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First ride review: Canyon Inflite CF SLX

22 Aug 2017
Verdict:

A race-ready machine designed for performance both on and off road

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£3,599
For 
Lightweight and stiff frame, plenty of mud clearance and large range of sizes
Against 
The wonky top tube just doesn't do it for my classic tastes

When Canyon product manager Julian Biefang presented the Inflite CF SLX to a table full of journalists last week, he made sure to emphasise one word, performance. It was the start of most answers to most of our questions.

What size mudguards can you fit? You can't, performance. Why have you chosen tubeless tyres? Performance. What's the wonky top tube about? Performance.

Such was the confidence of the performance in this all-carbon cyclocross bike from Canyon, that they decided to take us to trails that, on a more humble occasion, would be considered a stretch for a cyclocross bike.

The playground we were given was the Devil's Punchbowl. A large natural amphitheatre in Hinhead, Surrey, the insidious name matches the wicked nature of the trails it lays home to. A myth no doubt exists to explain the landscape and its name.

Our local guide was quick to mention its picturesque vistas had led to films such as Skyfall and Gladiator utilising the views to shoot grand Hollywood pictures.

On land owned by her majesty's army, the rolling terrain offers every surface familiar to cross. Sand, mud, tree roots, grass and rocks were all on the agenda on the technical 20km loop around the Punchbowl.

For somebody with little cyclocross experience, this day should have been a nightmare, but thanks to the Canyon Inflite it was actually a lot of fun.

First things first

Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room. The top tube. An eye-sore for the purist, this kink in the carbon has been designed to make carrying the bike much easier.

When racing cross, speed and performance off the bike can be just as important as when on it and Caynon has directly addressed this. When running, the bike slid comfortably onto the shoulder, and with the increased distance between front wheel and down tube, the bike is no trouble at all when off of the floor.

Caynon's decision to push the boundaries of frame design impressed me. It knew that this wouldn't please the masses, of which I am one, but wanted to focus on performance, as Biefang constantly repeated, and this has been done.

Making the carrying of the bike easier is a no-brainer. When I first saw pictures of the bike, I was not a fan of this new design. However, when I saw this in person and used the kink for its purpose, it made sense.

Canyon is not interested in making a cyclocross bike to have people swooning over its press release. It wanted a bike that wins races and does everything possible to make this easier for the rider.

Race ready

Regardless of experience, a sandy descent causes worry to every cross rider. Part of the course could have been easily mistaken for Venice or Bondi Beach. The sand got so deep that admittedly, my bike handling skills failed me, and saw me hit the ground at 30kmh. Luckily, sand is a soft landing.

Despite my clear lack of skills, the Inflite felt stable when putting power down - of which I have less than I should - through sandpits and held its line well, following the tracks of bikes previous. Cornering through sand was also made easy, as the bike seemed to glide smoothly failing to jolt from underneath me.

Following the mountain bike trend, Canyon decided to shorten the stem and lengthen the top tube in a bid to increase stability and handling. Riding a 54cm frame, my H31 Ergocockpit Cf had a 90mm stem, 30mm shorter than what I ride on my road bike.

Weighing under 8kg, the bike also nipped up small inclines relatively easily, tackling longer climbs with similar simplicity. Being all carbon, the frame felt no different to a road frame, providing the zip wanted when out of the saddle. Being so light, the bike was also almost unnoticeable when being carried.

Our ride started off with a 3km climb at 4%, and thanks to Caynon's decision to fit the Inflite CF SLX with SRAM Rival CX1, this incline was no worry. With a 40t Quarq prime carbon single chainring and a 11-36 block on the rear, climbing was made simple and failed to have me grinding out of the saddle.

The course, although testing, didn't see us take on any extended climbs with steep pitches, but with this being a bike designed to be raced on, more forgiving gears would probably be redundant.

When riding around the 20km loop, one other notable aspect was the lack of mud and sand sticking to my frame. After an hours riding through some dense woodland, not once did I have to revert to scooping mud or sand off the bike to make it rideable again. This was due to no tubing on the Inflite having a straight edge.

No straight edge, means that mud and sand has less areas to cling onto, making the bike cleaner for longer. Certainly a plus for racing.

Whether this bike was being raced uphill or down, in deep mud or on hard clay, the Canyon Inflite seemed to prove its racing quality and will no doubt take its place in the professional ranks of cyclocross this Winter.

Cross is coming 

Canyon is plastered across the professional road cycling ranks. With Katusha-Alpecin and Movistar in the men's WorldTour and Canyon-SRAM in the women's WorldTour, we can rest assured they have broken the road market.

This bike does not have the option of applying mudguards, nor can you fit big commuting tyres. Biefang made it clear in his speech that this bike was not for commuting or ambling around your local park. It was for hardcore, fast racing.

To release a race-only cyclocross bike, unwraps some of the ambitions that are harboured back in Canyon's German headquarters.

Despite the constant prodding, Biefang didn't unveil any concrete plans to provide the Inflite for any of the world's leading cyclocross riders soon, but the wry smile from his face suggested that something was certainly in the pipeline.

Let's be clear, to establish your bike as a pure racing machine could be considered risky if it cannot be seen being raced. The best way to prove the worth of your bike in terms of racing is to have riders win races on it.

This reason, to me, suggests that when the cyclocross merry-go-round gets going on the 1st of January we will see one of the world's best cyclocross riders upon the Canyon Inflite.

Final thoughts

I am not the most experienced cyclocross rider, admittedly. Hitting sand was always 50-50 when it came to a potential crash for me. Luckily, I limited the amount of times I hit the floor to only four for the whole ride.

Yet, the quality of this bike gave me confidence that I otherwise would have not had. Rarely did I feel that I was completely out of control and when it came to the mud and rocky surfaces, it handled as well as any mountain bike.

Being one of my first ventures off road, I decided to use this test ride as a litmus test as to whether I would pursue further rides off of my usual home on the tarmac. A lot of this came down to my experience on the bike.

The Canyon Inflite ticked all the boxes on this first ride. Further testing and riding would be needed to give a definitive opinion on this bike as 21km is simply not enough but, from this first ride, I liked what I saw.

I'm not saying that Canyon has reinvented the wheel when it comes to cyclocross bikes but it has brought a bona fide race machine to the market.

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