The Canyon Spectral 125 is a short-travel 29er trail bike that's perfect for spicing up your local trails - but is it too niche?
Don’t let the relatively short travel on the Canyon Spectral 125 fool you; this is a bike that’s been engineered to feel capable in a wide range of trail environments. But does its performance live up to its design, who’s going to get the most out of this bike, and is it good enough to potentially warrant a position on our list of the best trail bikes? Or would it be more at home amongst the best cross-country bikes?
Need to know:
- A 125mm travel 29er designed to tackle big terrain
- CF models use a full carbon frame with tube-in-tube internal cable routing
- All models use 140mm travel forks with a 64º head angle in slack/low setting
- G5 dropper post can be adjusted internally in 5mm increments, with a 25mm adjustment range
- Alloy Spectral 125 bikes available from £2,449
Finding its niche
What makes a trail bike a trail bike? Is it the weight, geometry or how much travel it has? Or is it simply the terrain you chose to ride it on? After all, trail riding can be anything from a fast, flat, singletrack loop around your local woods, to shredding high alpine trails that would be difficult to navigate on foot. A trail bike means different things to different people, especially in different countries. And with such a broad spectrum of riding to cover, it seems daft that we pigeonhole trail bikes as having to have 150mm travel, weigh under 15kg and sport X, Y and Z geometry.
Yet designing a trail bike to cover the widest possible variety of terrain is a very good idea, even if it’s clear that trail bikes exist on a spectrum – some indistinguishable from enduro rigs, others inspired by cross country racing. So where does the new Canyon Spectral 125 CF 9 fit on this sliding scale?
Canyon Spectral 125 geometry
In terms of travel it’s definitely at the shorter end of the spectrum. It uses the latest Fox Float X shock, just like the 150mm version, but Canyon hasn’t simply fitted a shorter stroke shock to the standard bike to reduce the travel by 25mm. Instead it opened a new carbon mould and designed the bike around the suspension, where the seat stay assembly is noticeably longer than on the 150mm bike. And when we compare the rear suspension characteristics directly, the Spectral 125 is more progressive and has more anti-squat for improved support and pedalling efficiency.
The frame shape is also subtly different. The head tube is 15mm taller, which makes it easy to match the bar height of both models, even with the shorter travel 140mm fork on the Spectral 125. The seat tube on the Spectral 125 is also 20mm shorter, so you’ll have no issues running the 200mm Canyon G5 dropper post. The post height can also be reduced in 5mm increments by up to 25mm, which makes upsizing even easier than before.
In terms of geometry, the angles on the Spectral 125 are within fractions of a degree of the 150mm bike. As such, I measured a 64.2º head angle and a 76.8º seat angle in the low geometry setting. Chainstay length and wheelbase are both very similar too. One area where I expected the geometry on the 125 to depart from the standard bike was in the BB height. After all, you don’t need as much pedal clearance on a bike with less travel.
So I was surprised to discover that the Spectral 125 actually has a 5mm higher BB than the 150mm bike: 339m vs 334mm (both in the low setting). This could just be a tolerance issue though, as the listed geometry on Canyon’s website has the Spectral 125 ever so slightly lower.
Canyon Spectral 125 weight and specifications
The Spectral 125 is a unique bike in its own right. Now let’s take a closer look at the weight. At 14.17kg with a jaw-dropping spec that includes Fox Factory suspension, a wireless SRAM GX AXS drivetrain and lightweight DT Swiss XMC 1501 wheels, it’s clearly not catering to the Down Country crowd.
So while it’s marginally lighter than a lot of 150mm bikes, it’s positively heavy when compared to the Transition Spur and Specialized Epic Evo, both weighing in under 12kg, and Canyon makes no attempt to hide the fact. The full carbon frame is only 100g lighter than the 150mm version, and both bikes even share similar build kits. Strength is the focus here, not weight saving, which is why the Spectral 125 carries the same Category 4 rating as the Strive enduro bike.
That’s not to say Canyon hasn’t tried to shave off a few grams here and there. Take the EXO casing Maxxis tyres for example. With less of a suspension safety net it’s not the first place we’d look to reduce weight on a bike that has the potential to be ridden every bit as hard as the standard Spectral. Still, upgrading the rear tyre to a tougher EXO+ casing is an easy, and relatively inexpensive fix. In fact, at the launch of the Spectral 125 at Bike Connection industry event in Italy a lot of the test bikes had already succumbed to pinch flats and had the rear tyres upgraded to something more robust.
Canyon also downsizes the rotors from 203mm to 180mm, further reducing weight, but even when combined with the lightweight DT Swiss wheels, the top end Spectral 125 CF 9 is only 0.4kg lighter than the cheaper Spectral 29 CF 7 that we tested in our Trail Bike of the Year test.
How the Canyon Spectral 125 rides
Now, given that geo and weights are pretty close between the regular Spectral and the 125, you’re probably wondering what is the point of the short-travel bike? I thought the exact same thing, then I rode the Spectral 125 back to back with the 150mm bike and realised there are in fact pronounced differences between the two bikes.
Bowl along flowing singletrack or even up a gradual fire road climb and the bikes behave in a very similar fashion. Both pedal well with limited movement at the Fox Float X shocks and it’s only when the climbing gets steep and more laboured that you notice the increased efficiency of the shorter travel bike. Stand up to sprint and the 125 is also more responsive, and not because it has less travel on the rear, even if that helps. It’s actually the shorter travel fork that seems to make the biggest difference here, as there’s noticeably less movement up front when you get on the gas.
The 140mm fork also provides more stable dynamic geometry while descending. This is most noticeable on low-speed, steep switchbacks, as the 36 fork doesn’t dive as much as the 160mm version. This inherent stability really gives you the confidence to open up the taps on fast terrain, and makes the bike feel more reactive when you pump rollers or need to load the tyres for extra grip. It’s fun, poppy and engaging, simply because everything happens that little bit faster on the Spectral 125. It cuts both ways though, and on rougher terrain it’s harder to keep your feet firmly glued to your flat pedals, as there isn’t such a big suspension buffer.
And after several rides tweaking the suspension setup on the Spectral 125, I discovered that the bike has a lot of latitude. I won’t bore you with all of the details regarding the testing process, but after much experimenting I ended up running the Spectral 125 in the high geometry position, but with less air pressure in the shock and with more sag. While that seems counter intuitive, it allowed me to maintain the same dynamic ride height as the low geometry position but with an overall lower spring rate, which makes the suspension more sensitive and less progressive. Even with this inverted set up the bike still pedals really well, but there’s noticeably more grip.
The softer rear suspension also makes the bike feel more dynamic than it did in the low setting with the recommended amount of sag. And thanks to the new Fox bottom out bumper and inherent progression in the frame design, there’s never a harsh bottom out even when you use the full 125mm travel. Best of all, if you want a tighter suspension response, or sharper pedalling characteristics you can just run the stock settings.
So the new Spectral 125 is a solid, capable and adaptable short-travel trail bike that highlights just how myopic we are when it comes to trail bike travel. It would be a great complement to anyone that already has an enduro bike and is looking for a stout bike to spice up their local trails, or even for a heavier rider that wants a short-travel bike but knows that the typical down country rig just wouldn’t hold up. Yes, the new Spectral 125 is a niche within a niche, and while I’m not convinced that it’s as versatile as a regular 150mm bike, there is a small subset of riders that will absolutely love it. So it’s cool that Canyon had the vision to create it.
A solid, capable and adaptable short-travel trail bike that's perfect for spicing up your local trails, It's not as versatile as a regular 150mm bike, but some riders will absolutely love it.