There has long been a little confusion amongst the burgeoning gravel community about Canyon’s bike offerings for the popular discipline. The Grizl and the Grail have, previously, been as close in name as they were in purpose, with plenty of overlap between the two models, often leading to consumers questioning which bike is really the right one for them. With the launch of the new Grail CF however, the line between the Grail and Grizl has become much more clear cut, with the Grail now marketed as a fast, race-focused gravel bike for those looking to ride hard off the beaten track.
In fact, the recently-released Grail CFR sees some big changes compared to its predecessor, notably Canyon’s doing away with the ‘Double-Decker’ handlebar system that split opinions on the old Grail (it’s replaced with a single layer handlebar called the ‘Double Drop bar’, which still has some unusual shaping.) The bike also sees significant improvements in aerodynamics to accommodate for the ever-increasing speeds in gravel races, as well as changes to the geometry with the aim of improving the Grail’s handling. A new D-shaped seat post is there to help compliance and there's enough clearance at the chainstays for single chainrings up to 50-teeth which helps towards making the Grail a versatile off-road racer.
Another headline when it comes to the release of the new Grail is the redesigned luggage mounts and storage options on the bike. Canyon has created what it calls an ‘Aero Load System’ with downtube storage and a frame bag that is actually said to make the bike more aerodynamic with it than without. Alongside this, the ‘Gear Groove’ system at the front of the bike allows riders a base for a range of accessories, from aero extensions that have been taken from the brand's Speedmax time trial bike, to phone, lights and computer mounts which are aerodynamically optimised to fit on the integrated bar and stem system.
With Canyon’s impressively affordable prices and the versatility of the new Grail, there’s plenty to like for the average gravel rider – the Grail CFR eTap we had on test retails for £7,649 and that’s with a SRAM Red AXS XPLR 1×12 wireless electronic groupset and DT Swiss GRC 1100 carbon wheels. The most affordable model in the Grail range is the Grail CF SL 7 for £2,599.
Frame and seat post
A big area of the Grail which has been redesigned to help the bike in the speed department is the frame geometry. Canyon says that its professional gravel racers have been clocking higher and higher average speeds, arguing that aerodynamics is steadily becoming as important on gravel as it is on road. On the Grail GFR, the head tube is slacker, there’s more fork rake and the reach is longer. While this shows that the bike has been adapted to suit more race-like conditions, the geometry is still not overly progressive – it remains more relaxed than on purely race-focused bikes. Canyon says that the geometry “increases stability across fast and rough terrain while maintaining agility” and places the rider in a more centred position between the wheels in order to aid handling and make the bike more predictable on uneven surfaces.
The Grail CFR uses higher grade carbon which Canyon says “requires precision manufacturing processes to enable the use of less material while simultaneously making the frame stiffer and stronger”. Compared to the Grail CF SLX – which retails for £2,500 less – the Grail CFR frameset is 110 grams lighter and 10% stiffer when measured at the bottom bracket and the head tube.
At the rear of the bike, the new Grail CFR uses a D-shaped seat post which Canyon says aims to increase compliance. The shape is inspired by the seat post on the Ultimate but with a different layup to try and achieve the right amount of flex for riding on rough surfaces. Called the SP0072 COMFORTPOST by Canyon, the seat post on the Grail is 42 grams lighter than the S15 VCLS 2.0 and the D-shape also makes it more aerodynamic. There’s only a single 20 mm seatpost offset on offer with the Grail – riders have the option to switch to Canyon’s standard ULTIMATE SP0055 or superlight 70 g CFR SP0064 seatposts if they wish, though the former of these isn’t really suited to riding off-road. Given the D-shaped profile of the seat post, aftermarket and customisation options are limited here.
Handlebar and gear groove
Canyon isn’t shy to acknowledge the downfalls of its unusual Double Decker bar that was fitted on the previous iteration Grail – it was found to offer some relatively useless riding positions and also had serious aerodynamic pitfalls, as well as making it difficult to fit bar bags. While the German brand hasn’t carried this design through to the Grail CFR, it has still stuck to its guns with a ‘Double Drop’ bar which is similarly wide and flared at the drops and is what Canyon calls a “successor to the Double Decker bar.”
All new Grail models now come with a one-piece carbon cockpit, the ‘Double Drop’. On these new handlebars, the tops sweep back at five degrees towards the rider while simultaneously tilting downward from the stem. The drops are flared (five degrees at the hoods, 16 degrees at the drops) and have a bit of extra length behind the hoods for more options when it comes to hand position.
The Double Drop bar comes in the following combinations: 60mm stem by 420mm wide (at hoods) that is fitted to 2XS and XS frame sizes, 70x420mm (small frame), 70x440mm (medium and large frames), and 80x460mm (XL and 2XL frames). Canyon says the new Grail has 9.1 watts of aero savings (at 45kph) versus the older generation, much of which comes from the new handlebar. For pro riders Canyon has developed an additional CP0047 pro version of the handlebars that is available aftermarket. That is 400 mm measured at the hoods and has a more extreme swoop to replicate a negative angled stem, available with longer stem lengths ranging from 80 to 110 mm.The bike also has a standard headtube design and a fork steerer with a standard 1-1/8” upper diameter. Brake hose (and derailleur wiring) routing enters the head tube through a mouth in the upper headset cover – this set-up means that riders can use the new Grail with the stem and handlebar of their choice if they want to make aftermarket changes.
Canyon says that another reason for the Double Drop bars was to allow riders to have an improved integration system at the front of the bike, coined the ‘Gear Groove’. The interface at the centre of the cockpit provides a platform for a range of accessories, from computer and phone mounts and adjustable aero bars. The aero extensions themselves are taken over from the Speedmax CFR, with 25mm range of stack, 60mm reach, grip angle adjustment and sweat-resistant Ergon pads. There’s a specific computer mount that attaches to the aero bar extensions so riders don’t have to decide between a computer or aero bars.
Storage and accessory options
Plenty of thought has gone into the Grail CFR’s ‘Aeroload’ system and Canyon has rightly been shouting about it. It’s likely the most unique and innovative feature on the new bike, with some really clever storage solutions that actually also aid aerodynamics. The system is made up of two elements: the downtube storage which holds a Canyon minitool and Topeak pump, as well as a pack for tyre leaves, a CO2 cartridge and inflator and a TPU inner tube. The second part of the ‘Aeroload’ system is the Load Fidlock Quickloader frame bag. It locks into the frame using three magnets meaning there’s no straps to undo or redo when accessing it, reducing the need for loaded pockets on a ride or additional saddle bags which can interfere with airflow and add weight. Canyon says that the Grail is 1.5 watts more efficient at 45kph with the frame bag fitted than without.
The Grail also has a dedicated quick-release full-length front and rear fender kit which stays attached with quick-release skewers that slide through hollow thru-axles. With fenders, the tyre clearance on the Grail is 700x42mm, but without, the effective maximum tyre size is closer to 700×45mm. All bikes come with 40mm-wide tyres as stock across the board.
I tested the Grail CFR eTap with a SRAM Red AXS XPLR 1×12 wireless electronic groupset and DT GRC 1100 carbon wheels in the ‘Mars Attack’ colourway and with a Fizik Vento Argo X1 saddle (£7,650). Canyon also offers the Grail CFR Di2 which comes with a Shimano GRX Di2 2×11 wired electronic groupset and DT Swiss GRC 1100 carbon wheels for £6,700. There’s also the Grail CFR LTD which is the same as the CFR AXS, but with a limited-edition paint job Canyon calls “GRVL DZZL” for £9,500. Lower down the range, the Grail CF SLX 8 AXS comes with a SRAM Force AXS groupset and Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels and retails for £5,099, while the Grail CF SLX 8 Di2 comes with Shimano GRX Di2 and DT Swiss GRC 1400 wheels, retailing for £4,799.
When it comes to how the Grail CFR feels to ride, it’s hard not to start with the elephant-sized handlebar in the room. This was the first thing I noticed when I got on the bike and something I struggled with throughout my test period. The handlebars on my size small Grail measured 42cm hood to hood and had a huge flare on the drops and I found it hard to get comfortable – I’m used to riding 38cm on my usual bikes. Considering the focus of this Grail is heavily weighted on aerodynamics, I think this choice is surprising from Canyon as well – the BMC Kaius, for example, is going the complete opposite direction when it comes to handlebar width, opting for the narrower, more aero-friendly bars that we see on road bikes.
If I’d have purchased this bike, I would likely have ordered the aftermarket narrower, pro-only cockpit and switched to that, but it’s unfortunate that Canyon doesn't allow its customers to make this choice when purchasing – though at least the standard headtube design and a fork steerer size also allows for more choice over handlebars. As a female rider with narrower shoulders, I feel like the wide bars were especially intense and I had a hard time dialling in my fit on the Grail – it felt very long compared to other gravel bikes I have tested which made me feel a bit uncomfortable on long stretches of straight road. I didn’t particularly enjoy the Fizik Vento Argo X1 saddle that comes as stock with the bike either, preferring wider models with a larger cut-out centrally – this is entirely personal, though.The wide handlebars came more into their own on technical and rocky descents, I did find that a wider cockpit helped me feel safe and stable on the bike. Stable is probably the operative word when it comes to describing how the Grail CFR feels, the handling is not particularly agile, likely due to the longer geometry. This is positive in some ways, it definitely means that you can trust the bike not to make any twitchy movements which is useful on loose gravel corners – I’d say this is a bike more suited to the American-style gravel with long fire roads, as opposed to more cyclo-cross style technical stuff.This stiffness also helps the Grail feel especially responsive under load. When on rides that switched between road and gravel climbs, I felt like no power was being wasted while I was on the pedals out of the saddle. I can imagine this to be useful in races when responding to attacks or heading up steep descents. The only issue is that it seems as if Canyon has sacrificed some of the comfort for this level of stiffness. The Grail, as a whole, does not feel particularly smooth on the real rough stuff. It’s lacking any sort of bouncy feel, perhaps due to the new D-shaped seat post and I don’t think the stiff DT Swiss GRC 1100 carbon wheels necessarily help with this either. I’d be an advocate for Canyon adding a Specialized Roubaix-esque suspension system at the front of the bike for those of us looking for a little bit more comfort. I understand this is a bike for racing, but I feel like the majority of Canyon customers will be looking for an all-rounder they can take for long days out on gravel without being jolted and shaken about regularly.I was really impressed with the integration system on the Grail and found the downtube storage solution extremely useful. I loved the freedom of not having to load up my back pockets and remember all my tools every ride, knowing that everything I needed was there already. It’s easy to get the tools in and out of the frame and the Canyon minitool and pump is a neat package. I didn’t try the frame bag, aero extensions or fenders on the bike but I like that Canyon offers these – it’s a way to take the bike from a race machine to something that can be ridden all year round in a variety of conditions.When it comes to groupset, I found that the SRAM Red AXS XPLR 1×12 wireless electronic groupset gave me everything I needed in terms of gear range, without the jumps between gears being too big. The shifting was smooth and quick, though I still find the SRAM Red shifters a little bit too bulky compared to Shimano options. The braking power was good and I always felt confident that the brakes were sharp enough to stop me if I needed to, which gave me confidence on descents and corners.
The Canyon Grail CFR is a clever bike. I really like Canyon’s innovative solutions to storage and that it has separated the Grail from the Grizl, giving the Grail a clear purpose and place in the brand’s range. It’s clear that gravel racing and Canyon’s own gravel racers have been at the forefront of the development process for the bike, this shines through in the aerodynamic advancements and responsiveness. With this in mind, I don’t understand the decision to fit the bike with such wide bars and I think I would have enjoyed the test period a lot more with narrower handlebars, it’s a shame there aren’t more customisation options when it comes to the fit of the Grail at purchase.
While gravel racing has been a focus, I also feel like Canyon might have only had a specific type of gravel in mind when creating the Grail. It definitely comes into its own on smoother gravel but when trying to take it on some gravel trails in the UK, it doesn’t quite have enough agility to give me confidence on technical sections and it is a bit uncomfortable with the terrain being extremely rough.
That being said, I still would say that the Canyon Grail CFR is extremely good value for its price and it's a solid option if you're on the market for a quick gravel bike. There are a few tweaks that I think could be made to make it perfect, but this could also come down to the type of terrain I was riding on – there’s certainly no Unbound gravel-style trails in South East England. The biggest issue for me was the handlebar size, but if you’re someone who doesn’t mind a wider bar and enjoys the stability that comes with, this won’t be a problem – it's also easy to switch them if you don't mind incurring that extra cost. The Grail CFR definitely sees some huge improvements from its predecessor, there’s just a little way to go in order to make it perfect.