The Spectrail:ON CFR electric mountain bike offers increased range and capability plus a lively and dynamic ride feel
The new Canyon Spectral:ON CFR is a 155mm-travel eMTB with MX wheels, powered by a Shimano EP8 motor. It’s longer and lighter with more battery capacity than previous models, not least because Canyon has redesigned the battery itself. Its sibling the Canyon Spectral:ON CF performed well enough to make our list of the best electric mountain bikes, and based on initial testing the Spectral:ON CFR may be on its way to joining it.
Need to know
- Lighter, stronger Spectral:ON – full carbon chassis saves weight, bigger 900Wh battery adds range.
- Frame travel is 155mm, all models use 150mm forks
- Reach numbers on all four frame sizes have grown by 25mm
- Shimano EP8 motor, and a choice of 900Wh or 720Wh Shimano Steps approved batteries
- Oversized pivot hardware increases stiffness and durability
- Five models in total: two CFR and three CF models
Catch a glance of the new Spectral:ON from the right angle, and you’d be hard pushed to tell it’s a full powered e-bike. Yes, the Shimano EP8 motor cradled under the smooth carbon frame is a tell-tale sign, but there’s no denying that the profile of Canyon’s latest creation has more in common with low-powered designs like the Orbea Rise and Specialized Turbo Kenevo SL.
Don’t be deceived by the Canyon’s sleek exterior though. With a massive 900Wh battery concealed inside the down tube, the Spectral:ON really is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And with all of that cellular energy packed into the frame, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a heavyweight e-bike designed simply to ease range anxiety at the expense of handling. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
At 22.75kg the new Spectral:ON CFR is only marginally heavier than the 630Wh model it replaces, while still delivering an additional 275Wh of juice. That’s equivalent to adding a range extender at very little extra cost, at least on the scales. Sling in the 720Wh battery option and the latest version is actually lighter than the old design. Impressive, given the increase in range.
So how did Canyon manage to leapfrog the limitations of current e-bike tech? It started with the battery. By taking a custom approach, albeit one that gets Shimano’s seal of approval, Canyon could start to think outside the box. Or, more to the point, change the shape of the box that contains the battery cells.
By switching to a flatter/wider battery design and arranging the cell horizontally, Canyon was able to achieve a more compact battery design and that streamline frame profile which avoids a disproportionately deep downtube.
The second step was to change how the battery is removed. We already know that simply adding a small door to the downtube for internal storage typically adds about 250g to the weight of the front triangle so think about how much extra material is needed if the cutaway has to be big enough to accommodate a battery? It’s why sliding the battery in through the end of the down tube is a much better idea as it minimises the size of the cutaway to better retain the overall integrity of the frame without increasing the weight. It’s what Specialized and Whyte have been doing for years, so it makes sense for Canyon to follow suit.
An additional advantage to this approach is that by rotating the motor up, you can place the battery in front of the motor, rather than on top of it.
This is really important when trying to maximise battery capacity and keep weight lower in the frame. Space inside the downtube is limited after all, which is why the maximum battery size on the small Spectral:ON is 720Wh, while you can choose to run either the 900Wh (4.75kg) or the 720Wh (3.84kg) on the three larger frame sizes. This also explains why the size small bike is £250 cheaper.
Granted, removing the battery on the new Canyon is now more complicated than before, and isn’t quite as straightforward as Specialized’s system. First you unhook a strap that holds the protective frame/motor cover in place, which reveals the two hex bolts that secure the battery. Remove the bolts, disconnect the power cord from the Rosenberger self-locating magnetic charger port and the battery simply slides out.
On Specialized’s e-bikes, you simply unscrew one hex bolt and the battery and protective cover slide out together. That said, with 300Wh of extra juice on the Canyon, you won’t need to remove the battery as often, if at all.
Similar designs tend to share similar problems though, so I wasn’t that surprised when I smacked the Canyon’s motor cover on a rock and the cable that connects the motor to the battery popped out and the lights went out. Specialized has since added an extra latch which also adds extra sealing, but the latch tends to break off easily, so that’s not a great fix either.
Geometry wise the new Spectral:ON has been tweaked a little. It still has a low BB height, but the chain stay length has increased by 5mm to 440mm and the effective seat tube angle is now two degrees steeper. Two subtle changes that will definitely improve climbing performance.
The sizing has moved on a lot though, the reach on all four frame sizes increasing by 25mm which means the size L now has a generous 485mm reach. There’s no geometry adjustment, and while the bike is designed around a 150mm fork, it’s safety rated for up to 160mm forks, so you could tweak the numbers that way.
And it’s not just the front end of the Spectral:ON frame that’s been updated, the rear has also been augmented. Travel has been bumped up from 150mm to 155mm, where oversized carbon stays, larger pivot hardware and the addition of a seat stay bridge boost rear end stiffness. So not only will you be able to go further on the latest Spectral:ON, you’ll also be able to go harder.
How it rides
With the massive 900Wh battery concealed inside the downtube, I half expected the new Spectral:ON to be glued to the ground. It wasn’t. In fact, I was struck by how dynamic the ride was for an e-bike with such progressive sizing. Proof, if it were needed, that Canyon has totally nailed the suspension response and weight distribution on the new Spectral:ON.
The suspension also felt plush and composed, so you can still lean back and let the bike do the work when required. So smashing into stuff with reckless abandon isn’t an issue if that’s your preferred riding style. Also, given that the 900Wh battery really lets you do more runs than the average rider can withstand, there are going to be times when even the most dynamic riders are going to be too tired to get the bike off the ground.
The suspension also felt plush and composed
For my last lap on the Canyon I switched with the 720Wh battery, which is 910g lighter than the 900Wh. Could I feel the difference? Yes, but not for the reason I had anticipated. Two turns in on the exact same trail and it was obvious to me that the handlebar height felt taller with the smaller battery in place, which makes complete sense as I’d just removed the best part of 1kg from right behind the head tube.
So was it the higher front end and change in weight distribution that made it easier to lift the front and changed the steering dynamics, or was it the lighter battery that made the biggest difference? I didn’t have time to adjust the suspension set-up for the lighter battery, but it’s a great example of why only changing one variable, in this case the weight of the battery, isn’t always the best approach to testing, as you also need to make sure that one change doesn’t cause a cascade of other changes.
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I’ve got more experimenting to do on the Spectral:ON and before I swap the battery again, I’ll probably change the tyres. Yes, the thinner casing Maxxis tyres allow Canyon to grab a lot of attention with headline weights, but they are a red flag for experienced e-bike riders as they simply won’t cut it on rough rocky terrain. Other than the tyres though, Canyon seems to have got everything else right. Including the price.