The conventional wisdom in triathlon these days can be summed up by the saying, “A UCI-Approved sticker on a bike automatically makes it slower.” With constraints in the rules, ostensibly for rider safety and the spirit of preserving competition, bicycle manufacturers are limited in things like depth of tubes (the infamous 3:1 rule), seat tube angles, and preservation of the “double triangle” design of bikes. The practical effect of all of these rules, so says the triathlon community, is that any bike that has passed UCI stricture is simply slower than those that chose not to abide by those rules. Thus, UCI-Approved bikes are slower than those that are not. Given the outright performance of the Speedmax 9.0 CF, however, we suspect someone may have neglected to tell Canyon.
Canyon’s business model is the odd man out in the bike world – they sell direct from their website to you, the consumer, yet they sponsor Pro Tour teams and triathletes. They believe that the elimination of the dealer network allows them to bring you a faster bike at a lower price than their competitors, while preserving quality engineering and design that are so often discarded when pursuing the direct business model. It’s also difficult to argue that their strategy has been wrong. With Katusha and Movistar riding Canyon and Jan Frodeno showing off a more-than-prototype update to the Speedmax reviewed herein, they have an impressive stable of athletes collecting victories on their bikes, as well as a legion of happy customers across the EU.
Value for your money
At €4,799, the Speedmax CF 9.0 comes packed. With the full Ultegra Di2 drivetrain, Reynolds Strike full-carbon wheels, integrated cockpit, integrated brakes, and a Fizik Arione saddle, it’s next to impossible to argue the assertion that Canyon is giving triathletes an impressive package. Canyon has gone the extra mile for triathletes as well, accepting that we don’t necessarily ride like time trialists and have produced a number of specific parts for the Speedmax to better suit our needs. Where the standard basebar is a zero-rise, fully flat configuration, the triathlon version of the Speedmax features an angled stem section that allows those of us not blessed with the flexibility of Valverde to avoid mountains worth of pad rise to achieve our position. There is also the 78-degree seatpost instead of the 73-degree version that’s standard on the time trial builds. Finally, the included extensions are ski-tips instead of J-bends or straights, though they can be swapped out if you prefer. All of this, without so much as a convenience-fee or surcharge; in the bike industry, that’s worth talking about.
Building a Canyon
Armed with our fit coordinates, we went to Canyon’s website and looked at their geometry charts for the SpeedMax CF. Given that Devon was going to ride this particular bike, he needed a bike that would allow a pad stack of 671mm and a pad reach of 498, so we had to do some math to determine his size. The Speedmax comes in three sizes, small, medium, and large, the latter having a frame stack of 539 and a frame reach of 457. This sounds miles away from his position, especially in stack. However, once you factor in that the stem itself is a 40mm rise, that there are aero stem spacers included for 10mm each, and that Canyon includes extension spacers good for 60mm worth of vertical travel, it becomes easy to see how we hit our ~670mm pad stack number. Reach was similarly simple; the arm cups are positively festooned with bolt guides and allow for an incredible amount of fore-aft adjustment, as well as arm width to suit nearly any size or style of rider, from Valverde all the way up to your friend who is built like an ox. Add in the seat post that allows you to adjust your effective seat angle from 73 to a steep 78 degrees, and the end result is a bike that, even with a fixed stem, will fit you without extra parts or having to compromise your position at all, which makes sense. Canyon’s business, after all, relies on the ability to do everything you could want without the need of a local bike shop, or their parts bin. In that respect, it is fair to say that they have gotten it exactly right.
Our Speedmax came with Ultegra Di2, so setting up the bike was genuinely a walk in the park. All we had to do was plug the seat post Di2 battery into the pre-run cable, which was conscientiously taped to the end of the top tube so that it can’t get lost in the frame, bolt on the cockpit, and we were done. If you are considering ordering from Canyon, do yourself a favor and buy a Di2 bike – it simply does not get easier than this. We went from out of the box to on the road in under an hour, including dialing in our position on the bike. While it is possible to have the same experience with cabled shifters, they require you to have a greater knowledge about how to adjust them than Di2 does, and for a mail-order bike it simply saves a lot of hassle. Further, when considering that a complete Di2 bike can be had for €3,999 in the Speedmax CF 8.0, it is hard to argue against simply opting for the electronic groupset.
The brakes themselves take some figuring out, however. The simplest way to deal with them is to adjust their slack resting position via the small Allen screw visible on the side of the fork, at the curve where the fork legs meet the head tube fairing. We mention this because we did try taking them apart in order to center them and discovered two things. Firstly, this was not the correct way to adjust the brakes on the Speedmax. And secondly, it was a much more involved procedure than we had believed it would be. Unless you’re changing pads, opening up the brake housing on the back of the front fork or removing the cover on the undercarriage of the rear triangle simply is not necessary and much more hassle than it’s worth. Use the external ports; it’s what they’re there for.
Short stem, long wheelbase
Once you get a Speedmax out on a ride, you get it. You get why Canyon is so popular in Europe. It isn’t just the price tag, though that is a major component of their success. It’s that the bikes they manufacture are really, really good, regardless of their cost. The Speedmax 9.0 CF, on the road, is an absolute joy to ride. The short effective stem length keeps the turning quick, and the frame has no detectable flex as you lean into a fast curve while still in the aero position. The brakes modulate well and have no slack in the lever before it begins to actuate the caliper, keeping the total lever travel length to a minimum. Cranking up the power through the pedals does not result in that “squishy” feeling that you get in a cheap carbon frame as the bottom bracket flexes its shell, but instead just propels you forward without any fuss in the bike.
In fact, there is a certain lack of drama to the whole affair, aft of the cockpit. The frame is nicely dampened, and as a result, it loses some of the sense of urgency about really hauling on the pedals to catch that next competitor. It just goes and does it, and that’s really the heart of the Speedmax’s character. It soaks up the miles and doesn’t complain about it, but it doesn’t necessarily talk to you much, either. It does exactly as you ask it, every time, without comment. For triathletes, that is exactly what we want, too. A bike that lets us focus on the miles ahead without having to get into some long, internal discussion about turn-in, or if the brakes will work nicely in that damp patch over there, or if the lube we used for the bottom bracket is going to keep the bike silent this ride, or a hundred other small conversations that we don’t admit we have with our bikes, but we do. Those sorts of things are fine for road cyclists, for whom a lively bike is something to experience and enjoy, because those are bikes that will be raced right at the limit of the bike. We, as triathletes, need bikes that let us get in that groove of speed between the swim and the run, and to find our little moment of zen amidst all of the other things going on at a given race. With the Speedmax, Canyon has provided the perfect tool for exactly that – a place of zen at 30 miles an hour.
Finding your center
If you live in Europe, finding a Canyon is painless. If you live in the U.S., however, it requires more work than just heading down to your local bike shop and picking out your next bike from the rack. It can be done, and there are plenty of people who can show you how in whichever forum you happen to frequent, but the cost to value ratio begins to tilt closer towards parity with your local bike shop’s discount as the complexity mounts. Our advice is simple: for those in the EU, take a serious look at what Canyon has to offer you, as it is an astonishing amount of bike for your Euro. For those in the US, if you must have one, and believe me, we understand, then perhaps you should take the family on vacation to Europe for a week. And if a bike mysteriously happens to come home with you, well, who could be mad at you for it? After riding a Speedmax, we would certainly understand. Now, where did we put our passport…?