The Canyon Inflite AL 8.0 S is an ideal winter bike if you want to ride whatever the weather. It’s dependable and with a thick skin capable of shaking off the wet and wild British winter – but with enough personality to inspire your riding through the season.
The Inflite AL 8.0 S is part of a new breed of winter bikes, based around a tough cyclo-cross frame, with clearance for wide tyres and disc brakes to provide reliable stopping power in all conditions.
It’s more rough ‘n’ ready than, say, the Kinesis Racelight TK3 – now known as the 4S – or the De Rosa Milanino Training, both of which will provide ample pleasure on fast road rides in spring and summer, but the Inflite is a robust machine built specifically to tackle winter head on and is equally at home on the club run, commute or a quick solo blast.
The spec has also been upgraded since we first received the bike to test to include full mudguards, a VCLS 2.0 seatpost, a bottle cage and a chain catcher to complete what is a very well thought out winter bike.
Canyon launched the Inflite at Eurobike 2013 and three bikes make up the range. It’s the German direct sales brand’s first cyclo-cross frame, and two of those three bikes, the 8.0 and 9.0, are specced for hacking around the woods or charging around a muddy field for an hour, but the 8.0 S has had a few tweaks to set it up for winter road riding.
The frame remains the same throughout the range. It’s a rugged aluminium frame with a claimed weight of 1,480g and, as you’d expect from a cyclo-cross chassis, there’s plenty of mud clearance which, in the case of the roadworthy Inflite AL 8.0 S, provides room for wide road tyres and full mudguards, thanks to the subtle mounts on the fork and seatstays.
The ‘Maximus’ seat-tube uses a similar design to what we saw on the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX, voted Bike of the Year 2013 by RoadCyclingUK readers, so while it starts as a round tube as its junction with the toptube and seatpost, it flares and squares at its junction with the bottom brackets to improve the contact area with the BB and boost stiffness.
The skinny ‘Vertical Comfort Lateral Stiffness’ seatstays are designed to improve comfort while, up front, there’s a disc-specific full carbon ‘One One Four SL Disc’ fork, which slots in to a tapered headtube. Gear cables are fed internally, while the rear brake cable runs along the top of the toptube to keep it out of harms way when shouldering the bike in a cyclo-cross race, and thus revealing the Inflite’s ‘cross DNA.
The geometry is a little more relaxed that Canyon’s road bikes. On our medium (56cm) test bike, for example, the headtube angle is 72 degrees, so a little slacker than the similarly-priced Ultimate AL 8.0 (72.75 degrees), while the wheelbase is 31mm longer at 1014mm compared to 983mm. That results in handling which is a little more subdued than a racier, road-specific machine but it’s designed to offer stability and, as a result, it’s an easy bike to ride, whether on the road or a twisty trail. The headtube is still fairly short at 145mm, so you can achieve a low position, while Canyon also provide 25mm of fork steerer spacers.
The Inflite AL 8.0 S is impressively specced, not only for the £1,149 price tag – as we’ve come to expect from Canyon – also to tackle the challenges of winter riding.
The majority of the groupset components are Shimano 105. The Japanese firm’s mid-range setup has developed a well-earned reputation for performance and affordability and it’s all you’ll ever need on a winter bike. It’s a workhorse which will run without any problems (if setup correctly) and shifting is accurate and reliable.
While the Inflite 9.0 and 8.0 have cross-specific 46-36t chainrings, the 8.0 S is setup for road riding so has a compact 50-34t chainset. That, combined with the 11-28t cassette, ensures there’s a wide spread of gears to winch your way up steep climbs. You can pay a £16.41 surcharge to switch to either a 11-25t or 12-30t cassette.
The Inflite AL 8.0 S is specced with Shimano BR-CX77 mechanical disc brakes but, owing to an earlier recall of Shimano’s brakes, our test bike came with Avid BB7 stoppers so we won’t comment too much on their performance other than to say they provided reliable braking in all conditions. It’s not that they were necessarily more powerful than good rim brakes in dry conditions, nor did they offer the modulation of a hydraulic setup, but they slow you down whatever the weather. The same can’t be said for rim brakes, which can be adversely affected when wet or when riding on the perma-layer of mud and grime which has coated almost every country lane as a result of recent flooding.
The Mavic CrossOne wheels are essentially entry-level 29er mountain bike wheels but while they they’re not going to win any competitions on the weight front, they’ve proved reliable through the course of our test. As ever, there’s scope to upgrade the wheels – and there’s a growing range of disc-ready road hoops – but, in reality, these are just fine as tough winter wheels and that’s the priority when bashing through potholes.
The wheels are wrapped in 28mm Continental Grand Prix 4-Season tyres which are an excellent choice. The 4-Season is a popular year-round fit-and-forget training tyre and for good reason: it strikes an excellent balance of speed, grip and durability. The 28mm option specced here also makes good use of the Inflite’s additional tyre clearance and is a significant factor in boosting comfort, but also improving traction thanks to the fact that wider tyres can be run at a lower pressure. We also haven’t felt at any great disadvantage when it comes to speed and another benefit of 28mm tyres like these is that they offer a little more security, both in terms of grip and puncture resistance, if you fancy a quick detour down a gravel track.
Otherwise, the aluminium Ritchey handlebar and stem is quality kit, as is the Selle Italia XI saddle. The Inflite AL 8.0 S was originally specced with Canyon’s regular VCLS seatpost but has since been upgraded to the VCLS 2.0 split leaf-spring seatpost which should, if our experience with that post on the Ultimate CF SLX is anything to go by, add a little more comfort to what is already a pretty comfortable ride.
That’s not the only upgrade the Inflite AL 8.0 S has received since it first arrived with us. We noted with a hint of disappointment in our first look that mudguards – the calling card of any winter bike – were only available as an optional extra, and so at an additional cost, but Canyon have now bundled the SKS-made ‘guards in as part of the cost, along with a free chain catcher and free bottle cage. Top stuff.
Aluminium has historically had a reputation as a frame material which is stiff, but with a harsh, bone-shaking ride quality. That, by and large, is a thing of the past, however, if our recent experience with aluminium frames is anything to go by and the Inflite AL 8.0 S very much continues this favourable trend towards a more comfortable ride.
The Inflite AL 8.0 S has a lot to offer in the stiffness stakes. The squared-off seattube, oversized downtube, tapered headtube and chunky chainstays ensure the bike responds very well to pressure on the pedals, and acceleration is impressive for a machine of this nature, despite the portly wheel and tyre package, and the added weight that comes with a winter bike.
Overall weight for our machine is just under 9kg without mudguards and Canyon state a claimed weight of 9.55kg with ‘guards. Of course, this will demand more effort when climbing than a lighter summer bike but the inherent stiffness of the frame and the wide spread of gears means you’re not left heaving the bike uphill and it doesn’t feel like a burden. That’s an important quality of a winter bike, in our opinion. It should be reliable, yes, but it should also have enough about it to encourage you to get out on the road.
It’s comfortable, too, and the harsh road buzz generated by riding on seemingly endless sections of broken tarmac is significantly dampened before it reaches the handlebar and saddle. Some of that comfort can be attributed to the 28mm tyres, so top marks to Canyon for a sensible spec which pays careful attention to the requirements of an all-weather winter bike. The upgraded VCLS 2.0 seatpost should also serve to soften big blows when riding in the saddle.
The Inflite’s slightly softened geometry means that it is an easy bike to ride: stable and predictable but, with that tapered headtube and carbon fork up front, capable of holding a reliable line through a tight corner. The handling isn’t as immediately responsive as a racier road-specific machine, and while that may limit its potential as a year-round road machine, it’s not necessarily a bad thing on a winter bike like this. It’s very easy to get along with.
There are faster bikes out there – that goes without saying when considering a bike of this ilk – but the Inflite AL 8.0 S is still more than capable of pushing the pace along if required. Winter is generally a time for steady rides, and the Inflite will be a willing companion, but the stiffness of the frame ensures it has enough about it for a fast blast around the lanes if you want to let off some steam.
Assessing a bike of this nature purely by its capacity for speed is almost to miss the point – the Inflite AL 8.0 S is a whatever-the-weather winter bike. Yes, it’s based around a cyclo-cross frame but given that you’re likely to use mudguards, it’s not an easy swap to whip off the ‘guards and swap the tyres/change the wheels if you want to regularly ride ‘cross.
More likely – and given the fact Canyon offer two alternative cyclo-cross Inflite builds – is that the Inflite AL 8.0 S will be used as a road machine and it succeeds wholly as a tough-as-nails winter bike or year-round commuter that is built and specced brilliantly for the job in hand.