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Canyon Ultimate WMN CF SLX Disc 9.0 Team CSR review

5 Dec 2017
Verdict:

Canyon's women-specific about-turn has resulted in a performance machine that's well thought out and fit for purpose

Price: 
£5,499

In the four years since British Cycling launched its women’s initiative, there has been a 72% increase in the number of women holding a race licence.

This is good news for bike manufacturers, especially those serving the performance end of the market.

Canyon has been a committed sponsor of professional women’s cycling since 2016, yet until now its women’s bikes were simply ‘unisex frames’ offered with gender-specific touches such as saddle and bar choice.

In May this year, however, the German brand launched its first women-specific frames engineered ‘100% around women who ride’.

The Ultimate WMN bikes feature what the company calls its women-specific Sport Pro geometry, and at the top of the new four-bike range is this Ultimate WMN CF SLX Disc 9.0 Team CSR, resplendent in the team colours of the Canyon/Sram professional women’s racing team.

And compared to many women’s bikes, this one features an impressively high spec, headlined by a Sram Red eTap HRD wireless groupset and Reynolds Assault LE Carbon wheels.

All change

These are interesting times in the women’s cycling market. In June this year, after nearly two decades spent flying the flag for women-specific geometry, Specialized ditched its women-specific Amira and launched a new, non-gender-specific Tarmac SL6 featuring ‘new performance geometry for people [not genders]’.

Canyon has taken the opposite approach and decided that women do need specific geometry, pointing to the differences between male and female riders.

Women tend to have shorter arms, shorter stature, lighter weight and greater pelvic flexibility, all of which necessitate a gender-specific platform, the company says.

The WMN geometry found on the Ultimate and Endurace models has a slightly higher stack and shorter reach versus Canyon’s male (sorry, unisex) equivalents.

On a size small Ultimate, this equates to a 5mm difference in stack and a 7mm shorter reach. On top of that the size range of the WMN frames is now greater, going down to a 3XS for women five feet and under.

Raising the front end and shortening the reach on women’s bikes has been de rigueur since Trek launched its 2200WSD in 2003.

What is new, however, is the size-specific attention to detail. On Canyon WMN bikes, sizes 3XS and 2XS are supplied with smaller 650b wheels – a solution to problems such as toe overlap, overly relaxed head angles and compromised handling that can arise when a small frame is paired with standard 700c wheels. 

Looking the part

I tested the Ultimate WMN CF SLX after many months off the bike through injury. Feeling a bit of a fraud and slightly embarrassed that I was riding a team replica bike designed for pros, I took the Ultimate on my local loop.

At 7kg the Ultimate WMN is a thoroughbred race bike, designed for speed. It is lighter and has slimmer tubes than the equivalent unisex model, with a very different carbon layup.

The justification for this is that women are lighter than men and that they produce less overall power, so don’t need such a robust set-up.

One big plus of the slimmed down tube profiles is improved aerodynamics, especially at the front end.

Canyon claims that the Ultimate WMN is 3% more aerodynamic than the unisex model, and while I can’t verify that figure, the bike certainly sliced through the air at high speed, making light work of the raging headwind that was my companion along the route.

My assumption was that this Ultimate ‘lite’ approach would result in some loss in stiffness, but this wasn’t the case. The bike was surefooted yet responsive and accelerated instantly, especially out of corners.

Having previously ridden Canyon’s Endurace WMN model and been impressed with the compliance of the frame I expected the Ultimate WMN to be a bumpier ride but it wasn’t, even on the rutted lanes of Surrey.

The 28mm tyres (which one Canyon mechanic says can be run as low as 60psi) floated over the potholes.

Despite the slightly more upright geometry, this Ultimate WMN still puts the rider in a fairly aggressive position that some women might find daunting.

For me, it’s something to celebrate because there are so few true race machines for women. The adjustments made to the front end and the reach are subtle and intelligent – just enough to make the bike comfortable, without moving it out of the performance arena.   

Dressed to thrill

This is a high-end bike with a pricetag that is five times the value of my car, so there is no room for compromises when it comes to the spec.

The 41mm Reynolds Assault LE Disc carbon wheelset is a thing of beauty, yet claims to be so versatile that even off-road riding is an option, although I didn’t test that theory myself.

Canyon has taken a leap and included disc brakes throughout the range. Two years ago, this would have been a risky move, but if discs are good enough for Marcel Kittel they’re probably good enough for me.

Worlds apart

Sure enough, I found the Sram Red eTap hydraulic disc brakes to be powerful yet easy to control and a world away from the binary braking performance offered by the rudimentary disc brakes of yesteryear.

Neat features of the braking system are the ‘Canyon-adjusted lever reach’ and the reduced diameter of the hoods, both designed to accommodate smaller hands and eliminate that heart-in-mouth feeling when the brakes are out of reach.

The sleekly curved H31 aero cockpit is impressive and annoying in equal measure (in that you’ll have to invest in yet another Garmin mount).

It weighs just 335g for the 42mm version, and it comes in size-specific widths. The standard integrated stem is 100mm, but Canyon allows you to specify the dimensions of the integrated stem and bar and swap it out when you buy.

To some this will be worth the effort in helping to nail down the perfect set-up, but others will consider it unnecessary faff for a few seconds of aero gain over a lifetime of cycling.

Despite the name being a bit of a mouthful, the Canyon Ultimate WMN CF SLX Disc 9.0 Team CSR is an outstanding and beautiful machine, and a 2018 version with a revised paintjob (but otherwise the same) was expected to launch at the end of November.

It’s a bike that will improve comfort and performance for many women riders, especially those who struggle to find smaller performance bikes. But let’s be clear, many men would favour this set-up too. Hey, if the bike fits…

Spec

Canyon Ultimate WMN CF SLX
Frame Carbon frame and fork
Groupset Sram Red eTap HRD
Brakes Sram Red eTap hydraulic discs
Chainset Sram Red eTap
Cassette Sram Red eTap
Bars Canyon H31 Ergocockpit
Stem Canyon H31 Ergocockpit
Seatpost Canyon S13 VCLS CF
Saddle SLS Lady Flow
Wheels Reynolds Assault LE
Weight 7.0kg
Contact canyon.com

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