Disc brakes haven’t just been a hot topic in men’s racing. Earlier this month, Canyon introduced its new disc-equipped Ultimate WMN CF SLX to the women’s WorldTour peloton at the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Empowered by SRAM, under Canyon-SRAM team riders Alexis Ryan and Alena Amialiusik. That bike isn’t just a repainted men’s version with disc brakes, though; it’s the first truly women’s specific line from the German bike manufacturer, and discs are standard across the board.
Like many other brands, Canyon previously used a unisex frame for its male and female bikes with a gender-specific finishing kit. But as the demand for a high performance women’s specific bike grew, Canyon decided to go back to the drawing board two years ago, now launching three dedicated bike models that supposedly set a new industry benchmark for women’s bikes.
“As a former racer I always wanted to have the fastest bike but for a long time, women specific bikes haven’t been the fastest, lightest, best bikes at all. We (the industry) need to work a lot to get women specific bikes out of the ‘poor imitation of a men’s/unisex bike’ – corner,” explained Katrin Neumann. “Women specific bikes need a new image, they are not softer or slower than the unisex ones and the new women specific Ultimate CF SLX is our answer to that.”
A women’s geometry
Canyon’s online ordering system collects body dimension data from all its customers, including height, weight, and leg and arm length. While this information helped people identify which frame size to purchase, the data — now over 60,000 entries strong — also gave the engineers at Canyon a clear picture of the biometric and anatomical make-up and requirements of its customers.
That data not only showed some fundamental differences in the male and female dimensions, but also the exact nature of those differences. Most notably, Canyon found that, contrary to popular belief, women’s legs are only marginally longer than men’s legs for a given height. However, their arms are consistently shorter (by 2cm on average) for a given torso length. According to Canyon’s data, women also tend to be shorter and lighter, and they have greater pelvic flexibility.
Taking all of this data into account, Canyon designed the new WMN frame geometries with slightly higher stacks and shorter reaches compared to the unisex frames. The WMN frames are also lighter than the unisex versions for a given size, feature more aerodynamic profiles, and the size range now extends down to 3XS to cover rider heights as low as 152cm (5’ 0″).
Smaller wheels, discs only
Canyon was faced with the usual problems associated with making a frame that small work with standard 700c wheels, such as toe overlap, longer wheelbases, slack head angles, and compromised handling — issues that shorter riders know all too well. Rather than compromise the frame’s agility and stability, Canyon instead decided to make a wheel to work with their frames.
The new 3XS and 2XS sizes in each of Canyon’s new WMN bikes will come equipped with smaller 650b wheels, which enabled Canyon to drastically reduce trail while keeping the head angle and wheelbase consistent for more responsive and agile handling.
Gear ratios have been modified on the 3XS and 2XS with larger chainrings to accommodate those smaller wheels. Additionally, crankarm lengths and handlebar widths are adjusted per size, meaning that while a 3XS frame is fitted with 165mm-long cranks, the largest sizes come with 172.5mm cranks; all but the S and M bikes come with 380mm-wide bars.
It’s worth noting that while 650b is a standard rim diameter for mountain bike wheels (and the increasingly popular Road Plus format), it’s slightly different from the 650c dimension once commonly used on triathlon bikes. Race-oriented replacement wheels and tires may be harder to come by as a result until more of the industry adopts this new size on the road, and the UCI also hasn’t yet officially approved 650b for use in competition.
All of Canyon’s new WMN models are disc-only; there are no models available with rim brakes, nor does Canyon plan to introduce them later, despite lingering questions surrounding their legality in both professional and amateur competition.
Of course, all this could change by next season and Canyon representatives seemed assured in their decision to only offer disc brakes. “It is the future,” Canyon engineer Lukas Schuchnigg stated simply.
The Ultimate WMN CF SLX: the lightest, most aerodynamic Ultimate yet
Since women are lighter and have lower power outputs on average than men of the same height, Canyon’s engineers were free to design the new bikes with lower weights since they don’t need to be as stiff. As a side bonus, decreasing the tubing diameters on the Ultimate WMN CF SLX also reduced frontal surface area for improved aerodynamics.
Canyon claims that the new Ultimate WMN is 6.5% lighter and 3% more aerodynamic than the unisex model, and while there is some loss of geometric stiffness, the reduction in mass means the stiffness-to-weight ratio remains largely unaffected.
According to Schuchnigg, some of the lessons learned in the process of designing the new Ultimate WMN frame will be eventually be used in unisex models going forward as well.
A quick pre-dinner ride that included some climbing and fast descending was all I got on this new bike for now, but my first impression was positive. Overall, the bike felt stable yet responsive, it accelerated quickly, and it felt comfortable and trustworthy even when bouncing across potholed roads.
Cornering and descending at higher speeds really brought out the advantages of the modified geometry, though. The bike simply carved through turns, eliminating any hesitation that normally comes with being on unfamiliar roads on an unfamiliar bike.
In my experience, the argument in favor of women’s-specific geometries usually comes down to how many parts a rider would have to change on a bike to make it fit. However, only a small percentage of riders will go to those lengths; most simply deal with what they’ve got. What Canyon has done here is eliminate or minimize the need to make all those changes. The bike fits as is or comes very close, at least.
Canyon won’t opened the doors to its US distribution center until later this year, so US prices have not yet been set. But based on European prices, the Ultimate WMN CF SLX starts at €2,999. Top-end spec (featuring SRAM Red eTap and Reynolds Assault wheels) will cost you €6,199.
The Endurace WMN CF SL: comfort shouldn’t compromise performance
Canyon has applied the same women’s-specific philosophy to the new Endurace WMN CF SL, which borrows many of the racing-oriented Ultimate’s engineering features but with more attention paid to rider comfort. With that said, the bike stays true to its portmanteau name: it’s as much an endurance bike as it is capable of racing.
Made for a rider who likes to go long and prefers a slightly less aggressive position, the Endurace sports a host of comfort-enhancing features and ergonomics-focussed components that sets it apart from the all-out race machine that is the Ultimate.
The Endurace WMN CF SL takes after the Ultimate in that it features a high-end carbon frame with an integrated cockpit, hidden seatpost clamp, internal cable routing, and semi-aerodynamic shape. It also comes with the same spec options as the Ultimate, including SRAM Red eTap and Reynolds Assault LE wheels.
Where it differs from the Ultimate WMN CF SLX, however, is in a slightly higher front end and a shorter reach for a less aggressive riding position, clearance for 33mm-wide tires, and various comfort-enhancing features.
Most notable among those features is the “Comfort Kink” seat tube and unique, leaf spring-like two-piece carbon fiber seatpost, both of which are designed to flex more when hitting bumps for a smoother and more comfortable ride.
Still, everything about this frame looks sleek, sharp and fast — and the teal color, called “Stealth Aqua”, is definitely an eye-catcher.
Too often, an endurance bike can feel sluggish when you’re used to bikes specifically for racing, and the upright position can feel foreign. But yet aside from the slightly more relaxed riding posture and smoother ride, Canyon has mostly carried the Ultimate’s sporty handling and sleek and sexy appearance over to the Endurace. Aside from maybe wanting to lose a few spacers in the front to lower the reach, the bike fit well during my two test rides, closely following my usual position.
The increased comfort was immediately obvious as the softer rear end and compliant cockpit took care of the rough pavement. Still, the flex in the seatpost may be a little too noticeable for some riders — especially those taller and heavier than me — and in those cases, a standard seatpost may be a better option.
Either way, I was pleasantly surprised by how lively and responsive the bike was, even when jumping out of the saddle for a city limit sign. Nothing about riding the Endurance Endurace WMN CF SL Disc 9.0, complete with SRAM eTap and Reynolds Assault LE wheels, that day felt like a compromise.
The intuitive SRAM Red eTap shifting and the 11-32T cassette in the rear made climbing a little less evil, too, and the bike’s stability combined with the trustworthy disc brakes meant I could bomb down the descends with nothing but a smile on my face.
While marketed as a road bike, the tire clearance and disc brake would open this bike up for some mixed-pavement and gravel riding as well, but I was a little disappointed to see a lack of fender eyelets.
Eyelets aside, Canyon has found a good balance of comfort, speed and agility with the Endurace WMN CF SL. I typically prefer race bikes, but the Endurace WMN CF SL may have changed my mind about endurance bikes.
As with the Ultimate, US price points have not yet been set. But based on European prices, the Endurace WMN CF SL starts at €1,999. Top-end spec (featuring SRAM eTap and Reynolds Assault wheels) will cost you €5,899.