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E-MTB

Tested: Canyon Spectral:ON CF 9 E-Bike

This strong, well-balanced all-rounder is a serious contender in the e-MTB trail category.

Basics

-150/150mm Travel
-Mixed Wheel Size
-Shimano EP8 Powerplant


Pros

-Excellent Cornering
-Overall Handling
-Supple, Active, and Poppy Suspension Performance
-Shimano EP8 is a Solid System

Cons

-Slightly Behind the Times With Geometry
-EP8 Motor rattles
-One Piece Bar and Stem Combo on CF 9 Build Isn’t Ideal for Everyone


Price

$9,000

Brand

Canyon


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I’m just going to come out and say it. If you’re looking for a highly capable do-everything eMTB, the Canyon Spectral:ON should be right up near the top of the list. Right off the bat, let’s just jump into value, because let’s face it, that’s one of the first things we think of with direct-to-consumer brands.

If you compare this top-level CF 9 build, complete with XTR bits, carbon hoops, and Fox Factory suspension with Specialized’s top-end S-Works Turbo Levo, there’s simply no contest. This bike is $9,000, that one is $15,000. It’s an insane gap. Hell, if you bumped down to the Spectral:ON CF 8, at $7,000, you could get a second one for your friends to ride and still be a grand below what an S-Works Turbo Levo would cost you. The least expensive Turbo Levo, at the time of writing, is the $11,000 Expert build. Granted, the parts on it aren’t actually much of a downgrade from this top-level Spectral:ON CF 9 but it’s still significantly more cash. And, that’s the entry price. You can get into one of these suckers for six grand.

Long story short, Canyon absolutely mops the floor with Specialized in the value department. But it’s not that simple. When it comes to e-bikes, there’s a whole lot more to it than parts spec, geometry and ride quality—most of which, by the way, the Canyon delivers on but we’ll get to that in a bit. When it comes to e-bikes, there’s a whole other can of worms. And well, Specialized has a much better can of worms. The system integration, power delivery, user control and feature-set included with the new Turbo Levo is all a lot nicer than with the Shimano EP8 system that’s powering the Spectral:ON. It’s not a little better, it’s leagues better. But again, super high price point.

So, what exactly does this bike have going for it then? Well, a lot. First of all, the handling is absolutely phenomenal. The Spectral:ON sports 150 millimeters of front and rear travel, and runs a mixed wheel size configuration to keep the rear-center nice and short. 435 millimeters short. This, more than any other aspect of the bike’s geometry, make it ultra maneuverable and playful. This thing ducks and weaves better than a lot of normal non-motorized bikes do. I’m able to easily engage rear wheel steering mode, which is of course everyone’s favorite mode. The rear wheel is nicely tucked beneath you and you can feel exactly where it is at all times. Between the short rear-center and the low-hung weight of the Shimano EP8 motor, this bike shralps berms better than any bike I’ve ridden in recent memory—acoustic included. Specialized Turbo Levo included.

Up front, the Spectral:ON’s relatively steep 66.5-degree head angle nicely compliments the snappy nature provided by the short stays. Overall, it’s one of my favorite bikes for tight, twisty terrain and steep, techy climbs—with one slight caveat. The seat angle is slack AF. 74.5 degrees slack.

With more weight off the back, the bike isn’t as pedal-efficient as it could be with a much steeper seat tube. But to be fair, you just get used to it. After slamming the seat forward on the rails and giving it a few rides, it really stopped bothering me. I do think steep seat angles are a good development, and I do think Canyon will correct this on the next version of this bike, but I’m also convinced that it’s far less of a concern on a bike that helps you up the hills. What I’m saying is the Spectral:ON’s slack seat angle is 100 percent not a dealbreaker for me. I don’t think it should be for you, either.

The pedaling efficiency of the suspension platform is actually pretty good on undulating terrain, and it tracks amazingly through chunky trail. There’s a real supple, active feel with the suspension, and there’s still enough support to handle hard landings and big hits. And the bike ships from Canyon with room in the shock for more volume spacers should you want more progressively from the setup. I’m not totally blown away with how this bike pedals, but it’s good enough that I don’t stress about reaching down to lock it out. As far as bump performance is concerned, the bike is very, very good.

To continue comparing the Spectral:ON against the Levo, I’d say that overall, the Levo is a bit more capable on gnarly terrain, and it’s also more versatile. Both bikes have the same rear wheel size and travel, but the Levo’s steepest position is a degree slacker, can be adjusted down to a bike park-worthy 63.5 degrees, and runs 10 more millimeters of suspension travel up front. But I don’t say that in a bad way. While the Levo can go deeper, the Spectral:ON is perfectly positioned as an aggressive trail bike. I do have to mention, though, that I sized up to an XL for this bike, where I typically ride size large bikes. That’s because the reach numbers are a touch on the short side. I love being somewhere around 475 millimeters on reach (depending on seat angle) and the large Spectral:ON 10mm shorter than that. At 485mm, the XL is on the long end of what I’m most comfy on especially when combined with the bike’s slack seat angle. When I first got on it, I thought I’d made a mistake. It felt way too long at first, but after settling into it, I concluded that I made the right choice by sizing up.

The extra length creates a ton of stability, which I believe nicely subdues playful feel provided by the steepish head angle and short rear-center. Sizing up allowed me to gain a bit more speed and confidence on steep, rowdy descents than I believe I would have had with a smaller size. I do however still think that a slightly longer size large would hit a sweet spot for me. If my prediction on seat angle for the next version of this bike is correct, I presume reach will increase along with it.

At the end of the day, despite a couple slightly less-than-ideal geometry numbers, this bike remains a very solid number two on my overall list of favorite full-power e-bikes. And when it comes absolutely railing turns, it’s number one.

With that, should we talk about the e-bike parts of this e-bike? Might as well.

Okay, so I’ve already said that the Shimano EP8 motor is not as good as Specialized’s power plant, but it’s still very good and you don’t need to spend 11 grand to get it. There’s a lot to love about the system. The Shimano system for sure has a far better display than anything Bosch or Fazua have, making it a solid second best. I don’t love that it’s hanging precariously off the bar, ready to be broken off (which could easily kill the bike’s power), but it’s relatively small, bright, and uses excellent color coding to identify modes along with nice, easy to read lettering for OFF, ECO, TRAIL and BOOST. You can also toggle through different data fields, though it’s not as customizable as I’d like it to be. And, I noticed that it always returns back to the main screen after a little bit rather than leaving it where I put it. You know, if I want to obsess over how much range I have left by constantly staring down at it, I should have that option. I should also have the option to have the bike power up in the mode it powered off in. Instead it always powers up in the power assist OFF mode. It’s a small, but annoying detail. A far more annoying detail is that battery percentage is not displayed. Before Specialized came out with its industry leading display it at least provided 10 bars to give you a pretty close idea where you’re at. With just 5 bars on the Shimano display, the resolution is an embarrassingly high 20 percent. It does zero favors for my range anxiety. But all and all, it’s still the second best unit I’ve used, and the accompanying app provides a good amount of control over power delivery in each mode, along with other critical information.

And speaking of power delivery, the EP8 is quite good. It senses torque really well so it’s easy to re-start in the middle of a climb, and the power comes on relatively smoothly. It’s jerky compared to the Specialized system, but far smoother than other systems I’ve ridden, like Bosch and Fazua. The motor runs nice and quiet and comes on very strong, with a max output of 85Nm of torque. The stock setting for Boost mode is actually too strong for a lot of steep, technical climbing, but amazing for smashing fire road shuttles. The EP8 has slightly different torque and power output values than the Brose motor in the Levo, but as far as that’s concerned it’s really hard for me to feel a difference. Both motors are strong pullers. What I notice more is the difference in the smoothness of the power, not the strength of it.

With the EP8, the Spectral:ON is real solid performer, and the 630 watt-hour battery allows you to stay out for hours. Range varies so remarkably between terrain, power modes, rider weight, and even technique, that I won’t attempt to publish any solid figures here, but from what I can tell, the motor uses watts pretty efficiently. On my typical test loop, I’m finishing with just a touch less remaining battery capacity on the Spectral:ON than I do with the Levo and its 700 watt-hour battery. As far as power strength, power delivery and range is concerned, the EP8-powered Spectral:ON is an impressive package. Also running noise is impressively low. But, the stinkin’ thing rattles when coasting through anything that’s even remotely bumpy. This is a known issue with the Shimano EP8 motor that shockingly made it to final production. With bikes now being as tight and quiet as they’ve become these days, the rattling EP8 motor is a bit of a downer. But not enough of one to prevent me from recommending this bike to anyone.

The Spectral:ON is a very good bike. It has clean lines, excellent motor and battery integration, and extraordinary handling attributes. Some spec levels and sizes are due to come back in stock next month. If you’re going to religiously check stock on any bike, the Special:ON is one that’s worth the effort.

Photos: Ryan Palmer