All new for 2018, the Canyon Spectral is available in both carbon and aluminum.
All new for 2018, the Canyon Spectral is available in both carbon and aluminum.

Tested: Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 | $2,400

An aggressive trail bike at an affordable price

After years of teasing and anticipation, German-based consumer direct brand, Canyon, is finally up and running Stateside, adding to a growing list of companies able to offer unbelievable bike-for-buck value. Gear editor, Travis Engel first rode the newly redesigned 2018 Spectral back in December, but that was the top-end build. It's pretty amazing what you get for $7,000: Full SRAM XX1 drivetrain, ENVE hoops, and Fox Factory suspension. Let's face it, though--most people with seven grand to spend on a bike might not need to be looking for value. What really piqued our interest was the opposite end of the Spectral spectrum, the $2,400 AL 6.0.

 

Yep, she’s aluminum

 

It's the only aluminum-framed build offered, and it's absolutely packed to the gills with legit components for the price. Here are some highlights: SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain with Truvativ Descendant cranks, RockShox Pike RL fork and Deluxe RT shock, DT M 1900 Spline wheels wrapped in Maxxis Minion DHF and Rekon 27.5×2.6-inch tires, plus a KS LEV SI dropper. With shipping it's actually closer to $2,500, but it's still a steal.

 

Skip the Shop?

Bike shops exist for good reason. Modern full suspension mountain bikes can be complicated, finicky, and intimidating to set up. Can you really expect to get your bike fully dialed without needing a shop? That, of course depends on your mechanical aptitude, but almost anyone should be able get it to a ridable state themselves. Canyon does a lot to make assembly as quick and painless as possible. There are ample instructions and tools provided, and the brakes, shifting and dropper post come pre-adjusted. All you need to do is connect the dropper post cable and insert the post, attach the handlebars using the provided torque wrench, and throw the front wheel in the bike and thread in your pedals. From start to finish, a person with basic mechanical aptitude will be able to get the bike rideable, including suspension setup, in under a half hour. It took me longer to free the Spectral of its packing material and many (legally required) reflectors and pie plates (which I did at my own risk) than it did to actually get the bike together. I would've never let a bike leave my service center with cable housings this long, but that's getting picky.

 

I would've never let a bike leave my service center with cable housings this long, but that's getting picky.

 

The Special did come with valve cores, but it shipped with tubes installed, which is kind of a bummer. I mean, technically the bike is rideable out of the box, but does anyone seriously ride with tubes anymore? It sure would've been nice if it came set up tubeless, because converting it over takes time, skill, and some sort of rapid air delivery system--all stuff bike shops have.

Something did come up that had me really questioning the whole mail order thing: The SRAM GX shifter was a lemon. SRAM shifters allow you to click several gears in one long throw of the thumb lever. If grabbing one gear at a time the lever would return normally, but pushing it further to grab more gears would result in the lever sticking in. I'm not sure why it wasn't caught by Canyon before it went out the door--the bike was otherwise flawlessly assembled and adjusted--but if I'd purchased the bike from a shop I would have been able to go right back and have the shifter swapped out for free.

SRAM parts carry their own warranty, so I wasn't worried about getting a new shifter. My local shop could handle that no problem. But what about labor? I called Canyon to see how they handle these kind of issues, and it was an altogether pleasant experience. First of all, an actual person answered the phone. He was polite, friendly, and immediately offered to cover the labor to have the problem fixed at my local shop, no arm twisting required. All I'd need to do was fill out a warranty claim online, get a quote from the shop, and Canyon would directly put that amount back on the card I'd used to buy the bike. Canyon also partners with Velofix mobile bike shops, who can handle assembling and delivering your bike right to your door, as well as warranty issues like mine, plus returns.

This clever cover hides and protects the cable housing, and doubles as a downtube protector.

 

It's nice that Canyon doesn't just leave its customers hanging after the sale is done. The company seems to be making an honest effort to provide as much support as is remotely possible. And for things that can't be done over the phone--which is most things with bikes--Canyon encourages its customers to utilize their local shop. That customer service rep on the phone actually told me that if I had a good shop nearby, they'd be able to handle my situation more efficiently than he'd be able to.

In the end, I believe the consumer direct model is an opportunity for shops--at least for the ones that treat is as such. All bikes need service. Look at it this way: If I didn't happen to be a mechanic myself, this Spectral's first trip on the car wouldn't have been to the trailhead, it would've been to the shop.

 

Enough about that. It's a bike. How does it ride?

Congratulations on making it this far into a bike review without any information on what the bike actually is or what it's like on the trail. The Spectral is a mid-travel affair, with 27.5-inch wheels and 140 millimeters of suspension out back, and a 150-millimeter fork. As mentioned earlier, it recently underwent a redesign, receiving the obligatory longer and slacker treatment. It's not crazy slack, though, with a practical 66-degree head angle.

It's not trying to win any long reach contests either--this is Canyon, not Pole--but the 456-millimeter reach on my size large test bike is comfortable for me with the stock 50-millimeter stem. I'm 6 feet tall, by the way. The reason this reach feels comfy is because the Spectral's 74-degree seat tube angle isn't remarkably steep, as is becoming the latest craze in "modernizing" mountain bike geometry. I'd have to admit that I'm really loving this whole steep seat angle trend because it's very effective at mitigating shock squatting and making bikes of all travel climb better. When you go super steep on the seat angle, though, you need reach figures closer to 475-millimeters, which of course, stretches the whole bike out. That would throw off the reasonableness of the bike's 1,215-millimeter wheelbase--all of which would create a whole different ball of wax.

What I like about the Spectral's in-the-box numbers is they add up to an overall familiar feel on the trail, as far as body positioning, weight bias, cornering feel and responsiveness are concerned. With some of today's über long bikes I'll have to constantly remind myself to aggressively weight the front end to combat the bike's tendency to understeer otherwise. The Spectral is not one of those bikes. It does mean the bike is less shred-tastic--or whatever--than those kinds of bikes, but guess what? Sometimes it's about the ride, not the rad. It's not always awesome to ride a bike that requires a full-on downhill racing posture to coax it through every single corner.

 

Every size will fit a bottle inside the frame

 

That doesn't mean the Spectral isn't made for pushing limits, it's just my way of saying that it's not the most radical bike in the world. There are trails here in Bellingham that could leave some riders feeling a little under gunned on the Spectral, but overall this little-wheeled mid-travel bike still falls squarely in the "aggressive trail" category. The high volume Maxxis 2.6-inch tires do help land it there.

So does the Spectral's hungry rear suspension, which makes a meal out of trail chatter and big hits alike. The beginning stroke is quite active, supple, and feels deeper than it does on other bikes before it starts getting into the supportive middle part of the stroke. This results in less overall pedaling support when the shock is in the open setting, but sure does let the wheel give the ground a big ol' bear hug. Tracking through rough stuff and things like brake-bump-filled corners is top notch, even with the relatively basic shock. Once you do hit the supportive part of the stroke, it gets rapidly more progressive from there, with no harsh bottoming. I run the rebound pretty fast, which helps the suspension work off that nice supple beginning stroke as much as possible. This provides the lightly damped, active suspension feel I prefer. If I could get that and excellent pedaling support, I'd be in heaven. But the Spectral's new semi-horizontal shock orientation makes reaching for the shock's lockout lever really easy, so it's not a deal breaker for me. In the end, I find myself going just as fast and having just as much fun on this bike than I do on other, way fancier bikes in my bike rack. There's a lot to be said for that.

The Spectral bobs and weaves as quickly as a small-wheeled bike should, and its short 430-millimeter stays help keep the rear wheel underneath the rider enough to feel exactly where it is and control where it's headed next. This is something I like to refer to as rear wheel steering, and bikes that let you do it are fun as hell.

One of the component choices that makes a huge impact on the ride quality of this particular bike is the wheelset. DT makes phenomenal wheels, and the M 1900 Splines are lightweight and responsive. A crappier set of hoops would for sure make this bike feel a lot less legit. It's something that keeps coming up in my mind everytime I ask myself how a bike this affordable can match the performance of bikes twice its price. And that gets back to Canyon's ability to offer such great spec for the price by cutting out the middle man. Just keep in mind, you'll still need your shop to keep it running. So go buy a six pack, drop it off at your LBS, and apologize for buying a mail-order bike. Or better yet, buy a proper width handlebar for your Spectral from them--760 millimeters is too narrow for a bike this good.

 

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