The Canyon Ultimate CF SLX is the best bike I’ve ridden so far in 2013 and a shoe-in for an early nomination as Bike of the Year in the annual RoadCyclingUK Awards.
And that’s against some (excuse the pun) stiff competition. The Ridley Helium SL, ridden in January on sun-kissed Spanish roads, was sublime, and the Stoemper Taylor tested in May a fine example of modern steel.
But the Canyon is the complete package: super-light, stiff and with impeccable handing – plus it’s superb value. Value is, of course, relative, and the 11-model Ultimate CF SLX range starts at £2,589 but the German brand’s direct sales model (more on that later) ensures you get plenty of bang for your buck.
The Ultimate CF SLX has accompanied me on some significant tests over the past two months – including the Etape du Tour, the RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive and my first ten-mile time trial – and while it’s better suited to some (the Etape) than others (a time trial), it has thrived in all conditions.
Our frame is in Katusha colours, and arrived at Canyon’s UK headquarters as a special delivery from the Russian team, but, paintjob aside, it’s no different to that sold over the web to customers.
We ran through the Ultimate CF SLX’s key technical features in our first look, so we’ll concentrate here on how it rides – but, in short, it comes with a claim of “outstanding levels of stiffness, comfort and design” and we’re not going to disagree. It’s also Canyon’s lightest model with a headline claimed weight of just 790g for the frame. That makes it one of the lightest frames on the market and provides the basis for a very light bike. Our machine tipped the RCUK scales at just 6.48kg.
Super-light, stiff and with impeccable handling, the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX is the complete race-ready package – plus you get a lot of bang for your buck
The result is a bike which is exceptionally quick off the mark. It responds to pressure on the pedals in an instant and that low weight is most keenly felt when the road tips uphill. The Ultimate CF SLX climbs as well as any bike I’ve ridden and while, as is usually the case, it’s the rider and not the bike that lets the package down, the Canyon at least helps to redress the balance.
Of course, the frame itself needs to be stiff, as well as light, to convert power on the pedals into speed but fortunately that’s not a problem. The Ultimate CF SLX’s tube profiles are boxy but still relatively slender – understated against some of the oversized competition – but provide more than enough in the way of rigidity for you, I and, well, Katusha. The Ultimate CF SLX was redesigned for 2013 and among the most important changes was the flattening of many of the tube profiles to save weight, while introducing more Ultra High Modulus carbon fibres to maintain stiffness. Crucially, the downtube/bottom bracket junction is suitably chunky, as are the asymmetric chainstays, and both features go some way to ensuring a very stiff ride.
Comfort is an increasingly important concept in bike design, from entry and mid-level models designed with sportive riders in mind, to a top-of-the-range racing chassis like this. The 2013 version of the Ultimate CF SLX uses the third iteration of Canyon’s Maximus seattube design. The seattube has been significantly slimmed down compared to the previous version to improve comfort and the result is, well, very comfortable, with not much in the way of harsh road buzz transmitted through to the rider.
Canyon’s Vertical Comfort, Lateral Stiffness (VCLS) technology also infuses basalt into the seatstays, fork and seatpost. The basalt fibres are said to have up to four times more elasticity than carbon. We’re not in a position to judge the impact of the basalt over the Maximum seattube but the Ultimate CF SLX does a great job of smoothing out imperfections of the road. My second test ride was a 100 miler from London to Folkestone and undertaking such a long ride so early on a new, unfamiliar bike is something of a risk but the Ultimate CF SLX passed with flying colours.
Canyon supplied our test bike with both a standard own-brand VCLS seatpost and the VCLS 2.0 seatpost featured in our pictures. The 2.0 post has a striking split design which is said to offer 20mm of travel and while that’s perhaps a slightly generous estimate, it certainly offered a good amount of flex (we rode the bike with both seatposts) compared to the regular post and, at £111.89, represents an attractive upgrade. It’s worth noting, however, that the Ultimate CF SLX remains a comfortable frame regardless of what seatpost you run.
The ‘Sport Pro’ geometry is described by Canyon as “sportily-extended” and the result is a position which is not too extreme. Our medium sample (Canyon’s equivalent to a 56cm frame in a six-size range from XS to XXL) has a 545mm seattube, 549mm toptube, low 150mm headtube, 73.25 and 73.5 head and seattube angles, and a compact 980.4mm wheelbase. That’s certainly on the racier side but I could get my position dialed in to a tee.
Back to handling, and the Ultimate CF SLX is a sharp machine, as you’d expect. It’s a responsive ride – a quick flick of the handlebars brings an equally quick change in direction – but never does it feel like it needs babysitting and that’s a fine quality on a long ride. The frame also proved a confidence-inspiring partner in the Alps, where it tracked reliably through sweeping corners on unfamiliar descents. There is no better test of a bike’s handling than a long Alpine descent.
The Ultimate CF SLX is a remarkably comfortable frame and the VCLS 2.0 seatpost offers an impressive amount of flex
Our test bike is something of a custom build, thanks to the addition of Mavic’s CC40C carbon clinchers, which we will review separately. To give you a hint of what’s to come, the wheels are excellent, with a low inertia, an aero-profiled rim and impressive braking, even if they far from the lightest for the money.
That aside, Canyon offer a range of builds based around the Ultimate CF SLX frame, with nine bikes equipped with anything from Shimano Ultegra to Campagnolo Super Record EPS. 2013 models are still available to buy but stock depends on the model, spec, size and colour, and 2014 specs will be listed on the Canyon website from October. The frame, however, remains the same.
Understated paintjobs feature across the range and our matte red/black frame is stunning. You can, by the way, get a team frame of your own, albeit with slightly less sponsors’ logos slapped on it than ours. The Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Team comes with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, lightweight Mavic R-Sys wheels, Ritchey WCS finishing kit and a Selle Italia SLR saddle.
The same finishing kit and saddle were both specced on our test bike and performed their duties with no fuss. The bend in the handlebar and the shape of the saddle suit my particular dimensions very well but both are subject to personal taste.
This was my first experience of Shimano’s new-for-2013 11-speed mechanical Dura-Ace groupset and it is, in short, sublime, with crisp, accurate shifting – not least from the front mech, which is superb – powerful braking and sleek aesthetics. We can only hope the latest update to the second-from-top Ultegra group, which is also now 11-speed and which is beginning to work its way on to 2014 bikes, provides a similar level of performance but at a reduced cost, as has been the case in the past.
Canyon’s direct distribution model will be of little concern to many but may put off a nervous home mechanic
That brings up 1,250 words of high praise, so are there any downsides? In terms of ride quality, it’s difficult to pick out any flaws, but Canyon’s direct distribution model may not suit everyone.
Each order is made direct through the Canyon website and the bike will be delivered direct to your door from Germany. It will require some work once you’ve pulled it out of the box and although this is likely to require little more than turning the handlebars and tightening a few bolts – easy if you know your way around an Allen key, and Canyon do helpfully supply a torque wrench with every bike – there is a chance the brakes or derailleurs may need adjustment. A helpful local bike shop will likely be happy to assist, although having been cut from Canyon’s supply chain, are equally likely to want a fee for doing so.
A direct sale also means you’re unlikely to be able to test ride a bike before buying, which may be a deal breaker for some. Equally, the Canyon supply model removes the security of the local bike shop if something goes wrong, although Canyon has a UK office based in Kingston upon Thames.
What isn’t open to debate, however, is the quality of the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX, which is a truly excellent machine. The upside of the German brand’s distribution model, one that cuts out the middle men (the importer and the bike shop) is a range of very well-specced bikes that provide a lot for your money besides a superb frame.