When the Spectral:ON CFR first popped up on the Canyon website, Canyon claimed that it was one of the first e-bikes to feature Shimano’s new Auto Shift technology. But there was a catch...
What attracted you to the Canyon Spectral:ON CFR?
Given that the Spectral:ON CF 9 was mbr’s e-bike of the Year in 2023, I figured the CFR would be the perfect vehicle on which to test Shimano’s new EP801 motor with automatic shifting. But there was a snag. When I received the bike for long-term test I couldn’t get the Auto Shift to work. After much head scratching, I double checked the Canyon website and that claim had suddenly disappeared. So even though the Spectral:ON CFR had the new Shimano EP801 motor, which is Auto Shift ready, it wasn’t enabled.
Need to Know
- Full-power e-bike with Fox Factory suspension
- Travel is 160mm front, 155mm rear
- New Shimano EP801 motor with Free Shift technology
- Lightweight CFR composite frame keeps the weight under 24kg even with a 900Wh battery
- Mullet design with 29in front wheel/2.5in tyre with a 27.5in rear wheel/2.6in tyre
- Lightweight one-piece Canyon carbon bar and stem and Reynolds E carbon wheelset
- Full Shimano Di2 12-speed drivetrain with integrated chain device
- GPS enabled with built-in tracker
Was the bike easy to set up?
Yes. And the problem with the Auto Shift was simply one of miscommunication. Auto Shift was not activated on this bike because you have to use a Shimano 11-speed drivetrain and Linkglide cassette to work with the technology. Check the specification below you’ll see the Spectral:ON CFR has a 12-speed Shimano XT Di2 drivetrain. According to Shimano, 12-speed XT isn’t robust enough for use with Auto Shift and this was something Shimano stressed at the launch of the product. It seems Canyon’s communication department didn’t get that memo, even if the product manager clearly did. To be fair to Canyon it is an easy mistake to make because YT did the exact same thing when it launched the updated Decoy range a month or so ago.
In short then, we still haven’t had a bike on a long-term test with Shimano’s Auto Shift. And it’s probably because bike manufacturers are concerned that riders will perceive an 11-speed drivetrain, especially on a flagship bike like the CFR, as a backwards step. We have however spent a ton of time on SRAM’s Powertrain which also has its own version of Auto Shift.
Who is this bike for?
In terms of intent, the Spectral:ON CFR is very similar to the Spectral:ON CF 9. Both are full power e-bikes designed for to tackle everything. There are a couple of key differences to the CF 9 though. The CFR gets a higher-quality carbon frame where the R designation refers to the different carbon layup, which Canyon claims is stronger and stiffer. This allows the company to reduce frame weight while retaining similar strength and stiffness to the CF 9.
At 23.75kg (52.36lbs) the CFR is almost half a kilogram heavier than its cheaper sibling, but that’s because I upgraded the battery from the stock 720Wh to the 900Wh option, which adds an extra 900g to the overall weight of the bike. It’s also why the headline price is £350 higher than on the Canyon website. If you want the bigger battery and extra range, simply tick the 900Wh battery box at checkout.
What else has changed for 2024?
The other key difference is that the Spectral:ON CFR has a 160mm Fox 36 Factory fork rather than 150mm fork travel like on the 2023 CF 9. For 2024, Canyon has introduced 160mm forks across the Spectral:ON range. As such the taller fork adds a bit of height to the bottom bracket, the head angle is a tad slacker and there’s a bit more length to the front centre. Taken together, the differences in handling are subtle rather than dramatic.
It does have an impact on the weight distribution though, and combined with the relatively tall head tube on the size L, the 160mm fork pushes the bar height up a touch. So my first task was to re-jig the oval headset spacers and drop the stem. I ran into a couple of issues with this. First, the spacers have these interlocking dimples, and they are really easy to break off, causing the headset spacers to sit slightly askew.
If you could change one thing what would it be?
The bar/stem combo. Sure, the one-piece Canyon CP12 carbon bar/stem saves a lot of weight and looks really clean. However, if you like to roll your handlebar to adjust the sweep it doesn’t allow you that option. One-piece carbon bars can also feel a bit harsh, and that’s the impression I got here. And if you want to change either the bar or stem, you need to change both. Also I’m not crazy about the dropper post cable and rear brake hose bring route through the top of the headset, because slamming the stem to reduce the bar height does put quite a tight bend in both, so you can only get the stem so low.
How was the build kit?
Like previous generations of Spectral:ON the CFR is a mullet/MX bike. And while the benefits of running a 29-inch front wheel with a 27.5-inch rear wheel are well documented, it is worth mentioning that the Reynolds TR309 E front rim is 6mm narrower than the rear to save weight and add some vertical compliance. To save even more weight Canyon has opted for a Maxxis Assegai with a lighter EXO casing on the front but it might be prudent to fit a front tyre with a thicker casing if you ride anywhere rocky or if you’re a heavier rider as the EXO casing isn’t that tough.
There are some really cool frame details too, the QR rear axle has a pull-out lever, so you can remove the wheel without needing a tool. There’s also a massive skid plate to protect the frame and motor from damage when riding over logs or up rock steps. A rubber flap helps keep dirt out of the lower pivot bearings, and there’s a built-in steering lock and space for a full-size water bottle in the frame. It ticks all of the boxes then.
Canyon offers two battery options, right?
As mentioned before the bike comes stock with a 720Wh battery at £8.999 but that extra £350 for the 900Wh battery is well worth it for the extra range. It does add extra weight higher up in the frame though, so you do need to run the air pressure in the 36 fork slightly higher than with the 720Wh battery to achieve the same sag and geometry. The massive battery can still be removed easily for charging. There’s a handy pull tag on one end of the battery and the two hex bolts that lock the battery into the frame can be stored on magnets on the skid plate during the removal process.
What about connectivity?
Fire up the Shimano E-Tube app and you can modify almost every aspect of the setup from what the shifter buttons do, to the level of assistance in the various modes. Canyon also has an app that allows you to track the position of the bike and activate movement alerts, so it’s like having a built-in Apple AirTag.
How did it ride?
Although it’s disappointing to not get to test Shimano’s Auto Shift, the Spectral:ON CFR does have Free Shift, which allows you to manually change gears without pedalling. This takes advantage of the motor’s overrun, so the motor can spin the chainring and keep the chain moving effortlessly across the cassette without you having to turn the pedals. Neat, right? This function is great when you come bombing down a hill into a tight uphill turn as you don’t have to sneak a crank in or risk grinding a pedal to shift up the cassette into an easier gear. And it’s something you’re going to do a lot on the CFR as this bike really starts to rip when you get off the brakes.
The new Shimano EP801 motor also has more power than the old EP8, but it’s just as smooth. It has an internal clutch that disengages when you reach the assist limit, so it never feels like you’re churning through molasses if you need to sprint into a jump or when trying to keep up with a friend who has chipped their e-bike. Also, with that 900Wh battery hidden inside the down tube, you can easily do a two-and-a-half-hour ride in Boost mode on this bike or nurse it in Eco for a full day on a single charge. Either way, you’ll probably be spent long before the battery is.
With its oversized down tube, the frame is incredibly stiff, which isn’t too bad in itself but combined with a carbon handlebar and carbon wheels, the Spectral:ON CFR is a little bit harsh when barrelling through rock gardens or skidding over braking bumps. So I fitted a One Up aluminium handlebar, which has an oval profile for added compliance and it helped take the edge off things.
Has the bike been reliable?
Yes. 100% reliable. I’ve had the Canyon Spectral:ON CFR on test for over six months now and I’ve had no issues whatsoever with any of the components. Wheels on e-bikes tend to lose tension but the Reynolds hoops are still rock solid. The Fox Transfer Factory dropper post is still smooth and play free. I haven’t mangled the rear derailleur either, and because Shimano Di2 is powered by the battery in the frame, I don’t have to worry about charging the battery in the derailleur like on SRAM’s AXS system.
Best of all the Canyon Spectral:ON CFR is a breeze to ride. It allows you to push your limits without it always feeling like you’re on the ragged edge. And even when both tyres do break traction, the bike is so well balanced that it happens in a really controlled manner. Which simply encourages you to get loose and ride with more confidence in every situation.
Even though the Spectral:ON CFR doesn’t come with Auto Shift, nothing is stopping you from buying the Shimano Linkglide cassette and 11-speed drivetrain and getting a Shimano dealer to remap the software. Obviously, I’d like to see Canyon offer that as an option because we don’t know how good this bike could be with it. At over £9,000, the Spectral:ON CFR is a sizeable chunk of money, but no expense has been spared on the build. The frame, suspension and components are all top-drawer and the CFR delivers the handling and the confidence to match. We said the Spectral:ON CF was an easy bike to ride when we tested it and the same is true of the Spectral:ON CFR, and with the 900Wh battery you’re going to be able to ride harder, faster and for longer.