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Canyon Grail:On electric gravel bike review

29 Oct 2020
Verdict:

The Canyon Grail:On is as fun as bikes get albeit with some faults. Photos - Patrik Lundin

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Fun • Great motor system • Able to take on testing terrain thanks to 50mm tyres
Against 
Frame slightly unforgiving • Heavy

I think bikes should be fun. Ultimately, the reason we all ride on two wheels – whether it is to commute or to race – is to experience that sense of fun we felt as a kid when we first learnt how to ride a bike.

This is the reason I am a fan of the Canyon Grail:On electric gravel bike. It has its faults: it could be considered to cater to a rather niche corner of the market and some will simply be put off by the motor.

But in merging the gravel and electric bike for the first time, Canyon has created in the Grail:On a bike that left a smile firmly planted on my face like no other.

Motor System

The reason this bike is so much fun is quite simple. It is because the Canyon Grail:On uses the Bosch Performance Line CX Gen4, the most powerful and accomplished motor system I have used on a bicycle to date.

It is a system that has been primarily designed for e-mountain bikes, not e-gravel bikes. It relies on 85Nm of torque to offer riders a whopping 340% of their own power output – capped to 25kmh – when used in Turbo mode, helping propel them over the steepest of off-road ascents.

That raw power does come at the price of weight with the 2.9kg Bosch motor and hefty accompanying battery built into the down tube being a heavier system than on most of the competition, but none of those rivals can quite boast the level of power the Bosch system is capable of.

When the system is used in Turbo – the punchiest of its four modes – it really does feel like a rocket has been attached to your saddle.

I felt as if when using the system in Turbo, no gradient was too steep for me and the assistance of such a punchy motor allowed me to easily explore terrain that would have been near unrideable on a regular gravel bike.

I say easily, although even in Turbo you are forced to put effort in. This is not a motorbike, after all, and you will only be rewarded with rapid ascents of steep gradients by pushing hard on the pedals. But nonetheless I was able to take on double-digit gravel gradients at the sort of speed you'd normally only associate with the likes of Mathieu van der Poel or Wout van Aert.

There is finesse attached to the Bosch Performance Line CX system, too, it’s not just all fireworks. While Sport mode is similar to that of Turbo, the Tour and Eco modes offer assistance in a completely different way.

Imagine yourself being pushed along by a gentle tailwind, and you'll have an idea of how these two modes feel. And with both these modes being much easier on the battery you can eke out over 120km of range on the Grail:On – terrain and rider weight dependent – a figure that is comfortably among the market leaders and which opens this makes this bike suitable for bikepacking and touring.

For more information on the Canyon Grail:On, visit Canyon here

A final word on the motor system goes to its ease of use, with the whole thing controlled by a clear-to-read head unit attached to the handlebars that constantly informs you of speed, mode and battery life, meaning you should never get caught short without any juice to get you home.

Frame and geometry

To the naked eye it does look as if Canyon has simply bolted a motor system onto its existing non-motorised Grail gravel bike.

Side by side, the geometry of the bikes is similar and their frames almost a mirror image barring the fatter down tube within which the Grail:On's battery is housed. However, Canyon has actually made notable changes.

Due to the 2.9kg motor system producing 85Nm of torque, Canyon has been forced into beefing up the Grail:On carbon frame. At points, the frame is 4mm thick in order to deal with the torsional stress produced by the motor.

Furthermore, with that weight anchored in the bike’s bottom bracket and down tube, the Grail:On has stretched its wheelbase out by a further 20mm, bumped up the stack and shortened the reach to keep that added bulk as centred as possible and negate any issues of instability for the rider.

These changes have created a very stable platform for ripping up pretty challenging terrain and provide a planted feel from which you can test yourself. That said, I did find that the hefty frame could be accused of being slightly unforgiving at points, especially when descending.

And let’s not ignore that, at 15.9kg, the Grail:On is heavier than the Ribble CGR ALe (13.6kg), Specialized Turbo Creo SL (13.3kg), Colnago eGRV GRX (12.5kg) and Trek Domane+ LT (14.9kg), indeed it is one of the heaviest e-gravel bikes available.

While that weight is negated when using the assistance of the motor, when pedalling the bike without it, things feel cumbersome and lethargic. To be fair that's much the case with all e-bikes when under human power alone, but it's more pronounced here.

Components

Contributing to that weight is the DT Swiss HG 1800 Spline gravel-specific wheelset. With a reinforced hub and high spoke count designed to deal with the stresses of such a powerful motor, these wheels are certainly robust, but they won't see you dancing out of the saddle or racing along the flats.

Luckily, however, there are no complaints to be had about the tyres: Chunky 50mm Schwable G-One Bites, ready to roll tubeless, and a full 10mm wider than those on the non-motorised Grail thanks to that tweaked geometry.

These tyres really instil the rider with the utmost confidence when taking on even the most questionable of terrain (for me, sand), constantly finding the traction to securely propel you on further and go in search of even more challenging trails.

Another inspired choice is for Canyon to design the Grail:On as 1x only with no provisions for a front mech. The spec I rode utilised a Sram Force AXS eTap 12-speed groupset, which when paired with the motor provided just the right range of gears while saving a few grams and being highly-dependablke to boot – the narrow-wide tooth profile of the chainring and clutched rear mech never let the chain drop.

Conclusion

Whenever we discuss e-bikes here at Cyclist we are inevitably met with the same repeated complaints in our comment sections. ‘They are cheating’, ‘They are just for old people who cannot ride normal bikes anymore’,’You may as well get a motorbike’, those age-old carry-ons.

I think the Canyon Grail:On is the bike that breaks that myth. This is just a bike for those looking to smile.

For more information on the Canyon Grail:On, visit Canyon here.

This bike is not perfect. It is heavy, it can be on the less comfortable side and I’m still not convinced by the double-decker 'Hover' handlebar, designed to flex in order smooth out rough terrain. But the motor truly is excellent, both in range and power, and the beefy tyres Canyon has specced do give superb confidence regardless of terrain, helping riders push the boundaries of what feels possible.

Then there's price: it’s also only £6,149 which is really quite affordable when considered against its competitors.

The Canyon Grail:On is quite simply some of the most fun I have ever had on two wheels, and if this is the direction the e-gravel market is going, I will happily follow.

Spec

Frame Grail:On CF
Groupset Sram Force eTap AXS 12-speed
Brakes Sram Force eTap AXS HRD
Chainset FSA BOS Gen4 Spider Boost (44t)
Cassette Sram Force XG-1370 12s 
Bars CP07 Gravelcockpit CF
Seatpost Canyon S15 VCLS 2.0 CF
Saddle Fizik Tempo Argo R3
Wheels DT Swiss Spline DB, Schwable G-One Bite 50mm tyres
Motor Bosch Perfomance Line CX Gen4
Weight 15.9kg (L)
Contact canyon.com

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

Price: 
£6,149