The Canyon Spectral:ON wins the direct sales category for the 2023 MBR Electric Mountain Bike of the Year awards
There aren’t many e-bikes designs that can boast the gen 3 tag, but because Canyon was in on the ground floor of e-bike development the Spectral:On is one such model – even if Canyon does not make a big deal about it. And oh my, but does its performance impress; so much so that it takes the crown of 2023 MBR Direct Sales Electric Mountain Bike of the Year and makes it into our shortlist of the best electric mountain bikes.
Need to know:
- Bigger pivot bearings and hardware combined with better sealing increased overly durability of the Spectral:On frame
- Standard battery delivers 720Wh, but the frame has capacity to for a 900Wh upgrade
- Wireless SRAM GX AXS shifting reduces cable clutter on the bike, but adds an extra charger
- Canyon pairs a 150mm travel Fox 36 fork with Float X shock and 155mm rear travel
But before we get into the current round of revisions that have transformed the Spectral:On into the sleek e-bike we see today, let’s take a closer look at the non-negotiables. First and foremost the Spectral:On has always been billed as a trail bike, Canyon has the Torque:On if you want something bigger hitting.
All three generations have rolled on MX wheels, and while tyres widths have changed a touch over the years, the concept has proved a sound one – fit a 29in wheel up front to enhance roll over, paired with a smaller 27.5in wheel on the rear to increase wheel strength and prevent the chainstays getting too long. And since its inception, Shimano Steps has been the motor supplier of choice, first E-8000 now EP8.
The big change then is that Canyon now has a custom battery. The Spectral:On CF 9 ships with a 720Wh battery but has space inside the thin-from-the-side, fat-from-above, downtube to take the massive 900Wh unit that’s available after market for £1,084.95.
We’ve ridden the CF 9 with both batteries, and it’s safe to say that YOU are more likely to run out of steam long before the 900Wh battery goes into the red. The weight difference in the batteries is 900g, and because the extra weight of the bigger battery sits right behind the headtube, if you swap between them you’ll also need to change the pressure in the Fox 36 fork to account for the increased weight.
And the battery capacity isn’t the only difference, the full carbon frame is altogether burlier than before, with a focus on improved durability too. Canyon has also changed how you remove the battery. It now slides out of the bottom of the down tube, rather than having a door cut in the underside, like on the YT Decoy and Vitus E-Sommet.
Credit where credit is due, this approach was pioneered by Specialized and it allows for a lighter frame construction. It’s one of the key reasons why the Spectral:On CF 9 weighs only 22.34kg, and that’s with a bottle cage fitted. Canyon has also eliminated the wired in power switch. Instead, there’s a soft rubber pad on the topside of the downtube that allows you to push directly on the power button of the battery. Less connections, mean less to go wrong.
When it comes to e-bike suspension, bigger is always better, right? Canyon disagrees, at least for the Spectral:On. The CF 9 gets a 150mm travel Fox 36 fork with 36mm upper tubes, not the beefier Fox 38 found on the YT. Now, the Fox 36 is no noodle, and because travel is capped at 150mm, the chassis isn’t even being stretched to its maximum capacity.
And while the smaller 36 fork has a small advantage on the scale, it’s almost 250g lighter than the 38, it also offers improved ride quality especially for lighter riders. And that’s because the oversized downtubes on full power e-bikes that are needed to house the bigger batteries tend to make the frames really stiff, and one way to reduce the overall stiffness is to fit a less stiff fork like the 36. Best of all, the Performance Elite version on the Canyon gets all the same tech as the Factory fork on the YT, including the excellent 4-way adjustable Grip2 damper cartridge.
Canyon has clearly splurged on the fork then, and made some suspension savings fitting the entry-level Float X Performance shock. It has nailed the tune though and with a great range of rebound adjustment you can run the suspension bullet fast all the way to e-bike-with-no-charge slow. There’s no compression adjustment thorough, so you can’t fine tune the feel to anything like the same degree as the Fox X2 shock as on the YT. Still, it offers a really smooth, plush and composed ride, so you could argue the adjustments are redundant anyway.
Getting the G5 handlebar and stem low enough on the Canyon can be tricky, as the head tube is quite tall. Factor in the cable routing running through the headset, and you can’t slam the stem as low as the stack measurement suggests. So running the fork a little softer and adding an extra volume spacer to reduce the risk of bottoming is a good move. It’s also why we wouldn’t recommend fitting a 160mm fork to the Spectral:On, unless you pair it with a low-rise bar.
In contrast the BB high in the Canyon rides low, so if you set the rear suspension up even a hair too soft you’ll be forever clipping pedals, especially on technical climbs. So yes, the Canyon would definitely benefit from the shorter 160mm crankarms found on the YT.
SRAM Code RS brakes lack the bite of the Shimano XT units on the Vitus and aren’t as smooth or as powerful as the Code RSC brakes on the YT. Where even the thicker 2.0mm rotors weren’t enough to reduce stopping distances.
And if were being really picky the 60g lighter EXO casing Maxxis Assegai front tyre is little to focused on weight saving, and once we upgraded the front tyre to EXO+ and added enough sealant to both tyres, the weight of the bike crept up to 23.51kg. It’s still the lightest bikes in test though as the weight for the Decoy is listed with a 540Wh battery – when battery capacity is matched, the Canyon is lighter.
Our final gripe with the build kit on the Canyon is the 18-point freehub engagement of the DT Swiss 370 Hybrid rear hub. When combined with the freewheel in the EP-8 motor, it makes for painfully slow engagement and pickup of the motor in some situations. It also increases the amount of rattle when coasting that’s inherent in the Shimano EP8 motor. So thankfully DT Swiss makes a retrofit upgrade kit that halves the engagement time.
Niggles with the specification aside, the Canyon Spectral:On CF 9 is an absolute ripper. Not only does it have the battery capacity to leave its rivals in this test languishing, with relatively low anti-squat, the 155mm rear suspension is also really good at eliminating shocks from repeated high speed hits. Traction when climbing is also first rate, and when you factor in the steepest effective seat tube angle in the test, the Canyon is the best bike here for setting KOMs on.
By far its defining characteristic though, is just how easy it is to ride, and to ride fast. The poppy suspension and balanced geometry make it a breeze to manoeuvre and because you have slightly less travel to pull through, getting the bike off the ground and popping the front end up is relatively easy, even with the heavier 900Wh battery.
Traction is really well balanced between the contact patches too, and if anything, it’s the rear end that tends to break away first, which really gives you the confidence to push right to limits and regularly exceed them. Always safe in the knowledge that you can enter a controlled drift, rather than ploughing a fresh furrow with your face.
Looking for alternatives? If it’s the best electric mountain bike you’re after, you’ll want to check out the 2023 overall winner the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp Carbon. Or if it’s a lightweight eMTB you’re after, then check out the Pivot Shuttle SL 29 XTR. Of course, there are also some great budget electric mountain bikes out there if you don’t want to splash too much cash.
The new Canyon Spectral:On CF 9 is an e-bike that knows no limits. It looks cool, rides great and what it lacks in overall suspension travel it more than compensates for with agility. As such this 155mm travel e-bike will have you side stepping and hopping over obstacles that no amount of suspension could iron out. It doesn’t have the most extreme geometry, nor does it have the highest specification, but with by far the biggest battery capacity the Spectral:On CF 9 will take you places that the other bikes in this test simply can’t. The fact that you’ll have a total blast doing so, is what really won us over though.