The Bike List

Canyon Spectral AL 7.0 EX 2015

Tested by Marc Abbott

Review

Canyon's Spectral AL 7.0 EX sits midway up the firm's trail-smashing aluminium long-travel range of mountain bikes, and - like its 8.0 EX counterpart - is one of the first to feature SRAM's game-changing single-chainring X1 chainset. The combination of this simple drivetrain, affordable price tag and largely high-end components make this bike one to plump for if your 120mm trail bike can no longer cope with the hammering you're giving it.

Our test riding was undertaken in mainly springtime slop at our local trail centre, where a combination of super-steep uphill switchbacks, rolling singletrack and technical, jumpy sections showed it really is head and shoulders above something like Canyon's own 27.5in-wheeled Nerve AL in terms of aggression and handling aplomb.

First things first - the chainset. A 34-tooth single SRAM X1 chainring up front keeps weight down and gear selection simple. Selecting any of the 11 ratios from the whopping 10-42 cassette is a simple matter of pushing on either of the two right-hand-bar-mounted thumb shifters (the nearest to you for an easier gear, the furthest for a harder ratio). There's plenty of range here for the steepest of hills, although prolonged seated climbs provoked a certain amount of bobbing from the rear end.

Despite the single-ring set-up, the Spectral still employs an e.thirteenXCX+ chainguard, for added insurance against shipping your chain. Cliche though it may sound, SRAM's X1 system takes all the thinking out of shifting. The 34 is arguably a little hard to push for prolonged periods, although smaller chainrings from the range are available if you really feel the need to upgrade at a later date.

On the trails, you're treated to all the sharp steering and stiffness that a tapered steerer usually offers, along with high-rise 760mm Canyon bars that give impressive leverage. Allied to the firm's in-house 50mm stem and short top tube, the frame geometry offers a compact, responsive set-up that allows you to make the most of the excellent suspension.

And setting up that suspension is simple, thanks to Canyon's fitment of SRAM's RockShox Pike RC SA forks with a single-air (hence the SA) system. To set your sag, all you need to do is unscrew the single Schrader valve on the left-hand fork leg and set to it with a shock pump. This single inlet fills both fork chambers, ensuring consistent damping.

Adjustability is there in spades, with three-speed compression damping (open, pedal and lock), plus low-speed compression. It's a bit of a pig having no separate switch-driven lockout, as locking out the forks does take a little longer than usual. But if anyone tells you that 150mm of travel isn't enough for them, you're probably talking to Danny Hart. The initial hit on the Pike unit when landing a jump is supple, controlled and fuss-free. 120mm will do you just fine for most singletrack, but in the varied arena of a trail centre, the 150s really come into their own when tracking rocky sections and landing drop-offs.

At the rear, the Spectral AL wears a RockShox Monarch RT3 DebonAir shock, which offers supreme traction when reacting to successive small bumps as well as it does when cack-handedly overcooking higher-altitude landings. The wheel stays in contact with the ground for longer, which gives you a feeling of ultimate control, no matter what your skill level. The initial length of the shock's stroke is also sublimely damped, meaning there's very little choppiness to be felt.

Completing the handling jigsaw, and really making life in the trail centre a joy, are four-piston brakes that grip a 200mm front disc, which modulate accurately when finesse is required, or stop you on a sixpence when it's all gone a bit wrong (this tends to happen quite a lot with me). Rubber from Maxxis is used on SRAM's Roam 30 27.5in allloy wheels. A high-volume High Roller II front and Ardent EXO TR rear offer serious traction (especially when the trails were at their sloppiest) as they can be run at very low pressure. The wheels are at the lower end of SRAM's range, but they still felt light enough for us, when changing direction swiftly in berms or when a swift manual was needed to glide over a bump. RockShox's Reverb Stealth dropper post is operated by a thumb button above the gear shifters, and makes attacking downhills even more of a blast. Apply seated pressure to the seat with the button depressed and it drops to its bottom-most position putting the saddle out of the way when you need to adjust your body position further back for steep descents or balls-out 'attack mode' runs. Another push of the button returns the seatpost to its original position when you need to sit down again.

If you're considering shelling out for the Spectral, you'll be pleased to hear that Canyon's sizing is fairly accurate, but it's worth going through the motions with the firm's online fit guide (make sure you've a tape measure and a willing helper handy). Like all the brand's bikes, it's only sold direct to the UK via the company's website, so there's no option to try it for size at a showroom. (Get along to one of the country's big bike shows this autumn, however, and you'll get a chance to sit on one.) The Spectral AL 7.0 EX comes in XS, S, M, L and XL variations, and in the stealth black we tested, or infinitely flashier (yet easier to get filthy) chrome red and black.

In terms of the bike's overall performance, it honestly turned me into a riding god. Or at least that's how it felt. My times improved with every run (mainly because I usually struggle to engage my brain quickly enough to get my gearing spot-on when riding off-road with multiple chainrings), and my confidence soared with each lap. At a claimed 12.6kg all-up, the Spectral is a lighter offering than something like a Giant Trance 27.5, but despite costing £200 more knocks this rival into the next county when it comes to the level of spec (the Giant doesn't even feature a dropper post, let alone the go-to Reverb unit). And with a pricetag just above £2000, if the places you ride are testing your bike more than they're testing your ability, the AL 7.0 EX really does represent the next level of trail-tamer..

At a glance

Verdict Ride-flattering for anyone, but best suited to hard riding trail centres with plenty of downhill, and big jumps. Consider this bike if your skills and choice of terrain are outgrowing your 120mm forks.
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Performance

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