Though well-known in Europe, Canyon has just recently begun building their presence in the United States. Canyon bikes are only available through their website, an approach the German company believes allows them to offer higher quality builds at lower price points. The brand currently offers road, mountain, and town bikes to the European market.
This month, they launched three new women’s road bikes, all of which will be available in the U.S. in August. The WMN Ultimate CF SLX is the brand’s highest end road bike for women, featuring an aggressive race-ready geometry (more on that in a moment.) The WMN Endurace CF SL offers a slightly more relaxed geometry, while the WMN Endurace AL is an aluminum version of the Endurace. The Canyon naming scheme is almost hilariously logical, but it does provide an easy road map through the product line. U.S. pricing has yet to be released.
Check out Canyon’s brand unveiling at last month’s Sea Otter Classic.
Over three days in Northern California, RoadBikeReview had the chance to ride both the Ultimate CF SLX and the Endurace CF SL from Canyon’s women’s line. Two rides through the wine country in Napa Valley tested the bikes’ climbing capabilities and handling. If you’re unfamiliar with the riding around Napa, it offers a little bit of everything. There are flat roads, technical descents, rough pavement, gravel sections, and multiple flavors of climbing. It’s highly recommended.
A Fresh Start
There are by now numerous high-quality road bikes available for women riders. The days of heavy frames and low-budget spec on women’s bikes are mostly over. After a slow start, the industry has largely come around to the idea that women want bikes that are well-designed and will perform to a high standard. I say “mostly” and “largely,” because there are some hold-outs and periodically a truly disastrous women’s bike will appear as if it stepped out of a time machine from 1995.
When Canyon decided to design a women’s road bike, they went into it without any real preconceptions. At least, that’s how Katrin Neumann, Canyon’s product manager for the women’s line describes it. “We wanted to develop something new from scratch,” she said. They put together a team that included Lukas Schuchnigg, who worked in the aerospace industry as an engineer before turning his knowledge of composites to bike design. The Ultimate, in particular, was developed with feedback from professional riders such as Canyon-SRAM’s Trixi Worrack. “We wanted to show that women’s bike could be cool stuff,” said Neumann.
Canyon is quick to say that this is their interpretation of what a woman’s bike should be, but they also set out with big ambitions. Why can’t we make them better, not just than other women’s bikes, but also than the men’s bikes, the thought process went. In designing the Ultimate, Canyon set out to make the most aerodynamic and lightweight road frame they could design.
Designing for small riders
When looking at a women’s line, the distinguishing characteristic is typically geometry and sizing and Canyon is no different. Canyon’s design starting point was demographic data about women’s body size. “We wanted to position the woman in the same position as the man on the bike,” said Neumann.
In Canyon’s interpretation, the data showed that women on average were not notably different from men in the ratio between their leg and torso lengths. This runs contrary to some brands in the industry who have concluded from their data sets that women have longer femurs, and consequently need bikes with more setback.
The key difference Canyon found in the demographic data was arm length: Women on average were 2cm shorter in their arm length than men. The data also suggested to Canyon that women are both lighter and shorter on average than men. These conclusions shaped the design process for the Ultimate and Endurace framesets.
Canyon also designed a one-piece carbon cockpit for the women’s line that they have tried to optimize as much as possible for smaller hands. The stem length on our test bike was 90mm and the bar width is 40cm, which is aimed for women’s typically more narrow shoulder width. The new cockpit design is also available in 70mm stem/38cm bars, 80mm/38 cm, and 100mm/40 cm combinations.
The Endurace and the Ultimate are available in five sizes: 3XS (40.6cm), 2XS (43.6cm), XS (46.6cm), S (49.6cm), and M (52.6cm). When they looked at their demographic data, Canyon’s designers found that the average size for women to be size XS. In fact, they considered shifting the size information to make the 49.6cm bike a size medium, but they were afraid it would confuse more riders than it helped. The size run stops at medium, so taller women who want a Canyon will need to look to the standard product line.
Both the 3XS and the 2XS sizes are spec’d with 650B wheels, which is unique to Canyon. Though 650B wheels are widely used on mountain bikes, they are rarely seen on road bikes. So far, Schwalbe is the only tire company making high performance 650B road tires, but Canyon says they expect more tire companies to join soon.
The shift to 650B tires allows Canyon to keep the geometry of the bikes consistent across the size range. Neumann says Worrack found that the smaller wheel size handled more nimbly and cornered more responsibly. We weren’t able to test the 650B bikes as we’re outside the size range. The Canyon 650B bikes have bigger front chainrings — 52-36 instead of the 50-34, which is spec’d for the rest of the line.
WMN Ultimate CF SLX First Ride
The Ultimate is a race bike, pure and simple. We rode the top-line build, which features SRAM eTap, SRAM Red disc brakes, and Reynolds Assault LE carbon wheels. Canyon is fully committed to disc brakes on their road line and don’t plan to make caliper-compatible framesets. We are fans of eTap, especially the two-handed shifting for the front derailleur, which offers a nice insurance policy against inadvertent chainring jumps.
The carbon frame is tuned for speed and stiffness more than comfort, as you’d expect from a race bike. It has snappy acceleration and if there’s frame flex anywhere on this bike, we certainly couldn’t feel it. The Ultimate invites you to ride fast and it has that solid yet weightless feeling that is unique to a well-tuned carbon bike. It isn’t our first choice for a bike to ride off-road, but it handled the sometimes potholed and rugged Napa roads better than you might expect. The 25mm Schwalbe tires helped on that front, too.
The Canyon geometry is unusual. We rode the size medium, which has a 52.6cm seat tube and a 55.5cm top tube. For comparison, Specialized offers their flagship Amira with a 54cm seat tube and a 53.5cm top tube (The Amira is also available in a 56cm). What’s nice about this difference is that it means more variety for women riders.
We’ve long struggled with the comparatively short top tubes on many women’s bikes, so the longer reach on the Canyon is a welcome change for us. But you’ll want to check your size carefully, if you are considering a Canyon, as their fit is notably different from brands you may have ridden in the past.
Where we struggled on the fit front is with the 90mm stem length. Canyon’s one-piece cockpit design is sexy and comfortable, but it limits your position options. We typically would ride a 120mm stem on a 55cm top tube, so the 90mm ran short for us. The shorter reach made the handling on the bike skittish, especially when paired with the slightly steep seat tube angle that the Canyon geometry includes. Changing out the cockpit is always an option, though, and riders can choose from the women’s line which extends to a 100mm stem and 40cm wide bar or check out the unisex product line which offers still more options.
Aesthetically, the Ultimate is defined by sharp lines and contours throughout the carbon frame. “We wanted to make a bike that was sharp, like an athlete,” said Neumann. The head tube is carved out on both sides, which on the smaller sizes, thins out the look of the joint of the front triangle. The seatstays overlay the seat tube, curving a bit like ribs. We liked the bike’s finished, sculpted look.
WMN Endurace CF SL
The key difference between the Endurace and the Ultimate is the frame geometry. Canyon’s goal was to design a bike for the everyday rider who wants still performance, but also wants less aggressive-handling bike. This isn’t quite a gravel bike, though it can accommodate 32mm tires. It’s more a road bike for long rides.
The Endurace CF SL comes with the same build as the Ultimate CF SLX: eTap, Reynolds Assault LE wheelset, and SRAM Red discs. Though the Endurace can accommodate up to 32mm tire width, we rode the same 25mm Schwalbe Pro One’s as on the Ultimate.
On the geometry front, we again tested a size medium. The seat tube drops to a 52.2cm from the 52.6 on the Ultimate, which gives the bike slightly more stand-over. The headtube extends from 15.4 cm to 15.6 cm on the Endurace. The top tube shortens by 4 mm to 55.1, while both the seat tube and head tube angles on the Endurace slacken. The overall effect is a bike with a more relaxed geometry than the Ultimate.
Though the geometry changes on the Endurace are noticeable, it didn’t turn into a Barcalounger, which some bikes we’ve ridden in this category do. The shorter top tube wasn’t especially noticeable, though the taller head tube and slacker angles certainly are. It’s a hard bike to describe: Though designed to be less racy than her sister the Ultimate, the Endurace still on the whole felt like a performance road bike.
As with the Ultimate, we struggled with fit on the Endurace. The taller head tube effectively shortened the reach, which was not exactly the direction we were looking to go. The Endurace shares the same high-performance cockpit as the Ultimate, and that 90mm stem was too short for us.
The fit dilemma was frustrating, because overall, we liked Canyon’s approach to their women’s line. If we could dial in the fit just that little bit more, these could very well be our dream bikes.
Canyon’s decision to enter the women’s market is good news for riders. They offer a distinctive approach to women’s bikes by thinking differently about geometry than some brands have to date. The bikes are well-designed, high quality, and intelligently spec’d. If you’re looking for a new road bike, we’d recommend giving Canyon a close look when they begin selling here in the United States in August.
For more info head over to www.canyon.com.