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First ride impressions of Canyon’s updated carbon fibre race bike, as raced at the Tour de France

This is the fourth-generation Ultimate CF SLX from German direct-sales brand Canyon and it has been thoroughly updated. It looks svelter than its predecessor and has gained some aerodynamic and comfort improvements. Based purely on performance, and not even bringing price into the equation, the previous bike was seriously good. The upshot of the changes to the new model are that it’s noticeably smoother, feels more direct and, should the claims be believed, it’s faster against the clock.

- Canyon unveils new Ultimate CF SLX with aero features

Canyon’s latest Ultimate CF SLX was unveiled to journalists from across Europe at the Movistar team base in Pamplona, Spain, a couple of weeks before the Tour de France. With this new bike Canyon has looked to improve aerodynamics and comfort, whilst maintaining everything we loved about the previous bike (low weight and handling). Canyon claims it has managed a 10% improvement in comfort with 10% less drag. Frame weight remains the same (780g frame with a 295g fork) so it’s right up there with the lightest though it’s not by any stretch the lightest.

Updated frame and fork

Visually, the new Ultimate doesn’t stray far from the blueprint used for the previous bike. The overall shape and dimensions are very similar. The main change is the use of a new D-shaped down tube and seatstays, and an integrated seat clamp. Canyon has borrowed some lessons learnt in the development of its latest Aeroad but sought to balance the demands for aero efficiency without negatively impacting on the factors that made the previous Ultimate such a class bike.

Narrow has been a key word in the development of the new Ultimate. The new fork has skinnier legs and uses a non-tapered 1 1/4in steerer tube. That’s all to reduce the frontal surface area, so the bike should slice through the air with less drag. As well as the new profile, the down tube is also narrower than on the previous bike. Any stiffness lost has been reintroduced with a new box section top tube and wider seat stays.\

For the aerodynamic improvements, Canyon claims a 7.4 watt saving for the frameset and 12.9 watts with the frame and cockpit compared with the previous Ultimate. If you’re racing, those are impressive claims.

Besides producing a more aerodynamic frame, Canyon has sought to improve the comfort factor. The previous bike wasn’t exactly an uncomfortable bike, but the company has developed the integrated seat clamp, with a bolt accessed above the seat stays, to allow the seatpost to deflect more. Canyon claims a 15% improvement in vertical deflection. The seat tube has been optimised as well and bikes will be supplied with Canyon’s novel VCLS seatpost.

How does it ride then?

The bike I rode at the launch was the Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Aero (£5,399), and was generously equipped with Shimano’s top-tier Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain, Zipp 303 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels with Continental Grand Prix 4000 S tyres. It had a Fizik Antares saddle and Canyon’s new Aerocockpit one-piece handlebar and stem. Claimed 6.5kg (14.33lb) weight.

The 2016 Ultimate CF SLX range includes 11 models with prices starting at £2,699, using the same frameset throughout. There is also a frameset option in two colours for £1,799, satisfying those cyclists who prefer to build a bike from scratch using their favourite parts.

- Canyon 2016 road bike range first look

Such equipment will certainly flatter most frames, but on the smooth roads and rolling hills nestled around Pamplona, the Ultimate CF SLX really shone. We were only given two hours to ride the bike at the launch, not enough time to really assess those changes in full detail, but the differences were noticeable, if subtle.

On the smoother roads, you can feel a high level of precision from the new bike. The immediate impression is that it feels more like the new Aeroad and less like the Ultimate. The steering and front end responses are harder edged, and it flicks from turn to turn with more urgency. It feels more direct and eager. Turn the Ultimate into a wide corner and it’ll carve as tight a line as you like. There’s loads of traction from the grippy Continental tyres and the Ultimate really lets you exploit it to the full.

The old Ultimate wasn’t exactly an uncomfortable bike, in fact, that was one of the things we liked most about it. Ride along a rough road surface and all is supple and smooth. There’s noticeably more smoothness from the back end, those changes to the seatpost and rear stays work. The difference is discernable. It’s not soft and wallowy though: give it some beans up a climb and there’s clearly a high level of frame and fork stiffness to allow you to dump all your watts on the climb. Which I needed to do to keep up with Nairo Quintana, who joined us for this inaugural ride.

- Review: Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 7.0 Di2

So first impressions of the update Canyon Ultimate CF SLX are positive. More time is going to be needed to give you a full and in-depth review, but it’s clear the company has managed to make changes to the bike that bring about improvements, without compromising the things we loved about the previous version.

The Ultimate has always been the lightweight, all-round road bike in the Canyon range, and it still is. Choosing a road bike these days is increasingly difficult, though, there’s just so much choice and more focus. Canyon now offer offers the Endurace, if you want comfort, and the Aeroad, if you want outright speed and aerodynamics. So why choose the Ultimate, if comfort or aerodynamics is a factor in your buying decision? That’s a question we can hopefully answer when we get a test bike in for review.

www.canyon.com

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.