Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL review
Canyon began by trading out of a trailer but the company now serves the world market with customer-direct sales from its headquarters in Koblenz, Germany. Canyon also sponsors the Movistar and Katusha WorldTour teams. In this review, CTech editor Matt Wikstrom rides the Ultimate CF SLX that sits at the top of the company’s road bike range.
Canyon’s history traces back to 1978 when the company’s founder Roman Arnold, then 14 years of age, discovered road cycling. The Arnold family was holidaying in Italy at the time and it was the sight of cyclists struggling up the Alps that captured Roman’s imagination.
It wasn’t long before Roman discovered racing. He would travel to races every weekend with his father, Toni, and it was during one race weekend that Toni started thinking about selling bike parts. Since he was travelling to Italy regularly, he started buying high-end parts to sell out of his trailer at the races.
Roman’s brother Franc joined in on the enterprise and by 1984, the business had outgrown the trailer, so it was moved into the family’s garage. The operating hours started to increase and a mechanic was added to the business. A year later, Radsport Arnold was founded and the business was moved into formal premises.
By 1997, Radsport Arnold’s bikes were being sold under the Canyon name and the company began designing its own frames, starting with a full-suspension MTB in 1998. Radsport Arnold was re-named Canyon Bicycles in 2001 as the company was experimenting with carbon fibre.
In the years that followed, Canyon devoted its design and engineering efforts to Arnold’s goal of building the “world’s best frame.” Hans-Christian Smolik was crucial to this effort that resulted in the F10 as well as a number of project bikes. These included a 3.7kg bike in 2005 and a hydraulic disc-brake-equipped road bike in 2006 (with dual discs on the front hub, no less).
Canyon continues to rely on Taiwan for its manufacturing but all assembly takes place at the company’s headquarters in Koblenz. The current catalogue comprises more than two dozen models, including full-suspension and hardtail MTB bikes, a TT rig and a couple of triathlon models, and several road bikes. Buyers also get a choice of several builds for most models and can make minor modifications such as the choice of crank (standard versus compact) and the range of the rear cassette.
Canyon was an early-adopter of customer-direct sales, and continues with this strategy, chiefly through its web store. Unfortunately, Canyon does not deliver to all countries, with Australia and the USA amongst the exclusions. It’s an issue that has frustrated fans of the brand in these countries for several years. However, Canyon’s policy remains firmly in place, though the company continues to express interest in delivering to these markets.
Canyon’s road bike catalogue comprises eight models. Aluminium is used for entry- and mid-level offerings (Roadlite AL, Endurance AL, Ultimate AL and Ultimate AL SLX) which are priced between €999 and €2,999 (AU$1,420-$4,270). Canyon’s carbon models (Endurance CF, Ultimate CF SL, Ultimate CF SLX, and Aeroad CF) start at €1,699 (AU$2,415) and top out at €8,499 (AU$12,085) for a Movistar Team Replica Ultimate CF SLX.
Buyers looking for a high-performance bike have a choice between Canyon’s Aeroad CF and Ultimate CF SLX. The former is graced with an aerodynamic profile and stiff efficiency, while the latter builds upon the legacy established with the F10. Indeed, the company believes the Ultimate CF SLX “has to be one of the best carbon frames in the world.”
Canyon recently provided CyclingTips with an Ultimate CF SLX for review. The bike was supplied as a 9.0 SL build that utilises SRAM Red 22 and a Mavic R-Sys SLR wheelset, and retails for €4,599 (AU$6,650).
Before the Ride
Canyon designed the Ultimate CF SLX to be light, stiff and comfortable. The frame features an oversized headset (1.25-inch upper bearing, 1.5-inch lower bearing) and fork steerer (1.25-inch) along with a Press-Fit BB86 bottom bracket.
Canyon’s website provides little detail on the type of carbon fibre used to construct the frame and forks. Instead, the company stresses the importance of the design of the frame, highlighting its ongoing use of a 1.25-inch steerer for the fork, the junction of seatstays with the seat and top tubes, asymmetric chainstays, and a seat tube design that morphs from a round to square profile as it approaches the bottom bracket.
The Ultimate CF SLX frame and fork makes use of Canyon’s VCLS (Vertical Comfort Lateral Stiffness) design strategy that aims to reduce vibration through the seatstays and fork legs without sacrificing lateral stiffness. This is achieved through a combination of carbon layup, refined tube shapes, and elastic materials (such as basalt fibres).
The VCLS paradigm also guided the design of the seatpost to further reduce vibrations through the frame. To this end, the stock S13 post has a diameter of 27.2mm and includes basalt fibres. The S13 post also offers an impressive 15-35mm of adjustable setback. Buyers looking for extra comfort can trade-up to Canyon’s S14 or S15 seatposts that have leaf springs for shock absorption.
Canyon includes its i-Lock headset with the frameset. Made by Acros, the headset utilises an expanding cone to adjust bearing pre-load rather than a conventional top cap and bolt. The system levers the fork steerer open for inspection; rain will also run down into the fork, however drain holes in the dropouts ensure the water is not trapped.
There is a choice of seven frame sizes for the Ultimate CF SLX, as shown in the table below:
Interestingly, Canyon has elected to employ the same seattube angle for all frame sizes, which threatens to limit setback, especially for tall riders. However, Canyon provides extra setback (up to 35mm) with its adjustable S13 seatpost. Up front, the headtube is reasonably generous for all frame sizes moderating an otherwise race-oriented fit.
Canyon is one of the few manufacturers to provide customers with a choice of bike builds with groupsets from all three major brands (i.e. Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo). For the Ultimate CF SLX, that makes for a choice of 11 builds. It is worth noting that the Ultimate CF SLX is manufactured in two versions, one that suits mechanical groupsets, and another for electronic groupsets.
The bike sent for review, an Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL, was built up with a SRAM Red 22 groupset, a Mavic R-Sys SLR wheelset with Yksion Pro tyres, an alloy Ritchey stem and carbon Ritchey bars, and a Fizik Antares saddle. Clearly, the emphasis on this build kit was to minimise weight. Total weight for the size L/58 Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL sans pedals and cages was 6.19kg.
The Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL is available in two finishes: stealth black (as reviewed) or a deep black/white scheme that features bold white stripes on the frame and fork. The bike presents well, the minimal graphics are finished expertly, but there is little on offer for a buyer that likes a lot of colour. Regardless, Canyon has designed a beautiful frameset with clean and simple lines that are well balanced and evenly proportioned.
It’s not surprising that as a company devoted to customer-direct sales, Canyon has designed its own boxes to ensure safe and secure shipping of their bikes. Called Bikeguard, the box holds the bike securely with compartments for every piece of the bike. There’s no need for foam, cardboard wrapping or lots of zip-ties; just a few Velcro straps. Final assembly simply entails installing the handlebars in the stem and the seatpost in the frame.
As mentioned above, the Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL retails for €4,599 (AU$6,650). Canyon offers a six-year warranty for the frame and fork. In addition, buyers are able to return any Canyon bike within 30 days of delivery. For more information, visit the Canyon website.
After the Ride
After riding the Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL for a few weeks, I can agree with Canyon’s marketing hyperbole: the Ultimate CF SLX is one of the best carbon bikes I’ve ever ridden.
Canyon’s engineering and design team have maximised all of the strengths of carbon manufacturing for the Ultimate CF SLX. There’s the low weight of the frameset, the exquisite responsiveness of the stiff chassis and the fact that it’s still a lively and comfortable ride. In short, the Ultimate CF SLX is a great example of carbon done right.
The 9.0 SL build is a perfect match for the Ultimate CF SLX chassis. Climbers will thrive on this bike. The low overall weight and the low inertia of the wheels make for an enthusiastic and agile bike. I found it was a little easier to keep the cranks turning over on longer climbs, but better yet, I always had the feeling that the bike was eager if I ever wanted to attack the slope.
It’s difficult to dissect the performance of a bike like the Ultimate CF SLX when all of its traits combine so effectively. The stiffness of the bottom bracket and chainstays no doubt contributes to the agility of the bike. Likewise, the precise steering adds something as well. The combination makes for a bike that is easy to throw around, be it on a climb or a technical criterium circuit, and every effort draws an immediate response.
There is no trade-off for comfort on this bike. The 27.2mm seatpost diameter, slender chainstays, lean fork legs, and basalt fibres all combine well to limit the transfer of vibrations to the saddle and handlebars. The Ultimate CF SLX is still a race bike though, so there is some feedback, but it was never harsh enough to worry my comfort.
SRAM’s Red 22 groupset worked beautifully. The latest iteration of the company’s flagship groupset has improved upon the quality and precision of its shifting when compared to the previous 10-speed version. The shifting paddles offer plenty of leverage, making for a very light action. The brakes were equally light, such that the whole groupset compares well with 11-speed Dura Ace.
While the 9.0 SL build was perfectly suited to the Ultimate CF SLX, I expect that this bike will impress just as much in its other guises. Indeed, Canyon has produced an extremely versatile race bike that can be fine-tuned to suit the needs of the owner. The only kind of rider that may not be served well by the Ultimate CF SLX is a powerful sprinter.
Final Thoughts and Summary
Canyon has invested heavily in its engineering and quality control, and the results are clearly evident in the Ultimate CF SLX — it is lightweight, stiff, efficient, comfortable and race-tuned. Better yet, Canyon offers a wide range of builds at attractive prices with the convenience of customer-direct sales. The only downside is that Canyon will not deliver to some countries, such as Australia and the USA.
So where does the Ultimate CF SLX sit in relation to other carbon race bikes? I’d place this bike in the top tier with other fine racing bikes such as Colnago’s C60, Basso’s Diamante, and Storck’s Aernario. Each bike has a distinct blend of traits, however Canyon trumps them all on the basis of price. It’s a fact that will only frustrate buyers that live in Australia and the USA.