Canyon Aeroad (custom spec with SRAM Red eTap) - review - Road Cycling UK

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Canyon Aeroad (custom spec with SRAM Red eTap) – review

An intoxicating ride which delivers speed on tap

Canyon sponsor two WorldTour teams, Movistar and Katusha, and both teams have the option to ride two road bikes: the super-light Ultimate CF SLX and the aero-optimised Aeroad. But while you’ll find Movistar riders on both bikes, Katusha remain resolutely on the Aeroad.

It’s easy to see why as the Aeroad is a bike which offers one thing in abundance – speed. That’s certainly not to do a disservice to the Ultimate, a stunning bike ridden by Movistar’s Nairo Quintana to a podium finish at the Tour de France for the second successive year, but the Aeroad is a remarkably fast machine, thanks to a frame which is both aerodynamically-profiled and remarkably stiff.

The real trick with the Aeroad, however, is that it delivers those qualities without unduly compromising on comfort and practicality, making for a very impressive aero package for riders in search of a bike which offers excitement and speed in abundance.

What we have here is a replica of the bike ridden by Katusha, complete with SRAM Red eTap groupset. While it’s not a build currently offered by Canyon (you could buy the Aeroad frameset and piece it together yourself), that may change for model year 2017. Besides, we weren’t going to turn down the opportunity to ride it and it’s given us the opportunity to get to grips with both the Aeroad and eTap in what is undoubtedly a WorldTour-worthy package.

Our test bike is a replica of the machine ridden by Katusha, with the same frame, SRAM Red eTap groupset and Zipp wheels

The frameset – WorldTour weapon

The Aeroad was revamped ahead of the 2014 Tour de France and Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff promptly won two stages of that race aboard Canyon’s latest aero machine, before following up with victory at the 2015 Tour of Flanders. Two years down the line since that launch and, despite any number of rival bikes introduced since then, the Aeroad remains one of the most visually striking bikes in the pro peloton.

  • Specification

  • Price: n/a
  • Sizes: XXS- XXL
  • Size tested: S
  • Website: Canyon

The Aeroad’s Trident 2.0 tube profiles are based on a design originally developed for Canyon’s Speedmax time trial bike, but with a profile which is shorter and wider in order to perform better in crosswinds and at the lower speeds at which road bikes are typically ridden. The downtube, seattube and seatpost have a subtle, rounded leading edge, but with a truncated tail. The headtube is very slim, despite the tapered design and 1-1/4″ top bearing – instead Canyon have used narrow Acros headset bearings to keep the frontal profile of the frame as small as possible without sacrificing front-end stiffness.

As you’d expect, all cables are routed internally and further hidden from the wind when used with Canyon’s own one-piece Aerocockpit handlebar and stem, as on our test bike. Continuing the aero theme, the seattube also hugs the rear wheel closely and the stout seatstays join the seattube just above the brake caliper, keeping the rear of the bike extremely compact.

The Aeroad may be striking but it retains an appealing simplicity against the proliferation of rival aero bikes with proprietary parts. The Aeroad keeps the brakes (direct mount units) where you’d expect to see them on the fork and seatstays, and while the seatpost clamp is integrated within the toptube, it’s simple to use. Same goes for the saddle clamp on the aero seatpost.

If looks translated to speed, then the Aeroad is undoubtedly a fast bike at first glance. Luckily it backs that up on the road.

The ride – not just an aero bike

Out on the road and the Aeroad reveals itself not only as a viciously quick aero machine but a bike with a multi-faceted personality which belies its aggressive looks. Sure, it has a remarkably stiff chassis but one which retains a climbing ability and ride quality which ensures it escapes the aero pigeon-hole of old.

But there’s no escaping what the Aeroad does best, and that’s to deliver an intoxicating level of speed which makes it a thrilling bike to ride every time you turn the pedals; a bike which demands to be ridden hard. The Aeroad feels as though it would be unsatisfied if you did any less – something which may not appeal to riders in search of a machine which delivers speed with a little more all-round versatility. Let’s not forget what the Aeroad is about, though. The rigidity of the Aeroad frame mean it feels very direct and absolutely no effort is wasted, while the aero tube profiles help it maintain speed extremely well. The chassis is incredibly stiff – one of the stiffest we’ve ridden – and feels taut when you step on the pedals to accelerate, sprint for town signs, and attack short, steep rises.

The Aeroad is equipped with Canyon’s one-piece Aerocockpit handlebar and stem

The old Aeroad may now be a distant memory but this bike is significantly stiffer – a completely different beast, both in how it responds to pressure on the pedals and how, more noticeably, tight the front end feels when sprinting or leaning into a corner. The Aeroad delivers the type of scintillating ride most riders will want – and expect – when shelling out for a top-end aero bike.

It’s logical that the Aeroad’s stiffness has an impact on its climbing ability. That stiffness is not only felt on flat roads or in sprints, when an aero bike is most naturally at home, but also when the road rises thanks also to the low frame weight, at a claimed 960g.

Still, don’t be fooled by the Aeroad’s obvious aero appeal – while it doesn’t swing quite so effortlessly beneath you on a steep pitch as the Ultimate, Canyon’s dedicated climbing machine, the Aeroad certainly doesn’t feel laboured as some aero bikes can, and in this 7kg build is an extremely willing companion when the road rises. It means the Aeroad isn’t only a viable option for aero obsessives like Movistar’s Alex Dowsett, but explosive climbers like long-time Aeroad rider Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha.

As for comfort, let’s start out by saying the Aeroad certainly isn’t an armchair ride, nor is it an endurance bike, but it is a bike which has helped us rethink the ride quality expected from an unbridled aero road bike.

Canyon Aeroad with SRAM Red eTap and Zipp 404 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Canyon Aeroad with SRAM Red eTap and Zipp 404 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Canyon Aeroad with SRAM Red eTap and Zipp 404 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

Traditionally aero bikes have been designed with aerodynamics at the top of the agenda – which makes sense, on the face of it – but those wind-cheating tube profiles and the pursuit of speed can come at the expense of the frame’s stiffness or comfort. Stiffness we’ve dealt and while the Aeroad still delivers a reasonably firm ride quality, it’s pretty comfortable for a bike this stiff. The frame does a reasonably good job at dampening the vibrations served up by an inconsistent road surface, even if bigger hits have a tendency to shake it up a little. It’s a balance which ensures the Aeroad feels connected with the road and in tune with what’s happening beneath it, while not beating you up when hitting out on a fast all-day ride.

All things considered, Canyon have done a good job at introducing enough comfort to make the Aeroad eminently rideable over a variety of terrain . Indeed, while pro riders may have a (significantly) higher pain threshold, Alexander Kristoff rode the Aeroad over the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix with no trouble whatsoever, thanks also to clearance for 28mm tyres (just about…).

While the frame design ensures an element of comfort, the Aeroad’s geometry is appropriately aggressive. In fact, it’s based on Canyon’s ‘Pro’ geometry (the Ultimate uses the slightly more relaxed ‘Sport Pro’ geometry and the ‘Endurace’ is based around the ‘Sport’ position). The shorter stack and longer reach places the rider into a low and long position, so if you’re in the market for an Aeroad, make sure that’s right for you.

Interestingly, however, Canyon allow you to customise the handling a little. The fork dropouts can be flipped to reduce the rake and speed up the handling, and that has a noticeable if not dramatic effect. Want things super-quick to keep you on your toes in a fast-paced criterium? Go for the ‘agile’ setting. Prefer more sedate handling for long hours in the saddle? You’re covered by the ‘stable’ option. It’s an interesting and effective design feature, though, for us, the second option hits the sweetspot between straight line stability and cornering precision most suitable for general riding. Sure, it takes marginally more effort to come into the corner, but feels tighter once there.

The spec – is this the future?

As we mentioned at the top, the Aeroad isn’t currently available in this spec with SRAM Red eTap. In fact, the Aeroad is currently only available in five builds with Shimano Ultegra and Dura-Ace, from £3,249 to £6,049, though that will likely change as model year 2016 turns in 2017 and Canyon revisit the specs.

However, while we’ll deliver our full verdict on eTap in a proper review, time with the Aeroad has given us an opportunity to get to grips with SRAM’s wireless electronic groupset and deliver an initial take. So here it is: while SRAM may have been very late to the electronic shifting party, after Shimano launched Di2 in 2009 and Campagnolo followed with EPS in 2011, eTap was worth the wait, bringing something completely different to the table. It doesn’t just succeed in being different, though, but is also fantastic to use out on the road.

Aesthetically, eTap – and it’s lack of wires or cables – contributes to the Aeroad’s clean look. In use, SRAM have taken things back to the drawing board and completely re-engineered the shifting logic behind eTap. Each shifter has one paddle and, essentially, it works like this: left paddle to shift into an easier gear on the cassette, right paddle to move into a harder gear, and hit both together to switch between chainrings.

Time on the Aeroad has given us the opportunity to get to grips with SRAM Red eTap

Sure, it takes a little getting used to, and you’ll likely make a few initial miss-shifts as you do (for us this meant only shifting down a gear rather than into the small chainring when stopping and so having to heave-ho the Aeroad away from traffic lights) but after the short, 15-mile ride from Canyon’s UK office back to RoadCyclingUK HQ after picking up the Aeroad, we were pretty much there. That’s testament to eTap’s ingenuity; despite the shifting mechanic being completely different to anything that’s come before it, and thousands upon thousands of miles riding other groupsets (predominantly Shimano), eTap soon feels intuitive and simple to use. Shifts are smooth yet crisp, just as you’d expect from a flagship groupset ridden in the WorldTour by Katusha.

It’s not perfect, though. Rear shifts feel a little slower than Shimano Di2 and Campagnolo EPS, particularly when shifting a number of gears at a time. It’s not a huge difference and not overly laboured but noticeable. SRAM’s satellite shifters (or ‘blips’, as they’re known) are also chunky, and when placed under a wrap of handlebar tape on the Aeroad were quite difficult to quickly actuate an instinctive shift. Certainly more effort than Shimano’s tiny Di2 satellite shifters, but we’ll experiment with ‘blip’ placement once we have an opportunity to spend more time with eTap in the long run.

While the rest of this machine is dressed in eTap, the brakes are Shimano Dura-Ace units as SRAM don’t currently offer the direct mount design required for the Aeroad’s frame. However you feel about mixing SRAM and Shimano components, the stopping power provided by Dura-Ace brakes is superb. Credit also to Canyon for sticking with traditional brake calipers (if a direct mount caliper can be referred to as traditional…), and not a proprietary design in the pursuit of additional aero gains. Sure, you may be able to save a few watts by moving the rear brake under the bottom bracket or developing an in-house design, but at what cost to practicality and serviceability for most riders?

Canyon Aeroad with SRAM Red eTap and Zipp 404 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Canyon Aeroad with SRAM Red eTap and Zipp 404 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Canyon Aeroad with SRAM Red eTap and Zipp 404 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The integrated handlebar (and stem) is completely unique to Canyon, however. The Aerocockpit, as it’s known, has a flattened top which provides a surprisingly comfortable position to place your hands, and the aero design of the handlebar is completely in keeping with the Aeroad, though it does limit fit options a little.

Finally, Zipp’s Firecrest 404 wheels complete the build here and continue the aero theme. We won’t dwell too much on the hoops as the Firecrest design has since been superceded by the superb Firestrike and, more recently, NSW wheels, but they remain a very fast set of aero wheels with impressive handling in crosswinds.

Conclusion

Let’s not beat around the bush, the Canyon Aeroad is one fast bike. Aero undoubtedly remains its calling card – we’d say the Ultimate CF SLX is better positioned as a true all-rounder – and that shines through on the road. It’s incredibly stiff, quick to accelerate, and holds speed with ease to match everything the rider can throw at it. However, it delivers that intoxicating and exciting experience while also remaining relatively lightweight and delivering a refined ride which won’t bash you up or spit you out in corners. The geometry and speed-focused ride may not appeal to all riders – this isn’t a bike for the coffee ride – but if you demand a racy machine which delivers speed on tap, then the Aeroad will do the job with watts to spare.

Pros

  • This is one fast bike: stiff, aero and light
  • A thrilling bike to ride
  • Precise handling
  • Striking design

Cons

  • Ultimate CF SLX remains a better all-rounder for riders not obsessed by out-right speed
  • This is a custom spec (for now)

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