We’re all guilty of stereotyping.
Using mental shortcuts to evaluate the world around us can be helpful at times, but it can just as easily lead us astray. My own preconceived notions across a variety of topics and situations have been proven wrong so many times now that I try my best to avoid making pre-judgements. And yet I find myself falling into the same old trap time and again.
“I don’t like bikes with 27.5″ wheels.”
$2,700 ($2,900 now) full suspension bike is okay, but a $5,000 bike will ride much, much better.”
Testing the Canyon Spectral for a couple of months this summer has forced me to reconsider what I think I know about trail bikes.
Breaking it in
Following the “on test” article we published back in June, I immediately spent some time dialing in the Spectral for bigger rides. For starters, my test bike shipped with tubes installed in the tires which is great for keeping air in them during shipping, but generally frustrating for most actual rides. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t bother checking the insides of the tires before a few early rides, resulting in a pinch flat in the rear that followed a square-edged rock hit.
Somehow my bike arrived without tubeless tire valves in the box, though I’m told this is unusual and easily fixed with a call to customer service. Fortunately the tires and rims are tubeless-ready, and I had no problem converting to tubeless with my own valve, sealant, and a regular floor pump.
Initially I planned on swapping out the flanged, G5 grips because, “I don’t do flanged grips.” (Yet another preconceived notion.) Well, I never got around to swapping the grips for another pair and along the way, I realized that I actually don’t mind the flanges on the G5s very much.
While the Spectral features mounts for a single water bottle inside the front triangle, mine didn’t come with the necessary bolts to attach a cage. Instead, rubber stoppers fill the threaded holes. I spoke with a Canyon representative who says the bolts, like the valves, should ship with the bike, and that replacements are available upon request.
About halfway through my testing, I swapped out the stock saddle for another, though only because I needed to test a different saddle and not because of any problem with the original.
Canyon upped the price on the Spectral AL 5.0 by two hundred bucks to $2,899 since my “on test” article a couple of months ago. With bikes in high demand at the moment, unfortunately, the Canyon website is showing all sizes of the bike are currently unavailable. Even with the extra $200, this bike still represents a great value.
For more info on geometry and the build I tested, start here.
Getting down to business
Coming off of testing the Niner RIP 9 which offers 150/140mm of travel front and rear, I figured the 150/160mm Canyon Spectral would also be overkill for my neighborhood and front-country rides. In fact, it was an absolute blast to ride everywhere I went, whether I was pedaling for miles or gripping and ripping fast descents.
Heading up the mountain, the Canyon Spectral front end feels surprisingly planted. The 66° head tube angle isn’t overly slack, and the 74.5° seat tube pushes your bodyweight forward to improve the overall balance. The upshot is a leading end that’s not prone to wandering, even at low speeds or low energy.
I tend to power up hills as quickly as my lungs allow, often in a gear that’s one click too stiff, and yet I noticed very little pedal feedback from the rear end. This is all the more surprising given how supple and responsive the suspension feels overall. Small bump sensitivity is excellent, planting the tires on technical climbs, and keeping the rider in the flow on rooty descents.
On narrow, tree-lined climbs with awkward switchbacks, the Spectral threads needles with aplomb. The 27.5″ wheels certainly contribute to the overall nimble handling of the bike, as do the reasonably short 430mm chainstays.
During the pandemic, I’ve been pedaling a bit farther than usual to access singletrack trails, and I’ve found the Spectral’s suspension platform is plenty efficient to knock out the miles. Heavier or more aggressive riders might find the stock EXO casings under-gunned, but the upshot is these lighter-weight tires are more pedal-friendly than others, yet still handle great in most conditions.
29ers are known to be more efficient than 27.5″ wheeled bikes when it comes to keeping the momentum going as the ride transitions into grind mode, but in my experience, the Spectral doesn’t suffer too much on this front. Unlike mountain bike racers, trail riders don’t really need to focus on a few seconds that bigger wheels might be able to shave off the ride anyway.
With 150mm of rear travel, Canyon manages to cram plenty of descending capability into this 4-bar suspension design. Riding rough, steep descents is a joy, and the bike tracks the terrain with great control. Setting up the rebound to my liking was simple, and I quickly found the sweet spot for small bump sensitivity. With this setup I wouldn’t take the Spectral to the bike park or attempt questionable landings, but I found the bike handled every reasonable demand I could make, even when those demands came unexpectedly.
The RockShox Pike Select may not be top-of-the-line, but I found its performance above reproach. Similarly, the RockShox Super Deluxe rear shock is incredibly smooth and responsive while offering plenty of adjustability for most riders.
As with many mountain bikes on the market, the lower linkage tends to be a bit of a red clay shelf. I didn’t experience any tire clearance issues associated with the duff stuff, though it does require a bit of regular cleaning between rides.
One concern I had going into the review was whether the bike would be quiet on the trail, particularly when descending fast and rough trails. It turns out the downtube cable channel is super effective at minimizing cable rattle, and everything else is as buttoned up and silent as one would expect from a much more expensive build.
Many riders have come to appreciate the consistent handling of the Maxxis Minion DHR II up front, and combined with an Aggressor out back the Spectral corners like a stickup man in a back alley. The 22mm bottom bracket drop gets the center mass low enough for excellent handling, without excessive pedal strikes.
The Canyon Spectral AL 5.0 build ships with SRAM Guide T brakes, and while the brakes boast a 4-piston design, they feel noticeably under-powered even for this trail bike. Still, they are lightweight and perform pretty consistently.
Sometimes bike stuff that looks good doesn’t necessarily work well, and I had my doubts about the Iridium dropper post and associated seat post collar. The whole thing looks a little too slick and plasticky, as if the post itself would slide inside the seat tube after a few good bumps. As it turns out the seat post gave me zero issues during my testing. The dropper post works well enough overall, though it’s not the fastest or smoothest I’ve tested.
Bikes in this price and suspension class are meant to be fun to ride, and on that count the Spectral overwhelmingly delivers. To use the cliché, the 27.5″ wheels add to the bike’s “playfulness,” and what that means in practice is the rider feels inclined to pop off more features; to try more progressive moves; and to avoid taking the ride too seriously.
Confronting stereotypes is often uncomfortable, and being wrong never feels great. Yet, there’s a big upside: it’s a great chance to learn something new.
No, I don’t have to have 29er wheels to go fast and to have fun. Yes, it is possible for a $3,000 full suspension bike to feel nearly identical to something much closer to the top of the line.
Don’t even get me started on the aluminum vs. carbon mountain bike frames.