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"Canyon Spectral ON"

Posted: 02 June, 2023

When we moved to the Lake District, I bought myself a Scott Scale hardtail mountain bike. It was the tail-end of Covid; bikes were rare because of broken supply chains and in demand because we all got fat during lockdown. It cost a bloody fortune. Penrith's local bike shop, Aragon, had nothing in with no new supplies in sight, and a grand seemed like a hell of a lot of money to drop on a hobby I wasn't sure I'd stick with. But I did stick with it, and now I'm generally out once or twice a week, whatever the weather.

I enjoy mountain biking. I've slowly progressed from easy tracks to single trails, and I'm starting to pop some jump lines. The Lake District was a good training ground, full of techie rock gardens, rooty downhills, and long soggy climbs that paid off with stunning vistas. But moving to Wales upped the ante.

I'm spoilt for choice. South Wales is mecca for MTB. Within a 30-minute drive, I have two forests with multiple trails, three bike parks, and loads of routes dug out by locals. There're hills everywhere, and where there's a hill, there's a trail.

So. Bikes.

Tbh, I've never been comfortable on the Scott. I never felt on top of it, and the centre of gravity was too high for my taste. But hey, it was supposed to be my training bike, so I put up with it until I could afford something better. I've spent the last three months selling my video game collection, and eBay has been kind to me, so last month, I bought a shiny full-suspension EMTB from Canyon.


Yeah, so I've been on the fence about going to an EMTB for a long time. I thought I'd hold off until I hit my 50th, but the more I thought about it, the more I began wavering. Ultimately, the limiting factor to how long I stay out on the bike has always been my fitness, so in that context, why wait?

Why Canyon?

Honestly? The Spectral's pretty much the cheapest, full-spec EMTB going. I looked at many options but kept returning to it; it's a lot of bike for the money. I just about sneaked in at the low end and ordered the ON 7. It's also a beauty. ;)

Arrival and Setup

I was dubious about ordering a bike online, even more so about it arriving in a cardboard box, which, as expected, was battered when Fed-Ex delivered it. I feared the worst; half the locking clips were missing, and the cardboard had taken a beating... but the bike was fine.

Putting it together was simple. All the tools you need are in the box, including an ingenious little torque wrench and a handily portable suspension pump. Both of these are so good they're now staples in my toolbox.

Setting up the suspension is an ongoing project, and more information from Canyon would have been handy, but a quick trip to the manufacturer's website gave me numbers to start with. The thicker, wider EMTB tyres also feel very different, so I'm still dialling in the correct pressure for my tastes.

Riding an EMTB

Riding an EMTB is a different beast, and not just because of the weight. I was getting through the Verderer's Trail, in Dean, in ~55 minutes on the Scott. In Eco Mode, on the Canyon, I had this down to 36 minutes on my first ride and then did another 20k over the next hour and a half. Instead of pushing up and only having the energy to do the downhill runs two or three times, I can stick it in Boost and go up and down as many times as I like.

This means the average speed on the trail is much, much higher. Parts where I'd be crawling uphill are now technical challenges where I'm looking at lines and trying to keep my speed up. And there's a knack to this. If you're in the right gear, pedalling at the right cadence, then you're flying in the motor's sweet spot, which brings a new set of challenges.

Pedal strikes are "a thing" now, whereas I can't say I ever really had one on the Scott. Canyons are fairly low-slung, so hammering around a single track at 20kph requires more thought about where your feet are. I learned this the hard way after getting thrown, twice, from strikes. So much for my leet skills!

The battery's weight and position on the bike also require changing how I approach certain features, particularly berms. Loading the front and generally moving around on the bike is essential to stop the front washing and quickly switching tilt through s-bends. Took a couple of rides, but I'm feeling on top of the bike in a way I never did with the Scott.

The front washing issues may be down to tyre choice. The Canyon shipped with a Maxxis Assecai on the front, and I'm not convinced it's as good as the High Roller 2 I was using on the Scott. At least, not in the dry.

Downhill, the bike wins in every way. The extra weight is a bonus. It's faster. It's easier to roll jumps and pop off them.

I opted for the 750w battery to save money and have no regrets. In Eco mode, which I usually use, I've covered 40km in less than half a battery. I think it'd approach 100km in the Forest of Dean if I stuck to the blues. Even in Trail mode, I got three hours of non-stop riding with two bars left; my body gave up before the battery did.

Living with an EMTB

Minutes after putting the order in, it dawned on me that the roof rack on my car (Thule) wasn't rated for an EMTB. I could have gotten away with it if I'd removed the battery, but the thought of a pressure clamp on the carbon frame, with no support, gave me the heebie-jeebies. So I had to get a new rack... (more on that in another post).

With a hardtail, you pull the bike off the car and hit the dirt. An EMTB, not so much. There're things to put together. Tools are a constant feature in my boot. There are various pumps required for last-minute fettling. Cleaning takes a little longer. And you need to be careful that you've got the strength in your arms to get the bugger on the roof (but that's pretty easy with the battery out).

Charging seems quick enough, but I tend to leave it overnight and not worry about it. That said, I can see me buying a second battery once I get the time to do some bike packing.

No regrets

In the month I've had it, I've covered more distance, taken on more challenging features, jumped higher, skidded further, and crashed harder (oh, and I upgraded my knee pads).

The extra oompf opens up parts of the hill I'd never have got to, and I think my riding's improved dramatically because of this. I'm taking on technical features with more confidence and loving the fact I can ride steadily, for hours, if I want to cruise in the sun or loop the downhills.

And although I thought it was cheating, the stats on my heart monitor don't lie: I'm getting better exercise, in the right zones, for more extended periods than I ever managed on the Scott. Win win!

If you're on the fence about an EMTB, well, consider me a complete convert.