CANYON STRIVE

DIVING INTO THE SHAPESHIFTER TECHNOLOGY

Words by Robert Johnston | Photos by Dusten Ryen & Brian Niles
Video by Brian Niles/Treeline Cinematic

Canyon.com

The Canyon Strive has been in the lineup at Canyon for the last 10 years, seeing a number of iterations over that time to keep it at the top level of performance and finding success under the control of many racers in the EWS. In 2015, Canyon brought an innovation to the market in the form of its Shapeshifter geometry adjustment system. Although polarizing, the Shapeshifter provided some clear benefits on the trail to those who got on board, earning its keep on both the race circuit and under the control of the consumers. This led to the development of the Shapeshifter 2.0 system that is found on the latest iteration of the Strive, which sports 150mm of rear travel paired with a 170mm fork and 29” wheels.

Though many have tried, the string of failures of on-the-fly geometry is long and very few remain, so there is a whole load of Kudos deserved for Canyon to maintain a model that contains such a system. A bike with dedicated climbing and descending modes is always going to be better than a halfway-house compromise, so a user-friendly implementation of such a system sits with us well at The Loam Wolf, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed putting the Strive to work.

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SHAPESHIFTER 2.0

“Click”
“Clack”

The distinctive noise of the unit at the heart of the Canyon Strive that sets it apart from the usual Enduro rigs. Canyon’s Shapeshifter 2.0 system uses an air sprung stanchion that’s connected to the upper shock mount of its Horst Link frame, nestled within the gap in between each side of the rocker link. A special remote lever is mounted to the handlebar in the spot that you would usually find a dropper lever, which allows the rider to “click” the rear end into its climbing mode. This extends the piston and moves the upper shock mount to a position that steepens the head and seat angles; raises the bb; and reduces the amount of rear travel – all good things when it comes to climbing. Releasing the lever with a “clack” lets the piston retract and the bike sink into its downhill mode, with the full travel available and a lower bb and slacker head angle for ripping the descents. Switching between these modes takes some subtle body movement to aid the Shapeshifter, which becomes second nature after a little time on board the Strive.

Having a dedicated climbing mode and descending mode available so readily allows for fewer compromises in the geometry and suspension performance for each. Whilst a slammed bottom bracket may produce issues when climbing through technical terrain on a “normal” bike, the Strive does not suffer from the same issue thanks to the dedicated pedal-friendly mode raising the pedals 15mm from the floor. Combined with a firmer suspension platform with reduced travel, and steepened angles to aid low-speed agility and rider weight distribution between the wheels, the Pedal mode produces a great improvement in the uphill performance of the Strive. This allows for the descending mode to be fully focused on providing the desirable traits Canyon wanted, with a low BB that sits the rider well into the bike for the ultimate in corner railing.

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BUILDS AND GEO

The Shapeshifter-equipped Strive is available exclusively in Carbon Fiber, with two levels utilizing different grades and layups of Carbon. We tested the Strive in its Canyon Factory Racing (CFR) spec, which features the higher grade carbon fiber and allows Canyon to shave 300g off the weight of the standard carbon frame without compromising in stiffness or strength. The CFR spec frame is only available in a single high-end build, retailing for $6999/€5999, and the standard carbon frame is available in three builds: the $3999/€3199 Canyon Strive CF7; the $4999/€4199 CF8 and the €4999 CF9 (not available in North America). All these bikes share the same geometry, Shapeshifter system, 150mm rear travel and 170mm fork, with the differences lying in the parts spec.

The Canyon Strive CFR build, featuring that lighter frame, is paired with a myriad of high-spec components to match. Fox is called upon for suspension duties, with a Factory level 170mm travel 36 fork paired with a DPX2 shock. The fork features the excellent Grip2 damper, and the shock has the 3-position compression lever to further aid pedaling performance on top of the Shapeshifter’s effects. SRAM’s XO1 Eagle shifter, derailleur and chain control the shifting on the GX Eagle 10-52T cassette, and a Truvativ Descendant Carbon crank transfers the rider’s power to the chain via the 32t chainring. A MRP V2 chain guide keeps this chain firmly in place, with a bash guard to fend off any contact between that low BB and the ground. Braking duties are handled by the powerful SRAM Code RSC brakes, with a 200mm rotor up front and 180mm out back. The wheels are DT Swiss’s top of the line EXC1200, with hookless carbon rims and their premium 180 hubs spinning on ceramic bearings and are shod in Maxxis rubber with the all-business Assegai in the front and a DHR2 bringing up the rear. Canyon’s in-house G5 kit is called upon for the cockpit with 780x30mm carbon bars; a 40mm stem and some Canyon lock-on grips, which are possibly our least favorite grips out. An Ergon SM10 Enduro comp saddle sits on top of a 180mm OneUp V2 dropper to round out a highly desirable build on this beauty of a bike.

Dissected: Canyon Strive | Diving into the Shapeshifter Technology

Looking at the geometry chart for the Canyon Strive, you’d be forgiven for assuming it belongs to a bike from a few years ago, with a lack of the extreme length nor the steep seat tube angle of a trendy bike in 2021. However, the Strive is a bike designed to win races. If you scour the Enduro world series lineup you’ll notice that many of the racers are opting to down-size their rigs – think Richie Rude or Sam Hill, who have both enjoyed great successes on bikes that were “too small” for them. While ultimate stability no doubt makes it safer and less scary to go fast in a straight section of trail, there’s definite benefits to be found from a slightly more agile bike, especially for a rider at the upper end of the skill level, so the Strive’s geometry may have merit to those looking to put down as fast a time as possible over a day of Enduro racing. In the descending mode, a head angle of 65.4 degrees and seat tube angle of 72.9 degrees are paired with a 464mm reach and 645mm stack in our size Large, which has a 455mm seat tube that’ll accompany a good length dropper post. A 435mm chainstay and 32mm bb drop are common to the full S-XL size range and give the Large a wheelbase of 1234mm. Clicking into climb mode steepens the head angle and seat angle by 1.5 degrees to 66.9 degrees and 74.4 degrees respectively, combined with a reduced bb drop of 17mm to provide a preferable position to spin the pedals and ascend the hill. Although the seat angle had us pushing the seat as far forward on the rails as we could go, otherwise the geometry provided a solid platform to attack both the climbs and descents on, setting numerous PR’s on the way up hill yet still holding its own on the way down.

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Q&A WITH THE BRAINS BEHIND SHAPESHIFTER

While riding and studying up on the Canyon Strive and the tech inside, we decided to reach out to Canyon Bikes for some official answers. Vincenz Thoma, the original lead designer for the Strive and man behind the ShapeShifter was kind enough to get very in-depth with us. Read on to learn about the concept, testing and eventual development of Gen I and Gen II ShapeShifter that help make this bike on of the most fun and versatile in the category

TLW: WHEN WAS SHAPESHIFTER FIRST CONCEIVED AND WHAT LED TO ITS DEVELOPMENT? WAS IT A SPECIFIC REQUEST OF THE RACERS?
Vincenz Thoma (VT): The thing that might surprise people is that ShapeShifter’s origin really wasn’t connected to racing at all. It was about going on big rides, looking for big descents, and trying to find a way to make the existing bikes of the time better climbers without sacrificing their downhill performance.

ShapeShifter was born from my daily rides. I live in the alps. And here, when you want to get to a great downhill, you generally have to start with a pedal up a lot of steep trails. And back then—this was 2011—long-travel bikes were really compromised when it came to finding a balance between climbing and descending. No single bike could really do both well.

So, I was playing around with very different shock set ups to try and hit that balance. It was never a satisfying experience. I was over inflating air shocks, so that I could sit up higher in the travel and reduce the shock’s tendency to squat, but, no surprise, increasing the spring rate like that led to poor downhill performance. It was always a matter of gaining one thing and sacrificing another thing.

TLW: WHY NOT JUST USE A SHOCK REMOTE? THAT’D BE LOADS SIMPLER…
VT: Because I wasn’t looking to just reduce suspension bob (squat). If you wanted to really create a great climbing bike, the geometry needed to change as well and a handlebar-mounted rear shock “lock out” didn’t do much in that regard—sure, it changed dynamic sag slightly, but that wasn’t nearly enough.

TLW: OKAY, SO WHY NOT USE A “FLIP CHIP” TO CHANGE THE GEOMETRY?
VT: Because no one ever uses those things in the middle of a ride. No one. A flip chip is something you fiddle with once or maybe a couple times a season, but it’s of little practically use when you are in the middle of a ride and want your bike to ride differently.

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TLW: TAKE US THROUGH THE BASIC DEVELOPMENT PROCESS OF THE CANYON STRIVE’S SHAPESHIFTER.
VT: I realized that changing shock orientation could achieve both the geometry and suspension characteristics that I wanted to be able to alter, on the fly. Originally, I had the idea of changing rear shock orientation in a mechanical way, from the linkage, really. So, I had prototypes of upper shock mounts that let me position the shock in different ways.

This was way back in 2011. I took the Nirve AM, which was sort of like our Spectral, and I put this adapter piece on it to simulate different positions. It was realty a lot of effort just to assemble it and disassemble it from the shock and the rocker. So, every time I wanted to adjust the shock position it would take like 10 or 15 minutes to change the position before and after each climb.

It was a pain…but it also immediately became clear that doing that changed a lot of things—geometry, leverage curve, travel—because the shock leverage is different. It became clear that all those changes happening at once, could make for a bike that climbed much better or, after you changed back, on descents.

This was really cool. Because it meant that we were no longer forced to pick a single setting that would be a good balance between climbing and downhill performance. We could use this thing that would become ShapeShifter to give the Strive two ideal settings—one for uphill and one for downhill.

Originally, I planned on using a mechanical device—such as a spring—to move the shock, but it became clear that such a device would have to be quite big and heavy—nor would it be something that you could cleanly integrate into the frame. So, to make it more compact, I knew I needed to go with a hydraulic system. The nice thing about hydraulics is that they are able to manipulate super high forces in a super small space. Going hydraulic enabled us to create an actuator which changed shock position that was compact, light, and effective.

But the other thing that I liked about going with a hydraulic actuator was that it allowed you to use any rear shock with the correct eye-to-eye measurement. Other systems, in the past, that tried to achieve on-the-fly geometry and suspension changes, required complicated, proprietary shocks. We wanted to give riders more flexibility and options—we didn’t want to tie anyone into have to use expensive, custom shocks. Creating a separate, hydraulic actuator to move the rear shock lets people use just about any air-sprung shock they want.

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TLW: SO, HOW DID THE RACE TEAM WIND UP EVENTUALLY GETTING INVOLVED?
VT: In late 2014 or so, Fabian Barel contacted us, and I showed him the prototype at our headquarters in Koblenz. He was really amazed by it and wanted to try it. And from that point on, we were developing the bike together. That was a real departure because, again, we weren’t originally developing this for racing. ShapeShifter was really for anyone who just wanted to ride serious descents but who had big climbs to put away before each descent. But when Fabian came on board, he immediately saw how this could be an asset in competitions. He was like, “Why don’t you build an enduro bike with this technology”. So, we did. That bike became the Strive and it was immediately successful on the toughest enduro courses.

TLW: HOW DOES IT WORK INTERNALLY?
VT: At its core, a handlebar mounted remote uses a cable to actuate the ShapeShifter hydraulic unit. There are differences though between the first-generation ShapeShifter and the second generation, which launched in 2018.

The first version was actually a bit simpler, hydraulic-wise. Basically, the hydraulic fluid was just pushed from an insider to an outside chamber and there was just one valve that could basically block that movement.  But there were some drawbacks to that design. First and foremost, you had to push the remote and keep it pushed in until you had finished your body movement. You had to time the movement. And that was a big drawback to the first-generation unit.

So, the primary motivation for evolving the original Strive’s ShapeShifter was to make it simpler for riders to actuate it. That meant, having have two fixed positions on the remote and not requiring that you be spot on. with timing your movements anymore. So, for the second generation we developed our own remote that had two positions (uphill and downhill) via two levers. You click either mode lever and it sort of sucks itself into the proper position. It’s much easier to use.

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TLW: WHAT’S THE FOX CONNECTION?
VT: FOX builds great suspension, so we decided to team with them. We wanted a lower-pressure unit (which would place less stress on the seals and would maximize ShapeShifter’s durability) and we wanted to create a unit that was easier to use. Creating a FOX-built unit also means that riders can rely on FOX for servicing.

TLW: WHAT IS THE WEIGHT PENALTY OF THE STRIVE’S SHAPESHIFTER SYSTEM?
VT: 200 grams for everything—the unit, lever, cable, and housing.

TLW: HOW MUCH MAINTENANCE DOES THE SHAPESHIFTER SYSTEM ADD TO THE BIKE? DO YOU NEED TO SERVICE IT REGULARLY?
VT: Almost none. Nothing complicated or time intensive. Anything you’d normally do to routinely care for your fork or rear shock applies. Regularly clean the outer surface, so that grit isn’t working its way past your wiper seal. But really, ShapeShifter is pretty hassle-free. The ShapeShifter unit isn’t actuating with the kind of frequency or speed that a shock or fork experiences. Ultimately, it just isn’t going through a lot of cycles. Plus, it’s covered and tucked away. It’s generally a good idea to have it serviced every couple of years if you are riding a lot.

TLW: WE COULD SEE THE “PEDAL”/HIGH MODE BEING USEFUL FOR SOME DESCENTS. CAN YOU DESCEND IN THE PEDAL MODE?
VT: Absolutely. There is no danger of blowing the thing up by descending in “uphill” mode. In fact, a lot of us use that mode on the Strive to give more pop and platform on some flatter downhill sections and flow trails.

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TLW: IS THERE AN OPTIMAL AIR RANGE FOR THE SHAPESHIFTER?
VT: ShapeShifters works best when you have pumped up to the same pressure as the rear shock. The max is 200 PSI. Running proper rear shock sag (which should be standard operating procedure for anyone, anyway) also helps ensure that the Canyon Strive’s Shapeshifter performs well. Here’s a quick start guide: https://www.canyon.com/en-gb/support-articles/quick-start-guide-strive.html

TLW: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO WITH THIS STEEPER HEAD TUBE ANGLE ON THE STRIVE?
VT: Fair question.

As it stands, the current Strive’s head angle may strike some riders as conservative. Then again, it’s been ridden to plenty of wins on the Enduro World Series. Clearly, you can ride fast as hell on this bike, even though it’s not the slackest or longest machine out there by a long stretch.

If someone is looking for a rig that they can take on a road trip and handle just about every trail, the Strive fits the bill really well—more so, really, than a bike with a fixed 63-degree head angle. A DH-bike head angle is a blast on super steep and chunky trails but is also a lot less fun when you are trying to clean uphill switchback #7 in the middle of an hourlong climb from hell. That’s where the Strive and its geometry have an advantage. Put in uphill mode, climb like you’re on a trail bike. Put it in downhill mode and you’re riding the same bike that Jack Moir raced to victory at two EWS stops so far this season.

TLW: COULD YOU SEE THE SHAPESHIFTER EVER MAKING IT ONTO OTHER MODELS IN YOUR RANGE? WE’D LOVE TO SEE SHAPESHIFTER ON AN EMTB AS IT’D HELP LIFT THE BB…
VT: Who knows…? Well, we guess we do, but we can’t just cough up the goods. Good try, though. We like ShapeShifter and we always have cool bikes in the works, but we also know that the ShapeShifter concept isn’t for everyone. Some people want absolute simplicity, and we won’t gainsay that. We have bikes like the Spectral 29 and Torque that fit the bill there. We’ll see…the future is an interesting place.

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ON TRAIL PERFORMANCE

We’ve had the pleasure of riding this bike longer and more than many other bikes in our test fleet this year. During the course of our ride review, it has helped our testers set new personal bests on regular test tracks, boost jump lines with ease and climb trails faster than lots of new school enduro sleds. It has also led to some internal discussions about why riders feel they need a slacker head tube angle and longer reach, when the numbers on the clock don’t lie. Even our primary tester, Cole Gregg was guilty of this. As a guy who loves riding an XL Norco, a brand known for having really long bikes, he would regularly comment that he wished it was longer and had a slacker head tube angle, and then one sentence later he’d be praising the bike’s speed, playfulness and efficiency as he kept setting personal bests on his usual test tracks. We’re not sure why so many riders buy into the hype that longer, slacker bikes are what they need. We truly believe that at least 90% of riders out there would actually ride faster and have way more fun on a bike that better suits their terrain and skillset, and that’s not a size large with a 495mm reach and 63-degree headtube angle. For those riders, the Canyon Strive could be the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Climbing performance on the 150/170mm Canyon Strive is impressive when in the steeper, stiffer position and will make those grueling climbs a bit more efficient. When the bike is in the higher, “Click” position, riders can still descend and ride hard since it’s not a lockout. In fact, on smoother, more modern flow trails of lower grade, this position will make the bike a lot faster and more responsive all around.

On the downs, the Canyon Strive CFR is fast. The 29-inch wheels, suspension design and geometry make it an all around sporty-feeling bike that rewards riders who move their body around and work the bike. While we believe most riders and terrain don’t need those super low, long and slack new school bikes, the terrain and speeds in which those bikes accel, will cause a little hesitation on the Strive. If you are riding areas like Squamish BC regularly, with nearly vertical pitches, or navigating turns and chutes at speeds over 20 miles per hour, the steeper head tube angle requires a confident and committed pilot. On just about everything else, the snappy and playful feel make this bike faster and more lively than many.

The Canyon Strive CFR is a great all around bike that will certainly reward riders looking to go fast and have fun. It’s been ridden by some of the fastest riders in the world at the most challenging EWS courses with great success. If you aren’t regularly charging super steep, high-speed downhills and vertical rock slabs, where a slacker and longer bike would do better, then the Canyon Strive is worth considering. It’s a bike we’d suggest to riders looking for a long-legged trail ripper or enduro-ready racer. It is an incredibly efficient, fast and playful bike that will reward those willing to buck the modern geometry trends.

VISIT CANYON’S WEBSITE TO LEARN MORE
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