Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 9.0 Di2 review

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The Aeroad CF SLX is Canyon’s take on an aerodynamic road bike that was overhauled last year. In this review, CTech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a closer look at this model that sits near the top of Canyon’s aero road bike collection.


By any measure, Canyon is a success story. The company literally started with a trailer in the early ‘80s and has been growing ever since, recently opening a new assembly facility so that it could increase its production capacity up to 450 bikes/day.

A large part of Canyon’s success can be attributed to their commitment to carbon fibre even though their first effort was an embarrassing failure (the bike broke during a magazine test). The brand invested heavily in research and development at the turn of the century and has been a driving force in carbon fibre bikes ever since.

The brand’s profile has no doubt been helped by their sponsorship of professional race teams, starting with team Unibet.com in 2007 followed by Silence-Lotto, and most recently, Katusha and Movistar. Cadel Evans won his world championship aboard a Canyon, while Nairo Quintana won the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and placed second in this year’s Tour de France riding a Canyon.

What distinguishes Canyon from other similarly decorated brands (eg. Bianchi, Pinarello and Trek) is that they don’t rely on bike shop sales. In fact, the company eschewed conventional retail outlets from its inception in favour of customer-direct sales via the Internet.

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Canyon relies on production facilities in Taiwan for all of its frames and framesets, however the bikes are assembled in Koblenz, Germany. Koblenz also serves as the company’s only showroom with labs for product testing and quality control. All customer orders are dispatched from Koblenz.

One of the reasons Canyon needed a new assembly facility was to cope with extra demand from new markets, such as Australia and New Zealand. A territory manager was recently appointed and Canyon will operate a service centre in Melbourne. There won’t be a showroom; instead, the service centre will have a fleet of demo bikes that will travel to a variety of events in 2016, starting with the Tour Down Under.

One of the road bikes that will be available to Australian and New Zealand buyers is the Aeroad CF SLX, an aerodynamic race bike that was first released in 2011 and updated last year. For this review, I take a close look at the Aeroad CF SLX 9.0 Di2 that features Dura Ace Di2 and Mavic Cosmic Pro wheels and sells for AUD$9,199/€6,399/£5,799.

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Before the ride

The first iteration of the Aeroad (dubbed Aeroad CF SL) offered small aerodynamic gains when compared to Canyon’s other carbon race bike, the Ultimate CF SLX, but it trailed behind other aero road bikes such as Cervelo’s S5, Giant’s Propel, and Specialized’s Venge. Thus, Canyon’s engineers set out to improve the aerodynamics of the Aeroad.

They were guided by the lessons learned when developing the Speedmax TT bike, taking the Trident tubeset and refining it to yield so-called Trident 2.0 tubing. Trident 2.0 has a squared-off trailing edge that lends a measure of stiffness to the bike.

Canyon’s engineers found a way to fill in the triangle above the rear wheel without violating UCI’s 3:1 rule. The result is a subtle fairing for the rear wheel that promises to smooth airflow in this region. They also added direct mount brake callipers, which are more aerodynamic than standard callipers, but in a nod to utility and common sense, keep them in their traditional locations without hiding the cables.

The stem and handlebars received extra attention, with Canyon undertaking their own integrated design that has been dubbed the H11 Aerocockpit CF. The tops of the bars are broad and flat, and they flow into the stem to form an almost horizontal line to the steerer of the fork. The cables are hidden in recesses on the underside, and a clever niche was created to hide the Di2 junction box.

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Acros created a headset and spacers to match the profile of the stem precisely that interlock and align automatically. The proprietary design may create problems when the time comes to replace parts due to wear and tear but they serve a purpose: Canyon claims the new Aerocockpit saves 5.5W at 45km/h.

The frame has a BB86 bottom bracket, an integrated seatpost clamp (that will fall out when the post is removed), and a purpose-built bracket to secure the Di2 battery within the downtube of the frame (rather than the seatpost). There is also internal routing for the cables, with one version of the frame to suit electronic transmissions and another for mechanical groupsets.

There are seven frame sizes for the Aeroad CF SLX, as shown in the table below:

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The Aeroad CF SLX continues Canyon’s preference for a fixed seat tube angle for all frame sizes; the chainstay length (410mm) is also fixed for all frame sizes. The headset adds another 16mm to the head tube length, but remains relatively short for each frame size. When coupled with the minimal handlebar rise offered by the Aerocockpit and just 25mm of spacers, the Aeroad will only suit riders that like an aggressive fit.

Interestingly, the Canyon’s detailed geometry chart shows that the Aeroad is specified with relatively short stem lengths while the handlebar width is purposefully narrow for better aerodynamics. I’m told that buyers will be able to select other stem lengths and handlebar widths when placing an order, but at this stage it’s not clear how many different combinations will be available.

The rake of the forks can be adjusted by 5mm by reversing the orientation of small alloy blocks that are bolted into the dropouts.
The rake of the forks can be adjusted by 5mm by reversing the orientation of small alloy blocks that are bolted into the dropouts.

The rake of the fork is adjustable with two settings: “stable” and “agile”, corresponding to 39mm and 44mm of rake. The proprietary seatpost also has two settings: 15mm setback or 1mm setforward. While the former has no bearing on rider fit, the latter will, and riders requiring a lot of setback will have trouble getting comfortable on the Aeroad.

The niche that is provided on the underside of the Aerocockpit for the Di2 junction box is quite elegant because it leaves the adjustment button exposed and easy to use. The battery indicator light is largely hidden though, and while the box can be levered to expose the charging port, it is a fussy process (I found it easier to remove the cover that was holding it in place).

The Aerocockpit poses an immediate problem for bike computers and lights. I’ve seen pictures of an out-front mount that Canyon has created to suit Garmin devices that bolts to the underside of the Aerocockpit, but other brands (and any light) will require makeshift or custom-made mounts. Some may prefer to wait for the integrated bike computer/GPS device that Canyon is developing in conjunction with Sony.

The Acros headset and spacers are shaped to match the stem with a system of pins and holes to keep everything perfectly aligned.
The Acros headset and spacers are shaped to match the stem with a system of pins and holes to keep everything perfectly aligned.

The Aeroad CF SLX is a handsome bike with clean lines. An electronic transmission is the perfect choice for the Aeroad because it reduces cable clutter at the front of the bike and preserves the pristine lines of the Aerocockpit. Colour choices for the Aeroad CF SLX vary depending on the build: for the 9.0 Di2 there is a choice of matte black with grey highlights or matte red with black highlights.

The 9.0 Di2 build comprises a full Dura Ace Di2 groupset, Mavic Cosmic Pro wheels fitted with Yksion Pro tyres, and a Fizik Arione saddle. However the most surprising feature of this build is the Di2 sprint shifters fitted to the drops. The Giant Propel is the only other bike I can think of that offers sprint shifters on a stock build, nor can I think of a better way to emphasise the race intentions of a bike.

With over a decade of experience delivering bikes to its customers around the world, it’s not surprising that Canyon have managed to refine the process. Their Bikeguard box cradles the bike in a semi-assembled state while Velcro straps are used to secure the handlebars and front wheel. A small selection of tools is provided with the bike, including a torque wrench to help with final assembly.

I was able to assemble the Aeroad CF SLX sent for review in ten minutes with just one complication: the tubes had 48mm valve stems that were too short for the wheels. There was a valve extender amongst the tools—just one, though—so I could inflate the tyres, but I’d rather have longer valve stems, front and rear.

The size M Aeroad CF SLX 9.0 Di2 sent for review weighed 6.86kg sans pedals and bottle cages. As for the price, the bike currently sells for AUD$9,199/€6,399/£5,799 with an extra charge for delivery.

Finally, Canyon offers a 6-year guarantee for all of its frames and forks. In addition, buyers are free to return the bike within 30 days of delivery. For more information, visit Canyon.

After the ride

I was immediately enamoured with the styling of the Aeroad CF SLX. Clean, fast lines and one of the tidiest cockpits I’ve ever encountered. Plus it was light in a way that defied its bold profile and consistently surprised anybody that lifted it off the ground.

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Out on the road, the bike immediately lived up to expectations for speed and responsiveness. I was able to accelerate with the kind of ease that made me think I was a stronger rider. Undulating roads were ideal fodder for the bike as I found myself jumping out of the saddle again and again, just to savour the way the bike surged with every effort. I was behaving like a hoon in an overpowered ute.

The bike benefitted from a large measure of momentum; once set in motion, it was hesitant to slow down. I presume aerodynamics had a role to play in this but I don’t have any data to argue the point (though recent testing by Tour magazine suggests that the Aeroad CF SLX is a worthy peer for Cervelo’s S5, Felt’s AR FRD, and Giant’s Propel). Regardless, it was the perfect complement to the Aeroad’s responsiveness. Give it a kick and enjoy the speed.

The Aeroad CF SLX was a little unforgiving on rough roads, but the excess chatter was never harsh or unrelenting. There were also a few instances when the rear wheel would skip and stutter as I exited a corner. Surprisingly, there was quite of lot of torsion in the front triangle under load as well as some flex in the bars. The only time I was aware of it though, was when I was trying to push a huge gear up a steep incline. Nevertheless, I expect pure sprinters will want a sturdier bike.

I was stunned by the Aeroad’s climbing ability. The bike defied its bold profile with lithe agility and an eagerness to ascend. I’ve only experienced a handful of bikes that have managed to improve my climbing (or at least my sense of it, which is dogged at best), but in doing so, the Aeroad encouraged my enthusiasm and confidence. In or out of the saddle, the bike was equally spry, and I started looking forward to the next climb.

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The adjustable fork rake was an immediate novelty for me. There was a clear difference between the two settings such that the bike was much easier to turn with the “agile” setting. I revelled in the bike’s quicker handling, where a light touch was all that was required to lean the bike over for a corner. By comparison, more effort was required with the “stable” setting.

The effect of the two fork rakes on the stability of the bike was interesting. The bike was well mannered with the “agile” setting, but switching to “stable” smoothed out the ride and added to the Aeroad’s surefootedness. The difference was subtle, but one that I most appreciated over the course of a long ride compared to a short one.

The wind turned out to be the biggest problem for the Aeroad CF SLX. The Cosmic Pro wheelset was highly susceptible to crosswinds, but so was the frame. Switching to low profile wheels didn’t do much to calm the bike, and after a week of strong winds, the Aeroad was losing some of its appeal.

Controlling the bike in crosswinds was harder with the “agile” rake setting. I wasn’t acutely aware of the extra effort, but there was a level of discomfort—tension in the shoulders, mainly—that disappeared with the “stable” setting. As such, I settled on “stable” as my preferred fork rake, but I remained grateful for the extra adjustment. After all, the “agile” setting would be perfect for a technical criterium.

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I’ve always questioned the appeal of an integrated handlebar and stem, but when the final product looks as slick as the Aerocockpit then there is room to compromise. I was immediately comfortable with the modest reach and drop of the bars and the flattened tops were also comfortable in few different positions. I found the radius of the drops less satisfying, but far from uncomfortable. I expect the Aerocockpit will work for most riders after fine-tuning the position of the levers and sprint shifters.

Shimano’s Di2 sprint shifters enhanced the utility of the groupset to the point where I started wondering why more bikes aren’t supplied with them. The little thumb buttons encouraged me to remain in the drops to become indispensable for attacking, building a break, fighting a headwind, and of course, sprinting. It’s a canny initiative from Canyon that adds extra value to a bike that is already well priced.

The Cosmic Pro wheelset is a good match for the bike—the Aeroad’s bold tubing demands a high-profile wheelset—and while the wheels were susceptible to crosswinds, they were stiff, light and reasonably fast. Mavic’s Exalith coating for the brake track promises to improve braking and the durability of the rim but the brake pads must be toed inwards otherwise they will squeal harshly.

Finally, the rest of the bike performed as can be expected for a high-end build, which is to say, flawlessly.

Summary and final thoughts

The Aeroad CF SLX is an impressive race bike that delivers on its promise of speed and performance. While it is fast and responsive, it is surprisingly agile too, more versatile than its aerodynamic styling suggests. The bike’s sizing largely excludes enthusiasts in favour of dedicated racers, so while the Aeroad’s styling and presentation might have wide appeal, it’s not a bike for all riders.

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At the conclusion of my review for Canyon’s Ultimate CF SLX, the only shortcoming I could identify was local availability. Now that the company is addressing this issue (North American customers are still waiting though), shoppers must decide whether they are comfortable with buying a bike online.

Buying online means there won’t be a chance to test ride the Aeroad before placing an order, and for some, this will be a deal-breaker. More so, given the expense of the bike. However, the situation is akin to ordering a bespoke frameset, where the decision to buy rests with the appeal and reputation of the framebuilder. So it goes for Canyon, but there is one important difference: Canyon’s 30-day right of return.

Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 9.0 Di2 Gallery

 

 

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