SETUP | From our experience receiving over a dozen Canyon bikes, their packaging and prep make for a relatively easy build process. Getting the bike setup and feeling good was fairly easy, provided your body weight sits in the sweet spot of the specified coil spring, which we did. Airing up the fork and getting the suspension feeling good took little time or effort as the bike has a pretty open and neutral characteristic, unlike some bikes which have a very slim window for optimized performance.
We didn’t love the Canyon bars but dealt with them for a while, however one piece of kit that we just can’t even ride is Canyon’s grips. We instantly pulled them off and installed a set of OneUp grips that gave us much more comfort and security.
Setting up the K.I.S system doesn’t really require any additional steps when building, however riders can adjust how much or little resistance they want by loosening and adjusting the sliding block to move it fore and aft. Be careful not to loosen it too much however, one of our testers learned the hard way and had to get the system reconnected after loosening the bolt all the way.
CLIMBING | Even though we spent a ton of time letting a chairlift do the climbing for us, we set out on plenty of rides where we propelled the Spectral up the mountain. Whether it was going up technical pitches or spinning away on lower grade climbs, the Spectral was rather impressive for a mullet and coil-sprung all mountain bike. Some riders felt that the seat tube angle and smaller rear wheel had them a little off the back in certain scenarios, but it wasn’t enough to really turn them off. For a bike that’s as capable and competent on the downhills, it’s a really solid climber and all around mountain bike.
DESCENDING | We had a ton of fun descending on this bike. In fact we regularly asked ourselves how a 150/160mm bike was the one that kept getting loaded in the van for trips to the bike park.
What was cool about the Spectral CF8 however is that it didn’t need the gnarliest, fastest trails to remain fun. On the lower elevation trails that require quite a bit of pedaling on lower-grade descents, our riders still felt speeds and fun were on the upper end of the spectrum. Smoother flow trails with berms and jumps were enjoyable as the bike felt very natural railing turns and flying through the air.
The suspension platform is similar to other four-bar or Horst Link bikes in that it is just a solid all around performer. It offers decent platform for pushing into corners or off lips, but remains lively and playful enough to get the back end around for flicks, drifts and taps.
K.I.S. CHARACTERISTICS | During our first rides with the K.I.S. system turned on, it felt a bit unnatural and even strange. We could feel the resistance as we climbed up smoother to mildly-chunky trails. The feeling was a bit like having to push more to get the bars turning and then when they did, releasing the bars to let them come back to center, not quite a constant struggle of over/under-steering, but it was certainly noticeable. We were questioning the other riders and reviews we’d seen where people talked positively about it. However, after a few minutes, it grew more natural and we began to adapt to the feeling up front.
Once we grew more comfortable we began to feel comfortable letting our upper body and hands relax. It allowed us to just focus on pedaling and rather than actively keeping the bike pointed straight, just lay our hands on the bars to conserve energy. One downside we found is that climbing with your hands off the bars is pretty challenging. Normally you can use your body weight and knees to counter-steer and work with the rocking/tipping motion of the bike and front wheel to keep it balance and upright. With this system, the bike wants to stay straight, so riding with your hands off the bars is more tricky, granted that’s not something we do a ton of, but it is worth mentioning.
When it came to descending with the K.I.S. system, we noticed that there were only a few instances where we had to “Learn” it. Unlike the climbs, we had a harder time noticing that it was doing much of anything until we turned it off. One area that did present a couple of new sensations was in higher speed corners where the cornering technique requires a bit of bar turning as well as bike leaning. Certain corners where the radius changed or lines weren’t quite perfect resulted in some awkward feelings where the bike wanted to stand up, or straighten out a bit, or had us exiting a bit higher than desired. It was something we noted the first couple runs but then quickly adapted to. It also was less prevalent with lower tension on the K.I.S. system. So, depending on your strength, weight or how much tension you have, this could be more or less noticeable.
The only other real possibly negative trait we found was when jumping. More specifically, when we wanted to try and style or trick jumps. the system wanting to snap the bars back to center is noticed in the air, for better or worse. Depending on what you’re trying to do in the air, it could be something you turn off for jump runs and back on for raw, techy DH trails.
What we did notice however is that as soon as we turned the system off for those rough and rowdy descents, our front end felt like it was weaving from one side of the trail to the other. We quickly realized how much less the front of the bike wandered when the K.I.S. system was on. Our front tire held straighter lines, we didn’t feel like we were constantly working our arms and hands to push and pull the bars a million times a minute to make small adjustments or balance corrections. It did in fact reduce some fatigue and allowed our upper bodies to relax a bit as the system did some of the work in keeping us pointed down the hill.
Much like our first rides with the system turned on, once it was off, we had to recalibrate to riding with it off and all of our testers half-jokingly said, “Can we stop real quick? I want to turn it back on now. That was enough for me to see I like it on.” Even riders who felt it was a pointless, marketing or unnecessary feature were pulling multi-tools out of their pocket to turn the K.I.S. system back on. For whatever that’s worth, it seemed to make believers out of us. Does that mean it’s a must-have or everyone needs it? We don’t think so, but maybe as we ride it even more and on different bikes, it will be something we truly learn to love and don’t want to ride without. Or perhaps the next generation will be an even bigger ride-changing experience.
FINISH AND VALUE | Nothing stands out as amazing or really draws you into the Canyon from a fit and finish side. It’s a value-oriented bike from a value-oriented brand, which is probably all it needs to do. Recently we reviewed the Pivot Switchblade and specifically compared how nice their $5,000 Brunch Ride bike was because their frame exudes refinement and top-tier touches whereas the Canyon is the understated work horse that just does its job without needing to look flashy. For the price, we’d say it’s a decent value but not amazing since so many brands are currently making aggressive price cuts that have really amped up the competition for bikes around the $4,500 – $5,000 mark.
COMPONENT REPORT | We were quite surprised at how things held up on this bike to be honest. The fork could be argued about by some riders but we can’t really say it’s “Not the right spec” call for this bike and its intended application. The shock really surprised us with how well it performed, which was probably the one component that stood out to us on this bike. Most of our riders discussed the odd selection of going with AXS drivetrain and keeping SRAM Code R brakes on the bike, but we could understand how some may prefer to have AXS and upgrade the brakes to their preference. One thing that probably every rider will upgrade immediately are the grips. As we’ve said before, we’re pretty sure Canyon wins the award for having the worst OE grips, and would love to see something better…Or maybe that’s part of how they can keep their prices competitive?
HOW DOES IT COMPARE? | Comparing the Spectral to other bikes, we’d say it sits in a pretty impressive spot. Certainly a podium placing bike in this category. Compared to something like the Norco Sight C2 SRAM, which has a similar price point, the Canyon doesn’t look as nice from a paint, fit and finish perspective and doesn’t pack some of the size specific geometry and suspension tuning features that certainly add value to some consumers. But what it doesn’t offer in features it makes up for in performance. This bike just gets the job done and does it well.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Over the course of the year, we always have a few bikes that stand out among the rest. The Canyon Spectral CF8 KIS was a bike that put itself on that list and just stayed there. It is dependable, works well in a variety of conditions and trail types and is a lot of fun to ride. If you prioritize getting a bike under $5,000 that doesn’t have to sport all the snazzy bits and bobs that marketing geniuses thrive on, the Canyon Spectral CF8 Mullet K.I.S. is a really bad ass mountain bike for mountain biking.
Did the K.I.S. win over our crew? Well, the short answer is yes, and no. It is really cool and absolutely helped keep speeds and confidence up, fatigue low and really changed our perception of what it would do on-trail. Do we believe it’s a “Must Have” technology? Not really. It’s very cool, we would not be opposed to riding more bikes with it as an option, but we’re sure a non-K.I.S.-equipped Spectral would still be a really fun bike. So, out of 10, we give the K.I.S. system a solid 7.5 or 8.
Price: $4,699 / £4,799 /€4,999