Canyon’s enduro race bike gets redesigned Shapeshifter 2.0 and 29in wheels
Far from abandoning its innovative Shapeshifter system, for the new Canyon Strive CFR 9.0 Team, Canyon has partnered with Fox to improve and refine it.
Canyon Strive CFR 9.0 Team need to know
- Canyon’s enduro race bike gets redesigned Shapeshifter 2.0 and 29in wheels
- Morphs more easily between XC and DH mode
- Fox-designed and built piston should be more reliable
- Six full carbon models from £2,699 to £6,349
The entire range uses the same full carbon frame, but the top two models (labelled CFR) use stronger high-modulus carbon, which lets Canyon reduce the amount of material and save 300g from the frame weight in the process.
Bikes that mutate at the touch of a button or the flick of a lever have been around for decades, but while most have focused on changing the air volume of the shock to alter travel and geometry, Canyon’s Strive broke new ground with a bold design that changed the position of the shock to manipulate the attitude and the handling. Launched in 2015, the original incarnation was sadly beset by reliability problems and hampered as an enduro race bike by conservative geometry, just when the whole longer and slacker movement was really gathering pace.
But before we take a more detailed look at the Shapeshifter revisions, lets touch on the basics. For starters the new bike now rolls on 29in wheels, conveniently plugging what was a gaping hole in the Canyon range. It gets 150mm of rear wheel travel, with short fork offset (42mm on RockShox and 44mm on Fox) running either 160mm or 170mm travel up front.
With sleek lines, sharp creases and a seamless profile from dropout to head tube, the new bike is unmistakably a Canyon… with one distinct difference. Rather than adopt the frame layout of the Canyon Torque, Canyon Neuron and Canyon Spectral, the Strive retains its rocker link and vertical shock. This is because the Shapeshifter will only work with this configuration, although the frame still boasts a low standover, room for a full size bottle, internal cable routing and integrated frame protection.
But back to that bone of contention, that point of divisiveness and the one thing that will probably make or break the Strive in the marketplace – the Shapeshifter. Firstly Canyon has done a clever thing by enlisting the expertise of Fox to improve the design. Internally it’s vastly different, with oil and air never in close proximity at high pressure. Better sealing has been added, service intervals lengthened and the position of the air valve is more accessible. From the saddle, the biggest difference is that you don’t need to do the Canyon boogie to change modes. No more squatting or standing en pointe. By changing the kinematics of the Shapeshifter linkage you only need to press the new under-bar remote to engage XC mode. There’s sufficient leverage for the shock to move with you sitting on the bike – no more need to un-weight. And to get it back into DH mode, you simple hit the second button and the first bump will push the shock back against the seat tube. And the end result is a claimed 1.5° angle variation and 15mm of BB elevation change. This needs clarifying however, as only around half the difference comes from the piston itself (we measured 0.7° at the head angle and 10mm at the bottom bracket in a static state), the rest coming from the reduced travel and change in dynamic geometry when you’re riding.
It actually works really well, and with minimal practice I was able to switch modes multiple times on familiar descents without too much fumbling. Whether all that faffing is worth the effort is debateable though. Sure, it may give you the edge on an enduro stage, with more stable suspension and greater ground clearance when sprinting out of the saddle, but if you’re not racing the gains are less clear cut. On longer smooth climbs and technical ascents it does help, increasing the anti-squat by around 10 per cent and jacking the bike up slightly into a more efficient pose, but again, it’s actually no slouch in DH mode as long as there’s no chance of clipping pedals.
And that’s where I have to wonder if Canyon has played it a little safe with the geometry of the new Strive. In fact I’m in danger of sounding like a broken record, as this is exactly what we said about the last Strive we tested (the Canyon Strive Al 6.0 Race) back in 2016. How so? Well, having ridden several 29er enduro bikes with very similar sizing and intended use to the Strive recently – namely the Scott Ransom, Yeti SB150 and Specialized Stumpjumper Evo – I’m convinced Canyon could have given it a slacker head angle. Now I know the development team has done its due diligence on this – both in the lab and on the trail – as I have seen some complex drawings illustrating the interplay between head angle, offset, trail, wheel size and handlebar position. And I have spoken to the engineers and test riders about their experience trying the various options out in the real world. But having ridden those previously mentioned bikes, all of which have head angles that are at least 1° slacker, the downsides seem trivial and mostly solved by using the XC mode.
That said, the Strive is well balanced in turns, feels very neutral and intuitive to ride on a variety of terrain and has plenty of agility when you want to get playful. But get it on an steep, raggedy descent and I know I’ll be pining for the extra security that comes from a slightly slacker head angle.
There is one way to help relax the head angle a little bit, and I’m not quite sure why Canyon didn’t take this approach on its top two race models. It’s possible to fit a longer stroke shock with the same eye-to-eye measurement and increase the travel to 160mm at the rear. This is almost certainly how the Canyon Enduro team will run their race bikes, and why not? If I were racing the most brutal stages in the world I’d want all the help I could get too. And unlike most of the competition, I’d be able to mitigate the drawbacks on more mellow terrain with the Shapeshifter. Presumably it’s a tyre clearance issue that keeps this off the consumer bikes, but I reckon it’s still a trick missed.
Three years ago I tested the newly launched Strive against the two other duplicitous enduro bikes on the market – Scott’s Genius LT and Cannondale’s Jekyll – and gave it the win. In 2019, Cannondale has a redesigned Jekyll, Scott has its new Ransom, and the Strive is vastly improved. Sounds like it’s time for a rematch?