Since I had obtained a relatively good baseline setting with the help of the Canyon team out in Finale Ligure at the launch event, getting the Strive CFR dialed in was easy when back on home soil. That’s not to say the Canyon team offered me any tips or tricks to get it set up other than recommending 30% sag out back when in the Descend mode of the Shapeshifter. From there, with the stock tokens, it was simply a case of dialing in the compression and rebound settings to my liking. I ended up fairly middling in the compression settings of the shock and a touch firmer in the fork to provide the support to stand up when pushing as hard as the Strive demanded, with the rebound set one click faster than recommended up front and the rear tweaked to match. Through a range of conditions across trails in both the UK and the Alps, this baseline setup rarely needed tweaking, striking a great middle ground of support and sensitivity.
The major talking point of this bike is the Shapeshifter system, so I’ll give the low-down on this to begin with before talking about how it affects the ride. The basic operation is quite simple in principle: you click the lever on the left side which sits just above the dropper post lever, allowing the Shapeshifter’s air shaft to extend and move the upper mount of the shock. This steepens the head tube and seat tube angles, raises the bottom bracket, and changes the kinematic of the rear suspension to reduce the total travel and increase the amount of pedaling support. You set up the shock for the descents, and benefit from the firming up of the rear end in pedal mode without it negatively affecting the rebound or overall progression. The lever is quite intuitive, being tucked away a little more than a typical dropper lever but still in a relatively ergonomic place. This meant it didn’t take long for it to become second nature like a dropper or shifter lever, and so I found myself using it at any given opportunity. To go from the “Shred” mode to the “Pedal” mode, you need to unweight the bike. This can be achieved by hopping, or even just the upwards movement of a pump. To go back to the “Shred” mode, you just need to give the bike a little compression if the unit is set to a high pressure, but you can also set it to a lower pressure where it falls into “Shred” mode under your body weight. With the descending capability and safety being my number one priority as a default for the bike, I ran 100PSI out of the 50-200PSI which ensured the system would go into “Shred” mode as soon as I hit the lever.
Onto the ride then…It’s clear the Strive CFR has been designed to get down gnarly terrain as fast as possible from the second you drop in. Because they don’t have to compromise the downhill performance as much for the sake of climbing, the head angle is solidly in the downhill realm of slack, and the bottom bracket sits deep below the axles, giving you a pronounced “in the bike:” feeling that yields great stability and confidence. You sit low in the bike and can rip a corner delightfully hard, so long as you’re wary of giving it plenty of weight on the bars to keep traction up front. The short rear end allows you to snap round tighter switchbacks easily, yet the fastest open turns the Alps had to offer were met with stability and composure that allowed for G-forces to be produced that challenged my strength. The frame is stiff and sturdy, with some flex coming from the DT Swiss wheelset to keep things in check through rough terrain and on the off cambers. This did allow for some of the classic tire to chainstay rub that’s usually the case under my weight when hitting bikepark turns hard, but thanks to ample tire clearance this was kept to minor cosmetic scarring opposed to anything that could compromise the frame structure.
There’s a ton of composure from the progressive rear end to handle the big hits, meaning you can attack rugged downhill runs and bikepark tracks as well as anything I’ve yet to ride in its class. There’s excellent support in the mid stroke, which maintains the geometry through mid-size hits and in corners and allows for a solid platform to push off when pumping the trail for speed. Off the top it’s not the most supple and sensitive out there, falling short of some of the high pivot or other Horst Link offerings, but crucially it doesn’t suffer from any pronounced harshness on square edges or when braking, and retains a level of “pop” to make clearing rock and root clusters or popping onto a high line a breeze. In fact, the braking characteristics are very pleasant, striking a middle ground of preserving the geometry fairly well, without reducing the ability for the rear end to conform by an unmanageable amount. When you lay down the power in the descending mode the rear end moves a bit more than some, losing a little energy on the smoother pedaling stints but crucially preventing pedaling through rough terrain from becoming unmanageable, which is key when racing enduro. Of course, you’ve always got that “Pedal” mode to pop up into if the situation calls for a more efficient platform.
The short rear end and comfortable reach (when you select the bike size that will suit your proportions the best) retain a level of agility and playfulness, meaning it’s no slouch as a park bike or in the trail centers either. With the correct size you retain the ability to shift the weight balance of the bike fore and aft enough to be able to work the grip on each end, as well as unweight the front end quickly. If you stick with Canyon’s suggested size for your height then you’ll be pushed towards a setup that favors straight line speed over a nimble response, which may suit certain riders in particular areas better, but it’s worth checking the numbers to make sure you don’t end up too sprawled out with an overly long reach. Longer reaches undoubtedly have their benefits, but you can go too far – it pays to demo some bikes to figure out where your personal sweet spot is. Mine happened to hover in the zone between a medium and large frame size, so I opted to downsize, which proved to be a good call.
The seated climbing position on the Strive in the “Pedal” mode is nicely upright and centered, giving a commanding position to pedal. The firmer kinematic in this pedal mode instantly improves the climbing prowess, delivering extra support earlier in the stroke and greatly increasing the anti-squat, reducing the pedal bob to a minimum. The “Pedal” mode doesn’t completely lock out the shock though, meaning you retain some compliance to aid in the grip levels when climbing chunky technical terrain. Similarly, because the bottom bracket is raised to a level higher than most in the class, there’s more clearance when you’re pedaling through this chunk, reducing the number of pedal strikes. Though the seat tube angle is steep and puts you in a favorable position to weight the front wheel on the climbs, the short chainstays can occasionally lead to the front wheel becoming a touch light on the steepest pitches, but it’s far from unmanageable. Overall, it certainly climbs better than its descending prowess would suggest. Much better.
After around a month of ragging across a range of conditions, the Shapeshifter decided it was done with shifting shape, and became stuck in the “Pedal” mode. This gave me the excuse to take a deep dive into the system and see how it goes together under that sleek plastic cover. Overall, I was quite impressed with the construction. There’s a steel pin that goes through a couple of plastic plain bearings (bushings) at the Shapeshifter “shock” shaft end, and a secondary set of bushings where the shock runs through. The Shapeshifter “shock” body is trapped between a couple of pins on the rocker link, and pivots around them on a bushing. The plain bearings on the Shapeshifter “shock” will only rotate when the system is used, so won’t add to the friction of the suspension action. This also means they won’t wear like a suspension bushing, and so unless you’re using it extremely frequently, you may never need to replace it. The cable to actuate the Shapeshifter unit feeds through the frame in the same way as an internal dropper cable but pops out of a little hatch on the front of the seat tube to feed into the unit. There’s a rubber grommet to span the gap between frame and Shapeshifter, and a secondary grommet on the other side of the unit where the cable pops out of the actuator and is clamped by a grub screw on a ferrule.
The drawback of all this complexity shoved into a small space is the number of steps it takes to access the Shapeshifter, plus the need to remove the shock to tighten the seatstay rocker pivots. It’s not the end of the world, and doesn’t add a terrible amount of time, but for a privateer racer on the pre-race checks it may prove to be a hassle. The problem I had turned out to be caused by the cable being stuck on its way out of the frame, preventing it from fully releasing and letting the Shapeshifter lock into the closed position. Once the cable was freed (and a sharp edge where the cable exits the frame was filed smooth), things returned to working order, and it was time to get back to the riotous fun on the trails. The Shapeshifter is theoretically a unit that should outlast the majority of components on the bike, since it only moves when the mode is switched. Speaking with Paul Wooton, the UK service technician for Canyon, servicing is handled by Fox service centers, and they have had very limited issues with the unit since moving to Fox as the manufacturer. The service interval is every 200 riding hours, which is the same as the Float X2 rear shock major service. If you’re interested in reading up a bit more on the Shapeshifter you can get some more information here. Other than the minor Shapeshifter issue, the pivots resisted the punishment of many laps without any sign of coming loose, which was refreshing.