Canyon Exceed CFR LTD review – superlight, brutally stiff race bike for speed fiends

Canyon’s flagship XC race hardtail frame is exceptionally light but how does the complete bike ride?

Canyon Exceed CFR LTD
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Bike Perfect Verdict

Canyon's top Exceed is a superlight, super stiff, killer value dream for masochistic speed fiends but its take no prisoners attitude extends to rider comfort too.

Pros

  • +

    Exceptionally light, stiff frame

  • +

    Exceptionally light, stiff wheels

  • +

    Exceptionally light, stiff integrated cockpit

  • +

    Premium lightweight race spec

  • +

    Excellent value

  • +

    Clever sprung seatpost

Cons

  • -

    Unforgivingly rigid

  • -

    Limited chainring clearance

  • -

    Press fit bottom bracket

  • -

    Direct sell only

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Canyon launched the flagship CFR version of its Exceed last summer making it its best XC race hardtail. Super lightweight and race efficiency is matched to the German company's typical top value direct sell pricing on a premium spec. The brutal stiffness that punches it up to podium topping speeds is painful for the pilot on longer rides though.

Canyon Exceed CFR LTD rear frame and seatpost

No dropped stays for a smoother ride on the Exceed CFR frame, but you do get Canyon's unique split shaft VCLS seatpost (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Design and geometry

The premium CFR (Canyon Factory Racing) carbon fiber lay up (including Toray M40X) that Canyon reserves for its top models drops claimed frame weight of a medium Exceed CFR to a shockingly light 835g. That’s lighter than most road bikes let alone gravel bikes and very light for an MTB, especially considering Canyon doesn’t impose any extra weight or use limits. The Limited frame also gets a lightweight paint scheme with sparkly metallic mint stripe up the seat stays and over the top of the frame. 

That frame section tells you a lot about the design brief of the bike. The square stays might be skinny, but they’re dead straight from the rear dropouts to the top of the seat cluster where they overshoot slightly to create a big block of frame. This gives Canyon space to use an ‘aerodynamic’ internal seat clamp secured by a grub bolt in the armpit of the frame. It also creates a maximum efficiency and rigidity double diamond frame rather than the dropped stays you see on most hardtails today.

The arrangement means a tall 495mm seat tube (on a size large) which reduces stroke length options if you upgrade to a dropper, but that’s not really a concern for racers who’ll likely be happy with 100mm of seat change. It also gives plenty of room for two bottles inside the frame even on the smallest sizes. The rear axle uses Canyon's neat pull-out handle Quixle design for fast wheel removal. There’s a steering lock limiter to stop frame damage from controls on the low bars in a crash and the rear brake hose routes through the Acros headset top cap for clean lines, a hole free frame and a servicing headache later. High mileage riders might recoil at the use of a press fit rather than threaded bottom bracket, but recent examples I’ve used have lasted well. The maximum chainring size of 34T before you’ll rub the metal protection plates won’t be an issue for most mortal riders either, but I saw 38T rings winning World Cup XCO last year and it definitely restricts its speed in a gravel race context where it could be very competitive otherwise.

Angles are the same as the previous Exceed and more conservative than those of cutting-edge progressive bikes like the Scott Scale with a 69 degree head and 75 degree seat. The new frame is 15mm longer than before though so reach is relatively long in XC terms at 470mm on a large. 434mm length of the massive chain stays leaves plenty of mud room around the 2.35in tires fitted and the potential to run 2.4in in dry conditions. 

RockShox SID SL fork detail

RockShox's ultralight SID SL fork is a racer's favorite and it comes with a remote lockout trigger for sprinting (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Components and build

Canyon has spared no expense matching the superlight and stiff chassis to similarly focused componentry. It might have chosen the wider 30mm rim option but the DT Swiss XRC1200 wheels are still seriously stiff and light at under 1500g. The Maxxis Ikon tires are a minimal tread racer's favorite and come in the fastest MaxxSpeed compound.

The RockShox SID SL Ultimate forks are superlight with a RaceDay remote trigger on the bars to allow an instant fully rigid lockout of the otherwise smooth stroke. Not using oversized Torque Cap adaptors on the front hub to maximise contact area and stiffness is a precision miss though, considering the use of Canyon’s hyper stiff all-in-one CP08 carbon cockpit.

These carry the wireless shifter for a mostly XX1 (chain is X01) grade SRAM Eagle AXS transmission. Power watchers will have to add their own wattage meter though as the hollow carbon cranks are light and stiff but dumb in terms of data. SRAM Level RSC brakes need a good heave for significant stopping via the 160mm rotors but you’re less likely to skid the almost slick tires. 

Canyon has tried to introduce some smoothness and subtlety through the Ergon grips rearward flex of its unique split shaft VCLS seatpost. Make sure you torque the joining bolt at the bottom of the shaft up properly to avoid slippage though and keep it clean to stop squeaking, and the hidden seat clamp bolt is a pain in this respect too. There’s nothing comfortable or flexy about the superlight and stiff carbon railed Selle Italia saddle either.

SRAM XX1 drivetrain detail

The CFR LTD is powered by SRAM's current flagship XX1 Eagle AXS wireless groupset (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Ride, handling and performance

You’ve hopefully picked up the multiple less than subtle hints about ‘seriously light and stiff’ already, but even if you regularly ride race hardtails the Exceed CFR LTD will likely set new benchmarks for the combination of both. Acceleration is as immediate as the DT Swiss freehub allows and the 9kg weight means every watt you push through the pedals literally goes further. It’s particularly noticeable out of the saddle when there’s no seatpost bounce and with the fork locked and shoulders tensed through the rigid bars this tore chunks of time out of several PRs on smoother climbs. The flat top profile of the one-piece bars makes them more comfortable with hands together for aero wins and it regularly gave gravel bikes a hard time on light trails during testing as long as I didn’t run out of gears.

Keep the throttle open into rougher sections and the SID SL fork quickly proves what a capable performer it is in terms of calm control. Lack of tread and Torque Caps can make the front end vague if you’re pushing hard into loose or flat corners but keep it straight and you can be surprisingly brave. The VCLS post does its best to take some of the sting out of sharper impacts too. The clever parallelogram head keeps the saddle level and effective saddle height the same throughout the flex too so you can pedal through chunkier sections with less interruption. The fact there’s no twist or rattle like a conventional suspension seatpost is a bonus too and it’s a lot lighter as well.

However, while I know the post increases comfort from using the same design on other bikes, on the Exceed it just make things bearable. I still got some sharp knocks to the knackers if I didn’t get my delicates clear in time and sometimes the return of the post coincided with a solid clout that echoed up my spine. I was left in no doubt how stiff my race shoe soles were when descending on rocky/rooty trails out of the saddle and there’s no hiding from hammer in the one-piece bars either.

While that means every pedal press and bar tweak has an obvious effect it can cause jarring micro stalls over stutter bumps or the dreaded ‘lumpy grass fields’ that are a misery zone on so many XC courses in the UK at least. The rattle and shake definitely accelerates fatigue on rougher terrain too, with hands, shoulders and back starting to ache more and more whenever I went over the hour mark. Traction is compromised too as even at teen pressures there’s very little compliant conformity to help ground connection. That can make the CFR mentally taxing too as you’ll need to work harder to hold speed on technical climbs or through robber sections.

DT Swiss XR1200 wheels

Seriously light but still seriously stiff DT Swiss XRC1200 wheels are a perfect maximum efficiency match for the Exceed CFR LTD (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Verdict

The unfiltered stiffness, super light weight and direct drive efficiency of the Exceed CFR will be an unholy trinity that’ll create a religious experience for many hardcore racers. They’ll rejoice in the rapid, climb-friendly steering feel from relatively steep head angle and 740mm bars too. You’ve also got to remember that racers who want a smoother, more impact and line indiscretion forgiving option from Canyon will choose Canyon's Lux full-suspension bike so making the hardtail really hard makes sense in some respects. Canyon also does a very good job of making the direct buy experience as good as possible with its cleverly designed reusable boxes, upfront costs and UK service centre support and the pricing is impressive for such a premium frame and spec.

The Exceed CFR LTD definitely isn’t the answer if you’re looking for a nuanced and forgiving friend for longer distances though. So if you're in the market for something more like that, Canyon's Exceed CF 7 would likely be a better a fit for you.

Test conditions

  • Surface: Dry to damp, gravel, rock, roots, grass
  • Trails: Gravel, singletrack, natural woodland, blue/red man-made trails
  • Weather: Dry winter, 4-8 degrees C

Tech specs: Canyon Exceed CFR LTD

  • Discipline: XC/Gravel
  • Price: $7,599 / £6,699 plus £68.98 for carriage and reusable carton / €6,999 plus €49.80 for carriage and reusable carton
  • Head angle: 69 degrees
  • Frame material: Canyon CFR carbon fibre
  • Fork: RockShox SID SL Ultimate with RaceDay Remote 100mm travel
  • Size: XS, S, M, L (tested), XL 
  • Weight: 9.05kg (large without pedals)
  • Wheel size: 29in
  • Chainset: SRAM XX1 34T with DUB PF92 bottom bracket
  • Gears: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS rear mech, Eagle AXS shifter, 10-52T cassette and X01 Eagle chain
  • Brakes: SRAM Level Ultimate hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm Centerline Centerlock rotors
  • Tires: MAXXIS Ikon Exo 29 x 2.35in tires on DT Swiss XRC1200 carbon rim wheels
  • Bar and stem: Canyon CP08 740mm wide one piece bar and stem
  • Grips: Ergon GA2
  • Seatpost: Canyon VCLS 2.0 carbon flex
  • Saddle: Selle Italia SLR KC Boost
  • Website: canyon.com
Guy Kesteven
Technical-Editor-at-Large

Guy has been working on Bike Perfect since launch in 2019. He started writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg