I always ask myself, when writing a bike review, what makes really makes the bike in question unique. With the Canyon Grail the answer is simpler than most. Components – like wheels, drivetrain, brakes and particularly tyres – aren’t exactly unique to a specific bike after all. Though there is undoubted skill in piecing all the components together to make a bike that is more than the sum of its parts. Not to mention beating the competitors at the same specification level on price.
Canyon make the task of reviewing the features that set the Grail range apart from the rest of the gravel bikes on the market easy. It’s not just about the frame. It’s the frame, unique handlebar and the split seat post. Plus of course how the three work together with the Canyon engineers’ component choices.
The stand-out feature, or at the very least the most eye catching is the double-decker handlebar. Dubbed the hover bar by the cycling media Canyon call it the CP07 Gravelcockpit. On the 2019 Canyon Grail CF SLX 8.0 Di2 I rode the CP07 Gravelcockpit was constructed form Canyon’s CF grade carbon.
The double-decker bar features a top level, with a flex area of reduced diameter, for comfort; as well as a bottom level which is ultra-stiff, for control. Brake hoods and shifters are located, as you’d expect, on the curvature of the drops. When riding on the hoods the bar is stiff and provides pin-point steering accuracy. As is the case when riding with your hands in the drops; which is ideal for hammering away in an aero position or when descending.
It is only when you ride with your hands on the tops that you get any benefit from the flex area. Gripping the plush Ergospeed Gel tape you can just about feel the flex when seated. When standing and putting a bit more weight through your hands the flex is more apparent.
Given the flex is noticeable I’d suggest that the CP07 Gravelcockpit absorbs more than just road-buzz. It actually provides a hint of shock absorption. Canyon’s engineers say the top bar provides seven times more vertical deflection than the bottom bar.
The big question then is how does the Canyon solution compare to the Specialized Future Shock headset? I’ve reviewed the 2019 Specialized Diverge Expert before and enjoyed the bike immensely on the whole. My overriding feeling though was that it was a bike for the avid gravel racer. The Future Shock, much like the Brain rear suspension on Specialized Epics and I didn’t gel well.
Canyon’s solution is more eye catching but if anything, a little simpler. It just required out the box thinking from their engineers. Unlike the Future Shock which initially in the first incarnation relied up a spring and now, in the second incarnation, a hydraulic system to provide 20mm of bump dampening; the Gravelcockpit relies upon carbon’s ability to flex.
The fact that the flex can be bypassed unlike the Future Shock’s dampening is a big plus for me. As is the mechanical simplicity of the system. I find gravel bikes, or my gravel bike really, take a hammering. The fewer things which can go wrong on them the better therefore, in my books.
I can therefore tell you that while I loved the Grail and enjoyed the additional comfort the Gravelcockpit provided, that it wouldn’t be my choice long-term. Simpler is better. But on a massive once-off ride, like the Maloti 100 that comfort provided the closest thing to bliss I experienced.
Aside from the comfort provided by the Gravelcockpit the Grail is an all-round beautiful bike to ride. It is exceptionally stable, even at speed on the most corrugated gravel roads, despite being agile too. The combination is a remarkable trick.
The forward position created by the lower bar of the double-decker handlebar being flush with the top tube creates an aggressive riding position. Or at least it visually creates the illusion of one. That and the 73.5° seat tube angle encourages you into an aggressive riding position. It makes it easy to get over the gears, even when driving on in the big ring, and eggs you on to go fast.
On smooth gravel roads, where the surface is compacted and the lack of corrugations allow you to get the bike up to speed, the Grail excels. It feels faster on gravel, particularly in those conditions, than it does on tar even. And when it’s flying the sensations of riding the Grail are hard to beat.
When the road gets rough the Grail copes better than most gravel machines. The space for wide tyre clearance, up to 42mm, allows the rubber to do a lot of the work. While the frame’s stable geometry, hover bar and split seat post all help too. On the CF SLX 8.0 Di2 model the superb Reynolds ATR carbon wheels complete the package. I can’t praise those wheels enough, in fact. They are absolutely outstanding!
I rode the Canyon Grail CF SLX 8.0 Di2 during the inaugural Maloti 100, which traverses Naude’s Nek Pass from Barkly East to Maclear in the Eastern Cape. It was brutal. You can read my full race report here, but the cliff notes were that I was definitely not on the right bike, yet the Grail survived and even thrived at times. I did not. The altitude and my lack of training told in a big way. But I was the only finisher on a gravel bike and that probably has more to do with the bike than my own ability to push through the pain barrier.
As I’ve mentioned before the best bits of non-Canyon tech on the bike are the Reynolds ATR wheels. With an internal width of 23mm they puff out the 40mm wide Schwalbe G-One Bite tyres, allowing them to absorb even more bumps and provide incredible traction. The Reynolds wheels are not only wide, they are light and seemingly bomb-proof too. I was exceptionally impressed.
The Schwalbe G-One Bite tyres were nearly equally impressive. I expected to have tyre issues when I saw how rough the roads of the Maloti 100 were. But the Schwalbe’s held up exceptionally well. Somehow, they survived the jagged ironstone rocks which lay strewn in bands across the road. These bands, which were more pronounced and longer on the descents, are infamous in the area for shredding bakkie tyres. So, the fact that the G-One’s survived is a testament to their resilience. On smoother roads, they balance grip with low rolling resistance too.
Shifting and braking on the Canyon Grail CF SLX 8.0 Di2 is taken care of by Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 groupset. The stand out feature here is the Ultegra Di2 RX805 GS rear derailleur. Regardless of how rowdy the road got the rear derailleur kept the chain on the cassette and, even, on the derailleur’s jockey wheels. Having clocked up many thousands of kilometres on a gravel bike with a non-clutch rear-mech I can’t tell you how great it is not to have to stop to put your chain back on at the bottom of every rough descent.
The Di2 shifting is also great when you get too tired to think. It takes the tiny exertion out of shifting and makes it entirely effortless. I didn’t think that shifting contributed to overall exhaustion, but I must say I enjoyed not having that additional energy expenditure at Maloti.
The Ultegra R8070 hydraulic disc brakes simply work. Like many Shimano braking systems, they just do their thing and require zero thought from you. I did at one point think I might cook the brakes, on a tortuously rocky descent, but the rotors dissipated the heat well enough to avoid that.
Overall the only issue I had with the build was the Fizik Aliante R5 saddle. Saddles are intensely personal things and I should have put the Specialized saddle from my Diverge onto the Grail. The Fizik and I simply didn’t gel. The curvature of the saddle made it difficult for me to get comfortable and I’m thankful that I was wearing my Ciovita Apex bibshorts. If it weren’t for them, I would have definitely got saddle sores such was my body’s failure to conform to the Aliante R5.
Canyon Grail Geometry (Size Medium for riders 178 – 184cm tall)
|Head Tube Angle||72.5°|
|Seat Tube Angle||73.5°|
|Wheel Base||1 029mm|
|Bottom Bracket Offset||75mm|
Who’s the Grail for? In the case of the range topping carbon framed CF models, and the CF SLX 8.0 Di2 in particular, definitely all-out gravel racers. If you want to go far and fast on smooth to mildly bumpy gravel it’s an exceptional tool for the job. For riders who prefer rougher roads and adventures with bags on board I’d suggest the aluminium framed Grail AL range.
Just remember when buying a Canyon in South Africa that import duties and local VAT are not included in the online price. The price, in US Dollars, excludes VAT in the Germany from where the bikes are shipped by UPS. Upon landing in South Africa you will have to pay a 15% import duty, and 15% on top of that fee in South African VAT. Plus a further 10% of the import duty as a disbursement fee.
The initial bike price, shipping and bike guard costs, are paid directly to Canyon. The additional duties and VAT are paid to UPS who liaise with the South African Revenue Service and Customs on your behalf. It sounds like a complicated process but the only real difficulty, if you’re not mathematical like me at least, is calculating percentages on percentages.
Fortunately, Canyon have a handy page explaining it all and Erik Kleinhans, the Canyon South Africa Marketing Manager, is an accountant by training. If you can’t work out what the real total coast will be drop him a line on (021) 2050 073 and he’ll work it out for you.
Be sure to check out the 2020 Canyon Grail range after reading this. The new colour schemes are a thing of beauty. I’m not usually one for orange, but I suspect that the CF SLX 8.0 E-Tap will look incredible with a fine layer of dust on it… Don’t you?