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Canyon Grail AL 7.0 review

10 Jun 2020
Verdict:

The Grail AL 7.0 is proof that fun doesn’t cost a fortune: this £1,699 bike provided me with more joy than almost any superbike

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Amazing value for money • Versatile • Fun • Comfortable
Against 
None as of yet

The Canyon Grail AL is a bike that may just have saved my sanity. That may sound a bit extreme and a touch melodramatic, but I think – actually I know – it’s true. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic (if I had a quid for every time I’ve written that recently) has seeped into every facet of our lives and caused immeasurable destruction and devastation.

For me, and probably many others, the biggest problem has been dealing with how my sense of independence and freedom was stripped away literally overnight. I realise that’s not a scratch on the experiences of others, but the impact of this unique period on our lives is undeniable.

At times, it has felt like the walls are closing in and I’ve often mistaken myself for Bill Murray, the days rolling into one, indistinguishable Groundhog Day blob.

I have at various points found myself becoming insular – allowing myself to be consumed by it all – and it has proved quite the challenge to bring the head back above the parapet for perspective at times.

Except, that is, when I have been riding my bicycle. Distil down the reason why we all ride bikes and it is for the sense of unadulterated freedom and independence it gives you. The wind flowing through your hair, the ability to go where you want and when you want, something we've all been deprived of as of late.

Buy the Canyon Grail AL 7.0 for £1,699

So with that as background, I'll say that the Canyon Grail AL has been like the little pressure-release on top of those Sistema microwaveable Tupperware pots for me, a way to briefly forget the world.

Riding this cheap and cheerful aluminium gravel bike, I was given the absolute freedom and independence that I’ve so craved for these past 12 weeks. It has made me feel like a kid again.

From the gravel climb that leads me to a beautiful view of Shoreham’s Lavender Fields that I had to partially walk up because it was too steep even for a 30-34 gear, to the empty Thames gravel path that I skidded along in the early hours with not a soul around, the Grail AL has been the perfect tonic during what has probably been the most testing period of my life so far. It helps that it also happens to be a very good bike.

Simple gravel solutions

To put it simply, the Canyon Grail AL 7.0 is the pared-down, cheaper, aluminium twin of the all-singing, all-dancing carbon fibre Grail CF SLX.

They're not identical twins, mind. You’ll know the CF SLX best for that ‘quirky’ double-decker handlebar introduced back in 2018, a divisive design that is as undeniably comfortable as it seems over-engineered.

The Grail AL 7.0 is ‘entry-level’ and therefore is afforded a standard set of Canyon’s own aluminium Ergobars. These are coupled with an alloy frameset and a pair of basic, albeit bombproof, DT Swiss C 1850 Spline wheels.

 

Slap on Shimano’s GRX RX600 2x gravel groupset and some chunky 40mm Schwable G-One Bite tyres and you’ve got a 9.39kg gravel bike costing an impressively competitive £1,699. And for me, that still classes as an entry-level price – considering the state of the bicycle market.

Rather than incorporating a fancy suspension system like the Specialized Diverge’s Futureshock 2.0, Cannondale’s LockR pivot system or even the Grail CF SLX’s double handlebar, the Grail AL has just relied on the age-old method of relaxed geometry and using chunky tyres for comfort and control.

On a size medium, the Grail’s wheelbase is a reasonable 1,035mm – long enough to give me all the stability I could want without snatching away the snappy handling you need when descending on the road. Canyon also offsets the longer wheelbase with a shorter 80mm stem that certainly helps to retain a sense of responsive handling.

 

The 40mm Schwable G-One Bite tyres are another great balancing act. There was one ride when I took the Grail onto a particularly gnarly section of singletrack. It was covered with tree roots and the floor mainly consisted of sand, the sort of terrain that usually sees your wheels skittle beneath you no matter how much power you're chucking out. The G-One Bite tyres made light work of it.

In fact, they responded so well to sandy surfaces, I purposefully made a beeline for the sandier parts of a local byway on the way home. Sure, I came off but that’s more testament to my bike-handling and carefree attitude than to the quality of the rubber beneath me.

Given the heavy tread, you’d expect them to roll poorly on tarmac but I actually found the opposite.

They rumbled fine on smooth surfaces and the added comfort probably helped me ride harder. It also likely helped that at just 9.39kg fully built, the Grail is no heavier than most entry-level alloy road bikes and therefore presented little difference in performance uphill.

Another bonus is that Canyon supplies the Grail AL as tubeless out of the box. It allowed me to really dial down the pressures which let me take on a whole new world of terrain without fear of puncturing.

The tubeless system also underlines the versatility of the Grail. Realistically, this bike can be and will be used beyond being an off-road hack. Cyclist editor Pete Muir actually owns one of these very bikes and it functions as a commuter bike – or at least it did when the office was open.

On his 45-minute or so ride to work, there is no off-roading, just plenty of busy London streets and the odd bit of broken glass. But it does the job, it keeps him plenty comfortable on his way to and from work. And because you can fit mudguards despite the relatively chunky 40mm tyres, he managed to get to and from work without a soggy bottom too.

Buy the Canyon Grail AL 7.0 for £1,699

Mr Muir did purchase the 1x Sram Force version, however, an option I would myself would also recommend.

And look, while I’m a fully paid-up member of the ‘2x road club’, I appreciate the benefits of a 1x groupset for an off-road rig. There’s just less that can go wrong with 1x (especially when it comes to the issue of chucking the chain, which I admittedly did experience here with the Grail), fewer components to keep maintained and also the pertinence for those bigger gears is pretty redundant, too.

 

But beyond that, I cannot really much fault in the Canyon Grail AL.

To be honest, it’s probably quite fortuitous of the Grail to land on my doorstep when I was seeking a sense of freedom and independence so readily. Realistically, I could have probably been afforded that by most gravel bikes on the market currently.

But I didn’t just get any bike, I got a bike that has proved to be incredibly fun, liberating and versatile without being incredibly expensive, a true godsend in more ways than one.

Spec

Frame Grail AL 7.0
Groupset      Shimano GRX RX 600
Brakes Shimano GRX hydraulic disc
Chainset Shimano GRX 46/30
Cassette Shimano GRX 11-34
Bar-stem Canyon Ergobar AL
Seatpost Canyon SP0043 VCLS CF
Saddle Selle Italia X3
Wheels DT Swiss C 1850 Spline db tubeless, Schwable G-One Bite (40mm)  
Weight 9.39kg (54cm)
Contact canyon.com

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

Price: 
£1,699