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Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 8.0 eTap review

22 May 2020
Verdict:

Highly capable road bike for road races, gran fondos or just fast and comfortable summer rides

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Value for money • Stiff and light • Comfortable
Against 
Aero handlebar limits easy fit adjustment • Starting to show its age compared to more modern rivals

The Canyon Ultimate CF SLX has been the mainstay of the German direct-sales brand's race bike lineup for many years. It has been ridden to Grand Tour and World Championship success and this latest version, first introduced in 2015 and updated with disc brakes in 2017, introduced a lighter frame with an aerodynamic makeover.

But in the face of rapid technological development in the road bike market does the Ultimate still cut it?

 

Think of a capable all-rounder and you arrive at the Ultimate. It’s a bike designed to excel in the mountains where weight and stiffness matter, to the cobbles where handling and comfort are priorities. And with the build of the pictured test bike, add sprints and heroic breakaways too.

Away from racing it’s an obvious choice for cyclists seeking a fast, light and comfortable road bike whether for racing or tackling a big summer gran fondo.

Buy now from Canyon for £5,099

A wide range of builds awaits your browsing time on the Canyon website. This Sram Force eTap AXS groupset and DT Swiss wheelset-equipped model costs a tickle over £5,000 and is generously equipped, to put it mildly. You can spend less. The CF SL range provides the same frame with a different carbon fibre layup to increase affordability. And at the other end of the scale, if you’re feeling flush there’s always the Ultimate CF Evo Disc that we tested last year.

 

Handling and speed

Some might say the Ultimate is showing its age alongside more recently updated bikes like the Cannondale SuperSix Evo or Giant TCR Advanced, but the way the Canyon rides is enough to pour water on the flames of discontent.

Ever since I rode the Ultimate at its launch back in 2015 it has always shown itself to be one of the best handling bikes in this fiercely competitive category, and what was clear to me all those years ago is still clear on this 2020 model. The steering is calm, the bike feels balanced, there’s an easy charm to the Ultimate.

Canyon uses the same geometry across the entire Ultimate range, so you are getting the same treatment as the pros, which is a nice touch - no diluting of the race focus for the consumers here. And this is a bike that has Grand Tours and World Championships on its palmarès so if it’s good enough for the world’s best, it’s probably fine in your hands.

On my local roads where the gradient ebbs and flows along the Cotswold escarpment, the Ultimate manages to feel planted and stable with a generous turn of speed.

There’s not much that unsettles the Ultimate. At any speed and through any sort of corner, the Ultimate has all the predictability you need in a road bike to make rapid progress. It’s sharp and focused without requiring the reactions of a fruit fly to keep it going where you want.

 

Speed builds easily with the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 8.0 eTap. Open up the taps on a rolling road and the stiff frame and deep-section wheels will see your speed ratchet up with alarming but endlessly satisfying urgency.

Giving the Ultimate such deep wheels and an aero handlebar might seem strange given it’s not a pure aero frame, but it gifts the bike copious amounts of speed whilst maintaining the sprightliness on climbs that it the core appeal of the Ultimate. It’s a combination that suits UK roads.

Stiffness to weight ratio is key with race bikes and with an 850g frame weight for this disc brake variant and clear high levels of stiffness, climbing ability comes naturally to the Ultimate. If you like ascending, the agility, speed and sharpness will naturally reward.

Buy now from Canyon for £5,099

Out of the saddle, you can certainly detect the stiffness of the frame with every ounce of your energy being converted into forward motion with no apparent wastage.

There’s also a reasonable nod towards aerodynamic efficiency. With a downtube carrying an aero optimised profile along with a narrow head tube and skinny fork blades and topped with Canyon’s own all-carbon one-piece aero handlebar, you have a bike that cuts cleanly through the air. It’s not aero like the company’s dedicated aero bike the Aeroad, but every little helps when you’re on the rivet.

 

Comfort

Traditionally comfort was never really a concern for road race bikes and their designers, but times have thankfully changed. The Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 8.0 eTap conveys a real sense of being able to handle scarred road surfaces with aplomb, not only shielding you from bigger impacts but also reducing the tiring buzz of an overly stiff and undamped bike.

The move to disc brakes has another advantage aside from the improved braking performance: tyre clearance. There’s space for up to 30mm tyres so even though it’s stocked with race-ready 25mm tyres, and excellent Schwalbe Pro Ones at that, switching to 28mm tyres revealed another layer of comfort that readily opens up the Ultimate to cyclists looking to cover long distances at speed and with a plushness lacking in many race bikes.

 

Components

This is a seriously well-equipped bike and bang for buck has long been Canyon’s forte. With this £5,099 model, you get the latest Sram Force eTap AXS 12-speed groupset, combining wireless gear shifting with hydraulic disc brakes, 48mm deep DT Swiss ARC 1400 Dicut wheels and quality rubber in Schwalbe’s Pro One tyres.

Combine a super-light frame with aero wheels and you have a compelling package. This line of DT Swiss ARC wheels have been developed with aero experts Swiss Side. To say they are fast would be a massive understatement, there’s no doubt that they inject a lot of potential pace into the Ultimate.

The 48mm depth strikes a good balance between straight-line speed, handling and stability in strong winds. They’re also acceptably light at 1,555g for the pair, but the 17mm internal width is a little narrow by modern standards especially if you want to embrace the wider tyre clearance the Ultimate boasts.

Sram’s latest Force eTap AXS groupset brings all the 12-speed wireless technology down from the range-topping Red groupset to a more accessible price point. In this groupset, you have a different approach to gearing - a 10-28t cassette and 48/35t chainset - which might sound odd on paper but out on the road and the hilly terrain of my part of the Cotswolds, it works extremely well.

There’s no adjustment needed if you’re coming from Shimano or Campagnolo, just get on and ride. The range - roughly a match for a 52/36t and 11-28t setup - is adequate riding hilly riding terrain. The only real difference I found is that you seem to spend more time in the big ring.

Ratios aside, shifting is intuitive and crisp and the brakes firm and powerful. I do like the single button on each side for going up and down the cassette.

Power meters have long been an expensive upgrade but one comes ready fitted on this Canyon. The neatly integrated Quarq power meter seamlessly connects to any Bluetooth or ANT+ enabled device and provides consistent power measurement. If you want to get the most out of your training and riding a power meter is an invaluable tool, and to not have to drop a lot of coin on an aftermarket device sweetens the appeal of this Canyon.

 

One-piece handlebars are becoming all the rage on aero bikes, the Ultimate is one of the few regular road bikes to be specced with such a handlebar. In this case it’s the CP10 Aerocockpit CF, an all-carbon affair with a sleek and aero optimised design. It’s a surprisingly comfortable handlebar, both in the shape and its ability to not transmit every single vibration to your hands.

If there’s a downside it’s that you can’t easily change the stem length if you need, so that might be something you’ll need to speak to Canyon about if you fall outside of the 90mm length stem and 390mm handlebar width dimensions on this medium bike. Narrow handlebars I’m fine with, but the stem is at least 20mm too short for me.

The Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 8.0 eTap is finished off with the excellent Schwalbe Pro One tyres, fast-rolling and grippy, and a Fizik Antares saddle.

 

Summary

Any doubts the Ultimate is showing its age against more modern rivals prove unfounded when you ride it, with a turn of performance that is truly and deeply impressive. Add the smart blue paint job and considerable equipment for the money and you have a highly capable road bike that will excel whether your ambitions is to go road racing, compete in a gran fondo or just want a fast and comfortable bike for long summer rides.

The only niggle is getting the right handlebar if your fit requires a different length stem.

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

Price: 
£5,099

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