What It Is: Canyon’s new Grail gravel bike is built for long miles, and loaded touring. But this 42mm tire drop bar bike may have you selling your road bike this season for something new. The geometry is slack and comfortable, but the bike’s handling is zippy and responsive. It was just as fun on pavement as dirt, it dominated on smooth singletrack, and when some testers pointed it down a technical MTB trail, they passed a guy on a full suspension enduro bike. (Don’t try that at home.)
Why We Like It: Canyon’s innovations solve real problems. It uses a short, mountain-bike inspired stem (70mm on a medium) to give the Grail quick steering. Slack and stable geometry made muddy, rooty, debris-strewn logging roads an enjoyable challenge not a white-knuckle stress fest. And because people ride gravel bikes in mud, dirt, dust, and wet conditions, Canyon sealed the frame/seatpost junction with a rubber gasket and added fender mounts to the frame.
The double-decker Hover Bar handlebar absorbs shock better than most we’ve ever ridden. At the end of a rough 50-mile gravel ride, our hands felt great. Normally the flat top of a drop bar handlebar is the stiffest part—it’s clamped by the stem—and the drops are flexible. The top deck of the Hover Bar has seven times more vertical compliance than a standard bar. It noticeably minimized chatter and vibration without feeling like a noodle. And the drops were stiff—they’re connected directly to the stem—for improved control. Thumb tabs on the D-shaped drops offered stability and security bombing downhill, without feeling restrictive. Though the futuristic handlebar is integrated, 15mm of spacers let you fine tune fit. A lot of gravel bikes use a dramatically flared handlebar. This bike’s bar flare is a happy medium between road and gravel.
In its top models, Canyon further reduces road vibration with a maintenance-free, shock-absorbing, “vertical compliance lateral stiffness” leaf spring seatpost known as the VCLS 2.0. The brand moved the seat post clamp low in the frame, and an adjustment screw is integrated into the seat tube. A floating seat clamp holds the saddle in place, and lets the post flex with inconsistencies in the terrain without the saddle angle noticeably changing. The clever seatpost further reduced long ride fatigue during testing. And it’s a half ounce lighter and 15 percent more compliant than a traditional design.
Canyon claims the Grail is the lightest gravel frame on the market at 830 grams (1.83 pounds). The full bike, as tested, weighed 18.1 pounds, including fat tires, integrated chainstay protection, and a clever device under the headtube that keeps it from over-rotating and damaging the carbon frame. Canyon challenged itself to build one bike that could do it all, and the Grail is fun and efficient off-road and on.
Nitpick: Some riders don’t like the way the handlebar looks. We say: Talk to us at the end of your next century ride. And, from the side, it’s barely visible. And Canyon’s sizing chart didn’t guide us to the right bike. We’re 5’7” with a 32” inseam. According to Canyon, we should order an XS Bike. In nearly every other brand, we ride a M/54. The XS, which has smaller 27.5” wheels, was too small. In the end, we rode size S, which fit perfectly. But it’s a minor issue because Canyon has a 30-day return policy.