Have you ever heard of mud-optimisation on a race-tuned cross bike? A specific frame design to improve carrying your bike? And why is Canyon the first brand to introduce some cross bike models with little 650b wheels? With the all new Canyon Inflite CF SLX, the German brand hope to have created the ultimate competitive cyclocross machine. But as we tested this high-performance bike on the legendary Superprestige course in Zonhoven, we dismounted feeling very excited but also a little disappointed.

Launch party @ Superprestige Zonhoven.

Superprestige Zonhoven, Belgium. We couldn’t think of a more fitting location to put this bike through its pace. The name alone is enough to break every rider out in sweat, while every fan’s liver trembles a little in anticipation. When the sand reduces you to tears, the Flemish into babblish and there’s an all-invasive aroma of mayonnaise and fried goods, everyone knows it’s party time.

Cross Racing – more than chips, waffles and beer.

Cyclocross is one of the most demanding disciplines within cycling. It brings Belgian fans in their hordes, creating a stir that would even make FC Bayern München jealous. Right now, the buzz around cyclocross shows no sign of slowing down. On top across the globe these days, its appeal goes way beyond the exhilaration of its cutthroat racing and goes hand in hand with good times. From the UK to Switzerland, Germany to Scandinavia, there’s an upward tangent of well thought-out, achingly cool events that have turned this sport into much more than a way to keep bike-fit during winter.

Canyon Inflite CF SLX – the cyclocross revolution?

It’s not just the scene that’s evolving either; there’s also a change in the tide when it comes to equipment. The Inflite CF SLX is Canyon’s latest drop, a fairly radical bike that isn’t afraid to question the status quo and push forward new trends.

1. Handling

Some say that the best bike handlers are the best racers. And cyclocross is where handling skills are decisive. Racing cyclocross immediately puts you in the red. Those that want to make it over Zonhoven’s notorious De Kuil sand pit are likely to benefit from geometry that translates into smoothness and stability. As such, Canyon have borrowed cues from their mountain bikes and given their Inflite a major overhaul for the coming season. This latest iteration has a longer reach and longer wheelbase, which is designed to be complemented by the 10 mm shorter and wider H31 Ergocockpit CF to dish out agility and increased control.

2. Carryability and comfort

It might sound a bit excessive, but Canyon have even optimised the Inflite CF SLX to prime it for those inevitable carrying sections. The most distinguished approach is the higher positioned top tube that creates an oversize lug. This doesn’t just give it a distinctive look, but results in added space in the frame to position your shoulder better while carrying, and therefore more comfort and better grip. According to Canyon, their revised top tube design actually exposes more seatpost and therefore allows for more flex compared to conventional cross designs adding additional comfort.

3. Mud-optimisation

Anyone that’s ridden a cyclocross race in the mud will know how it feels to carry what seems to be an extra kilo on your bike. If you’re not fortunate enough to have a mechanic and spare bikes in the pits then that excess mud on your bike won’t only mean you’ll slow down, but you might also end up out of the race. As such, Canyon have scrupulously developed this frame with the intention of minimising the surface area that would be susceptible to retaining mud. They’ve focused on the bottom bracket zone, narrowing the seat stays and adding tire clearance – this UCI-certified frame can fit up to 38 mm tires, although officially you’re limited to racing with 33 mm. The entry and exit ports for cables are also sealed.

4. Fit

Catering for the masses, Canyon are dropping the Inflite CF SLX in a massive range eight sizes, ranging from 3XS to 2XL. According to Canyon, that’s got any rider taller than 152 cm covered. Those riding the 3XS or 2XS will benefit from Canyon’s tactic to employ 650b wheels, which they first applied to the women’s bikes this year. This results in proportionate geometry and a uniform handling package across the range, as well as eliminating the risk of toe overlap.

Canyon Inflite CF SLX: Weight, model, geometry, availability

The Canyon Inflite CF SLX will be available from mid-August 2017 in 3 models and 3 colourways: Lightning Yellow, Aero Silver, Stealth. Prices start from € 2,799. Our size medium test bike weighed in at an impressive 7.5 kg with a tubeless setup. Canyon have stated that while the frame is just 940 g and the frameset is 1,300 g, it’s a build that’s able to withstand the most arduous situations – seeing the brand internally test the Inflite CF SLX more rigorously than standard testing for a road bike. So far there’s no sign of an aluminium version of the Inflite CF SLX.

Canyon Inflite CF SLX in detail

The lowdown on the Canyon H31 Ergocockpit CF
Integrated seat post clamp. Unfortunately, this bike isn’t compatible with dropper posts.
Sealed cable routing system.

Canyon Inflite CF SLX: Specification

INFLITE CF SLX 8.0 PRO RACE

Drivetrain SRAM Rival 1
Wheelset DT Swiss CR 1600 Spline DB
Tires Schwalbe X-One
Chainset Quarq Prime
Price 2.799 €

INFLITE CF SLX 9.0

Drivetrain Shimano Ultegra
Wheelset DT Swiss CR 1600 Spline DB
Tires Schwalbe X-One
Chainset Rotor 3D30
Price 3.199 €

INFLITE CF SLX 9.0 PRO RACE

Drivetrain SRAM Force CX1
Wheelset Reynolds Assault LE Disc
Tires Schwalbe X-One
Chainset Quarq Prime Carbon
Price 3.999 €

Canyon Inflite CF SLX: Geometrie

Size 3XS 2XS XS S M L XL 2XL
Seat Tube 422 mm 452 mm 482 mm 512 mm 542 mm 572 mm 602 mm 632 mm
Top Tube 501 mm 522 mm 532 mm 550 mm 562 mm 578 mm 601 mm 617 mm
Head Tube 94 mm 113 mm 102 mm 119 mm 146 mm 168 mm 192 mm 214 mm
Head Angle 70,2 ° 71,5 ° 71 ° 72,25 ° 72,5 ° 72,5 ° 72,7 ° 72,7 °
Seat Angle 73,5 ° 73,5 ° 73,5 ° 73,5 ° 73,5 ° 73,5 ° 73,5 ° 73,5 °
Chainstay 415 mm 415 mm 425 mm 425 mm 425 mm 425 mm 425 mm 425 mm
Wheelbase 970 mm 980 mm 1000 mm 1006 mm 1018 mm 1034 mm 1055 mm 1072 mm
Stack 487 mm 510 mm 527 mm 547 mm 572 mm 593 mm 616 mm 637 mm
Reach 357 mm 371 mm 376 mm 388 mm 393 mm 402 mm 418 mm 428 mm
Stem 70 mm 70 mm 80 mm 80 mm 90 mm 100 mm 100 mm 110 mm

Canyon Inflite CF SLX: A great design?

Canyon have a reputation for exceedingly high quality of their designs, seeing them lauded as one of the key figures in the industry (if not the figure). The new Inflite CF SLX secured Canyon a coveted Best of the Best Red Dot Design Award 2017, which, as something outside of cycling, gives serious credentials to the brand so we take our hat off to them. However, despite this applauded design, we felt a marked disappointment when it stood in front of us…

At the official bike launch, the discourse revolved around the design’s perfect statement of intent for this bike. Yet anyone familiar with Canyon will draw parallels from the paint job with the brand’s triathlon-specific Speedmax CF SLX, which really has little to do with cyclocross. The elongated, super slim seat stays in contrast to the big downtube look a little out of proportion, in combination with the curved toptube the bike’s silhouette seems unusual for a Canyon.

In Canyon’s words the Inflite CF SLX is “one of the most striking silhouettes we have ever produced, backed up by eye-catching asymmetric artwork to highlight the forms at play. The Inflite CF SLX truly looks like nothing else on the start line.” We agree. But up until now we’ve been enamored with each Canyon bike design, so it’s somewhat disconcerting that the Inflite CF SLX is a bike with the propensity to split opinions and spark discussion.

Canyon Inflite CF SLX: Test

Time to party! Canyon prepped us and our test bikes ready for the Superprestige Zonhoven course, staging a low-key race at the end of the first day of testing to really push these race-tuned crossers to their limits. Us included. If you’re toying with the idea of gravel riding or multi-terrain commuting on this whip – as is now pretty common with cyclocross bikes – be aware that there’s no option to mount a mudguard on the Inflite CF SLX. Two bottle cages are possible though. To us, this just reconfirms its racing pedigree.

De Kuil – the sandy descent into the pit in Zonhoven has reached mythical status. Smooth and controlled handling keeps you upright.

To Canyon’s surprise, we politely declined their one-piece race suit and donned our now infamous Supercross party shirt that had made such a scene on the first row of the Rapha Supercross in Munich. Racing doesn’t have to be all about chasing milliseconds – an element of fun never goes awry, especially when you’re not racing at a major championships.

The Inflite CF SLX definitely made for a fun ride, and its slightly unconventional geometry for a cyclocross bike felt amazing from the word go. The new bike has found the balance between extreme smoothness and precise handlings. On descents it tracks its line superbly, which leads to more speed over technical sections and – unlike many more regular cyclocross bikes – it won’t see you under-steer in deep sand.

At the front the Canyon H31 Ergocockpit CF is a dream for your hands with comfort, precision and a real down-to-business sort of feel. The shorter reach and 3° flare result in serious control on the downhills. Plus, for a cockpit, its good looks are pretty irrefutable.

With 1.9 bar in a tubeless setup, the 700 x 33 mm…
…Schwalbe X One worked well in the sandy terrain.

Ridden with Reynolds Assault LE Disc Carbon wheels, the bike was oblivious to the minor bumps on this rooty section of singletrack. At 7.5 kg (excluding pedals), it’s an ultra responsive bike with a stiff bottom bracket that easily picks up speed.

Your shoulders will thank you for the comfort-elevating form of the top tube, while your hand will appreciate how easy it is to snake through the frame’s big triangle to grab the bars.

With 160 mm rotors at the front and back, the SRAM Force brakes lived up to their name and anchored the bike well whatever the situation. This was at odds with the occasional jamming of the double-tap Force gear shifter, which wouldn’t always shift through fully – not ideal in a race situation. This performance was a bit of a letdown given the great potential of the gearing on the SRAM 1x drivetrain with its 40/11-36t set-up.

Canyon’s proprietary chainguide kept rubbing on the higher gears at the back on our test bike. The chain had admittedly been doused in sand multiple times, but that’s part and parcel of the life of a cyclocrosser.

So what about the race?

Lungs burning, mouth tasting of blood, the realisation that you’re at your limit comes like a slap in the face. The only consolation is the lingering energy of the long-gone crowds of Zonhoven, fuelling your imagination as they cheer you on, running with your bike.

Charging through the sand, …
… carrying the bike, …
… dense woodland, …
… and getting style points for the air.
A raucous battle between the party shirt and the skinsuit, the journalist vs the product manager.
Lap …
… after lap …
… after lap…
Who clocked the quickest time? The skinsuit. But who had a good time? Both.

Our thoughts:

The new Inflite CF SLX represents a marked step forwards within cyclocross design – not just for Canyon but for the industry. It’s a thoroughbred racing machine that delivers an amazing performance across the terrain and a design that the rest of the field will either love or hate. There’s already talk on the streets of which big names might be riding this in the coming season. But right now, there are still certain niggles that impeach on its potential, as well as factors that might dissuade the masses from investing in this race-tuned bike.

For more info: canyon.com

Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: René Zieger