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The Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL is fast-accelerating, sharp-handling, lightweight - and you get a helluva lot of bike for your money.
Yes, we know that £3,700 is way more than most people will ever spend on a bike (and you have to pay about £50 extra for packaging and delivery), but this is a professional level race machine. We made the same model our Bike of the Year in 2011, though it has had a major redesign for 2013.
First, we'll take three different aspects of the new design and explain how Canyon have worked on each...
Everyone likes to know about a bike's weight. We all know that the first thing people do when they see you have a new bike is to pick it up and judge how light it feels. In this case, it's so light it makes people laugh.
Our complete Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL, a Large, hit the road.cc Scales of Truth at 6.08kg (13.4lb) without pedals. Bear in mind that the minimum weight for a bike in a UCI-sanctioned event is 6.8kg (15lb). We think that's the lightest bike we've ever had in on test. The frame is just 790g with the fork and Acros Ai-70 headset adding 400g.
How have Canyon saved weight over the previous Ultimate CF SLX? Well, they've shaved off a few grams by using carbon dropouts on both the frame and fork. They've also used a PressFit bottom bracket here, the housing being made of carbon rather than aluminium, to save a bit more weight.
Additionally, Canyon have redesigned many frame features. They've updated the Maximus seat tube, for example. You might remember the Maximus seat tube because it bulges out on the non-driveside for additional rigidity but doesn't do the same on the driveside, so there's more clearance for the drivetrain there. Canyon and Cervélo had a falling out over the design before patching it all up.
Anyway, this third generation Maximus seat tube is a lot slimmer than before, the idea being to add a little more flex for extra comfort, and bring down the weight a touch.
None of these changes seem to have reduced the frame stiffness a bit. On the contrary, the additional width of the PressFit bottom bracket increases the rigidity. Canyon say that this design also allows them to fit the chainstays further out, again adding to the stiffness.
They've pulled a similar trick with the seatstays which are now routed along the side of the seat tube and flow right into the top tube. This increases the width of their stance marginally.
Canyon have dragged the fork legs a little further apart too, which also allows you to fit wider tyres. The front end is was already very stiff thanks to the tapered (1 1/4in top, 1 1/2in bottom) head tube/steerer, but Canyon say that it's now 8% stiffer thanks to changes they've made.
Like everyone else, Canyon want to add vertical give to the ride to provide comfort while retaining lateral rigidity – it's one of the biggest clichés in cycling. With the Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL, the engineers have slimmed down the Maximus seat tube (see above) to allow a little more flex, and they've flattened the top tube as well for the same reason.
Canyon use a combination of basalt and carbon fibres in the fork blades to help with comfort and it's a similar deal with their own VCLS (Vertical Comfort Lateral Stiffness) seatpost. It's a slim 27.2mm in diameter and it's designed specifically to dampen road vibration. If you want more comfort, you can upgrade to the Canyon Flat Spring Post 2.0 for an additional £111.36 (at the time of writing). This gives you up to 20mm of travel.
Okay, so that's all theory – a brief explanation of some of the Ultimate CF SLX's key features – but what really counts is the ride, so let's crack on with that.
Guess what you notice first. It's that exceptional lightness. I first rode this bike after a few weeks on a £600 bike and the difference was astonishing... which is exactly what you'd expect. But even compared to bikes closer to its price, the Canyon is incredibly quick off the mark. Put the power down and it's like it was just waiting for an excuse to spring into life.
When you get up to speed and you're riding on the flat, the light weight doesn't make a whole heap of difference, but if your riding is anything like mine you'll be constantly hitting hills, slowing for corners and accelerating out, chasing a mate who has just necked an extra energy gel... and in those situations that lack of weight results in instant responses.
The Mavic R-Sys SLR wheels help there. They're very lightweight at about 1,350g the pair (Mavic claim 1,295g) and they really don't flex much at all whatever you do to them. They're not as aerodynamically efficient as many other wheelsets out there but I still have a soft spot for them on the basis that they climb so fast... and that's usually where people will try to drop you given half a chance.
While I'm talking about the wheels, the rims come with Mavic's Exalith coating which is a treatment that's designed to increase the durability of the aluminium – allowing them to take off a few grams – and improve the braking performance. It's true that braking is excellent in both wet and dry conditions but I have to disagree with Mavic's claim that pad wear is the same as with other wheels. Initially at least, the grooved surface munched through our pads fast and they're £18 a pair to replace.
Anyway, back to the frame... It certainly feels like Canyon have retained all the stiffness of the previous Ultimate CF SLX that we tested, despite the drop in weight. That front end in particular feels absolutely solid even when you wind the bike up for a full Cav-esque sprint, and it's super-precise through the turns.
We had a couple of larger riders (14st +) take the bike for a spin and both were super-impressed by the lack of movement at the bottom bracket when pedalling hard out of the saddle. Pick the bike up and you think it'll bend all over the place in the breeze, never mind when you put a serious amount of power through the cranks, but that really isn't the case (there is a rider weight limit, but it's 120kg). This is one solid chassis.
The Canyon scores highly for comfort too. Well, one of the other guys reckoned he'd change the Selle Italia SLR saddle immediately if it was his, whereas it's probably my favourite saddle ever... proving once again that saddles are very much a matter of personal preference.
That aside, everyone who rode the Ultimate CF SLX agreed that it's a comfortable setup without too much vibration getting through to either your hands or your butt. As I said above, if you want more comfort you could always upgrade to Canyon's Flat Spring Post 2.0 seat post, or you could go for wider tyres than the 23mm Mavic Yksion Pros that come fitted.
Canyon offer the Ultimate CF SLX in 11 – count 'em – different builds, starting with the £2,589 Shimano Ultegra-equipped Ultimate CF SLX 7.0 and going up to the £5,439 9.0, available with either Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 or Campag Super Record EPS (the exact prices vary according to the sterling/Euro exchange rate).
As you can see, the 9.0SL comes with SRAM's top-level Red groupset throughout. It's 10-speed – the 2014 11-speed group isn't available yet – the cables routed internally. I won't go into a big discussion on SRAM Red because it's not really the deal breaker here. If you don't like the DoubleTap gear shifting, for example, you can just opt for a Shimano or a Campagnolo build. It is worth mentioning, though, that you can choose between a standard or a compact chainset and you can select the cassette that you want.
Unlike most brands, Canyon sell direct to the consumer rather than going through bike retailers. You go online, put in your order, and the bike gets delivered straight to you. This allows Canyon to cut out the margin that would usually be added by the bike shop, meaning lower prices, which is why the Ultimate CF SLX is able to compete with bikes that are much, much more expensive.
We recently reviewed the Merida Scultura SL Team, for example. We're not into 'testing by spreadsheet' here at road.cc - it's never, ever as simple as just totting up the value of the components – but it's worth mentioning that the Merida, with a SRAM Red groupset but with other components different to those of the Canyon, is priced at £6,000. As I said, it's not a direct comparison, but it does help illustrate the value for money you're getting with Canyon.
All in all, this is a superb bike: lightweight and responsive, rigid and efficient, and easy to handle. Of course, £3,700 is far from cheap but you'll do well to find a better race bike at this price.
Fast-accelerating, sharp-handling and lightweight; you'll do well to find a better race bike at this price.
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Make and model: Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL
Size tested: Large
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
It's a carbon-fibre monocoque using more ultra-high modulus carbon fibre than in the previous version.
Frame Canyon Ultimate CF SLX
Fork Canyon One One Four SLX
Headset Acros Ai-70 Fiber
Rear derailleur SRAM Red
Front derailleur SRAM Red
Shifters SRAM Red SL
Brake levers SRAM Red SL
Brakes SRAM Red
Hubs Mavic R-Sys SLR
Cassette SRAM CS XG-1090 10s (three options available)
Rims Mavic R-Sys SLR WTS
Tyres Mavic Pro SSC
Cranks SRAM Red Compact
Chainrings 50/34 or 53/39
Bottom Bracket SRAM Press-Fit GXP
Stem Ritchey WCS (31,8)
Handlebar Ritchey WCS EvoCurve Carbon matt
Saddle Selle Italia SLR Special Edition
Seatpost Canyon VCLS Post
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
It's designed as a full-on race/sports bike.
This is Canyon's write-up: "A frame weighing just 790 g, an 8% stiffer head tube and an even stiffer bottom bracket: the new Ultimate CF SLX combines uncompromising thrust with supreme comfort. A further reduction in surface area has been achieved by increasing the radius at the tube transitions, the steering tube and the bottom bracket, and by reducing some of the tube diameters. Less material means less weight. The new dropouts on the fork and the frame are made entirely of carbon fibre, for a further significant weight reduction. You can count on us to scrutinise every single component before we agree to use it. The brand new SRAM Red is a case in point.
"It is a state-of-the-art lightweight champion, delivering peak performance, impressive speed and the trusted technological and ergonomic SRAM features. The high-end Mavic R-Sys SLR wheels with Wheel-Tyre system are genuine lightweights in their class, providing outstanding acceleration performance. The hard anodised aluminium braking surface (Exalith) reduces brake wear, allowing for thinner walls and scoring another victory in the battle of the scales. Super lightweight and impressively strong – the Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 SL is a born winner."
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes, definitely worthy of serious consideration.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes... and I have.
Age: 41 Height: 190cm Weight: 75kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.