Tested: Canfield Balance
Playing to the strengths of 27.5-inch wheels
-Price listed for frame and DVO Jade X rear shock only
-169mm rear travel, 170 front
-A suspension design that keeps its promises
-Perfect coil-shock functionality
-Not a point-and-shoot enduro bike
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When the Canfield Balance got its most recent update in early 2020, it felt like more than just an update. It was more like a return, or even a rebirth, even though its last update was barely four years earlier. Maybe that’s just what happens when a bike dares to try outlive its industry-standard three-year life cycle. Or maybe it’s because Revel Bikes emerged, using Canfield’s CBF linkage and arousing suspicion that Canfield had put themselves out to pasture.
Or maybe it’s because we thought Canfield might have simply disappeared in the way so many other high-end aluminum bikes have. But the Balance returned, in all of its overbuilt glory. It’s still aluminum, still kinda heavy, and still has 27.5-inch wheels. But it reflects a time when we’ve come to expect our big bikes to be able to do big rides. “Enduro” doesn’t necessarily mean racing the clock on the descents and suffering on the climbs. It’s a choice some of us make and some of us don’t, and we don’t want to leave anyone behind when we ride together.
I was never left behind on the Balance. This coil-sprung, 170-millimeter, 35-pound vestige of The Freeride Age actually climbs remarkably well. And it’s not as if it has an especially steep seat tube angle which, to some, is the panacea for poor climbing on any long-travel bike. Sure, I’d have rather it been steeper, but 75.7 degrees isn’t necessarily outdated. And more importantly, the Canfield linkage is a masterpiece. Enough so that it has the potential to rival the DW-link in its balance of suppleness and efficiency.
A warning: The following paragraph is very boring. Especially to me, because I’ve written about Canfield’s CBF linkage at least four other times. But it has to be done, because CBF hasn’t gotten the attention most name-brand linkage designs have. So, here we go. CBF is a dual-short-link platform, fundamentally similar to DW-link. Through nearly all of the travel, it keeps constant the distance between the rear axle and the point at which the chain meets the top of the chainring. This is the goal for a lot of suspension designs, because it can prevent your pedaling forces from sucking your energy or fighting the suspension’s ability to track along rough terrain. But on most bikes, it only lines up around the suspension’s natural sag point, often shifting into the sucking-your-energy category deeper in the travel on a steep climb when you need your energy. The Balance is different. The kids on the internet might say that CBF DGAF where you are in its travel. The chain will turn the wheel and the terrain will compress the shock, whether you’re spinning up a mellow chattery fire road or charging up a rooty switchback.
This is a hard thing to pull off on a coil-sprung bike with this much travel, but Canfield has done it. I did feel the suspension’s constant, fluid motion as I shifted my weight or the terrain changed, but as long as I pedaled calmly, the motion never bothered me. I’m used to big bikes discouraging increased effort. There’s usually a diminishing return as you ramp up the torque, but I didn’t find that on the Balance. In those steep, chunky sections that are juuust mellow enough and juuust smooth enough that they’re worth pedaling if you can make it through, I felt the bike giving me back everything I gave it. And all the while, the suspension keeps doing its job. So, while I’m on my short trip through the pain cave, a poor line choice isn’t going to hang up the rear wheel and spoil all my not-fun.
Speaking of not-fun, that capability doesn’t change the fact that this bike is heavy and has a lot of travel. It is not magical enough that I enjoyed hammering through rough sections. There’s not the exhilaration of sprinting a well-designed short-travel trail bike up techy singletrack. It does it with minimal fuss, but it’s not the kind of climbing the Balance is designed for. It’s more designed for spinning your legs until you’re at the top. And it’s good at that too.
I like rear shock lockouts. I also like long fire-road climbs, so that’s one area of harmony in my life. But I rarely used the lockout on the Balance. I did happen to run the saddle slammed forward in the seatpost to mitigate that moderate seat angle, but it naturally ran high in its travel, even though I opted for a spring rate on the softer end of my recommended range. I didn’t have to fight the bike to stay comfortable. And though all that super interesting CBF stuff had the greatest benefit on short, steep, rough climbs, the lesser benefit on long smooth climbs would always pay off three hours into a ride when I know I’ve got three hours to go.
But that’s not the sort of ride most people would buy this bike for. It’s meant for party laps, shuttle runs and jump sessions. And it’s meant for getting creative doing each. You rarely see 420mm chainstays, even on shorter-travel trail bikes. It was a deliberate choice, and a welcome sight. When other 27.5-inch bikes try to “make up for” their small wheels, the Canfield Balance leans into them. Literally, in fact.
I first rode the Balance soon after riding the latest edition Santa Cruz Nomad, a bike with a stack height that, thanks to its 140mm headtube, is 15mm higher than that of the Balance. To be fair, the Balance isn’t too far out of line, given that the just released Pivot Mach 6 actually has a lower stack. But it stands out in the enduro category where 29ers are now in the majority and, by their nature, often have 20 or 30mm higher stack. Seems a silly thing to talk about because a few $5 headset spacers got me where I wanted to be on the Balance (and running an 180mm fork might have helped too), but it’s an example of why Canfield’s choice to run 27.5-inch wheels on the current generation Balance was a deliberate one. They like what small wheels make possible, including the ability to run lower stack to encourage more aggressively leaning over the front end for better traction. And for everyone else, Canfield just released the Tilt and Lithium trail and enduro 29ers.
Once I had the cockpit feeling more familiar, I started getting to know what the Balance is capable of downhill. And if it was the suspension that helped make the bike’s extra weight disappear on the climbs, the geometry was doing the same on the descents. Its moderate wheelbase and small wheels kept it from fighting me while I was diving into a turn or making quick adjustments picking my way through tech. And boy, if you like sneaking manuals in when you see a high-speed dip or low-speed drop, this is your bike. It’s often a bit of a chore on such long-travel bikes because there’s a vagueness as you pull back and the suspension reacts. But it feels like the rear-wheel-balance sweet spot is huge. And that extends to flicking the back end around. The rear wheel felt like an extension of my body. Eventually, getting a little or a lot of slide around an obstacle or into a catch berm became second nature. It reacts predictably to the kind of playful input that can often turn chaotic.
That’s also thanks to how well the Balance works with a coil shock. Like on the uphill, it feels supportive–not wallowy–on the downhill. It’s got all the small-bump sensitivity of a coil but with a little extra pop. I spent time with both a 450- and 400-pound spring, and although I wish I could go hard enough to need the 450, the 400 had me using all the travel without sacrificing the bike’s natural ability to react.
The rest of the spec on this test rig is the limited MRP Coil-equipped LE build released late last year. Not surprisingly, the complete builds are out of stock across the board right now, but surprisingly, at the time of publishing this, Canfield does have a decent number of frame / rear shock setups in stock. Also surprisingly, those frames are a pretty reasonable $2,100 with a DVO Jade X coil.
The Canfield Balance is unapologetic. That’s a word we throw around a lot, especially when talking about enduro bikes. It’s often shorthand for “heavy,” which I guess applies here. But it goes further than that. Many 27.5-inch bikes are apologetic about their wheel size. They hide it with long wheelbases and, sometimes, tall head tubes. But the Balance design embraces 27.5-inch wheels. All their agility, all their personality, all their weaknesses and all their strengths.
Find it at canfieldbikes.com/balance
Photos: Satchel Cronk