The Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 SL is a high-end race rig which represents superb value for money, taking the best bits – low weight, bags of stiffness, super-fast acceleration and pin-sharp handling – of it’s more illustrious sibling, the SLX, for even less cash.
We reviewed Canyon’s flagship super-light machine, the Ultimate CF SLX (one of two road bikes, along with the Aeroad, available Canyon’s two sponsored WorldTour teams, Katusha and Movistar) last summer, and came away thoroughly impressed. You were, too, and voted it as RoadCyclingUK’s Bike of the Year for 2013. The CF SL was unveiled at last year’s Eurobike show in Canyon’s native Germany and enters the fray as a more affordable version of the SLX, which in itself – and as a result of Canyon’s direct sales model, which we evaluated the pros and cons of in our initial review – offers impressive value.
The CF SL is available as a frameset only for £989 (including stem and seatpost), or in seven builds. Our machine, the SRAM Force-equipped 9.0 SL, is £2,299 and sits below the two top-of-the-range models, the 9.0 Aero (named so as it’s specced with deep-section Mavic Cosmic Carbone wheels) and 9.0 Team (in Movistar colours), both at £2,399.
At first glance the CF SL is all but identical to the CF SLX, and only the decals (and, in that, only the absence of an ‘X’ on the CF SL) distinguish the two. That’s because they come from the same mould. What changes is the carbon layup and the CF SL is slightly heavier than the CF SLX – a claimed 940g compares to 790g. A sub-kilo frame is still seriously light though and in this build the CF SL 9.0 SL is bang on the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit when pulled out of the box.
Weight aside, the CF SL’s tube profiles are exactly the same as those of the CF SLX. As a result, we’ve covered the frame’s lines in details before (both in our first look of this machine and our review of the CF SLX) so we’ll only recap the key features here.
The slim Maximus seattube is designed to improve comfort while widening at its junction with the PressFit bottom bracket to maintain stiffness. The seatstays are suitably skinny, and they pass either side of the seattube to connect directly with the toptube, in a design which Canyon say solidifies the connection between the seattube and the toptube, which are both flattened to boost comfort.
Up front the headtube tapers from 1-1/4″ to 1-1/2” and is paired with the same 310g (claimed weight) full carbon One One Four SLX as found on the CF SLX. At the other end the derailleur hanger has a two-piece construction which clamps either side of the carbon fibre dropout to increase the width of the connection between the frame and dropout and thus improve rigidity while saving weight (can you see a recurring theme?).
Having taken the Ultimate CF SLX to the Etape du Tour last year, and been impressed by its low weight and rigidity when climbing, we made a call to Canyon to get the Ultimate CF SL in for review ahead of our spring training camp in Spain’s mountainous Andalucia region at the end of March.
It proved a good decision as the CF SL really excels when the road ramps uphill. Of course, you’d expect a bike as light as this to go some way to easing the pain of climbing, but low weight is nothing without a solid pedaling platform and the CF SL has just that.
The Ultimate CF SL is the kind of bike you jump on and, having made those first few pedal strokes, are immediately struck by its fast acceleration. Rise out of the saddle on a steep pitch and the low weight of the machine beneath you means you’ll swing it from side to side as you climb – there’s absolutely no feeling of having to lug the bike uphill with you.
While the Ultimate CF SL 9.0 SL is typically specced with a compact chainset and 11-28t cassette, you can also opt for a standard double 53-39t setup and that’s how our machine arrived, along with an 11-25t cassette. That made for a pretty tall gearing combination and we swapped out the cassette for an 11-28t alternative to offer an extra ‘get out of jail’ gear, deployed on a 32km Spanish climb which included several kilometres at over 11 per cent. A combination of low weight and stiffness means the Ultimate CF SL needs far less encouragement than most when climbing, and it’s in that environment that it’s most at home.
The roads of southern Spain are, by and large, very smooth, and so not the best testing ground to determine how good the frame is as soaking up road vibrations, while still offering that impressive level of stiffness. Luckily – or probably unluckily, as it happens – our local roads in the Chilterns have no shortage of unbroken tarmac and potholes. Just like the Ultimate CF SLX, the CF SL offers an impressively smooth ride for a race rig. While the fork can skip over poorly surfaced roads a little, it deals with big hits well, and the rear end does an excellent job at reducing the impact served up by potholes and cracks in the road. Canyon’s own-brand VCLS seatpost is said to contain basalt fibres, which they say offer more elasticity than carbon fibres. While we can’t vouch for the science, we’ve been impressed by the CF SL on ‘typical’ UK roads and Canyon have struck a fine balance (and not an easy one to achieve on a lightweight race bike) between the low weight and rigidity of the frame, and a smooth ride.
The CF SL’s geometry is fairly aggressive; after all, it’s modeled on a machine ridden by the likes of Nairo Quintana. Our medium test bike (seven sizes are available from XS to XXXL) has a 549mm toptube, 150mm headtube, 73.25 and 73.5 headtube and seattube angles, 410mm chainstays and 980mm wheelbase. That, as you’d expect, translates to a racy ride, with pin-sharp handling. It’s very quick under hand, by no means nervous to us and nothing but accurate on fast descents but noticeably quicker than the Cannondale SuperSix EVO that’s been on test at the same time as the Canyon. That’s not a criticism of either, but a distinction between two excellent race bikes. If the Ultimate’s geometry is a little aggressive for you, Canyon have just launched the Endurace CF ‘comfort’ bike. Read our launch report and first ride impressions here.
Our £2,299 machine is specced with a full SRAM Force 22 groupset, Mavic Ksyrium SLS wheels shod with Mavic Yksion Pro tyres, Ritchey handlebar and stem, and a Fizik Antares saddle. As we’ve come to expect from Canyon, that spec, with that frame, is seriously good value for money. What’s also impressive is that, even if our machine is exceptional value, £2,299 is still a significant investment for most riders, but the same frame is available right down to £1,399 with Shimano 105, or as a frame only if you want to put together your own build. It’s worth noting, however, that the 9.0 SL is the lightest build in the range and that’s a significant attribute of this bike and helps make it what it is.
The 9.0 SL is the lightest of the seven builds available, thanks to that combination of SRAM Force 22 and Mavic Ksyrium 22. We’ve been thoroughly impressed by SRAM’s latest, 11-speed Force 22 groupset. It’s light in weight, yes, but also in shifting action. Whether you moving up or down the rear cassette, or switching between the chainrings, very little input and effort is required on behalf of the rider, and the shifting is crisp and accurate.
The ‘Yaw’ front mech is superb and effectively eliminates chain rub across extreme gear combinations (e.g. the big chainring and biggest cassette sprocket). Of course, it only works to maximum effect if setup correctly and, in our experience, it can be a little fiddly. Such is Canyon’s direct sales model (where you order on their website and the bike arrives in a box at your doorstep) that unless it’s perfectly setup on arrival, it may need a little research and patience, or a mechanic, to get right. It’s a brilliant piece of technology though and, having used both Force 22 and Red 22 in recent weeks, there’s no distinguishable difference between two very good groupsets.
The Mavic Ksyrium SLS wheels have a claimed weight of just 1,395g and so have a significant impact on the overall weight of the bike and, more significantly, it’s fast-accelerating and sprightly personality. They don’t have much to shout about aerodynamically and the rim is narrow by modern standards but they take very little encouragement to get up to speed and are a very worthy companion for a bike which climbs so well.
Mavic’s wheels come as a wheel-tyre system and so these hoops are paired with the French firm’s Yksion Pro tyres. They wouldn’t be our first choice, as while they’re fast-rolling and grippy in the dry, we’ve been less impressed by grip in the wet over the course of a number of tests, and they’re narrow – certainly narrower than the stated 23mm. While we’re on the subject of tyre width, the CF SL can, according to Canyon’s UK boss, who rode the Paris-Roubaix sportive on the frame, take 28mm tyres, if you want to go really wide. We reckon 25mm would strike the right balance for general riding.
Otherwise, the Ritchey WCS Evo Curve handlebar and WCS stem (both aluminium) is top-quality kit, as is the Fizik Antares saddle. The stem, by the way, clams onto an Acros Ai-70 Fiber headset. It’s an eye-catching design as it leaves the top of the fork steerer hollow and instead uses a ramped collar to preload the bearings, rather than a traditional expander bung (it’s another weight saving measure). It took us a few minutes to get our head around the design when reassembling the bike on our arrival at training camp but it’s subsequently proved easy to adjust with a 1.5mm Allen key.
It’s difficult to pick a fault in the Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 SL as a race bike. You’re essentially getting a near professional-level frame and all that comes with it – low weight, a stiff and responsive ride, fast and accurate handling, and an excellent spec – for a price that’s difficult to beat. Yes, the CF SL frame is a little heavier than the CF SLX, but in this build it’s still a seriously light bike and a serious rival to its more expensive sibling unless you’re chasing an even lighter machine (and, based on our review last year, you won’t be disappointed) or, seeing as this frame tops out with SRAM Force 22, Shimano Ultegra or Campagnolo Chorus, desire a top-of-the-range spec to go with it.