Regular readers of RoadCyclingUK will know we have something of a soft spot for aluminium. It’s not that we have anything against carbon fibre – far from it – just that aluminium shouldn’t be forgotten about when in pursuit of a high-performance bicycle.
Carbon fibre remains the number one material from which to make a performance-focused frame as its stiffness-to-weight just can’t be matched by metal, be it aluminium, steel or titanium. But it’s expensive (or at least good carbon fibre is expensive) and is also more at risk to taking a fatal knock in a crash than metal. It’s why alloy remains a popular frame material for amateur racers who, by virtue of the fact they’re slugging it out around a tight crit circuit, are more likely to end up on the floor.
Fortunately, bike manufacturers haven’t forgotten about aluminium either. In fact, it’s enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years and now there’s no shortage of brands who offer a high-end alloy frame in their range. Because that’s the thing, aluminium needn’t be reserved for entry-level bikes. The best aluminium frames compete on weight with mid-range carbon frame (around the 1,100-1,200g mark for a 56cm frame) and aluminium alloy is inherently rigid (read: stiff). As manufacturing techniques have improved, the tired cliché about aluminium frames serving up a bone-shaking rides has, by and large become, well, something of a tired cliché.
The other great thing about aluminium – and something we’ve already alluded to – is that low weight and ride quality needn’t cost the Earth. You’re looking at around £600-700 for a top-end alloy frame, so while there are plenty of options when it comes to complete bikes, you can also build up a seriously light, raceworthy machine for a sum of money which, while far from short change, is within the realms of possibility for dedicated roadies. By saving money on the frame, you can also potentially free up budget to spend elsewhere, be it the wheels, groupset or a power meter.
That’s what we reckon anyway, so to demonstrate the point, we’ll be putting together our own build on which to ride/race this summer, and taking you through the build process in this series of articles. So, first up, we need to introduce the frame: the Canyon Ultimate AL SLX.
We dropped in to Canyon UK headquarters in Kingston-Upon-Thames, south west London, to start the build with their mechanic, Bruce Berkeley, but before we bolt anything to the frame, let’s take a look at its key features.