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Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Aero review

10 Oct 2018
Verdict:

What’s more ultimate than ultimate? The Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Aero, of course. All of the performance, without the cost

Price: 
£5,399

The Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Aero is a bike used in the WorldTour and by club riders alike. Its appeal covers such a range of riders thanks to its performance at a more affordable cost.

Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Aero review

National stereotyping and bike reviews, like love and marriage in Frank Sinatra’s famous Number, seem to go together like a horse and carriage. German bikes, for instance, are routinely described as clinical, ruthless and efficient, reflecting our commonly held views of the country itself and its people.

But while German brand Canyon’s creations are indeed all of those things, Canyon’s story has more in common with Romantic artisans than mass-production monoliths.

In the 1980s brothers Roman and Franc Arnold would tour the country, Roman pedalling his bike in races, Franc peddling his wares at the roadside from his trusty trailer.

Over time that trailer grew into a bike shop, that bike shop into a wholesaler and that wholesaler into an upstart brand.

I say ‘upstart’ because Canyon was one of the first to eschew the traditional bricks and mortar approach for a direct sales model, cutting out the dealer, cutting prices and taking the industry in a new direction – one that unsurprisingly has proved very popular with consumers.

But it’s not been entirely plain sailing. Earlier this year Roman Arnold was compelled to issue a public apology to customers over late deliveries and questions over service. Happily, Canyon says these problems have been ironed out and it’s shipping 500 bikes a day worldwide.

Quite which bikes is unclear, but I’d hazard to say anyone that’s receiving the latest Ultimate CF SLX will have the broadest smile of all. If there was ever a bike worth the wait, it’s this one.

The light fantastic

The Ultimate has been a mainstay of the Canyon range for over a decade, having been one of the first real-world evolutions of the Project 3.7, a fully roadworthy concept bike Canyon showcased in 2004.

The brainchild of renowned German bike designer Hans-Christian Smolik, the Project 3.7 weighed a staggeringly light 3.784kg, thanks to an 818g F10 Ultimate carbon fibre frame and a series of fully custom parts made by Smolik, including 8g shift levers, a 823g wheelset and a 138g seat and saddle ensemble.

Smolik passed away in 2010, but his ideas resonate in Canyon’s latest Ultimate, an elegantly engineered 6.66kg bike. The secret behind this weight is a 780g frame and a 295g fork, along with neat tweaks such as the 33g Acros headset and 350g one-piece Aerocockpit stem and bar ( 100mm stem, 410mm bars). From the off I was impressed by how light and lively it felt. And fast. And comfortable.


Mission accomplished

According to Sebastian Jadczak, Canyon’s road development director, the brief for the Ultimate was simple: preserve the stiffness-to-weight ratio of its predecessor while reducing drag by 10% and increasing compliance by 10%. Canyon’s done that and then some.

‘The Ultimate has 7.4% less drag as a frameset, 12.9% when combined with the Aerocockpit handlebars, and is 15% more comfortable than the previous Ultimate,’ claims Jadczak. ‘The stiffness to weight is maintained.’ 

Those aero figures are based on drag at 45kmh, which seems to have become the industry standard for comparison, and was measured in a wind-tunnel using a leg dummy affectionately named ‘Ferdy’ (so called after the student who designed it).

That’s still not as fast as Canyon’s true aero-road offering, the Aeroad, which Jadczak says is 10% quicker again than the Ultimate ‘provided it has bottles in the cages’ but nonetheless it’s an impressive theoretical advance. In real terms I was hard pushed to notice a standout aero advantage, save for the way the bike carried its speed overall, which I’d attribute as much to the superb Zipp 303 wheels as anything else. 

With the stiffness-to-weight ratio maintained but overall weight reduced, the implication is that the frame is less stiff. Yet the fact remains it was stiff enough for me at 80kg and 5ft 11in, particularly up front where the one-piece bars did an admirable job of not only looking sleek and seamlessly housing the Di2 wiring, but also of feeling comfortable and dampening road buzz.

To decrease drag Canyon has thinned the down tube and given the head tube an hourglass shape, which it concedes does have the effect of inhibiting stiffness. To counter this, it has beefed up the top tube, which many manufacturers are making as narrow as possible, leading to the disjointed feeling of a frame that flexes too readily front to back under big efforts. Not so here. On every ride I was struck by just how cohesive the Ultimate felt. It’s expertly balanced, with enough flex to track corners nicely but a stiffness that runs evenly through the frame. This affords the Ultimate a predictable character that allowed me to push my limits, particularly on descents, without having to worry about how the bike would cope. 

A sweet ride

It’s impossible to truly quantify comfort objectively – if you could the sofa salesmen at DFS would be doing it – so I tend to ignore figures provided by manufacturers claiming to do just that. The proof is in the pudding, and in this case the pudding is like a good crème brûlée: stiff on the face of it but with a soft underbelly. The Ultimate presents a solid enough perch for accurate cornering and seated efforts, but one that flexes appreciably on bigger hits and does an excellent job of nullifying road buzz. 

To achieve this Canyon has rethought how a seatpost interacts with a frame. Gone is the traditional seat collar, replaced by a 4mm grub screw located on the back of the seat tube between the seatstays. When tightened, this bolt pushes up against the back of the seatpost, securing everything in place. Placing the clamp so far down the seat tube means there’s more seatpost to bend, which means more shock-absorbing comfort.

Of course, this extra portion of seatpost is slotted inside the seat tube, so to allow it some room to flex Canyon has deployed an elastomer sleeve that, for want of a better word, ‘squishes’ under load. It’s a system that doesn’t require crazy tube shapes or special seatposts, yet does a highly effective job of dulling that fatiguing edge from the rumble of the road. 

I’m not sure how this system stacks up in the lab against the competition, but in subjective terms it’s pretty far off the level of flex and comfort offered by the Trek Domane or Pinarello Dogma K8-S, yet a huge step up compared to almost any other road frame.

Plus, you won’t even notice it’s there. The grub screw is covered by a neat silicone stopper, and doing without the traditional collar makes for a wonderfully smooth set of tube junctions that will have fellow riders wondering if your bike is held together by witchcraft. 

It’s all icing on the top of a nigh-on exemplary cake. It could be stiffer but, for now, this is as close to all-round bicycle perfection as you’re likely to find. And we haven’t even begun to discuss the price compared to its rivals…

Model Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Aero
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Deviations Shimano Di2 Remote Sprint Shifters
Wheels Zipp 303 Firecrest clinchers
Finishing kit Canyon HII Aerocockpit CF

Canyon S13 VCLS CF seatpost

Fizik Antares R5 saddle

Weight 6.66kg (M)
Price £5,399
Contact canyon.com

This bike review first appeared on Cyclist.co.uk in August 2016

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