2024 Canyon Spectral Review: A Cult Classic for the Masses

When downcountry isn’t enough, and all-mountain is too much, there’s probably no safer bet than a 140 mm bike like the new 2024 Canyon Spectral. But that’s the problem. These are not precision instruments, nor are they unstoppable eaters of worlds. To stand out, a 140 bike has to either cast a very wide net or have some very clever tricks up its sleeve. After a couple months with the new Spectral, Travis discovered it does a little of both.

The previous generation Spectral was a lightweight, long-legged genre-bending affair, with 150 mm of rear travel and 160 front. But Canyon wanted to distance it from the enduro-level Strive and Torque models. On top of shortening the front and rear travel by 10 mm, they tuned a little bit more lateral flex into this new Spectral’s rear triangle. On top of that, they added a handful of whiz-bangs like three-pack mounts under the top tube and in-frame storage in the downtube. There’s one standard flip-chip for geo adjust, and another not-so-standard flip-chip for mixed-wheel compatibility. But nothing will bang your whiz quite like Canyon’s K.I.S. (Keep It Stable) steering stabilizer, inherited from the longer-travel Spectral.

I’ll talk more (much more) about K.I.S. in my ride impressions, but it’s so unique that I at least owe you a teaser trailer. K.I.S. comprises a pair of springs connected on one end via sturdy polymer bands to both sides of a cam clamped to the fork’s steerer tube. They’re connected on the other end to an adjustable slider inside the top tube. The system applies a constant force that pulls the front wheel back to center. Most of that force is concentrated in the first few degrees of motion, but it levels off quickly. The force itself is hard to quantify, but it’s genteel enough that you might initially wonder what difference it could really make on the trail. The 110-gram hardware is nearly invisible aside from the slider on the top tube. The steerer-tube clamp can be tightened through a port in the head tube, or the system can be removed entirely. And that actually may be the right call for some riders, which is totally fine. There’s much more to this bike than K.I.S., so let’s set it aside for a moment.

Quick hits

  • 140 mm rear travel, 150 front
  • 29-inch wheels, with support for mixed-wheel configuration
  • XS size in mixed-wheel only, CF7 model only, Europe only
  • Coil shock on CF8 CLLCT model only
  • Carbon frame only
  • Features K.I.S. steering stabilizer
  • UDH / Transmission compatible
  • 3-pack accessory storage under top tube
  • In-frame storage in down tube
  • 34.2 LBS (Size Large, no pedals)
  • Sold consumer-direct
  • $4,199


At the moment, there’s no alloy 140 mm Spectral, but the previous-generation 150 mm version will stick around in aluminum for now. Comparing the two is kinda apples and oranges, but at the time of writing this, you can get the entry-level Spectral AL 150 on sale for $1,700. This new Spectral starts at $3,700 for the CF7, with a mostly SLX build, entry-level Fox suspension, and the full carbon frame complete with aforementioned whiz-bangs. But the pricier build I tested is absolutely worth the extra $500. You get a Grip2-damped Performance Elite fork and a smattering of XT bits. And most importantly, you get a Fox DHX coil rear shock. To be fair, you have to grade this bike’s value on the consumer-direct curve, but also on the 2024 inflation curve. All in all, what the Spectral CF8 CLLCTV offers for $4,200 is pretty remarkable.

Geometry, Spec and Design

This is the first size-Large bike I’ve tested in well over a decade. Once the standover on XL frames got low enough, I never looked back. But it seems that geometry inflation has caught up to my 6’2” height. I’ve actually got two more review bikes in the pipeline that were not plucked from the Big & Tall rack. So, I recommend carefully considering your favorite geometry-chart line items before pulling the trigger on a new Spectral.

Speaking of favorite line-items, the public-facing geo chart doesn’t yet include the detailed seat-tube-angle breakdown that Canyon mentioned in my Dust-Up on the subject. The Canyon website elaborates no further than the stated “76.5°” and it’s the same for all sizes. But the above chart that was sent to the media pre-launch shows that Canyon at least measures seat angles at a reasonable height respective to each frame size, so what you see will be pretty close to what you get. I still wanted it steeper, but what else is new?

And while we’re on seatposts, Canyon wasn’t stingy with the drop. You get 230 mm on the XL, 200 mm on Large and Medium, 170 on Small and 150 on XS. And if that’s too long, the Canyon post can be easily shortened in 5 mm increments up to 25 mm. It’s also one of those new-fangled 34.9 mm posts that was actually designed from the ground up to be 34.9. Meaning, the stanchion is thicker too, at 30 mm compared to most posts’ 25 – 26 mm. I only rode this post for two months, but it’s remained one of the smoothest and quickest house-brand posts I’ve ever ridden. I reckon its thickness and accompanying generous bushing-load distribution was partly to thank for its performance, and hopefully will help sustain it.

There are some other clever touches on the frame, like a mud flap to keep debris out of the main pivot and a relief at the down tube junction to keep debris from collecting there too. There’s a refined fully guided internal routing system that’s quieter and easier to work on than the one on previous Spectrals. And I’m extremely proud of Canyon for not caving to the powerful thru-headset routing lobby.

The 64° head angle has become pretty standard for bikes like this. It suits the vibe established by the 36mm-stanchion fork, the 203 mm rotors, the Assegai front tire and EXO+ DHR rear. Of course, there’s a flip chip that’ll give you back a half degree, but at the cost of spoiling what I felt to be the perfect bottom-bracket height. A 36 mm drop is technically lower than the almost-too-low YT Jeffsy I just reviewed, but the moderate travel and supportive suspension kept pedal strikes from being an issue.

Also low is the Spectral’s standover, which has long been a hallmark of the model. That does come at the cost of bottle space, though. We shot this bike with a 24-oz bottle, but only because we shot it an hour from the car in southern Arizona in late April. It didn’t quite clear the rear shock, so I’d recommend a 20-oz bottle. And even then, you may need to choose your cage carefully.

Beneath the bottle is every bike brand’s “will-they-won’t-they” love affair: In-frame storage. Canyon’s LOAD system’s opening is smaller than Specialized’s, and about the same as those from Trek or Santa Cruz. It’s got a toggle-latch style closure that’s a little fiddly at first, but seems likely to stay rattle-free. I just wish the bike included Canyon’s purpose-built LOAD tool pack, but one is available aftermarket for $22. I had a Trek down-tube bag lying around, and was able to fit my extensive flat-repair kit, plus a windbreaker, with room to spare. And while I’m on the storage tip, I liked that Canyon did three-pack mounts under the top tube, not just a standard two-bolt. Depending on what you use it for, that allows for some freedom of positioning without the need for something like a Wolf Tooth B-Rad.

Equally clever are the dedicated flip chips for mixed-wheel compatibility. When swapping wheel size, there needs to be a way to keep frame geometry in check. Most brands will simply rely on a more-drastic-than-average flip chip at a shock eyelet. But that approach doesn’t offer shorter chainstays, which I think is a significant (though rarely realized) benefit to dedicated mixed-wheel bikes. The Spectral’s chainstays go from 437 to 429 mm (across all sizes), leaning into the fun-first rationale behind mixed-wheel bikes.

Speaking of fun, I tested the CF8 “CLLCTV” edition. What’s more fun than all caps and no vowels? It’s one of just two 140 mm Spectral builds currently being brought to the US, and it stands out for its coil rear shock. That’s a bold choice on a bike with relatively moderate travel. Even though this is Fox’s new mid-sized, trail-oriented DHX, any coil shock will add weight and limit tunability. But the biggest potential threat was to the liveliness that Canyon presumably had in mind when they shaved down the Spectral’s travel. And that’s a good segue to ride impressions.


Canyon was one of the first brands I remember making a big deal of their “leverage curve,” or how the rear suspension changes throughout its stroke. Updates starting in 2017 introduced a focus on predictable support early to midway through the travel. That approach happens to play quite well with a coil shock. There’s a reason coils are usually reserved for downhill-focused models. While they tend to be less supportive under pedaling load, they do soak up bumps more readily than air shocks because there’s less seal drag and less natural ramp-up late in the travel. But the Spectral’s linkage is designed to meet a coil shock halfway, keeping it from being too mushy.

It took me some trial and error to find the right spring-rate for my weight. It’s already a difficult process when there’s no O-ring to track your sag and bottom-out. And swapping physical springs back and forth when you’re on the borderline can be a bit time-consuming. Plus, being that Canyons are sold direct-to-consumer, there’s no shop to ensure you go home with the correct setup. You’re on the hook for about $40 if you need to swap springs like I did. But once I was dialed, boy howdy.

It’s an odd thing when a bike responds this well to pedaling without sacrificing any small-bump sensitivity. Even after carefully checking and re-checking that I was at my desired 30% sag, the Spectral alternately seemed to feel both firmer and softer than I expected. And always in a good way. It would neither spike nor wallow. It just hovered. I usually set my rebound damping to be rather light, so without the encumbrance of an air spring, coil bikes tend to be a little bouncy. The Spectral was no different, but it was never the sort of bounce that would rob my peak efforts. It was more like flotation. My body weight could just waft on momentum’s encouraging breeze, but would never sink beneath it.

That more supportive leverage curve is paired with a less supportive anti-squat. Meaning, the new Spectral doesn’t rely much on chain force to keep you high in its travel. And it relies on it even less when you’re deeper in the stroke and higher in the gear range. The above charts are interesting—if imperfect—ways to illustrate this. As the leverage ratio decreases through the stroke, so does the rear wheel’s mechanical advantage over the shock, resulting in increased support. Anti-squat is more murky because there are a lot of variables. But ignoring them for a moment, 100% should mean chain force will neither suck your rear suspension down nor jack it up. Above 100% and you’ll get more power to the wheel at the cost of suspension sensitivity. Below it, you’ll lose some power but you’ll maintain traction.

Canyon allows that number to dip below 100% to ensure the suspension stays active when you need it most. Now, I know I’m veering dangerously close to confirmation-bias territory here, given that I was squinting at these charts immediately before writing this. But while testing this bike, I happened to spend a lot of time riding what I call an “uphill downhill.” It’s a technical traverse that ends lower than it begins, but is dotted with moderate chunky climbs that require that I stay on the gas. The Spectral’s behavior on this trail offered all the confirmation I needed.

When I was keeping speed through those rough, undulating sections, I indeed noticed the Spectral delivered more traction than torque. I think that suits its aggressive-leaning all-around stance. Canyon puts it in their “trail” category, but if you’re choosing this over, say, a Transition Spur or even a standard Specialized Stumpjumper, it’s hopefully because you want a bike that thirsts more for adrenaline than it does for lactic acid.

On regular uphill uphills, I often found myself reaching for the DHX’s little blue lever. It’s surprisingly firm despite the coil shock’s remarkable sensitivity in its Open mode. But I didn’t do it because the suspension was inefficient. It’s just my broken-record preference for steep seat angles. The Firm mode put me more on top of the pedals for my podcast-assisted fire-road ascents. I did climb my fair share of technical singletrack, though, and that bias towards traction made a welcomed return.

There are two loose baby-head rock gardens about a third of the way up one of my favorite non-hike-a-bike trails, and it’s usually a 50/50 chance that I’ll just get off and hike those sections anyway. But the Spectral seemed tailor-made for that sort of scenario. That flotation I mentioned saved me far more effort on chunky climbs than a lockout would have. If this sounds like your climbs, and if you’re six feet or more, just slam your saddle forward and save the lockout for the pavement.

Looking ahead, the seated pedaling position had me leaning further forward than I’d expect from a bike in this travel range. That may be a side effect of my downsizing to a Large, so I did most of my testing with a 30 mm riser. I’d probably have swapped the bars anyway, though, because Canyon specs 780 instead of 800. But kudos to them for sticking to a classic, compliant 31.8 diameter instead of 35. Of course, that’s probably the least interesting thing happening at the cockpit. I think it’s time we get Stable.


Maybe it’s my line of work, but I try to give manufacturers the benefit of the doubt whenever they introduce something fundamentally new to the mountain-bike space. It’s easy to pick apart a feature like K.I.S. as just one more gadget to wear out, make noise, or add cost. What’s not easy is adapting to a change we never asked for, even if we may be better off in the end. And K.I.S. did require me to adapt, but at least I was able to start slowly.

I left the tension in the middle setting for my first couple rides. Again, the force is not extreme, especially at the tips of an 800mm bar anchored to my 190-pound mass. Perhaps because I was still preoccupied with setting up my suspension, the effects of K.I.S. were so subtle on my first ride that I forgot it was even there. So after my suspension was dialed, I ramped up the tension. The results were anything but subtle, at least at first.

Since I was just talking about climbing, I’ll start there. One complaint about slack head angles (and short fork offsets and big wheels and everything else Peter Verdone understands better than I do) is the front wheel’s tendency to flop at slow speeds. An outside centering force like K.I.S. could potentially mitigate wheel flop. But even after I’d been acclimating to that firmer K.I.S. setting for weeks, I would sometimes find myself gently see-sawing back and forth as I corrected and recorrected for its unseen hand. It was helpful sometimes. When forcefully meandering around tight, slow-speed obstacles, K.I.S. was gently pushing back against wheel flop, and I noticed on several occasions that it took some load off my shoulders. But when I was calmly spinning in a straight line, the disconnect between wheel-flop force and K.I.S. tension added a little bit of chaos to the micro-adjustments we all perform (usually mindlessly) when staying upright on a bike.

Now, you may be tempted to give up on K.I.S. after hearing that. Trust me, it crossed my mind, too. I was already enjoying this bike so much, so why ruin it? Why introduce something I have to “get used to?” Well, consider for a moment that our bikes already have a lot of quirks that we’ve “gotten used to.” Wheel flop is just one of them. There’s the way head angle changes as suspension compresses, or how big front wheels require a bit more force to keep in line. As I learned during my two months on the Spectral, some of those quirks are indeed less quirky with K.I.S.

That loose rock garden I mentioned a moment ago is always quite the party coming down. I like all the unpredictability. I have to let the bike juke around underneath me in an effort to keep my body mass on a safe trajectory. It takes a lot of skill to know when to force the front wheel straight and when to let it deflect. Sometimes, of course, that skill runs out. I’ll take any help I can get. What I started to notice after a couple weeks with K.I.S. was that the force I was or wasn’t putting into the handlebars didn’t need to vary as widely. I could relax a little. I didn’t have to micromanage my way through those rock gardens. Again, the bike is just a vehicle to get my body mass down the trail in the same way romaine lettuce is just a vehicle to get ranch dressing into my mouth. The less I have to think about it, the better, and in those cruxy moments, I was able to think about my bike a little bit less.

But the problem is, my trails are not top-to-bottom cruxy moments. Those rock gardens are separated by switchbacks, berms, flow, and no-flow. Even after my harmony with K.I.S. had started peaking in the sections where I appreciated it, it would still come back and distract me sometimes. I probably could have made my K.I.S. experiment more pure had I sworn off riding my gravel bike, my BMX bike, and my beach cruiser while testing the Spectral, but I wouldn’t expect you to do the same while owning one. Even though none of those bikes steer anything like a mountain bike, they kept me tethered to a sensation I’ve been used to for almost forty years.

I eventually returned the tension somewhere to the low-middle setting. And the quest that got me there presented a pretty fascinating choice. The firmer the setting, the better it was when I needed it, but the worse it was when I didn’t. There are similar trade-offs in nearly every aspect of my bike. Wheel size, tire compound, suspension travel, and yes, head angle all have their pros and cons. But none put a literal slider at my fingertips to adjust them. All you need is a 4 mm Allen wrench to adjust it, or to remove it completely. Maybe you’ll love it, maybe you won’t. Either way, there’s a rockin’ bike surrounding it, which I’m somehow still not done talking about.


Here’s where I was worried the Spectral would be a jack of all trades, master of none. Before I eventually teased out the right volume-spacer setting on the SCOR 4060, I found that bike a little boring. Similarly, although both are fine bikes, I’ve never gotten all that excited about a Santa Cruz Hightower or Rocky Mountain Instinct. But the Spectral is different. That’s largely because of how well it uses its coil rear shock. It’s nearly as lively as the 130 mm travel Revel Rascal, and nearly as bump-hungry as the REEB Steezl.

Before I swoon too hard, let me highlight that word, “nearly.” I’m not going to fall into that bike-reviewer trap where every bike I talk about is somehow better than the last. The REEB Steezl is more capable than the Spectral. So is the YT Jeffsy. And the Rascal is more playful. So is the Spectral 125, although I fear that bike’s days are numbered. If you know for sure that you lean one way more than the other, I recommend you follow your truth and don’t let the forthcoming praise pull you to the center. But if you think that’s where you belong, the view is pretty nice from the peak of the bell curve.

For one thing, the traction this bike offers is superb. The CLLCTV build gets a Grip2 fork damper, which despite suddenly being last-gen, has long been the best possible perk a bike brand could offer when speccing a high-end Fox-equipped model. It allowed me to tune in exactly the feel I wanted. In my case, that meant a focus on support with a minor sacrifice in big-hit plushness. And that coil rear shock really makes this bike shine. And as best as I can remember the 150 mm Spectral I rode three years ago, I think the 140 mm Spectral frame handled small bumps better.

Exactly what that means for you depends on what experience you’re after, which I think is why this approach to the 140 bike stands out. For riders who simply want something forgiving, this Spectral offers supreme comfort and confidence without needing to veer into all-mountain territory. It won’t be sluggish or numbing whenever you’re not riding full-tilt in the redline. If your local trails are dotted with spicy sections that set you a-puckering every time you ride them, this is the sort of bike that’ll make them a little less nerve-racking without sacrificing fun and function in the calmer bits or the climby bits.

Exactly what it meant for me was that I could take my foolish wheelies and wallrides to a slightly bigger scale. Knowing that my tires would always do their very best to hold my line and the suspension would do its best to hold me up, I could get silly a little more safely. On another one of my favorite trails, there’s a fun sender-to-high-side-transition that’s a little too tech to flow with a big bike, and a little too sketchy to flow with a trail bike. I actually walked back up and sessioned it a few times on my last ride on the Spectral. Having that much control on a bike this capable encouraged me to get creative, both off the ground and on it. I felt more free to pick the line that suited the moment, especially when it was on trails that I knew really well.

That’s when I most appreciated the mixed-wheel configuration. Unfortunately, it’s not an off-the-shelf option outside Europe. On Canyon’s home continent, you can opt for mixed-wheel at checkout. Or you can opt for the size XS CF7. For now, both are off-limits to us Yanks, but I pulled a 27.5-inch rear wheel off my big dumb Specialized Status to give the Spectral a new haircut for a couple days. It absolutely delivered on the promise of the penny-farthing party. Sure, this may be that confirmation bias creeping in again, but I had a much easier time letting the rear end skip across rocks in tight corners or pulling the front wheel up to pump a natural roller.

Getting real, though, I think the matched 29 setup is how I’d run this bike. I may have already overstated it, but the stock build already has plenty of potential for fun. That’s what surprised me the most: The fact that a coil-sprung bike in this travel range can be so lighthearted. But what will stick with me the most is how versatile it is. And not in a lowest-common-denominator sort of way. More like a Barbie-making-$1.4-billion-and-getting-a-best-picture-nod sort of way. It’s not just really good for a lot of different riders for a lot of different reasons. It’s just really good.


  • Coil-shock sensitivity with air-shock supportiveness
  • Top-shelf suspension spec
  • Great value
  • Long droppers on all sizes
  • Smart mixed-wheel conversion
  • In-frame and on-frame storage
  • Service-friendly internal cable routing
  • The K.I.S. steering stabilizer actually works


  • Limited model choices in the U.S.
  • No aluminum option
  • XS size not available in US until (projected) late 2024
  • Tight water bottle clearance
  • The K.I.S. steering stabilizer isn’t for everyone (but is removable)

See more at Canyon