VALUE BIKE FIELD TEST
Canyon Spectral 125 AL 6
Words by Ryan Palmer, photography by Tom Richards
As the most expensive bike at the value bike Field Test, it wasn’t surprising that the Canyon Spectral AL 6 was spec’d better than the rest. But it still astonished us what Canyon could put together for $3,500. Absolutely nothing needs to be changed right out of the box on this bike. Moreover, everything about it is built to last, from the all-aluminum frame to the parts hanging off it.
The frame is a no-nonsense affair, with a simple four-bar suspension layout designed without any unneeded links or clutter. We can’t test for longevity at Field Test, but a system this straightforward has a potential leg up on more complex designs.
Canyon Spectral 125
Canyon Spectral 125 Details
• Travel: 125mm rear / 140mm fork
• 29" wheels
• 64° head-tube angle
• 76.5° seat-tube angle
• Reach: 486mm (large)
• Weight:34.9lb / 15.8kg
• $3,500 USD
Cables are routed internally through the mainframe, and externally on the chainstays. The bottom bracket is threaded, rear spacing is Boost 148, and the derailleur hanger is a SRAM UDH, all practical, rational choices.
The geometry on the other hand, is less practical. The Spectral 125 has just 125mm of rear wheel travel and 140mm up front, yet runs numbers that are normally seen on longer-legged enduro bikes. To start with, the reach on the size large is a rangey 486 millimeters. The medium is 460mm, longer than most size large bikes from just a few years ago. The headtube angle is 64-degrees, one of the slackest found on a bike with 125mm of travel, and a full degree slacker than anything else we had on test.
It’s a specific type of rig that mixes playfulness and plowfulness in a way that not many other bikes can do. It’s long up front, but relatively short in the back, with 437mm chainstays across the fours sizes, and even though it didn’t have the longest rear-center on test, it did have the longest wheelbase by a long way, at 1260mm. The next longest was the Stumpjumer at 1237mm. What this means is that the Spectral 125 AL likes to get rowdy on gnarly terrain. It’s big for its britches, so it’s a good thing it has the component spec to keep up.
The Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain executed flawlessly speedy shifts, can take a beating, and when you do have to replace it, is much more affordable than SRAM GX. The GX cassette for instance, retails for $230, while a replacement SLX cluster will only run you $105. With that kind of performance and value, the SLX drivetrain was decidedly the favorite drivetrain of the whole fleet we had in Tucson. The SLX four-piston brakes impressed us as well, with buckets of power and solid consistency throughout the test.
Not to be overshadowed, the Fox Rhythm 36 fork and Float X Performance shock were equally impressive. These dampers don’t have the adjustments found on Fox’s Factory or Performance Elite-level offerings, but they’re smooth, consistent, and adjustable enough for truly high-level riding.Climbing
On the chunky, technical climbs we were testing on in Tucson, the Spectral’s length and slack head angle were immediately noticeable as not being totally at home. It doesn’t have the snappy manners of the YT Izzo, making it more difficult to change directions when choosing lines. However, for riders with more power, who could maintain higher speeds on the climbs, it proved to be quite a solid technical climber. Kazimer wrote that, “the length and slack head angle slow the trail down a bit and give time to pause, collect yourself, and get ready for the next move.”
Personally, I love techy climbing and was able to clean many of the most technical moves at our testing grounds, just not consistently on the Canyon. I’m a much slower climber than Kaz, and at the speeds I was going, the bike would exhibit undesirably floppy steering. It was more of a handful than the Izzo, which was my favorite bike for the trails in Tucson.
Regardless of our climbing quickness, we agreed that the Canyon isn’t as ideally suited for climbing certain types of singletrack as some of the other bikes in the test, and that it’s far more comfortable on less steep, less technical climbing, and smashing fire road climbs.
The actual pedaling efficiency of the Spectral 125 is very good, though. There’s really no squatting or wallowing to speak of, even with the shock in the open setting. Testers appreciated not needing to use the firm lever on the shock because leaving the shock open enabled them to maintain traction on the loose, rocky terrain, without losing power.
Just like on the climbs, the slack head angle stood right out—but this time in a very good way. The Spectral 125 had the most stable, secure, smash-into-everything type of feel to it. Going fast on the YT Izzo, and to a lesser extent, the Specialized Stumpjumper, tended to be a more carefully executed affair, but once we got the Canyon up to speed, it felt devilishly solid.
It begged us to let the brakes go and rally through the loose baby-head rock gardens and blocky stairsteps that litter the trails in Tucson. The suspension is quite progressive, which had us both appreciating and critiquing it. On one hand, it provided excellent bottom-out protection when we were cooking. The aggressive ramp-up helps when there’s just 125mm of travel to work with. The progressivity also gives the Spectral an overall sporty attitude that makes it really fun to play around with and get big pop off small trail features.
The lively nature of the progressive suspension makes some sacrifices when it comes to small bump sensitivity, though. The Canyon was less willing to give up its travel than the YT Izzo, for instance. The rear wheel skipped around more, while the YT hugged the ground a bit better. We felt like we had better traction with the YT, but the Canyon maintains better stability during bigger, more jarring impacts. You’ll feel more of the trail with on the Canyon, but it’ll remain composed.
At the end of the day, the Spectral 125 isn’t really made for the type of trails we were riding. On the steep loamers of the Pacific Northwest is where we feel this bike would really come to life. You know, trails that are scary in a less pokey type of way. The bike’s aggressively long and slack geometry and progressive suspension are more ideally suited for steeper, less boney terrain. That’s where this unique bike will really shine.