We were excited to get on board the new Canyon Spectral:ON for a good head-to-head thrashing with the four other competitors in the Trail category at the 2022 eMTB shootout in Knoxville, Tennessee. Throughout the week of testing, the Canyon was passed between all of our testers to give it a healthy amount of trail time, and the experiences of all eight testers form the basis of the opinions contained in this review.
On first impressions the Spectral:ON CFR LTD is stunning, with the two-tone matte/metallic paint and ultra clean lines and cables. Seven of the eight crew members who got on board the Spectral:ON had the same initial reaction – a dislike for the integrated bar/stem combo. The “roll” of the bar felt too far forward for all but one of us initially, and with no option to change it – neither before buying or once owning the bike – a buyer would be out of luck. Swapping this bar/stem combo would require a considerable expense and effort, so it’s a shame to see a single fixed option for the geometry. Once you’ve ridden the bar for a while you can begin to get used to it, but it’s still far from optimal for most of us.
Getting the RockShox Flight Attendant suspension setup on the Spectral:ON CFR LTD requires a couple of extra steps compared with a “normal” suspension system. After connecting the system to the SRAM AXS app, the set up process is as follows: the air pressures are set as normal in the fully Open mode, with 30% sag out back and the recommended air pressure in the RockShox Lyrik fork. Next you stand on the bike in the neutral position on a level surface, you then hold a combination of buttons on the Flight Attendant control module on top of the fork to enter the calibration mode. You hold the bike still in an upright position until the lights on the module flash, then tilt the bike over to the non-driveside and hold until it flashes again. The system should now be calibrated, and the suspension ready to rip the trails.
Using the app, you can alter the bias of the system (how it favors the open, pedal and lock modes, with five options to tailor it to your preference); change the compression settings for the fork and shock independently; and even set up an AXS shifter or dropper lever to add a function that forces the suspension into your preferred mode on the fly. After some figuring out, both the calibration process and general operation of the Flight Attendant system were rather straightforward, and the difference on the trail is quite interesting.
As we’ve come to expect from a bike equipped with Shimano’s EP8 motor, the Canyon Spectral:ON proved to have good – but not incredible – power to climb just about anything. The standout descriptor for the Shimano EP8 is the controlled and natural feeling power delivery. Trail mode on the Shimano system continues to improve as they learn more about the needs of the eMTB rider, and so it performed well in the standard tune, with enough grunt to clear technical climbs when called upon and impressive grip on loose terrain.
The 900Wh battery life was impressive, allowing the Spectral:ON to run laps around the competitors with smaller units. We would likely pick the 720Wh to save us about 1.5lbs and we simply don’t have enough free time in our lives to make use of the 900Wh, sadly.
In order to determine the effects of the Flight Attendant suspension on the pedaling characteristics, we were sure to test the 2022 Canyon Spectral:ON CFR LTD with the suspension fixed on OPEN, as the majority of customers will ride a model without the automating tech fitted. Thankfully for those of you with shallower pockets than the LTD spec level’s pricetag demands, the Spectral:ON pedaled pleasantly in the OPEN mode. That’s not to say it was ultra-firm under power without the extra compression damping kicking in, but it felt acceptably peppy whilst generating good grip and comfort on loose and rough climbs.
Turn the Flight Attendant on though, and the effects are quite profound. It took a couple of goes for us to get the system to work as desired, with the calibration seemingly quite sensitive to your body position on the bike. It’s worth making extra-sure you’re in a neutral position on the bike when calibrating, otherwise you can create a natural bias that will encourage the bike to tend towards one end of the spectrum between open and locked out. Of course, you can tune this bias on the trail, but ideally you want to be able to adjust from a middle ground so that you can change the behavior of the bike to suit the terrain in question.
Once the calibration was dialed in, the Flight Attendant began to work its magic, for the most part. When climbing it would kick in after a couple of seconds and enter the pedal or lock depending on the angle and how you’re pedaling, taking the Spectral:ON from “acceptably peppy” to a rocket ship. Whether it was placebo, genuine saved energy, or simply the encouraging feel of a firm pedaling platform, the result was a bike that felt instantly snappier. This is great on the smooth climbs, but the biggest improvement came on the technical rock-strewn climbs where the Pedal mode kept the average bottom bracket height up and helped to keep the otherwise slammed BB from causing quite so much havoc.
That said, it wasn’t able to work miracles and we still found ourselves clipping pedals more than on many other bikes – we’d look to fit a shorter 160mm crank, and potentially look to bump up the fork travel to 160mm if it were our rig. An occasional secondary effect of the locking out was that the initial hit or two of a rough climb could sometimes catch the system in locked mode, transmitting considerably more feedback through the bike than we desired. For the most part though the Flight Attendant system did a great job at boosting the overall energy of the Spectral:ON without compromising the downhill performance.
Speaking of downhill performance, we’re happy to report that the Spectral:ON has retained a healthy dose of the “play” in its character that we loved in the outgoing model. Given the 900Wh battery has added up to 42% in range to the Spectral:ON, the impact on the ride character is impressively insignificant, with handling that’s more agile than many bikes with considerably smaller batteries, namely the Trek Rail and Norco Sight VLT. When the Flight Attendant system sensed we were on a descent, OPEN mode produced a smooth and controlled suspension response, with a good amount of pop to switch lines and boost side hits on the trail as you please. It didn’t offer quite the same level of composure on the bigger hits as the likes of the Norco Sight VLT or Trek Rail, but certainly held its own as a trail eMTB.
Cornering was an absolute joy thanks to the low bottom bracket and relatively tight rear end, snapping round tight berms on a dime and dancing its way through tight and technical descents with ease. That said, we’d likely pull the reach in a touch to further improve this agility. The head angle was the steepest on the test, and when things got rowdy the reduced composure to the steering was noticed, placing the fast-chunky and steep terrain confidence on the Spectral:ON lower than many of the competition. Another reason we’d put a 160mm fork up front.
If this was to be our rig for the long term, we’d look to swap out the bar/stem combo to separate units with the geometry we prefer. We’d also bump the fork up to 160mm travel, which we would expect to help alleviate the issues we faced when riding the Spectral:ON down the steepest, fastest and roughest downhills. The taller fork would raise the BB slightly, slacken the head tube angle about half a degree, shorten reach and add some steering stability. Otherwise, the spec wants for nothing, as you would hope from a bike with this price tag.