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Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 review – less travel, more fun?

Canyon’s shorter travel Spectral is a sawn-off shotgun blast bike, but does a trail bike need heavyweight enduro spec?

Canyon Spectral 126 CF8
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Bike Perfect Verdict

Seriously aggressive, confident, practically detailed and excellent value short travel charger that gravity riders who love showing off their knife skills in a gun fight will dig. Heavy build and awkward suspension setup bury its aggro all-rounder potential though.

Pros

  • +

    Slack, long, stiff and confident

  • +

    Top non shop value

  • +

    Impressive short travel control

  • +

    Enduro strength spec

Cons

  • -

    Enduro spec adds weight

  • -

    Suspension hard to balance

  • -

    Not mullet or coil compatible

  • -

    Unreinforced rear tire

Canyon’s Spectral 125 CF8 looks, weighs and is specced almost identically to the Spectral 150, which we rated as one of our best trail bikes, so how different can it be? Turns out it’s actually quite a lot different in construction and on the trail, and not in the way you might think. But who will that work for and where do we think Canyon might have missed a trick?

Spectral 125

The frame looks familiar but it's all new in detail. That's still a burly bar, fork, tire and brake up front though (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Design

If you’re thinking the 125 seems familiar then that’s because the overall design looks to be identical to the standard Spectral 150 – even if you look quite hard. It’s actually a totally different bike in terms of molds, tube dimensions and carbon layup though. That saves 100g over the longer travel bike, which puts a medium frame at exactly 2.5kg according to Canyon

What’s perhaps surprising is that geometry is basically identical. The reach is 5mm longer at 486mm for a large and the seat angle is slightly slacker at 76 degrees too but they both share the same 64-degree head angle. These can be steepened by half a degree and the ride height raised 8mm using the flip chip at the end of the shock.

Practical detailing goes deep too: There’s a screw in BB, replaceable shock mount inserts, double sealed bearings, foam quietened, fully plumbed and entrance clamped cable/hose routing, an optional ISCG chain guide mount, bolts for an accessory mount (Canyon make a specific bag) under the top tube and space for a 600ml bottle under the shock. The rear wheel is secured with a ‘Quixle’ pull-out handle equipped axle and it uses SRAM’s Universal Derailleur Hanger. There are big rubber chain slap guards on the chainstay and a replaceable sump guard ahead of the chainset. There’s no internal storage (boo) or internal headset routing (hooray) though.

There’s a three-year reduced price frame replacement offer (currently £1620) and alloy Spectral 125 bikes if you’d rather pedal metal and don’t mind an extra 500g of frame weight.

Specification

Given that the geometry and therefore the rowdy intent of the two Spectrals is very close, it’s less surprising that there’s very little difference in the spec between this and the 150mm bike either. The fork is a Fox Float 36 Performance Elite but with 140mm of travel not 160mm. The rear dampers are both Fox Float X piggyback shocks, but the 125 gets a Performance spec version not the Performance Elite of the 150, so it misses out on low-speed compression adjustment apart from the side mounted ‘firm’ lever. The suspension kinematic has also been changed to limit suspension to 125mm as well as creating a more progressive stroke.

Stop and go equipment is Shimano’s evergreen XT, with a 203mm ‘Freeza’ rotor up front for serious stopping power. There is a slight sneaky downgrade to an SLX chain, but that’s better than the 150 bike which comes with a Deore. That’s the kind of thing only noticed by the perpetually pedantic but it will make a difference to longevity and shifting smoothness in the long run. One longevity bonus is that the wheels are 30mm wide rimmed DT Swiss XM1700 which are relatively heavy, but bomber tough. These are wrapped in a chunky Maxxis apiring of a Minion DHR II 29 x 2.4in tire on the front and a faster rolling Dissector 29 x 2.4in on the rear. They’re both Exo carcass rather than anything heavier though, which is odd considering the rest of the reinforced spec. The alloy 780mm bar and good looking wraparound clamp 40mm stem come from Canyon’s toughest DH/Park proof G5 range though and the whole bike gets a rowdy, enduro ready, Category 4 rating despite less travel and a lighter frame. Ergon grips and saddle complete the contact points with a Canyon branded adjustable dropper which lets you tune its stroke by 25mm. It’s worth noting that the posts are all pretty long for the frame size though with a 200mm shaft length on a large.

Spectral 125

You can just squeeze a 600ml bottle under the piggyback shock and there's a bag mount under the top tube (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Performance

The first ‘performance’ aspect that needs talking about with any online supplied bike is that you’ll need to finish building it up and pumping it up yourself. That’s fine if you know what you’re doing and refer to the reasonably accurate pressure and damper charts on the front fork. There’s no such guidance for the rear shock though and it’s a tricky one to set up. While Canyon have apparently increased anti squat (how much the bike stiffens when you pedal), if you run it soft enough to get full travel on a regular basis then it still feels soft and bouncy under power. Add enough pressure to make it pop and exploit it’s stiff back end however and it’s actually so progressive that its hard to get the last 20mm of travel out of the back – even if you pull the one small volume spacer out of the shock and you’re really slamming stuff. As it’s a Performance rather than a Performance Elite shock, there’s no way to externally adjust the low-speed compression that could easily sort it out. That meant it took me a lot of very small back and forth sag percentage adjustments to find an acceptable balance. Even then I was regularly flicking the ‘firm’ switch on the side of the Float X shock into play on climbs and sometimes for smoother, swoopy berm descents too.

Those kind of trails are definitely a happy place for the Spectral 125. While it’s lost weight and gained length, the frame is still clearly stiff from nose to tail and the shorter fork extension also keeps front wheel tracking very tight. Unsurprisingly it feels more precise and visceral than the longer travel bike too, so the rewards for slotting lines and hooking turns are that much more vivid. It really comes into its own on super steep Golfie style, natural vert trails too, because there’s not enough suspension to disturb the fore and aft ‘yaw’ balance of the bike.

My preferred ‘105mm of poppy travel’ suspension compromise  gave enough support to really push against through G-out turns and rollers plus a stiff enough pedal feel to sprint the flat bits. In the process it also proved an awesome showcase of just how sorted the latest Fox 36 fork is. That big front rotor and DHR II front tire give enough bite to press your eyeballs on your goggle lenses if you go all in on. And make no mistake, while it might have similar rear travel to some XC bikes, this is definitely a bike that will appear to riders who wear goggles and hard shell kneepads not roadie specs and spandex. The steep seat angle, tall BB and option to flick into ‘Firm’ mode definitely help when you’re clawing back up again for another go too. 

The slackness of the front and the height of the BB do make it less of a rabid corner hooker and last second line switcher than it could be though. Unfortunately while Canyon offer mullet 27.5in rear wheel options on the longer travel Spectrals, it’s an official “no” for a smaller rear wheel on the 125 due to reduced ground clearance. So if you saw that video I made where I did that and loved it please ignore me for the sake of your warranty. Ditto the coil shock I tried at the same time because there’s insufficient shock clearance to make that a safe option. Canyon also say the suspension is optimized for a progressive air-spring not coil, although that actually worked pretty well with the super plush mid stroke of the Fox DHX.

Even with the stock air shock set up stiff, you can still slap it pretty hard through chunky mess without it coming unstuck – certainly as hard as some 130mm travel bikes I’ve ridden. The level of involvement and responsiveness encourages you to push right to the piloting limit too, rather than sitting there as a passenger. Ultimately it can’t carry speed through prolonged punishment as easily as a longer travel bike can though. So as soon as you start running out of skill the suspension, muscles and momentum you're relying on to get through will die a lot earlier than the 150. It's not as smooth and traction rich over smaller chatter as the bigger bike either, which makes it more fatiguing in the long run – even if you're just cruising. While I didn't split or flat it during testing, I did burp the Exo carcass rear tire several times and whether it would last the hammering it was getting when I was chasing bigger bikes on bigger terrain was always a worry. 

Spectral 125

Chunky stays get rubber protection and double sealed bearings but that's an SLX chain driving the XT gears (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

The biggest comparative issue I had with the 125 though is the fact that while Canyon’s claimed frame weight saving seems roughly right, complete bike weight is still only 80g less than the bigger bike on our scales. Given that Canyon already have the 120mm travel Lux Trail (2.5kg lighter in similar spec) and the 140/130mm Neuron Trail tourer (1.1kg lighter in similar spec for £500 less), we can see why they’ve kept the burly build on the 125s. However, I could never stop thinking that taking a kilo out of the bike would create a much more responsive up, down and along pinner though. It wouldn’t even be hard to do either. I pulled 500g out with a lighter, but still durable wheel pack and 2.4in ‘downcountry’ tyres and it felt a lot more combative on climbs and pop and hop lively on techy trails straight away. While I didn’t have the kit on hand to try it for real, another 400g could come straight out of the suspension with a switch to a 34 fork and DPS inline shock. Add a slightly lighter, rather than DH spec cockpit and you’ll have a 13kg bike that’s still trail tough, impressively controlled and ready to rail on excellent geometry. While I’m on a wish list tip, it would also be great to see them offer a premium carbon version of the 125 frame to match the Spectral CFR which saves 300g over standard frame weight. And while we’re no strangers to disappointingly heavy shorter travel bikes, like Trek’s Top Fuel and Whyte’s T-140, that would also make it a better match to bikes like the YT Izzo, Evil Following and the previously mentioned Tallboy etc.

Verdict

Canyon’s short travel Spectral is shaped and equipped to slay serious trails at speed while giving you the extra involvement of gravity biased short travel suspension. That’s going to really prick up the ears of riders who love being hardwired into a properly visceral ride rather than being anaesthetised by extra travel. I certainly had some brilliant sessions hunting down and dropping bigger bikes on it. It’s also really well sorted for practical detailing and Canyon are still offering excellent value if you don't mind DIY set up. 

The ‘underdog/unduro’ vibe isn’t for everyone though and having awkward to balance suspension on a direct sell bike is definitely a downside. I feel it would fit better into the existing Canyon range – and I’d be raving about it (and on it) more – with a lighter ‘tough trail’, rather than ‘full enduro’ build too. Or alternatively an ‘officially endorsed’ mullet and coil version could be an off the charts cult hero.  

Tech Specs: Canyon Spectral 29 CF8.0

  • Price: $5,199 / £4,367.98 (including box and shipping)
  • Discipline: Aggressive trail
  • Head angle: 64 degrees
  • Frame material: CF Carbon
  • Size: S, M, L (tested), XL
  • Weight: 14.3kg
  • Wheel size: 29x2.4in
  • Suspension: Fox 36 Performance Elite 160mm travel, 44mm offset/Fox Float X Performance 125mm travel
  • Components: Shimano XT 10-51T 12 speed gearing I-Spec EV shifter and 32T, 170mm arm chainset. Shimano SLX chain. Shimano XT 4 piston brakes with 203/180mm rotors. Maxxis Minion DHR MaxTerra EXO 29x2.5in front and Maxxis Dissector MaxTerra EXO 29x2.4in rear on DT Swiss XM1700 wheels. Canyon G5 780x31.8mm bar and 40x31.8mm stem, Canyon G5 200mm adjustable dropper post, Ergon SM10 Enduro Comp saddle and GE1 Evo grips
Guy Kesteven
Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting 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.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg