Gravel has been widely ignored by Canyon, but they have finally entered the sector, bringing the Canyon Grail CF, a bike that challenges conventional thinking and aesthetics.
‘Peacocking’ is the tool of choice for the experienced pick-up artist. The not-so-subtle art of wearing loud items to draw attention has long been the secret weapon of successful dating gurus as they go through their campaigns to complete Tinder. The latest Canyon Grail CF gravel bike is #peacocking hard, defining a new tribe while taking conventional design outside of its comfort zone. However, no matter what you read in this review, all you will talk about after is the handlebar.
What makes the Canyon Grail CF special?
Gravel has been a sector that has been until-now overlooked by Canyon, an empty void with the CX race focussed Inflite at one end and the comfortable, but still tarmac orientated Endurace at the other. Their new Canyon Grail bike aims to bridge that gap, more comfortable than the Inflite and more versatile than the Endurace, a bike that will power up long tarmac climbs, tear down gravel tracks and trails and still not be a drag if it finds itself in an asphalt chain-gang to the bar. A bike for adventure and fun, but with a kick of speed for when duty calls.
The Grail CF is constructed from carbon fibre and is a long bike, over 40 mm longer than a Endurace (M), helping to avoid toe overlap and giving enough clearance for the wide 40 mm tires. While the stem may look long, this is an artifact of the design and in fact the ‘virtual’ stem is a relatively short 75 mm. Combined with 440 mm wide bars this gives a confident and powerful front end that is easier to point through rough ground. All Grail models come with 40 mm Schwalbe G-ONE Bite tires, custom made with more aggressive side knobs and a more defined centre tread for faster rolling speed.
The elephant in the room, the new Canyon CP01 Hover Bar
And now for the elephant in the room, the cockpit. Canyon have always had somewhat of a reputation for innovation, but nobody was expecting such a radical re-design of such a classical silhouette, the iconic dropper bar. A gravel bike needs to travel great distances over hard terrain, comfort is the holy grail, stiffness comes later so Canyon went back to the drawing board. Looking at current handlebar design, to Canyon it presented a paradox, sitting closest to stem the top of the bar is the stiffest area and the most compliant section is the drops. Ironically backwards to the bars intended purpose, sprinting on the drops and resting on the tops. Shifting the position where the stem joins the bars, Canyon have created this revolutionary looking Hover Bar with a floating top deck. This compliant top deck uses the engineered flex of the carbon fibre to provide 7x more flex than Canyons H31 cockpit, with a ‘locked in’ central position and stiff 7.5° flared drops. While this does add 110g of weight, it is still far lighter than adding a suspension system, and is 100% maintenance free.
The Hover system is a ground up redesign
Canyon have not simply added a new bar to an existing geometry, the Hover Bar requires the stem to sit lower in the bike in relation to a conventional cockpit setup, and as such the head tube of the bike is a lot shorter. Conventional reach and stack comparisons are impossible, so Canyon have introduced a new Stack & Reach+, taking the centre of the top of the handlebar as the measuring point, not the top of the headtube. Despite the higher looking top of the Hover Bar, this is just an optical illusion as it’s actually 10 mm lower than the rest of the Endurace range. Applying the Stack & Reach+ system over the entire Canyon range shows the Grail CF sits at 1.44 (stack/reach ratio), more aggressive than Endurace at 1.47, and not far from the Ultimate at 1.38. Canyon will also be delivering the Grail CF in a huge range of sizes, from 2XS and XS bikes with 650B wheels, all the way upto XL with 700c wheels. An aluminium model will also be available but will not include the Hover Bar.
Specification of the Canyon Grail CF
The Canyon Grail CF will be delivered in 5 models, plus one WMS model, all the bikes come fitted with a double chainset, predominantly the Shimano Ultegra 8000 and Ultegra Di2 groupsets with 11-34 tooth rear cassette for a 1:1 gear ratio with the 50-34 chainset. For those who like going off grid, wrestling bears and drinking from streams, yes we mean bikepackers, Canyon have teamed up with Topeak to produce a full bike-packing setup tailored to the Grails frame shape and unique bars. Comprising a bar bag, frame bag and tail bag, Canyon even supply a 3M frame protection tape kit to stop the bags rubbing away expensive carbon. The frame is also fitted with fender mounts, a clever integrated chainstay protector, fully internal cable routing, integrated chainsuck plate and 160 mm rotors front and rear.
First ride review
We took the top €4,599 Canyon Grail CF SLX 8.0 Di2 to the gravel roads and sinuous tarmac above Cannes, a challenging loop of everything from slicked up asphalt, to rugged rocky tracks. Starting on tarmac on the tops, the position on the Grail instantly felt long, stable and relaxed. The optical illusion of the high bar top in comparison to the stem proves unfounded, the short head tube provides an aggressive but comfortable position, urging you on without requiring a season of yoga to exploit.
Putting down the hammer on the tarmac induces a squirt of acceleration from the Schwalbe G-One Bite TLE tires, not explosive acceleration, but the sort of momentum that suggests you will not be dropped by less-versatile machines. Switching your hands onto the drops results in a noticeable stiffness increase from the cockpit, easy to pull against and squeeze out every last watt.
On challenging terrain the long wheelbase of the Grail gives lots of stability when working hard on the drops. On rough ground we were pushing harder, more frequently, than on bikes with a more nervous disposition. Around the corners the Grail likes to carve a smooth arc rather than diving into the apexes, but we are happy to trade some agility for it’s stoic line holding.
While not everyone was convinced with the aesthetics of the Hover Bar, we could not fault the engineering accomplishment. The bar offers familiarity and a powerful position on the drops, while the central locked in position and soft tops feel comfortable and ergonomic. Switching to the tops of the bars instantly reduced the feedback and vibration from rough ground, it does not feel as dramatic as suspension, but a noticeable compliance reduces hand fatigue on long gravel passages. Bombing fast roads at high speed on the drops, we found the steering feels a little light out of the saddle, but sitting down and locking in on the drops brings everything into line. After a long day in the rain, we were glad of that central position, the horizontal bar sits comfortably within the gap between your thumb and index finger offering more security than a conventional setup, when trying to put the hammer down on rough ground.
The Reynolds 23 mm wide Assault ATR Disc Carbon provide a good hold on the Schwalbe G-One Bite TLE 40 mm, allowing us to use low 2.75 bar pressures front and back, and the Shimano Ultegra Di2 drivetrain shifts with precision and reliability. We are still waiting on a clutch rear derailleur from Shimano, but the rubberised frame protection of the Canyon Grail CF keeps everything quiet.
For many, gravel has yet to be defined with a proper identity, but Canyon have produced a bike that is highly focussed in its intent. Yes, 40 mm tires and comfort focussed contact points are common in the sector, but the ground-up redesign and polarising bars make the Canyon Grail CF an intelligent package.
When it comes to gravel comfort, the Canyon Grail CF is a game changer, offering just enough comfort and compliance to make light work of long days against the grain without sacrificing pace and handling on tarmac inteludes. However, traditionalists will be horrified at the aesthetics.
For more information head to canyon.com