Cross-country has come a long way in recent years. As courses have become more progressive, cross-country has had a bit of a revival. Modern cross-country racing is exciting, with riders battling it out against each other on technical tracks featuring gnarly rock features, drops, and road gaps. The addition of full gas short-track racing and some big-name riders who can properly shred have certainly elevated cross-country mountain biking away from the dorky Lycra-clad fitness freak image it once had.
This shift in the riding style can be seen in the best XC mountain bikes too, which have been evolving equally fast to keep up with track and rider demands. Slacker angles, more reach, more travel, wider bars, and fatter tires have proven that XC races are no longer only won on the climbs, but also the descents.
While Canyon’s new Lux full-suspension bike has seen updates to reflect this, the Exceed hardtail has remained rooted in classic cross-country design. Steep head angle, short reach, and lack of dropper post seem at odds with the new status quo but does that mean the Exceed is now a living relic of the past, or does it still have a place in modern mountain biking? We have been testing out Canyon’s Exceed CF7 to find out.
Canyon’s Exceed range comes in three different grades, there is the top of the range and lightest CFR, followed by the CF SLX, and finally, the standard CF that we have on test here. The Exceed CF still only weighs a claimed 1312g and other than the lower grade carbon adding a little weight to the frame, it features all the same geometry and design as the more premium models.
That means you get a very aesthetically clean bike with tubes that gently meld from each other. The CF7 comes in two colors, either a plain Quick Silver color or the more out-there MTB Racing Team Replica scheme I have on test. Initially, I was unsure of the white and abstract color shapes but it's grown on me.
The seat clamp is internal and adjustment is easily accessed under the seat tube and top tube junction which keeps it out of the dirt firing line, although we did find the seatpost would occasionally slip. There is an IPU (Impact Protection Unit) headset to stop the handlebars from over-rotating in a crash and all the cabling neatly feeds into the top of the headset giving the bike a really clean finish. The frame gets two water bottle cage bosses and a neat no-tool quick axle which has an integrated handle for tool-free rear wheel removal.
The geometry of the Exceeds CF 7 defines the bike, a 69-degree head angle, 75-degree seat angle, and 435mm reach (medium) puts you in an efficient position. While these might not seem like very exciting numbers, the short 425mm chainstays and low 58mm bottom bracket drop plant the bike and play into the agility that older style geometry XC bikes are known for.
While the frame shapes have more in common with cross-country mountain bikes of a few years back, the componentry of the Exceed 7 is more modish. Notably, the Reynolds TR 309/289 XC carbon wheels with their wide 30 front and 28 rear inner rim diameter keep the 2.35 in Maxxis Ikon tires wide and shapely for plenty of traction. The freehub has 10 degrees of engagement and once hooked up the wheels give a positively taught push forwards under power.
Upfront is a 100mm RockShox SID SL Select RL which can be controlled using the handlebar lockout. There's a 1x SRAM GX drivetrain with a Carbon GX crankset and a 34t chainring. SRAM also takes care of the braking with some Level T brakes and 180mm front and 160mm rear rotors.
Controls come from Race Face and consist of an 80mm Ride stem and a flat 740mm Ride handlebar. The only missing modern addition to the bike is a dropper post although considering the bike's intended use I didn’t feel the need for one.
Ride and performance
Whenever new geometry, tech, or trends come around there is always a crowd that starts shouting from comment sections that the new must-have is a waste of money and the old stuff no less fun. While they have a point to some degree, there is no denying that modern bike trends and tech has made bikes considerably more comfortable, faster, and more capable.
The reality is that your old enduro bike is no less capable, it's just trail bikes are now much better. Downcountry is basically trail now and XC bikes aren’t far off either. While I would be hard-pressed to recommend a trail bike with dated geometry, the Exceed is different. These conservative cross-country hardtails are carving a new niche for themselves, filling the huge gap between gravel bikes and what is now considered cross-country.
If you think you need 50mm plus tires, a suspension fork, and ridiculously wide drop bars on your gravel bike, you are probably going to be better suited to a bike like the Exceed CF. It's going to be about the same speed as your monster gravel utility vehicle on the roads, but considerably more capable and confident off-road.
The carbon frame, carbon rims, and lightweight fork mean that the Exceed CF7 weighs in at 10.7kg which isn’t far off some of the burliest gravel bikes, factor in that you have much grippier and comfier tires, better braking, and more suspension means the Exceed has a massive advantage off-road. The added weight and extra tire volume don’t seem to slow things down much either and it's only when the pace starts to hit 25kph and above on smooth surfaces that gravel bikes started to show a notable advantage. Keep things routed on the rougher side of gravel and the Exceed will thrive over long distances.
Even with the relatively slow freehub pick-up, the Exceed can launch forward, attacking climbs and recuperating speed out of corners. Dip into some classic flowy singletrack and the Exceed CF 7 is wonderfully light and agile. The steep head angle, short chainstays, and low bottom bracket help whip the bike around tight corners with ease while the fast-rolling tires carry loads of speed on smooth straights.
Push the bike too far though and you will quickly know about it. The short wheelbase and steep head angle will become unsettled on larger repeated impacts or when faced with steep sections of trail. The SID SL fork suits the Exceed’s intended riding but lacks precision and control in hard turning corners and rougher sections, further amplifying the transitioning point from old-school to new-school riding and telling you to reign it in a bit.
The Exceed’s classic cross-country design is quite dated on paper when compared to some of the super progressive cross-country bikes that are around these days. However, that doesn't mean that it's not an incredibly fun bike, it's all about managing your expectations. In the way that downcountry bikes blurred the lines of XC and trail riding, I think classic hardtails like the Exceed have an opportunity for a new lease of life by bridging the gap between mountain bikes and gravel. Whether you want to call it old-school XC, ATB, or, dare I say it, aggro-gravel, the Exceed combines sharp, agile handling with modern mountain bike tech.
It can give most gravel bikes a run for their money on anything but the smoothest gravel and when the track starts verging on MTB territory, it's going to be in its element. With the emerging trends of bikepacking, ultra-endurance racing, and FKTs (fastest known times) there is still a real demand for ultra-fast yet somewhat conservative cross-country mountain bikes that can tackle a broad range of terrain at speed but not be too punishing over the long haul.
It's not difficult to find the Exceeds limits though, push the bike hard into holes, drop into a steep section, or really load up a corner and it begins to feel very nervous very quickly. Stick to flowy trails though and snappy frame and reactive handling come alive.
- Temperature: 10-30 degrees C
- Surface: Natural singletrack, long-distance cross-country, trail center
Tech specs: Canyon Exceed CF 7
- Frame: Carbon
- Fork: RockShox SID SL Select RL Remote
- Reach: 435mm (size medium)
- Head angle: 69 degrees
- Seat tube angle: 75 degrees
- BB drop: 58mm
- Drivetrain: SRAM GX Carbon cranks 34T chainring, 10-52t 12-speed cassette, SRAM GX derailleur
- Brakes: SRAM Level TL, rotors 180mm/160mm
- Wheelset: Reynolds TR309c / TR289c XC
- Tires: Maxxis Ikon EXO, 2.35
- Seatpost: Race Face Ride
- Saddle: Selle Italia SLS Boost
- Bar and stem: Race Face Ride, bar width 740mm, stem length 80mm
- Sizes available: XS-XL
- Price: $3,199 / £2,899
- Weight: 10.7kg (size medium, actual)