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Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8: First Ride Review

Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8 gets Shimano’s latest EP8 motor and battery, but is the older chassis still competitive?

Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8
(Image: © Future / Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

A lightweight semi-carbon chassis trail bike with excellent suspension control and mullet agility

For

  • Lightweight semi-carbon chassis
  • Very sorted suspension
  • Excellent wheels and tires
  • Tough transmission
  • Great motor feel and power
  • Full-size battery
  • App tuning
  • Neat display

Against

  • Coasting rattle
  • Low BB causes clearance issues
  • Overlong 'stem'
  • Prescriptive saddle
  • Direct delivery
  • Unconfirmed shipping costs

The Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8 is the brand's complete suspension e-bike makeover of its heavy-duty, long-travel, 29er-wheeled torque brawler bike. The latest Spectral:ON keeps the same carbon mainframe, internal battery and mixed wheel/mullet baseline, but gets Shimano’s newest EP8 motor and a bigger battery. That creates a really rounded, good-looking and fun e-trail bike that’s well specced for the money, but it’s not without its quirks.

Design and geometry

The Spectral:ON chassis changes very little. The underside access 630Wh battery slots into the softly angular downtube with the smaller, 10 per cent lighter EP8 motor at the base. There’s no particular twist or tweak to get the elements low in the chassis, but Canyon sits the whole bike really low. That makes the custom fiber-reinforced skid plate that also protects the chainring if, sorry when, you sump out a really wise move. There’s a custom chain guide bolted onto the main pivot point and the main charge point ‘hatch’ is on the offside seat tube flank where it’s slightly exposed to rear-wheel muck. The top tube mounted USB-C charger port for other devices that we loved on the previous Spectral:ON still sits under a rubber pop-up plug behind the stem. Steering lock is still internally limited to prevent torn out wires in a crash.

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Canyon Spectral:ON Review

The Shimano XT transmission enables multi-shifting, plus you get a more durable SLX 10-51T cassette (Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)
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Canyon Spectral:ON Review

The EP8 is 10% lighter than the E8000 and 20% more powerful (Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)
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Canyon Spectral:ON Review

The Fox 36 fork has been downgraded from a Performance Elite to a Performance (Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)

Main-frame cabling is internal while control lines run externally at the rear. There are a few small exposed motor wires behind the bottom bracket which need care when cleaning but shouldn’t be an issue in general riding situations. The alloy back end uses a really neat hidden pivot onto the seat stay. While it looks like a faux bar pivot the position means it’s still between the main pivot and the rear axle. That creates a proper four-bar suspension kinematic for a varying axle path 150mm stroke. The twin rocker and shock driver linkages are packaged very cleanly with the Fox DPX2 Performance parallel with the steeply sloped top tube.

It’s a close fit, so you won’t squeeze a larger volume (X2 or similar) air shock in there and Canyon advises against coil-shock use. There’s space in front of the kinked shock tube for a full-size bottle though, and it comes in four frame sizes from S-XL.

Geometry hasn’t changed but for the most part, it’s still fine for a mid-travel trail bike. Head angle is 66-degrees, reach measures 470mm on our large sample and even with big tire clearance, the smaller rear wheel keeps the rear end short at 435mm. The seat angle is slack at 74.5-degrees and the 335mm bottom bracket is really low.

Components and build

The major component changes are the motor and battery. The new magnesium casing makes the EP8 10 per cent lighter than the E8000 but with 85Nm of torque its 20 per cent more powerful. It’s smarter and smoother too, with only one big potential issue we’ll get onto later. The 630Wh battery offsets the bigger energy demands of the motor but means the complete bike comes in a kilo heavier than the previous bike.

The rocker switch for mode changing and neat OLED display pod are synced into Canyon’s unique carbon gull-wing ‘ON’ bar for minimal wire exposure. Shaped ‘stem’ and spacers add to the slick, futuristic front end feel. This cockpit only appeared on the flagship CF9 before, so in theory it’s a big upgrade. Reach, sweep angle and kinked bar shape are obviously fixed, however, and the faceted profile can make it very awkward to attach clamp-on lights and GPS units at the angle you want. There are no bolts for a road bike style ‘out front’ mount that would ease the issue either.

The new CF 8 downgrades to a Performance version of the Fox 36 fork compared to Performance Elite on the previous 8. That means a simpler GRIP damper with less adjustment and the air release valves aren’t fitted to their mounts. You do get the floating axle chassis for maximum smoothness, however, and the 230 x 60m stroke DPX2 shock thankfully carries over.

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Canyon Spectral:ON Review

The Shimano EP8 motor has full tuning of the four power modes (Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)
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Canyon Spectral:ON Review

The DT Swiss Hybrid 1700 wheels are a definite step up (Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)
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Canyon Spectral:ON Review

The CP12 cockpit is designed to put your hands in the same position as a conventional sweep (Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)
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Canyon Spectral:ON Review

The mode switch and neat OLED display pod are designed for minimal wire exposure (Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)
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Canyon Spectral:ON Review

The DPX2 shock is excellent when matched to Canyon’s proven ‘triple-phase’ kinematic (Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)
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Canyon Spectral:ON Review

The Canyon Spectral:ON CF 8's rubber comes in the form of 2.6in Maxxis DHF and DHR tyres (Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)

The DT Swiss Hybrid 1700 wheels are a definite step up, too. E-bike-specific hubs, freehub, spokes and rims create a super-tough, torque-proof setup that we’ve seen suck up ridiculous abuse and stick-in-spoke injury, and still get home. Maxxis DHF and DHR tyres are triple compound MaxxTerra rubber and the rear gets the slightly reinforced Exo+ carcass to help protect its 2.6in width.

Shimano XT transmission allows multi-shifting and you get a more steel rich SLX 10-51T cassette for durability. Canyon also fits its own 34T direct mount chainring for top-end speed. The four-piston XT brakes use 203mm rotors front and rear for plenty of power, while the Shimano lever for the 150mm Canyon dropper post gives a pleasingly synced feel to the controls. The broad-nose :ON saddle uses a distinctive ‘armchair’ raised rear profile that’s very prescriptive in where you sit. The CP12 cockpit is designed to put your hands in the same position as a conventional sweep, 780mm bar combined with a 50mm stem. However, laying that setup on top shows that while grip angle is matched, the reach is 60 rather than 50mm.

Ride, handling and performance

That’s obvious straight away in the handling too, with a clear reluctance to turn and tweak traction compared to a shorter stem setup. On the plus side it’s more likely to stay on line on steep climbs and that’s where the weird saddle comes in. The inescapable sensation that someone is holding your butt forward on the bike is definitely odd. The way it shunts you forward offsets the slack seat angle very effectively on steeper gradients where slipping back on the saddle will get the front lifting. This is the point where you realise that the contact points of Canyon’s Spectral have to be viewed in context with their new expanded range. If you’re an experienced shredder who wants a long-travel, enduro-handling monster truck then take a look at the Torque. The way the Spectral naturally sets you up is mostly aligned with helping less experienced riders tackle proper big days and technical terrain - and from an e-biker demographic point of view, that’s probably a smart move.

Having said that, it’s obviously designed to be more of a chunky terrain fun bike than the 130mm travel Neuron:ON and once the saddle is dropped out of the way and you’re adapted to the more stubborn steering the heart of the Spectral can still pump a decent dose of adrenalin. The head angle isn’t super raked but it’s stable enough and the short rear end and 27.5in rear wheel gives it an easy agility and tight turn in. It’s a broad spectrum appeal too, as it works whether you’re flicking and flaring on a jump line or just trying to twiddle or teeter round your first hairpin. The EP8 also has a ‘kick on’ surge, that keeps the rear wheel driving for a couple of seconds even when you stop pedalling. That might not sound like much, but it’s a big deal when it comes to getting up steps or other crux moves on climbs and puts Shimano on par with Bosch for technical climbing. It’s particularly useful on the Spectral where the stability-boosting super low bottom bracket means regular crank taps even with short 165mm arms. 

The Shimano motor also adds another ‘clack’ to proceedings thanks to a harsh metal-on-metal contact when freewheeling. It echoes quite loudly through the Spectral frame, making it more obvious than other EP8 bikes we’ve ridden. Shimano assures us nothing bad is happening but it’s still annoying. While the display is very neat you’ll only get a 'percentage battery life' display by linking to your phone or Garmin. Otherwise, the EP8 is great, with full tuning of the four power modes through the e-tube phone app and native ride recording for later downloading to Strava and other apps. Power pick-up is seamless right through the rev and torque range too, making it really natural and responsive to ride with.

Canyon Spectral:ON Review

(Image credit: Future / Guy Kesteven)

Back to the bike itself: although the damper in the Fox fork might be relatively simple and not quite as supple over slaps, it still rails and maintains control really well. The DPX2 shock is excellent when matched to Canyon’s proven ‘triple-phase’ kinematic, too. Supple grip moves into a consistent cornering support phase then the final stroke section ramps enough to hold you as securely as that upturned seat. The extra damping oil volume of the DPX2 shock means performance remains consistent on long descents or when the motor lets you keep hammering through long rough sections where the extra bike weight means a lot of heat energy for the shock to soak up. The wider and lightly reinforced rear tyre on the 35mm wide DT rear rim also helps with shock absorption and traction, although the roll isn’t as efficient and easy as a 29er back end.

Verdict

Apologies if this has read like a slightly confused first ride review, but that’s a fair reflection of our initial impressions of the Spectral:ON CF8. For the most part, it’s a really fun 150mm travel trail bike, with its lightweight semi carbon chassis, excellent suspension control and mullet agility. While it’s not super slack, the low BB adds stability through turns and the tighter head angle and rear-end potentially make it easy and agile to chuck around. The armchair saddle offsets the slack seat angle on steep climbs, too. 

The Shimano motor adds smooth, auto surge power with app tuning and enough battery capacity to make the most of its performance as long as the rattle doesn’t irritate you too much. Add a brilliant DT wheel pack, appropriate tires, simple but sorted Fox dampers plus XT transmission and you’ve got a great all-round trail e-bike at a good price. However the super-low, crank-catching BB is at odds with the neutral overall handling balance and an otherwise very beginner-friendly ride.

While it matches the e-bike-rider stereotype of a tech-keen newbie, the fancy carbon cockpit also causes handling and equipment fit awkwardness and the prescriptive saddle shape will either need getting used to or swapping. Direct delivery also means no automatic friendly support from your local bike shop and additional shipping and tax costs are unconfirmed at present.

Test conditions

  • Temperature: 2-7 degrees Celcius
  • Surface: Black and red trail centre, natural off-piste DH

Tech Specs: Canyon Spectral:ON CF8

  • Price: £5,999 (plus taxes and shipping) / $TBC
  • Head angle: 66 degrees
  • Frame material: Carbon mainframe, alloy rear end
  • Size: Large
  • Weight: 22.8 kg (large without pedals)
  • Wheel size: 29x2.5in front, 27.5 x 2.6in rear
  • Suspension (front/rear): Fox 36 Performance 160mm travel, 44mm offset/Fox DPX2 Performance 150mm travel
  • Components: Shimano XT 10-51T 12 speed gearing and shifter. Shimano 165mm E crank with Canyon:ON 34T chainring. Shimano XT M8100 4 pot brakes with 203mm rotors. Maxxis DHF 3C MaxxTerra Exo 29 x 2.5in WT front and Maxxis DHR 3C MaxxTerra Exo+ 27.5 x 2.6in WT rear tires on DT Swiss H1700 Hybrid 30 and 35mm rims. Canyon:ON CP12 carbon cockpit (60mm reach, 780mm width), Canyon Iridium 150mm dropper post, Canyon SD ON saddle
Guy Kesteven
Guy has been riding mountain bikes since before they were mountain bikes and is right handy on an offroad tandem (of course he is).