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by Dave Rome
July 22, 2020
Few things in the bike industry are booming more than gravel bikes and e-bikes, and so it’s no wonder we’re seeing an increasing number of options that merge the two money-makers together. The world’s leading consumer-direct bike company, Canyon, is the latest to join the party with the Grail:On. And it actually looks like a hoot.
The Grail:On e-gravel bike isn’t like its competition. It looks to use plenty of tech from the e-MTB world and merge it with Canyon’s polarising Grail gravel bike. The outcome is a bike that, in our eyes, is exactly what an e-gravel bike should be. And yet, it’s a little confusing, too.
Canyon made its entrance into the gravel world in 2018 with a bike like no other. While the Grail offered many clever features and considerations, it was THAT integrated handlebar and stem that was the talk of the town. Visually crazy, the bar (formerly known as the Hover bar) intended to redefine the number of hand positions and comfort that a drop handlebar could provide, notably giving a hook for the thumb to rest when in the drops, and a raised and flexible top section to relax on. And it did all that while increasing the stiffness in the drops.
No longer the Hover bar, this is the Double Decker.
Canyon’s new electric version of the Grail, the Grail:On, retains that unmistakable bar, now called the Double Decker. In many ways, that different-but-not-boring handlebar serves as a poster child for the whole bike that’s unapologetically different.
With the additional speed and weight of an e-gravel bike, we’ve previously voiced our concerns that regular 38 to 45 mm-wide rubber can feel a little under-gunned, if not just plain sketchy. And it seems Canyon agrees. The Grail:On is equipped with Schwalbe’s new G-One Bite in a mountain-bike-like 50 mm size, and that’s with room for fenders!
The motor on this machine was initially intended for the e-MTB world.
Worried that these generous air balloons will sap away your power? Don’t worry, there’s a motor for that. And where much of the competition are using svelte e-road-type motors and batteries to keep the weight and judgement from others low, Canyon simply looked to the e-MTB world and equipped a Bosch Performance Line CX Gen 4 motor unit with a sizeable 500Wh Powertube battery.
By contrast, the company already offers the Endurace:On with a lighter and more neatly integrated Fazua motor system, something that aims to add more natural assistance to your pedalling versus the raw grunt of this Bosch unit. It’s a difference that, according to Canyon’s Product Engineer Johannes Gebel, makes the Grail:On “just fun”.
That motor offers Bosch’s newly increased 85 Nm peak torque, and according to Canyon, the motor is meant to play a more prominent role in the riding experience. And when you consider it was built with far heavier bikes in mind, it’s a little like strapping a Yamaha 250cc engine on your lawnmower. Depending on where you are in the world, the motor will provide you with assistance up to 25 km/h (almost everywhere) or 32 km/h (USA).
Motor control is achieved through the Bosch head unit at the bars, something that sits off a custom mount on the Grail:On’s lower bar.
The battery is easily removed from the frame.
The large battery is easily removable, with the Grail:On’s full carbon frame built around it. Most impressively, all seven sizes of the Grain:On feature the same size Bosch battery. That frame is no lightweight either, and Canyon has intentionally overbuilt it for off-road use, with over 4 mm of wall thickness (this is a lot) in some areas. In the top-spec bike, Canyon claims the Grail:On weighs 15.9 kg.
Canyon claims the geometry takes cues from the analogue Grail, but I’m seeing more differences than similarities.
With the aid of shorter stem lengths, the effective reach is now shorter, and the stack taller. The result is Canyon’s most relaxed “road” geometry to date.
Likewise, the chain stay length has grown by 15 mm, while the total wheelbase figure is up 28 mm. This, of course, allows for the motor and big tires to fit, but should also add a bunch of stability.
There’s a generous size range on offer, while the fit is more relaxed than other dropbar models in Canyon’s range.
The consumer-direct-company is sticking with its approach to wheel sizes — the three smallest frame sizes are based around 650B wheels, while the larger four are all intended for use with 700C wheels. Doing so allows Canyon to get the handling characteristics they want from each size, while also overcoming common issues such as toe rub.
On that note, Canyon doesn’t believe in users changing between wheel sizes, stating that doing so will negatively affect the intended handling of its bikes.
With massive tyres and such a torque’ative (coining it) motor, I find it somewhat surprising that the Grail:On remains a rigid bike. According to Gebel, Canyon did look into suspension for this bike and decided against it because the wide tyre was so efficient at adding comfort.
While the frame isn’t overly stiff, it certainly wasn’t designed specifically with compliance in mind. As a result, Canyon looked to the contact points to soak up what the tyres don’t.
Canyon’s own seat post and cockpit aim to provide significant comfort over more traditional component options.
According to Gebel, “a flexible seat post is far more important than the ability to raise and lower the post.” And this is why Canyon doesn’t equip a dropper post on the Grail:On, and instead uses its own impressively flexible VCLS 2.0 leaf spring seat post. And upfront, there’s THAT handlebar to help soothe the ride.
Those huge tires can’t just fit into any frame, and the most obvious compromise is seen with the 1x-only shifting. Additionally, the frame takes another cue from the mountain bike world with Boost rear wheel spacing (148 mm width axle), something done as much for tire clearance as for the wider Q-factor Bosch motor.
The Grail:On uses Canyon’s own fenders.
Drops bars and no suspension are one thing, but the option to use full-length fenders further separates the Grail:On from an e-MTB. There’s no seat stay bridge for this, and rather Canyon will sell its own fenders that closely match the design of those made for the Grail, albeit in a wider shape. The frame isn’t intended for use with pannier racks; rather Canyon is a proponent of strap-on bags if you wish to carry things.
There are four models available (one of which is women’s specific), and all feature the same frame, fork, motor, battery system, Double Decker handlebar, VCLS seat post and 50 mm Schwalbe tires. Where things change is in the groupset and wheels, although even the latter share a similarity with the DT Swiss HG-Series wheels — a line that’s built specifically for e-gravel riding with strengthened hubs and thicker spokes.
Regardless of frame size, the Grail:On comes equipped with 160 mm disc brake rotors front and rear, however, Canyon has designed its flat-mount fork to work with a 180 mm rotor on the front if you choose. The bikes carry a weight limit of 130 kg.
The shown blue and grey colours are both available within each price point.
The range kicks off with Grail:On CF 7 WMN (women’s) and Grail:On CF 7. These feature Shimano GRX 600 mechanical shifting and hydraulic brakes, and are priced at €4,999 / £4,699 / US$NA / AU$NA. Canyon claims they weigh 17.1 kg (37.70 lb). This level of the Grail:On is not available in the United States.
Effectively unchanged from the Grail:On CF 7, the WMN version comes with a women’s saddle and smaller sized handlebar/stem combination.
Next is the Grail:On CF 8 which features the same DT Swiss HG 1800 Spline DB wheels as the CF 7, but upgrades the brakes and drivetrain to a Shimano GRX 800-series. Unlike the CF 7, this one is available in the USA and is priced at US$5,799 (€5,299 / £4,999 / AU$NA).
The claimed 16.9 kg (35lb) Grail:On CF 8 eTap features carbon DT Swiss HGRC 1400 Spline DB wheels and an SRAM Force eTap AXS Wide group, including the new 10-36T cassette. Expect to pay US$6,999 / €5,999 / £5,699 / AU$NA for this.
I’m happy to call this bike ground-breaking, but it does raise further questions over the practicality of such a bike. Once you have a powerful motor, then does the extra weight of full suspension and even bigger tires make that much of difference to your average speed? As always, there’s no easy answer to that, and it’ll entirely depend on where and how you plan to ride, and whether you enjoy the idea of under-biking on trails.
Clearly Canyon has taken some significant risks with this bike, and the category offers a significant carrot to chase for the company. “E-bikes are clearly going to be a major growth driver at Canyon over the coming years,” shared Matthew Leake, Canyon’s road brand and marketing manager. “We are rapidly expanding our portfolio and with it the number of e-bikes we produce each year. From model year 2020 to model year 2021, that growth figure is 100%, so we will essentially double our output for e-bikes to meet the demand we are experiencing from our major markets right now.”
We’ve just got our hands on a test bike, and certainly, we’ll aim to answer whether this bike is, in fact, the future of e-gravel, or a design risk gone too far.