THE NEW CANYON STRIVE CFR
First Ride by Robert Johnston | Photos by Boris Beyer
I was invited to attend the launch event for Canyon’s new Strive CFR, in the incredible area surrounding Finale Ligure in Italy. We were shuttled on the trails of Finale Ligure for a day and a half, which means some serious descending time and some suitably rough and rugged terrain to put the Strive CFR through its paces.
Straight off the bat, let’s touch on one of the more controversial points of the new Strive CFR – the sizing, or more specifically the reach values on each labeled size. At 6’2”, or 188cm, you’d likely consider me a large man, and in the past I’ve even considered extra-large frame sizes the appropriate choice for me. Though the fit of a bike comes down to personal preference and each rider’s anatomy, there’s no ignoring the fact that Canyon have essentially shifted the sizes up one place compared with the majority. After consulting the geometry sheet (which only tells part of the story of course, but was the best I had to go off) I ordered a medium size to test. Opting to go for the 5mm reach extension headset cup had me at a 485mm reach, which is firmly in the territory of most brands’ large size or even a select few’s extra large frames. Does it matter what size you call each frame if every rider ends up on a size they’re happy on? No, of course not. But given that Canyon is a direct-to-consumer brand, and you can therefore order a bike straight off the website with no human interaction in the process, I’d suggest being extra cautious when ordering your Strive CFR to ensure you don’t size yourself out of any maneuverability when riding tight and technical terrain.
Speaking with Canyon about the sizing structure, they were keen to point out the possibility for riders to size up and down as they please thanks to the short seat tube lengths, and the adjustability on offer using the reach adjusting headset cups, which give effective size jumps between each frame of only 15mm. Speaking with Fabien Barel, who was heavily involved in the development of the bike, I was able to learn about the geometry concept with the short rear end and long front centers. Fabien suggested that the best way to ride the Strive CFR, or indeed any mountain bike, was with a high amount of front loading in the turns, with the front wheel responsible for all the turning and the rear wheel being light so you can pick it and place it where you want on the trail. Following him down the trails of Finale Ligure it was clear to see his philosophy working beautifully as he effortlessly dropped me, but it’s not a technique every rider will be comfortable with.
We were recommended to begin with 30% sag in the rear shock in the “shred” mode of the Shapeshifter, with minimal compression damping on the Fox shock as they are relatively heavily damped from the factory. Paired with the baseline setup I know I’m comfortable with in the Fox 38 fork, I was ready to hit the trails. We began the first day riding with three laps of the same trail, which featured a nice mixture of flowy sections and some big compressions through some natural rock lines. Straight away, the fork setup proved to be problematic, with a total lack of control over the front wheel that transpired to be caused by a faulty damper. When setting up the fork in the car park it would feel reasonable, but the damper was clearly cavitating in use and leading to unpredictable – or sometimes zero – damping. Chasing Fabien Barel down an unfamiliar trail with a fork that’s acting like a pogo stick is something that’ll stick in my mind for a long time, unfortunately not for entirely positive reasons.
Thankfully Canyon was well equipped to swap the fork out for me, so that I could return my focus to the frame and overall package. With a damped front end, the Strive CFR unsurprisingly came alive, and though it would still take me a couple of laps to get things balanced and comfortable, the speed hungry nature of the bike became immediately apparent. Thanks to the Shapeshifter tech, which I’ll get onto shortly, the geometry and kinematic of the bike can be pushed further into the downhill realm than most other “race bikes”. Since the climbing and descending performance is more loosely connected, Canyon was able to make the Strive CFR an absolute animal when the trail points down. With a slammed bottom bracket and raked-out front end, there’s stability and surefootedness on tap to hang with the best of them, yet the short rear end retains the ability to snap the bike around tighter corners and pop the front wheel up and over obstacles with minimal effort. I felt the rear end hang up a few times on square edges over the couple of days on the trail, and I’d have liked a little more setup time to eke out the best, but on the whole the rear end did a fine job at handling the huge number of hard compressions and chunky rocks without flinching. The overall feel was quite neutral, tending slightly towards the firmer, racier end of the spectrum, but that’s not to say it was uncomfortable – far from it in fact.
Our time going upwards over the course of the two days shuttling was minimal, but the Canyon certainly felt like no slouch in the pedal mode, with a comfortably centered seated position and good level of pedal support. The overall bike weight isn’t ultra light, but it avoids feeling anything like a downhill bike on the way up and along the hill. I was sure to make use of the Shapeshifter function as much as I could, and the more I used it the more I wanted to use it. I’d spent some time on the previous generation Strive, where the Shapeshifter ended up being reserved mainly as a complicated climb switch. On this new CFR though, the possibility to take the bike from an ultra low and slack descending machine to a more trail-oriented – but crucially not too trail oriented – bike at the flick of a switch gives the Strive CFR an ace up its sleeve that is a true asset. The climbing performance improvements were never doubted with the Shapeshifter on the previous generation Strive, but now the mid-descent personality transformations can be realized and harnessed to optimize the bike to the terrain ahead. This is especially useful when you know what’s coming, but I even found myself popping into the trail setting on blind trails when I could see ahead – it’s so easy to adjust it on the fly, that it almost feels rude not to. Not only does the geometry get more agile, but the suspension platform firms up and suddenly the bike takes a positive leap in efficiency and pump-ability.
The Wolf’s First Impression
At risk of sounding like a fanboy or kool-aid drinker, I’m genuinely blown away by how good the Shapeshifter tech is on the new Strive CFR, and I’m incredibly excited to put it to use on some more familiar terrain in the UK for a long term review.