Gear News

Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 2016 road bike – first ride review

First ride impressions on Canyon's new all-rounder: light, stiff, aero and comfortable

Canyon, by their own admission, had a tough task on their hands when updating the much-lauded Ultimate CF SLX. The third iteration of the German brand’s lightweight chassis was ridden by Movistar’s Nairo Quintana to the top spot of the podium in the Giro d’Italia in 2014, as well as achieving widespread acclaim across the cycling press. And for good reason – it was our Bike of the Year in 2013.

It was a bike which combined an impressively low frame weight of 790g with a responsive ride, and quick and nimble handling – three attributes which made it shine as a climber’s bike. It was pretty comfy, too.

That bike first broke cover in 2012 and now, three years down the line, we’re in Pamplona, Spain, for the launch of the latest model. Northern Spain may not seem the obvious location for the launch of a bike from a German brand but Pamplona is the base of Quintana’s Movistar squad, one of two WorldTour teams sponsored by Canyon, alongside Katusha.

The 2016 Canyon Ultimate CF SLX combines low weight, a stiff, responsive ride, aerodynamics and comfort in one package (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Quintana will ride the 2016 Canyon Ultimate CF SLX at the Tour de France, when he will face off with Chris Froome (Team Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in an eagerly-awaited battle for the overall title. The Colombian rode the Route du Sud, a four-stage race often used to fine-tune form for the Tour, to get acquainted with his new machine. You can find a full gallery of Quintana’s bike here.

We’ve had the chance to ride it, too, on a 60km loop through the stunning, rolling Pamplona countryside with Quintana and four of his Movistar team-mates. Few bike launches offer enough riding to fully get to grips with a new machine, so consider this a series of first impressions, but we should have an Ultimate CF SLX on its way to us in the not too distant future for a full test on home roads.

If you missed our launch report from Pamplona, let’s quickly recap on the new Ultimate’s key features. No longer is it acceptable to create a machine which is simply best in class, according to Canyon, but instead it has to be an all-rounder capable of producing the goods in a variety of conditions, and on any terrain. Bike manufacturers have had low frame weight cracked for a few years now, particularly in light of the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit, so Canyon have looked to aerodynamics and comfort – two key trends in bike development in recent years – to build upon the excess of the previous Ultimate CF SLX.

You can find the full tech lowdown here, but Canyon have sought to achieve the aero improvements by reworking the Ultimate’s tube profiles, and the latter by introducing a new, innovative seatpost clamp which essentially moves the clamp to the junction of the seatstays and seattube, thereby freeing up more of the seatpost able to deflect, according to Canyon.

The updated Ultimate will go on sale in October/November this year (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

The Ultimate CF SLX’s comfort is immediately obvious. We rolled out for out ride across a cobbled car park; not the pavé of Paris-Roubaix by any means but enough lumps and bumps for the deflection offered by the seatpost to announce itself. Get off the bike and lean on the rear end of the saddle and the flex of the seatpost is even more obvious. It is a remarkably smooth ride through the rear end, and, in lowering the seatpost clamp, Canyon have achieved it through a smart engineering solution which has the added bonus of giving the seatpost/seattube junction a clean finish. In our experience ahead of this test ride, the seatpost is still pretty simple to adjust through the new clamp. Just remove the small rubber bung and loosen or tighten with an Allen key or torque wrench, as normal.

Any aerodynamic advantage is hard for us to quantify (Canyon say the frame offers an eight per cent drag saving over its predecessor), not least on a first ride, but on aesthetics alone the Ultimate CF SLX could now be considered a lite version of the Canyon’s all-out aero machine, the Aeroad (which will still be used by Movistar and Katusha). It doesn’t taken on the Aeroad’s aggressive Trident 2.0 profiles – that, Canyon say, would bump up the frame weight too much – but the Ultimate has an aero flavour now, with the downtube and fork significantly reworked as deeper, rounder profiles, while the headtube has a sleek hourglass shape, and there Canyon’s integrated Aerocockpit CF out front.

Our test ride took place in the countryside surrounding Pamplona, Spain (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Canyon say that the key with the Ultimate has been in retaining the frame’s impressive stiffness-to-weight ratio while reducing aerodynamic drag and improving comfort (with the aim to do that by a measure of ten per cent on both counts). “What is a frame worth if it is 600g but as soft as a bouncy castle? That’s for weight weenies,” said Canyon’s carbon fibre engineer, Sebastian Hofer.

And it’s fair to say the Ultimate CF SLX isn’t lacking in stiffness when you put pressure on the pedals, despite the comfort served up by the seatpost. That was most obvious on a five kilometre climb midway through our test ride, which provided a good opportunity to ramp things up, and the Ultimate responded well to accelerations both in and out of the saddle with the bite that you’d hope for – and expect – from a bike like this.

Canyon have tweaked the geometry on this latest version of the Ultimate CF SLX, with, on the whole, a lower stack and longer reach for the equivalent size when compared to the previous Ultimate. First impressions suggest the handling feels a little more languid than its predecessor. The handling of the old Ultimate was razor-sharp and full of pizzazz, so utterly in keeping with the sprightly ride characteristics, whereas this version feels a touch slower and needs a little more rider input.

That’s not necessarily a criticism; some riders may have found the existing Ultimate to be twitchy (we loved it’s sharpness), and may appreciate the additional composure of this version. It depends where you want your bike to sit on the handling spectrum, but it’s something for us to look into once we’ve got a bike in for review, set it up as we want it (our test bike in Pamplona was equipped with a 90mm stem, which is shorter than we’d like and could affect handling), and ridden it through a variety of conditions.

Pamplona is the home to the Movistar team (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Otherwise, the only other thing to mention at this juncture is that our test bike was equipped with Canyon’s impressive Aerocockpit CF handlebar. It keeps the front-end incredibly tidy, hiding most of the cables in a recess on the underside of the handlebar, and, Canyon say, improves the aerodynamic performance of the bike by a further six per cent. As far as we understand it, most, but not all, of the models that Canyon release when the bike goes on sale in October/November will have this handlebar. Aerodynamic claims aside, handlebar shape is fairly personal but I found the flattened top of the Aerocockpit to provide a surprisingly comfortable position for my hands. The exposed carbon fibre did get a little warm in the sun – but then it was 35 degrees.

That’s it for now, but we’re looking forward to spending more time on the 2016 Canyon Ultimate CF SLX when it arrives in the UK. Canyon have sought to create an all-rounder which marries low weight, stiffness, aerodynamics and comfort in one package, and first impressions suggest they’ve gone some way to doing that.

Website: Canyon

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