It was once the case that buying a bike from Canyon was a sure fire way of getting an incredible deal on some Gucci parts that would have otherwise left you in tears at the checkout. The trade-off was that although you’d get a great overall bike, those parts might be allied to a workman-like frame - functional all day long in the true German style, but not necessarily beautiful to look at.Buy Enduro Bikes on
The Strive has been doing the rounds at the EWS for a number of years now and has earned a cult following from those in the know, having watched recently retired EWS racer Fabien Barel develop the bike from a long-travel all mountain rig into a precision race tool with a great pedigree.
The CF 9.0 Team is the as-close-as-you’ll-get copy of the bike currently being ridden by Joe Barnes, Justin Leov and Ines Thoma on the EWS circuit and so, as you’d expect, has a lofty price tag (£4,999) and accompanying high-spec kit list. It’s going to have to be pretty special to warrant the hefty outlay, but there are other very well specced Strives in the range that benefit from lower prices.
The defining characteristic of this bike is Canyon’s ShapeShifter mechanism, which allows the bike to be switched between a more XC geometry and DH mode, in theory at least offering a ride that will sprint up climbs and plummet down technical descents with ease - perhaps you can have your cake and eat it? The ShapeShifter is paired to 160mm of rear travel managed by a RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 combined with a RockShox Lyric RCT3 fork with 170mm of travel up front. The overall impression is of a bike that demands a diet of big mountain days and high speeds.
Those worried about frame damage will be happy to see a substantial frame guard on the lower side of the downtube and built-in chainstay protector.
Elsewhere on the bling 9.0 Team, you’ll find SRAM’s X01 Eagle drivetrain, Renthal's 780mm wide Fatbar Carbon bars and 40mm Apex stem. The dropper is a Rockshox Reverb Stealth B1 with a welcome 150mm of drop on frame sizes medium and above, and 125mm for small and XS sized frames.
Carrying on the RockShox/SRAM theme are a pair of Code RSC brakes hooked up to 180mm and 200mm Centreline rotors. Mavic’s stiff and dependable Deemax Pro wheelset dressed with Mavic’s own Claw Pro and Quest Pro tyres completes the setup. A very nifty rear flip out lever on the bolt through axle allows quick adjustment and removal of the rear wheel, a nice little touch that echoes the thought and detail that has gone into this bike.
One thing to note about the Strive is a lack of something we see more and more of on long travel bikes - the 29” wheel. It perhaps makes sense that a bike with adaptable geometry would adorn the middle of the road 27.5” wheel size in order to make the most of its climbing and descending abilities without compromising agility. Whatever the reasoning, the Strive is set up to go exceptionally quickly up and down big stuff.
The air-sprung Lyric fork up front is (excuse the pun) a revelation in rough rock sections that demand responsiveness and refinement, allowing the bike to be pushed harder and faster at will into rough sections of trail as well as over natural obstacles.
Let’s get onto the showpiece of the Strive family, the ShapeShifter. After some initial time spent getting the chamber set up to work with the appropriate rider weight, the next task was negotiating the layout of the trigger on the handlebars.
It took a while to become accustomed to having two triggers to operate in close proximity to one another, especially as the SRAM/RockShox MatchMaker limited the range of adjustment for the dropper post and ShapeShifter triggers. This is all dependent on personal preferences where brake lever set up is concerned, of course.
Engaging the ShapeShifter geometry switch on the trail takes a little trial and error and is best set in either mode before committing to a section - be it a climb or descent - as trying to flick between XC and DH modes mid trail can prove tricky and throw your weight off. Happily, the Strive will despatch undulating, flowing trails in either mode, should it find itself caught between severe ups and downs, and with a little practice quick shifts can be achieved between the two modes.
Once mastered the ShapeShifter is simply excellent and the handling and characteristics of the Strive change dramatically. In XC mode the bike is a hair’s breadth from performing like a mid travel trail bike; the 67.5° head angle offering precise steering on climbs and the 75° seat tube angle providing a solid platform from which to mount attacks on sustained steep, technical terrain.
But it’s in DH mode that the Strive truly shows its stripes. A click of the ShapeShifter trigger and a brief rearwards thrust of body weight and the bike slackens to a 66° head angle (73.5° at the back), a metamorphosis that reveals a beast of a bike, though it’s more of a precision instrument than a rowdy troublemaker.
Riding the Strive through challenging downhill sections contrives to give the mind a rest as the bike encourages its passenger with an assured, measured ride. Descents happen in slow motion - meaning you can go faster - and the bike feels effortless and plush over big drops and multiple sharp-edge hits, tracking eagerly across off-camber rocks. It’s a sort of sense-doping and feels a little like cheating; the Strive never feeling out of its depth.
Charge the Strive into the rough stuff, and the wheel-tyre combination stacks up well alongside the lightweight and ‘chuckable’ carbon frame. The front pretty much takes care of itself with that refined Lyric fork, and the rear can be lifted and placed easily, making unweighting and floating the bike a breeze.
Having spent a lot of time on the Strive’s little sibling, the fantastic Spectral, it was reassuring to feel the DNA of that bike carry up the range into the Strive, with the bigger travel bike offering the same engaging ride and offering the same feedback and sense of balance.
Being a fairly tall rider at 6’2,” the XL Strive felt absolutely spot on but did demand a committing forward stance when chucking it down steep, loose chutes. This is undoubtedly more bike than most could ever hope to need but the high-end feel of the CF 9.0 Team is addictive and exhilarating.
The Code brakes are, for the most part, a perfect match to the capabilities of the Strive and offer a huge amount of stopping power even on sustained descents. Speed can be scrubbed at will, and they’re especially good at offering on/off braking for track stands and negotiating sudden changes in direction on steep terrain. The pay off is that the front wheel can lock up on wet and loose trail surfaces when the gradient gets very steep, demanding that riders get their weight well forward.
Bikes like the Strive CF 9.0 Team are a pleasure to ride and instantly make the rider feel more accomplished, whatever their experience. Push the Strive harder and faster, and you’re rewarded with a balanced, assured ride full of feedback, bottomless travel and fun.
The Strive family of bikes with its ShapeShifter technology is proof that Canyon can now add innovative frame design cred to go alongside their excellent value. Yes, it’s still a lot of money for a bike but the spec and ride are exquisite, and the ShapeShifter technology really does give you two bikes in one - and that surely counts as saving money.
Whether plumping up for the Strive CF 9.0 Team or looking along the Strive range you know you’ll be getting effortlessly attractive lines, edge of the knife technology and top of the line kit at a competitive price. How could you not be inspired by this bike?
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This review was in Issue 51 of IMB.For more information visit Canyon Bicycles
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By James SwannOriginally from Sheffield, James lives and works in the mountain bike mecca that is the Lake District and has been falling off bikes since he was six. In between working on bike events, riding bikes, racing bikes and writing about bikes he enjoys talking about bikes with anyone who will listen. He really likes bikes.
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Dan, Joe and Edgar