When Canyon expanded into the U.S. in August of 2017, each model it brought with came ashore ready to be assimilated into the American way of life. If you didn't know better, you'd guess its bikes were born here. None seemed distinctly un-American in any way … except for the Strive.
Before the Torque was released at the very end of 2017, the Strive was Canyon's go-to enduro offering. A 163-millimeter rear travel, 170 front 27.5-inch-wheeled sled with pedals, a seat and a distinctly European trick up its sleeve.
Shapeshifter, only available on the Strive, comprises an extra link connected to the rocker plate and upper-shock mount, which is actuated by a remote-controlled pressurized air piston that resembles a tiny rear shock. In its compressed position, the piston pulls the link in. The rear suspension gets full travel and the bike's geometry remains its normal downhill-oriented self. But extend that piston, and the rear linkage extends along with it, raising the bottom bracket, steepening the seat tube angle, firming up the leverage curve and anti-squat values and significantly reducing the rear travel. And that doesn't just mean the shock becomes so progressive that there is a virtual drop in travel. The Strive's linkage changes in a way that actually changes how far the rear wheel will move as the shock compresses. In the case of this latest iteration, that means the rear end goes from 150 millimeters down to 135. No proprietary rear shocks, no flip chips, and far more effective than any little blue lever.
But both Shapeshifter and the Strive have been due for an update, and boy did they just get one. The concept behind Shapeshifter remains the same, but the mechanism has been much refined. The first-gen Shapeshifter worked much like a dropper post. You held the lever down while moving between positions, and could stop anywhere between. The new system uses a two-button under-bar left hand thumb trigger that doesn't require you to hold it down while switching between the two modes –now called "Click" (for the shorter-travel mode) and "Clack" (for longer travel). Those modes used to be called "XC" and "DH," but Canyon thought that those names ignored the short-travel mode's potential to help out on downhill sections that might benefit from a firmer platform or quicker steering. I still found myself referring to them as "climb" and "descend" for simplicity's sake, but I'll be calling them Click and Clack here. Good way to remember which is which is that the downhill-oriented mode (Clack) is slack.
Ok, where were we? Oh yeah, so, instead of holding down buttons while switching, you simply click from one mode to the next and the bike will shift to that mode once you've shifted your weight in its direction. Want to go from Click to Clack? Flip the Clack switch, and with just about any pressure on the pedals or saddle, you'll be ready for the gnar. For Click mode, engage the Click button and either lean forward or wait until you're out of the saddle leaning forward for a sprint or a climb. You'll get there. The triggers themselves mount below the bar, which frightened me at first. I thought to Scott's under-bar TwinLoc mount, and how it displaces the dropper lever behind or above the bar. But Canyon came up with an ingenious system that allows you to mount any dropper lever with a SRAM-style shifter mount directly below Click and Clack. The RockShox Reverb lever on my test bike sat barely within reach of my thumb, but I stopped noticing the distance as I got used to it during the ride. Better yet, Canyon's own cable-actuated dropper lever sits nearly flush against Click and Clack for better ergonomics and aesthetics.
On the other end of the switches is the mechanism itself. Canyon worked with Fox to develop it this go-around, which lends it better reliability and allows you to send it to either Canyon or Fox if it ever needs repairs. And if it ever needs to be replaced for a non-warranty reason, the most the parts will cost would be less than $100.
That was a long-winded way of saying Shapeshifter mechanism is good and it's now better. What's also now better is that thing surrounding the Shapeshifter: the Strive itself. And by better, I mean it's now a long-travel 29er. 150 millimeters of rear travel and 160 front, except for the CF 9.0 Team model, which runs a 170-millimeter fork. Its geometry numbers have been modernized throughout (with one notable exception), and the frame's hardware and design elements have been updated to match what Canyon is doing in the rest of the lineup. It's now got Canyon's painstakingly well-protected main pivot bearings, its nifty hideaway rear QR axle and its cable routing is now completely internally tubed.
The Strive is only available in carbon, but remember, this is Canyon. The consumer-direct brand has several carbon bikes in its lineup that beat the price on other brands' aluminum bikes. You can get into the Strive CF 6.0, the least-expensive Strive slated to come to the US, equipped with a Lyrik, Super Deluxe and GX Eagle drivetrain for $4k.
But of course, when Canyon invited me out to ride the new Strive, it was the top-end CF 9.0. Team. The 150-millimeter rear, 170-front 29er immediately got me thinking of the Yeti SB150. Not because of how similar the two bikes are, but because of how different. In Clack mode (remember, Clack = slack) the Strive has a 66-degree head angle. The SB150's is 64.5. While I had a much easier time maneuvering technical sections on the SB150 than my co-testers at this past year's Bible of Bike Tests, the Strive seems to be made for maneuvering. It's far from the ham-fisted smashing machine you might think a purpose-built enduro race bike would be. It has a far more nimble, trail-y feel, despite its long travel and reduced-offset fork.
Speaking of nimble, when positioning the Strive in its lineup, the folks at Canyon USA spoke more about the 150/160-millimeter Spectral (recently up from 140/150) than they did about the 175/180-millimeter Torque. But once I rode it, it made some sense. It shares more DNA with the lively Spectral than the monstrous Torque. It helped that the CF 9.0 team was decked to the gills and had the light, snappy and brand new Mavic Deemax Pro wheels, but there's something lighthearted about this platform. Like, its soul hasn't been crushed by a narrow focus on the podium. As on the Torque and the Spectral, the Strive's leverage curve has an amply supportive mid-stroke, and the spectrum of its shock tune allows for light and quick damping. All the ingredients in the suspension tune combine to help its big wheels and big travel feel remarkably manageable.
In contrast, much of the geometry trends toward stability. The 435-millimeter chainstay and 336-millimeter bottom bracket let you stay planted when you want to stay planted. Aside from its relatively conservative head angle, the chassis is poised to plow. It pulled me back from my assumption that a bike with rear travel below 160 millimeters, a head angle above 65 degrees and the suspension feel of a mischievous thrasher bike could not compete as an enduro race bike. But I have no question that this bike can.
The Shapeshifter In Action
And somehow, I'm just now getting to the interesting part. I believe the Shapeshifter concept is the ultimate form that a multiple-mode rear suspension can take. And that's coming from someone who owns a Scott Ransom and uses its TwinLoc feature countless time every ride. The closest thing to Shapeshifter I've ridden was from a brand called Bionicon, whose system simultaneously extended the rear shock and compressed the fork at the push of a button, or vice versa depending on where you're leaning while pushing that button. The concept never caught on in the states, which is a shame. Its climbing position got the bike so steep, that I felt like I was pedaling on flat ground when in fact, I might be going up a 5-percent grade.
But that doesn't seem to be the goal of Shapeshifter. The 75-degree seat angle in Click mode is barely average by today’s standards. When in Click mode pedaling is, of course, more responsive and efficient while still leaving the shock more active and sensitive than it would be if it relied on a system like TwinLoc. And dropping travel to 135 millimeters makes steep seat angles less necessary than on traditional long-travel bikes. So, though I would love to have seen 76 or 77 degrees, the Click mode's 75 degrees isn't unmanageable. But Clack mode slackens that out by 1.5 degrees, putting the Strive's resting position at 73.5-degrees, and even slacker on the over-forked Team model. That means Click mode isn't an optional setting only necessary on climbs long enough to merit a switch-flip and a weight-shift. It's something that I found myself needing for nearly every seated climb. And not because there was any unwanted pedal-feedback or power loss. Canyon’s linkage is as efficient and predictable as Horst-style linkages can get. But I’ve been spoiled by the better ride height and biomechanics offered by steep seat angles, and it’s a hard thing to let go of.
But this bike prioritizes the downhill. The renaming of the original Shapeshifter's XC and DH modes to Click and Clack is evidence of that. My first day on the Strive was mostly spent on Noble Canyon trail, which is notorious for being as physically demanding on the descents as it would be to climb up to the top, which happens to be why we shuttled it. In many sections on Noble, if I wanted to keep my speed, I had to pedal, and pedal hard. Click mode suddenly shifted from a climbing feature to a racing feature. The higher bottom bracket limited pedal strikes when mashing through zones where I might normally keep my feet off the gas, and the shortened-but-active travel got me back all the power I put in. And though on TwinLoc, I prefer an above-bar shock control in favor of keeping my dropper lever as close to my thumb as possible, the new Strive's double-decker mount offers the best of both worlds. Canyon's cleaner, flusher cable-actuated lever is easier to reach than the Reverb remote on my test bike, but I wasn't even halfway through the ride before I got used to the new position.
And for some, the very concept of remote-control rear suspension will take some getting used-to. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t know how much you’ll use it until you’ve got it. And Shapeshifter, which is an entirely unique approach to the concept, has uses beyond simply faster and easier climbs. The fact that a bike built around it has found a home here in the States gets me a little verklempt. Welcome, Strive. Pull up a chair.