Hit the other button and the Strive relaxes and hunkers down at the rear. The suspension is very supple at the start of the stroke, offering a reassuring ground-hugging feel when pattering over matted roots and small stones. Yet when plopping into a catch berm or hole, the suspension never wallows or squats too much; it always gives you something to push against and drive forwards, maintaining its angles as you push around a turn.
With two volume spacers, it's pretty hard to bottom out, but it doesn't feel like there's a sudden ramp near the end, more of a continuous, smooth ramp of support. When rattling through really chunky sections, it's not the most plow-like, but I could afford to remove another spacer or increase sag to unlock more compliance, so that's a setup choice, not a limitation.
How much of this supple-yet-supprtive goodness is down to the Fox X2 shock vs the linkage design is hard to say, but I'm sure I haven't got the best out of the shock yet. Most of my suspension setup work has been spent playing around with spring pressure front and rear, and I've only tried a handful of the 30,000 or so combinations of clickers so far. Having two four-way adjustable dampers is arguably overbearing for a bike that arrives in a box, so it will be interesting to see how accurate and informative Canyon's setup guide is.
It's when braking that the suspension impresses most. It doesn't rise up and pitch forwards as much as many Horst link bikes, so the bike feels stable and settled even when during short, sharp braking periods. But at the same time, the suspension feels very supple even when on the brakes over rooty and rocky surfaces. I think Canyon has got the balance about right with the braking response.
My anxieties about "sizing down" melted away from run one as the proportions of the size large were very easy to get used to, and I was feeling confident and centered on the bike from the off. The bike never felt too small, unstable or prone to tripping, which should be no surprise given its real-world wheelbase with the neutral headset is within a centimetre of an XXL
Nukeproof Giga. I'd like the bar height to come up by 10 mm or so - with a longer reach, you need a longer stack height, and despite the 20mm of spacers and 30mm rise handlebar, it was just a fraction too low for me. A higher-rise bar would solve this but given the rest of the bike is well-proportioned for my height it would be nice to be able to get the cockpit in the right range from the off and have room to adjust it up and down.
While the 442 mm rear-centre is longer than advertised, it's still a bit shorter than some of the bikes that go this long in the front centre. Does this mean the front-wheel understeers in every turn? Not really. A 10mm increase in chainstay length (which would make it one of the longest on the market) would only increase the pressure on the front wheel by 1.5%. In order to get a significant increase in front-wheel traction, you need a much more extreme change in the rear centre than what's offered by most bikes with size-specific chainstays.
Only Forbidden seems to be doing that right now (the Dreadnought's
rear-centre changes by 42mm across the sizes and the XL has a 480mm rear-centre at sag, which has downsides as well as advantages). In my view, front-wheel grip is much more about rider confidence, suspension and stability than a few millimetres of rear-centre length, and the Stive delivers that in abundance. The slack head angle lets you really lean on the front with no worries about it tucking or being deflected; the rear suspension offers support to stop the bike squatting back in a turn, and the stable braking behaviour means you don't have to lean back when getting on the brakes, only to find your weight too far back when you get off them again. The Fox suspension offers class-leading small bump sensitivity too, helping the tires find consistent grip through choppy sections. All this makes it easier to stay centred on the bike, commit to turns and rip into the corner.
While the Strive feels at its best on steep, technical terrain, it's no slouch on flatter flow trails and trail centre descents. The suspension feels balanced and supportive when pumping through rollers or berms, and you can always use the Shapeshifter if you want a firmer platform to push against. Despite its race-ready intentions, slack head angle and planted feel on downhill tracks, it's surprisingly versatile and enjoyable when the trail mellows out.
Every bike is more than the sum of its parts. How the suspension, geometry, stiffness, weight distribution, componentry and more all come together on the trail isn't something you can extrapolate from the numbers alone. In the case of the Strive, its balance between stability and manoeuvrability, suppleness and support made it easy for me to ride fast, aggressively and confidently from the first ride and every ride since. That overall feeling is obviously subjective, and someone else may not have the same view. So for a second opinion, I recruited one of my riding mates, who happens to be about the same height and weight as me, to ride the Strive for a day. I made sure not to tell him what I thought of it before he finished. He too found it easy to get on with and ride fast almost from the off. Interestingly, he commented unprompted that it brakes very well. That made me a bit more confident in my view that this is a particularly easy bike to ride fast. Issues / Room for Improvement
The complexity of the Shapeshifter is a concern and something which would make me think twice about wanting to own this bike. Don't get me wrong, it does what it's meant to do, worked perfectly throughout testing and is a useful feature, but I think you could get most of the benefits (though definitely not all) with a steeper seat angle and a simple remote lockout. I also think that Canyon might as well have given it a more extreme seat angle if you can always slacken things out for flat pedalling sections, which is the only time when an 80-degree effective angle really feels too steep. In 2022, I shouldn't have to slam the saddle forwards to feel comfortable, especially on a bike that has a dedicated climb mode.
On the other hand, the Shapeshifter is basically a simplified shock and linkage, but one that you use a few times per ride instead of a few thousand times. Canyon suggest getting it serviced at an authorised dealer every 200-hours of riding or so, but I doubt if it will need it that often. Trawling the forums, it looks like a few people had problems with the first-generation system, but version 2, which is shared with the 2019 iteration of the Strive, seems to be more reliable. Bike Yoke
make a purely mechanical version for 90 Euros, which could be a good option to keep you riding if you do have any problems or while the gas spring is being serviced.
Another gripe is that the upper shock mounting hardware is shared with the Shapeshifter linkage, which means removing the shock requires you to push out a hollow pin that spans the shock eyelet and the link its mounted to (Canyon will sell you a tool to do this
for £27.95). This makes removing the shock or swapping volume spacers a bit more involved than with other bikes.
It's easy to read too much into the customer service horror stories (which you can find online relating to almost any brand) but the combination of the Shapeshifter's added complexity and Canyon's direct sales model isn't the most appealing from a long-term ownership standpoint. When I asked about this, Canyon had this to say: "Some readers may remember the very first Shapeshifter, introduced in 2014. Unfortunately, this suffered with some reliability issues... With this Fox produced component [introduced on the 2019 Strive], the reliability has been solid for our customers and racers for the past 3 years - and this new Strive uses exactly the same unit. If something goes wrong with your Shapeshifter, a Fox service centre should be able to get it up and running within standard servicing turnaround times."
Two things Canyon could implement immediately to improve the user experience are:
• Supply the bike with the shock removal tool, or at least put all the volume spacers at the bottom of the air can; that way they can be removed without taking the shock off.
• Leave the steerer tube longer, especially on the bigger sizes. You can always cut it down.