HomeTactical & SurvivalFun Factor Over Lap Times: Canyon Spectral 125 CF9 Long-Term Review

Fun Factor Over Lap Times: Canyon Spectral 125 CF9 Long-Term Review

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I was OK with cross-country, trail, and downhill as the three main mountain bike segments. Now, there are downcountry, all-mountain, enduro, and probably other categories I ignore on purpose. When Canyon sent its Spectral 125 CF9 for a long-term test, I wasn’t sure where it sat. The 125mm travel shock mated to a 140mm fork on a longish, slack-ish chassis defied my desire to categorize it.

I tested the Canyon Spectral 125 CF9 on chunky and rocky trails near my Central Texas home and our local bike park. It also did a summertime stint at the bike park in Crested Butte. For an extended 8-month test, I rode the bike anywhere and everywhere there was dirt. Ultimately, it still defied slotting into a definitive mountain bike category.

In short: The Canyon Spectral 125 CF9 playfully handled any terrain, from techy cross-country to moderate bike park runs. It wasn’t the most efficient pedaling platform, nor did it have bottomless suspension. What it did have was an active, poppy, and amusing attitude that prioritized playing on a bike over speed or lap times. If you can only have one rig, ride all terrains, and prioritize the grin factor over Strava KOMs, the Spectral 125 CF9 can be your fun-loving companion.

  • Frame material
    Carbon fiber
  • Fork
    Fox 36 Factory Grip 2, 140mm travel
  • Shock
    Fox Float X Factory, 125mm wheel travel
  • Drivetrain
    SRAM GX AXS with SRAM X1 Carbon crankset
  • Wheels
    DT Swiss XMC 1501

  • Playful, poppy rear suspension characteristics

  • Well-functioning component choices

  • Turns well around the rear wheel

  • Good price for the spec

  • Consecutive hits can pack up the rear suspension

  • Steep, long climbs that involve standing while pedaling overwhelmed rear anti-squat

The Spec Sheet

The most interesting aspect of the Canyon Spectral 125 CF9 was the suspension. A Fox Float X Factory rear shock provides 125mm of rear wheel travel, while the front wheel strokes through 140mm of travel via a Fox 36 Performance Elite fork with the Grip2 internals. My mind saw a cross-country to downcountry rear with a trail bike front.

The SRAM GX Eagle AXS components promised predictable performance based on past experiences. So did the DT Swiss XMC 1501 wheels, with the venerable DT Swiss 240 hubs with Ratchet EXP freehub.

Again, I’ve had nothing but great things to report about these wheels. The 2.4-inch Maxxis Minion DHR front and 2.4-inch Dissector rear are also well-known stalwarts I trust. And the 200mm front/180mm rear brake rotors clamped by SRAM Code RSC brakes promised confidence when my talent ran short.

The frame had one set of water bottle mounts and bag mounts on the bottom of the radically sloping top tube. In-house G5 components and Ergon touchpoints round out the Canyon Spectral 125 CF9. The Canyon Spectral 125 CF9 in size L weighs a verified 30 pounds without pedals and with a tubeless setup. The price for a carbon bike with this spec was fantastic: MSRP $5,399 at the time of writing.

The Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 on the Trails

Trail Riding Attitude Adjustment

One of my main haunts is a hard-packed, rocky trail system with all the speeds: slow, narrow, and tight sections through trees and rock gardens and big gear double tracks. It is littered with big drops, staircase steps, limestone rocks, boulders, and ledges.

I’ve bottomed out 120mm bikes regularly on every section of this trail, but I’ve had so much fun on 100mm race bikes and 150mm+ trail rigs. I have to choose different lines and mindsets depending on the suspension travel and chassis characteristics I have on hand.

However, I was unsure of what the Spectral 125 would do or how to attack each section. It took me several sessions to dial in the suspension, particularly the fork, and discern the best ways to ride the strange-to-me bike. But after a few weeks, I found the sweet spot, or rather, the sweet attitude while riding this unique rig.

I had to push my trial section’s best times out of my head and pitch my concerns about the most efficient lines. I pushed down the desire to lessen chassis upset while turning or worry about keeping the rear wheel driving forward.

Instead, the best way to ride the Canyon Spectral 125 CF9 was similar to choosing amusement park rides. I started viewing familiar sections as a series of hops, jumps, skips, and transfers. And I searched out unique lines in turns instead of the “race” line.

Every smooth and angled rock was an opportunity to hop the bike playfully. Exposed roots became take-offs and landings instead of obstacles to avoid. I spent more time in the air on this bike on what I consider a cross-country trail than on any other bike. Similarly, turns stopped being about maintaining momentum and became fun challenges to cut under my buddies or playfully snap the back of the bike around.

Suspension Characteristics

The rear suspension kinematics were interesting. The overly wordy “Canyon Triple Phase Horst Link Platform” ramped up the resistance of the relatively short travel shock quickly. This was obvious in the bike’s willingness to pop up and off any small trail obstacle. But because of the short shock stroke, I expected harsh bottoming, but this wasn’t the case. Somehow, the bottoming action was relatively mellow.

But physics is physics, and sections with substantial consecutive hits overwhelmed the rear suspension. At my local bike park, one of the fastest trails has a straight shot down limestone stair steps that never seem to end.

The trail is wide, and the steps are regularly spaced out, so carrying speed isn’t difficult. But the rear shock got packed up and never could rebound past a certain point. The drops bucked the chassis around after the first third of this section. In these circumstances, I felt the fork had much more to give than the shock, sometimes making fork tuning difficult.

The shortness of the rear end made the bike a blast to turn but bit me a bit on climbs. When my output was consistent, the anti-squat and short chainstays worked OK for moderately steep, short climbs.

But if it got really steep, I had to deliberately stretch my upper body out over the bars to keep the front tracking. If these climbs involved steps or other sudden output changes while seated, the anti-squat was overwhelmed, and there was significant pedal-induced bobbing.

But any negative I felt going up was squashed on the descent when I gleefully popped across the trail using softball-sized, partially buried rocks or exposed roots or when I cut under my buddies in bowl turns.

Other Spectral 125 CF9 Riding Impressions

I had zero complaints about the rest of the bike’s working parts outside of setting up the fork. I played around quite a bit with all the settings, and in the end, an almost random configuration produced the best results over the widest terrain. What finally solved the mystery was dialing in more rebound control at the fork than I thought was needed, and a tad more air pressure than specified.

The SRAM GX Eagle AXS componentry functioned as expected. Once I positioned the shifter pod correctly (which took some experimentation), I never missed a shift. I couldn’t tell the difference in shifting between the GX on this bike and premium XX-level components on others I’ve tested, which was surprising given the cost difference.

GX Eagle is the lowest-cost electronic MTB drivetrain, while XX is among the most expensive. Admittedly, shifting under high load wasn’t as smooth as shifting cable-driven Shimano drivetrains, especially when going to a larger cog. But again, I never missed a single shift even in panic mode.

The SRAM Code RSC brakes performed well during the test period. The initial bite, progressiveness, and power of the larger-sized rotors matched the playful nature of this bike. I didn’t have any reliability or maintenance issues, as I’ve had with prior SRAM mountain bike binders. I hammered the brakes plenty, and they didn’t complain or fall short.

As I expected, the Maxxis Dissector/Minion combination worked well everywhere. I’ve had zero complaints with the setup for quite some time. For an OEM tire spec on a trail bike, I think it’s hard to beat, especially leaned over. This tire combination rips in the turns.

Final Words on the Canyon Spectral 125 CF9

In the end, I didn’t at all care that the Canyon Spectral 125 CF9 was a category defier. It was a bike that rewarded riding for the sake of it, not for training or bragging rights on Strava.

If I were going on a road trip that might include everything from cross-country trails to moderate bike park terrain, this bike would be the one. I’m not gap or huge drop hucker, but I like short jumps and popping off smaller hits.

The Spectral 125 was a decent pedaler, could handle about 70% of my local bike park terrain without worry, and felt right at home on chunky trails where it could thread every available line.

The Canyon Spectral 125 CF9 was a mountain biker’s bike. The sport was borne by iconoclasts who begged to differ in search of alternative two-wheeled entertainment. This bike does them proud.

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