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Canyon Speedmax CF SLX 9.0 SL LTD review

5 Sep 2017

It doesn’t get any faster than Canyon’s range topping time trial speed machine

Cyclist Rating: 
Fast, fun, and full of wonders
Minor practical niggles, geared toward triathlon

The Canyon Speedmax CF SLX 9.0 SL LTD looks just about as quick as a bike possibly can. With a hefty dose of integration, a tron-like paint scheme and a sharp aerodynamic form, if the Speedmax is half as fast as it looks Canyon is on to a winner.

Time trial bikes are complicated beasts, though, and even the wind tunnel data doesn’t tell the whole story. A bike has to have the stiffness to capitalise on power output, and the comfort, handling and stability to deal with different surfaces, technical turns and wind conditions.

My first impression was that the Canyon managed that, but let’s start with the opening act – the bike’s speed.

Max speed

The Speedmax is undoubtedly a fast frame. Time trial specialists Alex Dowsett and Tony Martin have both performed wonders aboard it, with the former setting the Hour Record on a track-adapted equivalent of the previous generation of the Speedmax. 

But, of course, it’s cyclists that are quick, and not bikes. The Speedmax has been developed with aerodynamic testing and CFD, Canyon claims.

However, the clearest gains in aerodynamics are probably from the general integration and neatness of the build, both of which were both updated substantially with the new iteration of the Speedmax.

First things first, the majority of developments in the Speedmax appeal mainly to the tri market. Much of the design changes over the previous Speedmax were intended to increase storage space and usability.

That’s in line with a general trend amongst time trial bikes to appeal more to the lucrative triathlon scene, leading many bikes to no longer be UCI compliant.

The Speedmax 9.0 thankfully is still in line with UCI rules.

Notably, the lower spec 8.0 comes with a conventional braking setup, albeit with Shimano’s direct mount brakes rather than traditional dual-pivot brakes.

That’s a big advantage in terms of maintenance and the ease of switching wheels for training purposes for those not counting gains by the microsecond.

In terms of flat out speed, official data aside, I found the Speedmax to be blisteringly fast, and that much showed up in my own analysis.

I found it faster than both the Trek SpeedConcept and the Giant Trinity that I tested for some time. The latter also had a rear Zipp Super-9 disc during my time with it.

I was able to compare it only on two courses with previous long-term time trial testers. I didn’t achieve a PB in either, but on both runs I was shocked at the comparative speed on the Speedmax compared to fairer conditions and fitter form. 

On one closed-circuit track TT I came in 25 seconds off my best over a technical 10.3 mile distance in poor conditions. My power numbers were also down by close to 25 watts on my best.

Comparative estimates on speed can be tough, but crucially against longstanding rival time triallists I found my speed to be at the very least up to my best on previous bikes, and on all accounts slightly faster.

That increase in speed isn’t purely down to aerodynamic superiority, indeed I suspect the Giant Trinity would be tough in pure aerodynamic terms, but rather the fit leant itself to a wider range of positions.

Where the Trinity boasted a tall headtube, the Speedmax has a small and traditionally short front end. For me that was a big gain.

Comforting thoughts

While comfort is rarely at the forefront of a time triallist or triathlete’s concerns, it can often make a big difference not only to enjoyment but also to speed.

On many sporting courses in the south of England, for instance, some compliance against the rough terrain on skinny tyres can make a big difference to the ability to apply power.

The Speedmax has achieved that comfort partly through siding for a relatively thin seatpost, thinner than most time trial bikes and even aero road bikes.

Canyon justify this aerodynamically on the grounds that the hip movements around the seatpost are such that deep cross-section does little for the overall package. The benefit is a more flexible seatpost.

That level of flex means that rather than lifting myself tentatively off the saddle through the roughest terrain, I was able to push more confidently and maintain power and position.

In terms of handling and general ride character, the Speedmax maintains a lot of the DNA of the rest of the Canyon family. I’d categorise it as sitting neatly between being responsive enough and stable enough when descending and cornering.

Practical gains

The integration of the front end will, rightly, put many people off the Speedmax as a build for a first-timer to time trial. That is because it means newcomers won’t be able to experiment with position quite as much as a traditional build.

That said, the Speedmax does offer an admirable level of customisation.

When buying the bike, Canyon offers a free of charge selection between S-Bend and J-Bend extension bars, and between a standard 65mm stem or longer 85mm option.

That makes a big difference in changing the fit to match a tuned position. 

Indeed, I was confident that the ability to really dial in a low and fast position is the main reason I was able to see gains in speed from the Speedmax.

The front stack looks intimidating but isn’t too difficult to change, and I was happily able to experiment with front end height.

The headset is typically fiddly for a Canyon, who have historically favoured unusual headset tightening systems.

For the Speedmax a set of tiny grub screws beneath the fairing behind the stem is the means for tightening the headset, which took a reference to the owner’s manual to work out.

The top tube storage systems, though aimed at triathlon, were highly convenient for placing an inner tube and canister.

Equally I was glad that the specced Zipps were both clincher wheels. Mixing a 404 on the front and an 808 on the back is also a nice touch, but again more suitable for triathlons as a time triallist will probably quickly opt to upgrade to a rear disc.

Ultimately I was left with the impression that the Speedmax was a blisteringly fast bike that I found extremely agreeable in riding terms.

Perhaps some rival brands do more impressive work with the pure science of aerodynamics, but the Speedmax fits usability and rideability in well with speed.

Having come down in price by £1,2000 it now also boasts affordability, as much as a seven grand bike can be called affordable.

Additional riding photography by Wayne Meek

Canyon Speedmax CF SLX 9.0 Ltd

Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace 9150 Di2
Wheels: Zipp 404 NSW front/808 NSW rear
Finishing kit: Canyon H26 CF Basebar, Canyon E192 AL extensions, Canyon V19 AL Aero stem, Canyon S31 seatpost, Fizik Ardea saddle
Weight: 8.56kg
Price: £8,199 approx as pictured


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