The 2023 Canyon Ultimate is more than just a climbing bike
More aero, more stiffness, and more integration, but also a bit more weight.
More aero, more stiffness, and more integration, but also a bit more weight.
“What 911 is to Porsche, the Ultimate is to Canyon.”
That’s how product manager Matthias Eurich described the way the Ultimate fits into Canyon’s road lineup, and how integral the model is to the brand’s road identity. Canyon is now introducing the fifth generation of that bike, and much like how Porsche handles iterations of its iconic 911, Canyon has incorporated some marked improvements into the latest version, but without changing the formula so much that it’s not recognizable as an Ultimate.
Canyon sure has emphasized the idea of balanced performance for the new Ultimate, with the tagline, “The Perfect Balance”, integrated into just about every aspect of the company’s recent launch event in Nice, France. There were T-shirts, socks, frame name decals – heck, even the candles on the tables were emblazoned with the words.
But as easy as it’d be to cast this off as marketing hyperbole, it’s hard not to find some truth to the words, given how the new Ultimate has evolved.
As expected, the new carbon fiber Ultimate is more aerodynamic, to the tune of 10 watts (claimed) saved at 45 km/h relative to the fourth-gen version. And according to Canyon, the stiffness profiles across the three different versions are more comparable to each other than in years past. In other words, the performance of the three Ultimate variants should only vary in weight, not stiffness or ride quality.
This all sounds pretty routine so far, no? Not so fast. In what is perhaps the most telling sign of how much Canyon values that elusive concept of balance with the new Ultimate, some of the weights have actually increased in order to get those stiffness and aerodynamic profiles where the company thought they should be.
These days, it’s not at all uncommon for a brand to say its new bike is more aerodynamic than the one it replaced. However, a closer inspection of the claims often reveals changes in other things like wheels and componentry that make it difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison. In this case, though, Canyon says that 10-watt improvement is registered with the fourth-gen and fifth-gen framesets built up identically, which certainly makes the figure more interesting.
There’s still one big caveat with that number, though. That 10 watts is for the bike only, and even Canyon admits the advantage is cut in half when a rider is on board.
Although the side profile of the new Ultimate doesn’t look all that different, the new bike gets a D-shaped seatpost and seat tube in place of the round ones used before, the seatstays are D-shaped as well, and additional gains are apparently found with the subtly updated surfaces around the head tube and bottom bracket area. According to Canyon design engineer Lukas Birr, one impactful change is the bigger gap between the bottom of the fork crown and the top of the tire, which leaves more room for air to more easily flow through to the D-shaped down tube. Another is the subtle horizontal crease at the base of the head tube, which apparently helps direct airflow from the fork cleanly around the down tube.
As you’ve probably already noticed, the new Ultimate also gets fully hidden cabling throughout. Canyon is using the same CP0018 three-piece integrated carbon fiber cockpit that was first introduced on the troubled Aeroad, and the same proprietary 1 1/4″ carbon fiber steerer tube that goes along with it (in most cases, anyway – more on that in a bit). And while we often hear brands touting the importance of cleaning up the cockpit area, since that’s the first part of the bike the wind will encounter while riding, Canyon is actually quite modest about the gains here. Perhaps it’s because the previous-generation Ultimate already featured an aero-shaped bar, but according to Birr, switching to the CP0018 setup (and its internal cabling) only saves a couple of watts or so.
As anyone who’s put in the training time to gain a few watts of additional power can attest, even 5 watts of savings with a rider on board is hardly nothing. To be clear, 45 km/h isn’t exactly a realistic cruising pace for most people, but it’s also hardly an unattainable speed (if I can do it, I dare say you probably can), and I’m certainly not going to complain about a little free speed.
Perhaps more importantly for many potential buyers is that Canyon thankfully didn’t resort to any major weirdness to get there, and in my opinion, the new Ultimate looks quite nice. Granted, there’s more than a little bit of controversy surrounding that CP0018 cockpit (not to mention fully internal cabling in general), but if you take Canyon at its word that those structural issues have been solved once and for all, this still strikes me as one of the less-bad solutions out there.
That whole balance story gets a lot more interesting when you look at how Canyon has handled the weight issue here, particularly given how the company continues to bill the Ultimate as “still first and foremost a climbing bike”. As I’ve already mentioned, some of the models have gotten heavier, but the biggest gain is seen at the flagship CFR version.
Canyon obviously put a lot of emphasis on improving the new Ultimate’s aerodynamic performance, and those sorts of shape refinements rarely cost nothing in terms of mass. However, Birr also said it was a big internal goal to increase the frame stiffness of the Ultimate, especially if the company could gain a tangible boost in rigidity without a concurrent tangible gain in weight. Birr also admitted that Canyon perhaps made the previous-generation CFR frame a little too light, in the sense that it ended up significantly softer than its stablemates.
That’s no longer the case now as the flex profiles of all the bikes are now supposedly identical across the board – which explains the asymmetrical weight gains – and front triangle torsional stiffness has also increased by about 15% relative to the stiffest previous version.
But even then, stiffness wasn’t the main priority. All of the new Ultimate frames are also said to be more durable and impact-resistant than before, with roughly 30 g of extra carbon fiber added per frame to better resist common everyday incidents. Granted, one could certainly be justified in reading that as Canyon tacitly admitting previous Ultimate frames weren’t strong enough. Perhaps that is the case, but nevertheless, I’d rather a company call out the effort to fix that situation than just sweep it under the rug.
Claimed weight for the top-end Ultimate CFR is now 762 g in a medium size with paint and hardware – up from 675 g – plus 321 g for the matching fork. The new Ultimate CF SLX is 846 g (close to a wash from before) plus 351 g for the fork, while the Ultimate CF SL is 1,062 g with the same fork as the SLX.
Needless to say, it’s always better to have a lighter bike than a heavier one, all other things being equal. However, that “all other things being equal” qualifier is key. I haven’t fully shed my old weight-weenie persona, and generally dislike seeing things get heavier. But if those gains really do come with real-world improvements in durability and increases in stiffness that are substantial enough for everyday riders to feel, I think I can live with that, especially since the total bike weights are still plenty competitive. In fact, claimed weight on the flagship model is just 6.3 kg (13.89 lb) with surprisingly few compromises.
OK, back to this whole balance thing. A bike that’s stiff and light while also being pretty aero is nice and all, but none of that means much if it’s so uncomfortable that you don’t want to ride it.
Thankfully, this is one of those situations where improvements in aerodynamics comes with a nice bonus. Although the move away from a 27.2 mm-diameter round seatpost is a bummer in terms of compatibility, the new D-shaped seatpost is still quite slender, and the flat-backed profile is more apt to bend when you hit a bump, not less. There’s once again a wedge-type binder positioned low inside the seat cluster to maximize the amount of exposed post, but the tool access has been moved to inside the main triangle, where the bolt should be far better protected from the elements.
Tire clearance has improved slightly, too, from 700×30 mm on the previous Ultimate, up to 700×32 mm on the new one (and Canyon’s ratings have historically been fairly conservative). All of the new Ultimates come equipped from the factory with 28 mm-wide rear tires, and 25 or 28 mm ones up front depending on model, so if comfort is what you’re after, there’s plenty of room to upsize.
Riders hoping a new Ultimate could also serve as a capable rain bike will be disappointed that there are no fender mounts included, and not surprisingly given all the integration, the new Ultimate doesn’t rank well for parts compatibility, either. It’s a conventional PF86 press-fit bottom bracket shell down below, standard flat-mount brake caliper interfaces front and rear, and normal 12 mm-diameter thru-axles at both ends (with the sizes even printed right on the frame), but the seatpost is proprietary, as are the stem and steerer. The latter is Canyon’s usual 1 1/4″ diameter, but the way the CP0018 cockpit used on the majority of models attaches to it is unique to Canyon.
That CP0018 cockpit obviously won’t work with any out-front computer mounts that are designed for round bars, either, but Canyon at least has a new 3D-printed mount that’s astonishingly light at just 17 g. For now, it’s offered only in dedicated Garmin or Wahoo models.
The new Ultimate features the same “Sport Pro” geometry as the current Aeroad, which isn’t quite as aggressive as the old Aeroad, but makes more sense for non-pros with a stack-to-reach ratio that ranges between 1.36 and 1.46, depending on size (for comparison, a Specialized Tarmac ranges from 1.33 to 1.46). Ultra-flexible riders will be bummed they won’t be able to get as low as they’d like (especially given the more restrictive sizing options of the CP0018 cockpit), but most riders shouldn’t have much of an issue there. If anything, the limited amount of upward adjustment – just 15 mm – will be more of a limiting factor.
Canyon still bills the Ultimate as a road racing bike, and the steering geometry definitely reflects that with a sub-59 mm trail figure on the medium size. As such, the Ultimate is intentionally agile and borderline twitchy, not a casual cruiser.
Quite impressively for a mainstream brand, though, Canyon is offering the Ultimate in a heap of sizes. Ultimate CF SLX and SL models are available in eight sizes – from 3XS up to 2XL – and even the CFR is offered from 2XS-2XL. Smaller and more proportional 650b wheels are used on the two smallest Ultimate SL sizes, but only on the smallest Ultimate CF SLX size since Canyon feels that bike is more likely to be used in a race situation with neutral support. Along that same line of thinking, all of the CFR sizes are built around 700c wheels exclusively.
Either way, chainstay lengths are size-specific, with most sizes going with a compact 410 mm figure. Smaller sizes with 650b wheels go down to 405 mm, but L-2XL sizes get longer chainstays – up to 415 mm – to provide a more balanced feel for taller riders. That sort of approach is becoming more common in the mountain bike world, but it’s still a rarity for mainstream road bikes. Quite curiously, though, all sizes use the same 73.5° seat tube angle.
Taken in total, that’s at least 10 different carbon fiber molds in play here (although I’m still waiting to hear how many unique fork geometries are being used).
Interestingly, Canyon is assuming different Ultimate buyers will be running different saddle positions. The carbon fiber seatposts on the Ultimate CF SLX and SL models will have 20 mm of setback for more leverage (and, therefore, better flex-induced bump compliance). However, the CFR gets a dedicated seatpost that’s not only a shocking 40 g lighter (110 g vs. 70 g, which is a ton of difference in terms of percentage), but only offered in a 0 mm setback size. Canyon’s argument is that modern pro racers now run saddle positions that are further forward than average.
Up front, each CP0018 offers 20 mm of total width adjustment via four countersunk bolts on the underside of the central hammerhead section – and at least in theory, there shouldn’t be any changes in brake hoses or derailleur lines required for that adjustment, either. As already mentioned, height adjustment is limited to just 15 mm, and since the control lines are routed through the inside of the stem, stem length changes will unfortunately be anything but straightforward. Canyon still doesn’t offer customizable component sizes during the ordering process, either.
Canyon is offering the new Ultimate in three different frame versions – with identical shaping, but different carbon fiber lay-ups and content – and in 11 distinct models in total, including a bare frameset module (which will include the cockpit and seatpost) for DIYers.
Starting at the top is the Ultimate CFR Di2, which is clearly made for climbers first and foremost. It comes equipped with Shimano’s latest Dura-Ace Di2 12-speed wiredless electronic groupset, the new Shimano Dura-Ace dual-sided power meter, and lightweight DT Swiss PRC 1100 Mon Chasseral shallow-profile carbon clinchers (wrapped in light-but-fragile Schwalbe Pro One TT tires), all topped with an unpadded Selle Italia C59 Carbon saddle. Claimed weight is a feathery 6.3 kg (13.89 lb) for a medium size, and retail price is US$11,000 / AU$15,350 / €10,500.
For SRAM fans, there’s the Ultimate CFR eTap, built with a SRAM Red eTap AXS wireless groupset (also with power meter), Zipp 353 NSW tubeless carbon clinchers wrapped with the same Schwalbe Pro One TT tires, and topped with a Fizik Antares Versus Evo R1 Adaptive 3D-printed saddle. Claimed weight is 6.66 kg (14.68 lb), and retail price is US$11,000 / AU$16,100 / €11,000.
For those who would prefer to build up their own Ultimate CFR, the frameset will cost US$NA / AU$7,400 / €5,000, although in addition to the frame, fork, headset, cockpit, and seatpost, Canyon is also including Dura-Ace hydraulic brake calipers so you won’t have to run hoses yourself.
From there, you move on to the first Ultimate CF SLX offering, the Ultimate CF SLX 9 Di2, which comes with a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 wiredless electronic groupset, 50 mm-deep DT Swiss ARC 1100 aero carbon clinchers wrapped with Schwalbe Pro One tires, all topped with a carbon-railed Selle Italia SLR Boost Superflow Carbon saddle. Claimed weight is 6.67 kg (14.70 lb), and retail price is US$9,000 / AU$12,750 / €8,700.
Next up is the Ultimate CF SLX 8 Di2, built with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 wiredless electronic groupset (with 4iiii power meter), 50 mm-deep DT Swiss ARC 1400 aero carbon clinchers wrapped in Schwalbe Pro One tires, and topped with a Selle Italia SLR Boost Superflow saddle. Claimed weight is 7.10 kg (15.65 lb), and retail price is US$7,000 / AU$9,550 / €6,500.
There’s also the Ultimate CF SLX 8 eTap, which swaps the Shimano gear for a SRAM Force eTap AXS wireless electronic groupset (with a Quarq power meter), but the rest of the spec is unchanged. Claimed weight is 7.40 kg (16.31 lb), and retail price is US$NA / AU$9,300 / €6,300.
The third-tier Ultimate CF SL is the least expensive, and also the largest with five models in total (depending on region).
The Ultimate CF SL 8 Aero comes with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 wiredless electronic groupset (with 4iiii power meter), DT Swiss ARC 1600 aero carbon clinchers in a staggered 50/62 mm depth, Continental Grand Prix 5000 tires, and a Selle Italia SLR Boost Superflow saddle with manganese rails. Claimed weight is 7.26 kg (16.01 lb), and retail price is US$NA / AU$7,400 / €5,000.
The Ultimate CF SL 7 Di2 is equipped with Shimano’s new 105 Di2 wiredless electronic groupset (with 4iiii power meter), DT Swiss Performance LN aluminum wheels wrapped with Continental Grand Prix 5000 tires, and a Selle Italia Model X saddle. Claimed weight is 8.02 kg (17.68 lb), and retail price is US$NA / AU$5,950 / €4,000.
Moving down the line, you get the Ultimate CF SL 7 eTap, which trades the 105 Di2 stuff for a SRAM Rival eTap AXS wireless electronic groupset (with Quarq power meter), and switches to DT Swiss P1800 aluminum clinchers and a Selle Italia SLR Boost Superflow saddle with manganese rails. Although this one is less expensive than the Di2 model at US$4,700 / AU$5,650 / €3,800, the claimed weight is a bit lighter at 7.72 kg (17.02 lb).
Up to this point, all of the new Ultimate models are fitted with electronic groupsets, however Canyon is offering two models with mechanical drivetrains (along with specific frames and different cockpits to accommodate the externally routed housing).
The Ultimate CF SL 8 comes with a Shimano Ultegra 11-speed mechanical groupset (sorry, no power meter), DT Swiss Performance LN aluminum wheels, Continental Grand Prix 5000 tires, Canyon’s own H36 one-piece “Aerocockpit”, and a Selle Italia Model X saddle. Claimed weight is 8.00 kg (17.64 lb), and retail price is US$4,000 / AU$4,800 / €3,200.
And finally, we have the Ultimate CF SL 7, which is identical to the SL 8 save for a 105 mechanical groupset instead of Ultegra. Claimed weight is 8.22 kg (18.12 lb), and retail price is US$3,000 / AU$4,100 / €2,700.
UK pricing for all models is to be confirmed.
The funny thing about this whole “perfect balance” shtick is that it also implies the previous bike was somehow out of balance. But was that the case? I honestly can’t say since I never had a chance to ride that generation of Ultimate, but a couple of good days in the saddle – with lots of climbing – riding a flagship Ultimate CFR Di2 model certainly left some solid first impressions.
That particular model is purpose-built for climbing, what with that barely 750 g frame, those sub-1,300 g shallow-profile DT Swiss Mon Chasserals, and that ultra-minimal unpadded carbon fiber Selle Italia saddle. Although we know that reducing weight even a kilo or two doesn’t really make that much of difference numerically in terms of VAM, a light bike sure does make you feel superhuman. This new Ultimate clearly ticks that box, reminding me a lot of the Specialized S-Works Aethos in the process. If climbing is your thing, you’ll find a lot to like here.
Canyon’s efforts to boost stiffness seem to pay dividends here, too. Although I can’t comment on the issue firsthand, it’s telling that company engineers are so open about saying that earlier version felt too soft up front. That said, I can’t say I noticed anything untoward this time around. The front triangle is reassuringly stout when out of the saddle and torquing the front end side-to-side through uphill switchbacks, and there’s no unsettling wind-up (and subsequent release) if you encounter a bump mid-corner on a fast downhill. The whole bike feels unified and cohesive from end to end, just like it should. I wouldn’t say the CFR is quite as lively and springy as that S-Works Aethos, but it’s not far off, either.
That said, the ride quality is also on the firmer side, although still reasonably compliant for a jittery ultralight climber. Again, Canyon is prioritizing low weight on the CFR models, including downsizing the front tire to a 25 mm instead of the 28 mm ones that other Ultimate models yet. But another difference is the CFR-specific seatpost, which is not only 40 g lighter than the ones used in the SLX and SL variants, but also stiffer.
Canyon said this was a specific request from its pro riders (who apparently do a lot more steering through the saddle than most of us). However, it also takes away a major source of comfort. Mid-corner bumps may not have unsettled the CFR much, but coming into speed tables with a bit of extra sauce resulted in a bit more of a jolt through the rear end than I would have liked.
Handling-wise, there’s little to fault here. The Ultimate is delightfully nimble and flickable, easily carving its way down the backside of the Col de la Madone and cutting through the traffic of downtown Nice. It’s also confident and composed at high speeds, and at least for me, the stock stem length felt just about dead-on – which is good considering it’s such a pain to swap (Canyon insists that the long-overdue ability to customize component sizes during the ordering process is coming soon).
But is the new Ultimate aero? Beats me right now, unfortunately. Those two days of riding may have been memorable and scenic, but they also didn’t provide much of an opportunity to hit flatter sections of roads solo, where bigger differences in aerodynamic efficiency can sometimes play out.
By the time you read this, the bike I rode should have arrived on my doorstep for a proper long-term evaluation. However, I’ve also requested to go with Canyon’s least expensive Ultimate model, the Ultimate CF SL 7, to provide some contrast, and context. I also plan on doing some mixing of components (particularly with wheels and tires).
How much will the extra 2 kg change the feel of the bike? What about the performance difference of mechanical vs. electronic shifting? If I install the standard SLX/SL seatpost on the CFR (since they’re compatible), will that tangibly affect the comfort? And how should one consider the fact that the Ultimate CF SL 7 is barely one-quarter the cost of the CFR Di2?
Lots of questions to answer. Stay tuned.
More information can be found at www.canyon.com.