch lightweight and lighthearted trail bike was in suspiciously short supply when it hit Canyon's virtual store shelves this fall, and now we know why.

The Spectral underwent a complete redesign for 2018. It's still got the same travel numbers and same wheel size, but this is a significantly beastlier beast. While putting together the upcoming Bible of Bike tests, we had a 2017 Spectral to pass around, but it was just for reference given its imminent update. It was very light, very efficient and very front-derailleur-equipped. In a word, it was very German. But it didn't like playing rough like the otherwise similar Norco Sight 27.5 or Pivot Mach 5.5. This new Spectral, on the other hand, is much more ready to rumble.

The Spectral’s new linkage is supportive under pedaling and pumping, and takes quite an impact to bottom out.

And there are several reasons why, but at the core it might be the antics of Canyon rider Joe Barnes and the “Dudes of Hazzard.” Watch any one of the Scotland-based slash-masters' videos, and you'll get a sense for what this bike was designed for. Their style is why the Spectral kept its moderate travel and, for now, its 27.5-inch wheels.

But its frame bulked up significantly. Canyon develops their bikes with one of five categories in mind. Categories 1 and 2 are for their road and cyclocross bikes. Category 3, to which the 2017 Spectral belonged, is for all-rounders and XC bikes. Category 4 is for enduro and 5 is for DH. The new Spectral was designed as a category 4 bike, and meets similar stiffness and durability standards to the 160-millimeter rear, 170-front travel Strive. The frame material and linkage hardware has been significantly beefed up to bring the Spectral to its new league.

If your trails ask for quick changes in direction, or if you just like making them, Canyon had you in mind when designing the Spectral.

And the linkage itself changed as well. The shock is now horizontally mounted, but there's still room for a water bottle within the front triangle. That even includes S and XS sizes, but we'll explain how later. The new setup allowed for lower standover and, Canyon claims, puts less stress on the bearings. They also tuned in a leverage curve with more aggressive riding in mind. Though the curve doesn't feature the complicated lumps of Evil's DELTA linkage, the Spectral aims for a similar experience. At around the sag point, the leverage ratio starts to decrease, introducing a natural firm mid-stroke. And that increase ramps up just before bottom-out.

The subtle changes throughout the leverage curve leads through a firm mid-stroke and almost impenetrable bottom-out resistance.

And, of course, the Spectral’s geometry got more aggressive, but not by much. It's tad longer in the reach and chainstays and a full degree slacker in the head angle. The S and XS sizes are given 7 millimeters lower bottom brackets. And though they have the same travel, those smaller sizes are designed around shorter-stroke shocks to offer a more appropriate leverage ratio for smaller riders.

The removable plate mimics the look of internal cable routing while keeping everything easily accessible.

There are also a handful of clever design upgrades to the new Spectral. Instead of traditional internal cable and hose routing, a stealthy plastic plate bolts to the downtube to hide the cables. Compared to internally tubed frames, it's a touch less convenient for derailleur cable replacement, but is far preferable when it comes to hydraulic hoses. It also keeps the cables quiet and protects the downtube. The pivots are also well-protected. Plastic shields screw to the frame around the bearings to keep out water and dust, and the drive-side main pivot gets two bearing rings to bear the extra load.

The stealthy seat binder bolt distributes the load more evenly than a traditional clamp, which is easier on your dropper.

Even the seatpost clamp is high-tech. The flush-mounted bolt looks cleaner and distributes the pinching load across a wider area, reducing stiction on your dropper. And there's Canyon's Impact Protection Unit or, of course, IPU. Like Trek's Knock Block, it protects the frame should you bail and twist the bars. Unlike the Knock Block, it protects the toptube from the controls, not the downtube from the crown, and it is totally optional. Also optional is a hard case that bolts in behind the headtube if you like pack-less rides and empty pockets. It's not available on XS bikes, but Canyon's Eject bottle system is. The why-didn't-I-think-of-that concept mounts two 13.5-liter bottles offset from the frame's centerline, clearing room for the shock. The images make it look bulkier than it is. The unique shape stays well clear of toes and calves.

The Spectral will be offered in three different frame configurations. The full-carbon CF SLX, the carbon-front, alloy-rear CF, and the all-alloy AL, which is the only configuration the XS size will come in.

Before I get to the fun part where I talk about how it rides, I should mention that all the Spectrals are spec'd with 2.6-inch tires. They're a good mix of fun but forgiving, and they were a welcomed feature on my day on the Spectral. That day was a rain-drenched tour of the bony, clay-composite trails on the island of Madeira.

The dirt on Madeira is a mix of red clay and rocks in parts, and loam and roots in others.

There just may be something in the air above islands of the Atlantic that breeds tight, demanding trails, because there were moments I felt I might as well have been knee-deep in the peat of a Scottish hillside. There were plenty of hand-cut pocket berms that, if you were precise enough, could catch your tires and set you right whether or not there was any traction to be had. It's clear that this is where the Spectral is most in its element.

The Spectral’s sensitive early stroke lent itself to high speeds, but its strong suit is precision.

It's noticeably more stout under lateral loads than its predecessor, although I wasn't skilled enough to get everything out of this bike that it's capable of. In a way, that applies to the suspension performance as well. No matter how hard my hits or how frequent my mistakes (and they were frequent) I never truly bottomed it out. On a dry day when higher speeds are safer, I probably could have managed it, but the Spectral's new linkage never revealed its limit on our day together.

Other trails on the island are raw mixed bags of roots and rocks, sometimes steep, sometimes off-camber, but all will let you go fast if you can handle it. It was in these sections that I may have preferred bigger wheels, but it's remarkable what those 2.6-inch tires can do to keep you smooth and gripped. Though the pucker factor was high the entire day, I never crashed, and I can't say my skill was entirely to thank for that. The supple-off-the-top feel paired well with the softer tires' sensitivity. On a higher-speed day, I would have upped my pressure, but the ride is the half-step to plus-size that 2.6-inch tires are able to provide.

The new Spectral is particularly eager to get thrown around.

In the moments I was able to get in the air and toss the bike around, it felt like a completely different bike than its predecessor. It's got a greater appetite for abuse than most bike with its numbers. I kept thinking back to the Norco Sight 27.5 we rode at this year's Bible. That bike is pretty good at everything, but not overwhelmingly good at any one thing. The new Spectral has a similar all-around capability, but it seems to come into its own the more aggressively and stylishly you ride it.

The Spectral could be the perfect adventure bike, especially if the adventure demands an agile, capable bike.

I didn't spend much time climbing on the Spectral. Mostly because the trail ecosystem on Madeira developed around shuttling. The trails are purpose-built for reckless descending, and the roads for reckless driving. The few grunts we faced to get to the next descent showed the Spectral to have a slight bias toward efficiency over trail sensitivity. It might have been nice to see a steeper seat angle, but the supportive linkage and firm mid-stroke kept me from complaining.

The second-to-top-end CF 9.0 SL I tested goes for a pretty impressive $6,000, with an even more impressive ENVE-equipped LTD model above it for $7,000. My only component complaints were that even the Large and XL bikes came with 760-millimeter bars and stock dropper posts topped out at 150 millimeters. And no Spectral will come out of the box set up tubeless. That’ll be up to you. But maybe the most impressive is the AL 5.0 with its XT/SLX build, RockShox Pike fork and DT Swiss M1900 Spline wheelset for $2,500. Canyon's consumer-direct model allows them to pack all the engineering and performance I just took 1,400 words to explain and pack it into a remarkably affordable package. The details are up on Canyon USA’s site, and models will start becoming available in early January.

canyon.com/en/us/the-new-spectral

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