The Canyon Spectral: ON is an e-MTB that is similar to its regular non-electric brother, but is also very different. Just like the regular Spectral, the :ON version positions itself in the “long-travel” end of the trail bike spectrum. A bike that should be able to handle all the rocks & roots and rough stuff that mountain trails have to offer. And how does the Spectral:ON approach that? Among other things with a feature which on the one hand, is the most particular thing about the hand, but which, on the other hand, I hardly noticed in the beginning: The bike has a 29-inch front wheel, and a 27.5-inch the rear wheel. What that means and more, you can read in this review.
We road the bike in Chamonix (FRA), Dinant (BEL) and on the Utrechtste Heuvelrug (NED). In Chamonix I was able to charge down wonderful stony trails and ride single track after trail runners (we were there to make a trail running film and really used the bike as a production “vehicle”.) On the way to one of those runners high on the mountain we did a fairly long, very steep climb over a fire road to the lift station La Flégères. 800 vertical meters of loose stones, boulders and gravel. A very interesting experience in which we got to know much more about how to ride a climb with an e-MTB. In the Netherlands I enjoyed myself on the cross-country trails of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. In terms of suspension travel, it may be overpowered for Dutch Trails, and you could also consider the Canyon Neuron:ON which is perhaps better suited for less mountainous circumstances. But do not think that on cross country trails you can’t also have loads of fun with this bike.
Obviously, you can find a complete list of specifications can be read on the website of Canyon, but here are some specs of the 7.0 version that we think influenced our experience with the bike the most and which we will cover in this review.
- 29 ”front wheel, Alexrims rims, MAXXIS Minion DHF 2.5 ” tires, Shimano XT hub
- 27.5 “rear wheel, Alexrims rims, MAXXIS Minion DHR II 2.8” tires, Shimano XT hub
- Shimano Steps E8000 engine
- Fox 36 Performance Front fork
- Fox Float DPS rear damper
- Shimano Deore XT brakes
- Shimano Deore XT 1×12 drivetrain with Shimano SLX Cassette
All in all the bike is solidly specced.
There are also some nice details:
- Canyon SD:ON Saddle: you could say a saddle with kind of a back support. The idea is that the rise on the back of the saddle should help you with climbing; especially when the going gets really steep (what the bike should be able to handle) this rise is intended to prevent gravity from sliding you back on the saddle. Which it actually does, helping you keep much-needed pressure on the front wheel. When descending it could get in the way, were it not that I always lower the saddle on descents. Which on the Spectral:ON is done easily with a very smooth running Iridium dropper). When riding Cross Country you spend much more time on the saddle and then it’s just not comfortable.
- There is a USB port on the top tube that you can use to keep your phone or GPS device charged on the go. A fun detail that can be useful on longer rides.
- Shimano Steps E7000 display: A small display, where you can easily run through various data options, including how many kilometers you can still ride with the juice left in your battery. I really like being able to read that real-time off the cockpit.
If there is any part of mountain biking where an e-MTB should make a real positive difference then it’s on climbing. The Spectral:ON does that with the pedal support of the Shimano Steps E8000 engine that delivers a maximum of 70Nm of torque. What is important to consider for a moment is that this pedal support is not about speed, but about acceleration. The motor provides extra power on the pedal per stroke, but you have to rotate your pedal quickly if you want to make speed. All eMTB motors I have had experience with, have different settings in which more or less power is delivered per pedal stroke movement. With a high setting you get up to speed faster, but in the end, you don’t necessarily go faster in absolute terms. You can go as fast or slow in the ECO setting as in the Boost setting which is the highest power setting on the Shimano Steps E8000 engine.
What we noticed on that steep climb in Chamonix is that riding in the Boost setting (which seemed logical to choose considering the steepness of the terrain) actually has its disadvantages. Two things actually happened: on parts where we had little grip, the full 70M torque caused our rear wheel to spin. Very unproductive when trying to get up a mountain, to say the least. Where we did have grip, the combination with that strong torque, the steepness of the slope, and our body position on the bike caused the bike to pull small wheelies a lot. Keeping the front wheel on the ground was a challenge. Which is super annoying since a wheelie at that low speed will cause your bike to go sideways, and you’ll have less grip on your tires. You are dead in your tracks again. With that “body position on the bike,” we also come to an adverse effect of the 29-inch front and 27.5-inch rear wheel combination, namely that your position is positioned and tilted a bit more to the rear of the bike. When descending that is just great, but when climbing you need pressure on the front wheel, and we missed that as a result. The solution to this was twofold: first, we lowered the saddle with the dropper post. This drops your center of gravity, which helps traction and balance, but because the seat tube is placed at an angle, you also move a little bit forward at the same time, allowing you to give more pressure on that front wheel. In addition to this positioning, we switched to the ECO setting and combined it with very low gear. This ensured that there was not too much torque, but enough rotation to ride up the climb.
This allowed us to play well with the power that we needed (power = torque x rotation) for a specific combination of steepness and grip.
On climbing sections with more hard (instead of loose) obstacles, we noticed the advantage of that 29″ front wheel that rolls smoothly over rough stuff; also in the forests in the Netherlands with the occasional step-ups and more gnarly roots.
Shimano STEPS E8000
The engine itself also helped in playing with torque and gear, because unlike many other eMTB engines, it delivers the power per pedal stroke quite smoothly. With other engines, certainly in the highest power setting and a low gear, you sometimes feel as if your being launched on every pedal stroke.
Once upon a time I almost got off trail on narrow single tracks riding along quite a drop due to this effect. And also with less grip, pedal support that is too abrupt will cause problems. But this engine does very well. The power is delivered in a smooth, gradual natural way. At the top of the power spectrum, on the other hand, for example, around/above 25 km per hour, the motor switches the pedal support on and off rather abruptly which can be quite irritating.
Last but not least, I am very positive about the fact that above 25 kph or when the pedal support is off, the resistance of the motor is very low or even virtually absent. In this, the engine also performs better than other engines that I have used. Also in Chamonix, I experienced with another eMTB that the battery ran out and I really struggled to get up a relatively long low incline climb. It is really important that the engine does not drag above 25kph, and even more important when it is turned off. That is why the Shimano Steps engine receives a high score from us.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cool and rad video footage for this review from my rides in Chamonix (seeing as we had other work to do as well). But I was able to do a handful of short and very sweet descents in between shooting the film I mentioned earlier.
And I am glad I did: at speed over stone boulders and roots are where the Spectral:ON really feels at home. That’s when it feels the most like his regular non-electric brother. The 29-inch front and 27.5-inch rear, therefore, comes into its own; you are super balanced and safely further back on the bike. At no time, not even when it got steep and fast, did I have the feeling of being “nose-heavy”. With the engine and battery low on the frame, you have a low center of gravity that improves grip and balance. The Fox suspension front and rear perform incredibly well and the 200mm brake discs with the Deore XT brakes give a lot of braking power and continue to deliver good braking pressure even under prolonged use. The same 800 meters non-grippy stony, steep slope we had climbed, had to be descended as well. Controlling my speed was imperative being loaded with camera equipment as well at that time.
Of course, I live in the Netherlands, with no mountains and just cross country trails where the trail builders do the utmost to make use of the small differences in terrain.
So what good is an eMTB, what good is 150mm of travel on these trails? With regard to the latter, you hardly ever need it here, perhaps when landing after a jump, or deep washboard braking sections before turns. I like a push suspension myself, but with less travel, you can actually do much better (go faster) on trails in the Netherlands. And you don’t really need pedal support here either. (It is debatable whether you ever really “need” pedal support at all if you’re a little fit, but that is another discussion altogether.)
But “need” takes a back seat when you start charging through the woods with this bike. I actually choose the Boost setting, because you can power through the turns, push up those small speed-killing climbs; all in all my average speed on the trail is just that much higher.
And winding your way through the dense forest, it becomes all about steering; precise and active. And with that 29-inch front wheel and 10 kilos of extra weight, you have to really steer very aggressively. I had already noticed it in the mountains, and back home as well, when you are at speed on this bike, you have to steer with power. Using your elbows, shoulders, hips, with pressure on your outer pedal when going through flat curves; you need everything if you don’t want to be on the brakes every time to avoid crashing into or clipping a tree.
If you do ride that way, the bike will follow very well, and the rear with that “smaller” wheel and that thick tire will keep you neatly in the line that you have chosen. You could say that he does not steer easily, but you can also say that it forces you to steer better and which actually is super fun. And a great way to improve your riding skills.
On descents this bike is wonderful. You can go full speed down, the geometry, suspension, and brakes will take good care of you. To climb effectively you have to choose the right strategy to counter the wheelie effect. The engine is very good. Cross-Country demands good steering if you want to charge through the forest. A challenging bike, therefore, that can deliver a lot of fun.
Canyon Spectral:ON e-MTB
Retail price: € 4.299,-