-150-millimeter rear travel, 160 front
-Carbon frame only
-Light weight for the category
-Playful for the travel
-Hard to find items for list of “Cons.”
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Humans like to pick sides. We like having a place to set anchor. Something to reinforce what we already know and fill in what we don’t. Plus, it’s lonely in the middle. We feel rudderless and, if I may continue my nautical metaphor, there’s no compass to tell us where to go. But at the same time, that can be liberating. When I first stepped into my test of the Canyon Spectral 29, the menu of trails I could choose from felt suddenly longer and more welcoming. It was right on the heels of reviewing the minimalist Marin Rift Zone and the maximalist Forbidden Dreadnought. Although each bike exceeded my expectations, they did so within the context of their categories. The 150mm rear, 160 front Spectral 29 is in a category that’s a little harder to define. There’s too much travel for it to be a trail bike, but not enough for it to be an enduro bike. It’s got too slack a head angle to be a quick-tempered playbike, but it’s too light and poppy to be an uncaring brute. I could go anywhere with this thing … but where would I start?
I’d start by going uphill. Duh. Canyon was one of the first brands who made a big deal about their straight progressive leverage curves. At the sag point, and just past it, there is a consistent platform to push against, and the Spectral 29 uses it to make an adequate climber into an excellent one. I’ve gotten used to Horst Link bikes needing a little firmer compression damping to stay high in their travel, but the Spectral 29 is plenty supportive on its own. In fact, it seemed to lean towards its supportive side even more than some shorter-travel bikes do. The very hover-y 120mm Ibis Ripley and Evil Following may actually be better at eating small bumps under load, but if the 150mm Spectral 29 had gone that route, it would not have been nearly as rewarding of a climber. Its get-up-and-go put it in league with bikes like the Devinci Troy and Trek Fuel, each having less travel. Compared to most 150mm bikes, the Spectral 29 feels uniquely well suited for getting climbs done in a hurry, especially long, seated climbs. The seat angle is 76 degrees in the low setting (the correct setting if you ask me), which is just barely steep enough to feel modern. But after sliding the saddle forward, I didn’t find myself riding the nose in the steeps, which I still do on some bikes. Or, you can drop the fork to 150mm, which actually is available out of the box as part of a lighter-weight build only available in Europe. It leans the Spectral slightly more into the trail category, but it absolutely deserves a 160.
The overall fit of the Spectral feels natural. That’s something I don’t normally need to point out, but it’s something I didn’t say when I rode the 27.5-inch Spectral. After Canyon increased its travel in 2019, it needed a slammed stem and flat bar to achieve what the Spectral 29 does out of the box. That may be because Canyon gave the Spectral 29 a lower stack height than the Spectral 27.5, which still sticks around for 2021. The Spectral 29’s natural fit made the downhill an absolute blast. Even the most practical enduro 29ers have a ride that’s planted, stable, heavy, soft, or a combination of all four. The Spectral 29 has all the familiarity and sharpness of a trail bike, but in a package that doesn’t ask much of you in order to safely hold a line. This is in contrast to the shred-ready short-travel bikes that seem to be taking over lately. They are finally capable enough to manage just about any trail, they just ask a lot of you in the process. The Spectral 29 is already putting up most of the capitol it takes to get you up to speed and keep you there. All you have to do is decide what to do with it.
It’s the sort of ride that frees you up to get creative because it isn’t going to punish you for not being perfect. And at the same time, it is light, progressive and stiff. That’s my main takeaway after my month on the Spectral. It seems to have the bones of bigger travel bikes without also having too much of their meat. If I wanted to pull a Hail Mary and cut the inside of a rocky turn, the bike would obey as long as I committed and leaned into it. And when those rocks were loose, and it was socially acceptable to break the rear end loose, the Spectral 29 really sang. The combination of a firm suspension platform, laterally stiff rear triangle and short 430mm chainstays made this bike feel like an extension of my body in a way that no longer-travel bike possibly could.
One way Canyon achieved that was by taking a step that most riders might not be nerdy enough to notice. They built the Spectral 29 around a 55mm chainline, not the traditional 52. That’s the horizontal measurement between the centerline of the bottom bracket and the chainring. It allowed Canyon to offer heaps of tire clearance, as well as the short rear end and stiff chassis that I loved so much. But it forces 3mm more chain crossover when in the easiest gear, a gear I spend a lot of time in. This is why Super Boost 157 has its merits. Combined with a 56.5mm chainline, bikes with 157mm rear spacing get all that clearance and stiffness advantage with less unwanted crosschaining. Keep in mind, Shimano and SRAM made 55mm chainline cranks to work with standard boost rear spacing, but brands that use them are sorta trying to have their cake and eat it too. They know Super Boost has its skeptics, and 55mm doesn’t require a polarizing new wheel standard. But on some occasions, rare occasions, I noticed some noise and hesitation between first and second gear. Not enough to be a deal-breaker, but enough for me to write a paragraph about three millimeters of offset.
While I’m making small drivetrain nitpicks, the chain guide requires a hack right out of the box to keep it from rubbing the top of the chain when in the largest cog. Flipping its threaded insert upside down will move it out of the way, but I just removed it altogether. It’s a minor beef among an otherwise dialed finish. The cable routing is internally guided, the main pivot hardware is accessed from the non-drive side, there’s an accessory mount under the top tube, room for (most) full-sized water bottles and a clever hideaway lever in the rear thru axle.
There’s something about the package you get in the Spectral 29 that feels especially refined. That’s both close up, thanks to details like the flush rocker link and the form-fitting stem and spacers, but also from a distance, thanks to its incredibly mean silhouette. It’s hard to believe that this build, with its carbon frame, nearly full XT drivetrain, XT brakes with Ice Tech Freeza rotors, Float X2 shock and 36 Grip2 fork, goes for $4,600 at the time of writing. Not cheap, but if this were my bike, the only thing I would do is swap for a 200mm dropper. Of course, it isn’t news that Canyon offers a lot for the money. It’s kinda their thing. The real scoop is that they’ve made a bike that meets in the middle between trail and enduro, and somehow made no compromise in the process.
The Spectral 29 CF 7 starts in carbon, and starts at $4,000. This impressively specced “entry-level” model has the same full-carbon frame as the rest of the lineup, but drops to a SRAM NX/SX drivetrain and base-model G2 R brakes. It does offer a great suspension package for the price in the RockShox Super Deluxe and Lyric RC, but the $4,600 Spectral CF 8 that I tested will get you way more than $600 more bike. If you’re going into this expecting not to spend more than $4,ooo, just hunker down for a little longer and save your money. Chances are you’ll be waiting until either model is back in stock anyway. If, on the other hand, you’re not expecting to spend more than $3,500, the CF 7 option is a great price, but still, future-you will thank you if you just get the CF 8 anyway.
Find it at canyon.com/en-us/spectral-cf-8
Photos: Satchel Cronk