The perfect bike is a lie. Even Beta’s Dream Builds, painstakingly curated as they may be, are not perfect bikes. They are literally made of compromises. For example, 200mm rotors stop better, but they’re heavier and easier to bend. Short chainstays are a ton of fun, but they can get unwieldy at high speeds. Even flip chips, which we think of as a way to fine-tune our way out of those compromises, themselves involve a compromise. And it’s a compromise that’s actually far more insidious than, say, putting up with heavy tires to avoid pinch flats.
Here’s the thing: It’s fine that a flip chip allows you to slacken your head angle and drop your bottom bracket. But it’ll also shorten your reach and slacken your seat tube angle. In a sense, it’s not fair. Unlike braking power and rotor size, there was never a natural correlation between slack head angles and slack seat angles. At least not until we started using flip chips to adjust them.
And increasingly, those flip chips tend not to default to the high position. More and more bikes come out of the box in the low position. That’s how the brands intended for you to ride the bike. So now, a flip chip is no longer a feature to serve the gnarlier-than-average rider at the cost of a half degree of extra climbing comfort. Instead, that extra climbing comfort is dangled just within your reach. All you have to do is sacrifice some descending capability. Wouldn’t it be nice if our bikes just gave us both? Well, the new Canyon Spectral just did … sort of.
This week’s news of a wide expansion of the Spectral lineup included a number of brand new aluminum versions of the recently updated platform. And when a consumer-direct brand makes an aluminum bike, its value is usually front and center. You can get a Fox-equipped, Shimano 12-speed, enduro-ready bike for $2,900. But it’s not easy for a manufacturer to reach that price point. They have to look at every production decision with cost in mind. One of those decisions was whether to include a flip chip like the carbon Spectral models do. On those bikes, where prices range from $4,300 to over $7,000, it’s easier to absorb the extra cost of producing the components necessary to make a flip chip. But under $3,000? It gets a lot tighter. This meant Canyon had another decision to make. Do they build the alloy Spectrals around the low position or the high position? They chose neither … Or, I guess both … Let me explain.
The flip-chip-equipped Spectrals have a 76.5-degree effective seat tube angle in the high position 76-degree in low. The head angle is 64.5-degrees in the high position and 64 in the low. So, Canyon gave the aluminum version the best of both worlds. A 76.5-degree seat angle and 64-degree head angle.
These are not mind-bending numbers. The aluminum Spectral does not represent the apex of the vortex of bike geometry. In fact, 76.5 degrees is fine, but just a tad slack for my taste. It should be noted to Canyon’s credit, though, that they measure seat tube angle with the saddle up where you actually might sit on it, not horizontal from the top of the head tube like most brands. But I digress.
Canyon’s decision to design the alloy Spectral like this represents a step in the right direction. The concept of the flip chip on its own may be fundamentally flawed, but the market has determined that it adds value. So they’re not going away any time soon. But when a powerhouse brand like Canyon makes a thoughtful, deliberate decision to put more progressive geometry on a price-point bike, it gives ya some hope for where the industry is headed. Not just one where more riders have better bikes, but one where we can finally get rid of flip chips.