(The Gear Loop) - Now the cycling world is turned on to electrification of the mountain, trail and downhill bike, it seems manufacturers are now keen to push the technology further into other two-wheeled sub-genres.
Ardent road cyclists might still be baulking at the idea of a little electrical assistance, but the world of gravel riding, which arguably fuses elements of road riding with mountain biking, is now rapidly adopting the electric motor.
Canyon’s Grail is an already much-lauded terrain-tackler, with its range of both aluminium and carbon fibre off-road rides proving popular among those who want speed and efficiency on the tarmac, with the option to veer off the obvious paths and into the wilderness.
The Grail:ON CF 7 uses largely the same carbon frame, geometry and overall design as the CF SL 7, but sneaks a large 500Wh battery into the downtube and the latest Bosch Performance Line CX 85Nm motor behind the chainring.
Gearing in this mid-range electric model is provided by the mechanical and ultra-reliable Shimano GRX shifters, an 11-speed cassette and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. Those wanting electrical shifting will have to part with more money for the range-topping CF 8 eTap, which features SRAM’s popular Force eTap groupset.
The Grail:ON CF 7 represents excellent value for money and when you tot up the components used and the cost of similar rivals, it suddenly becomes one very tempting proposition.
This probably goes some way to explain why most frame sizes are currently out of stock, with reinforcements due summer 2022, but if you can get hold of one, you won’t be disappointed by its innovative approach to all-round cycling fun.
The Bosch motor and battery are fantastic, while the use of a rugged Shimano drivetrain and stopping power makes it a reliable steed to take further afield than merely running it to work and back, or casual weekend spins.
We’d love to see more bike-packing luggage and bottle cage options, seeing as it’s able to travel massive distances on a single charge, while the cutting-edge cockpit is likely to divide opinion among anyone who rides one.
But it looks wild, rides well and definitely raises a smile every time a leg is thrown over it. All at half the price some of its main competitors are charging.
Canyon Grail:ON CF 7
- It looks fantastic
- Superb power delivery
- Impressive battery life
- Innovative features
- Geometry awkward for some
- Double-decker bars divisive
- It’s heavy
- Tricky to fine-tune fit
In the Loop
Everything you need to know about the Canyon Grail:ON CF 7
- Carbon fibre frame, fork and seat post
- Bosch Performance Line CX motor delivering 85Nm of torque
- Bosch PowerTube battery with 500Wh
- Full Shimano GRX mechanical groupset
- DT Swiss HG 1800 Spline wheels with thru-axle lock
- Chunky Schwalbe G-One Bite 50mm tyres
- Carbon "double decker" Gravelcockpit CF bars with flex area
- Fizik Tempo Argo R3 saddle
Rip up the rulebook
The carbon fibre Grail models are certainly head-turners, whether they boast an electric motor or not. This is down to the unusual frame geometry and those slightly madcap handlebars, which we will get onto in a moment.
When viewed from the side, the Grail:ON CF 7 packs a fairly extreme slope to the crossbar, giving plenty of room between sensitive parts and potentially damaging carbon when stood up on the pedals.
Unlike the Specialized Turbo Creo SL Comp Carbon Evo we tried recently, the Grail:ON doesn’t feature a dropper seat post, but instead uses Canyon’s S15 post, which features a leaf spring design that not only helps reduce weight, but takes some of the vibration and harshness out of trail riding.
The saddle itself also has a deep cut-out, again to shed a little weight, but also to take the pressure off sensitive areas during longer sessions.
The rakish looks are then enhanced further by fat tyres and a fat downtube, which inconspicuously houses the battery and electric gubbins. It’s a wildly styled machine that looks as if it has might have been penned by Katsuhiro Otomo for a futuristic graphic novel.
Finally, and arguably the most extreme in terms of design elements, is the "double decker" carbon handlebars that are essentially a set of normal racing drop bars with a flat, carbon fibre brace across the top.
Cleverly, this carbon is highly flexible, and is clearly marked as a "flex area", encouraging riders to adopt the up-top grip when bumping over gravel, rough roads or attempting some challenging trail navigation.
A different form
There’s no denying that the Bosch CX electric motor is truly brilliant, delivering a great array of power options that completely transform the way the Grail:ON CF 7 handles and behaves.
The Bosch Purion display is also a fantastically simple way of interacting with the bike, although we couldn’t help noticing the gaping hole where it can also be attached to more traditional handlebars. This looks a bit cheap in our opinion.
However, cycle through Eco, Tour, Sport or Turbo modes and the Bosch motor delivers torque accordingly. We enjoyed taking the bike on a standard loop using just the Eco mode, which is enough to overcome the 16kg mass but not too much that it reduces the ability to torch some calories.
But slip it into Sport or Turbo and it really flies, accelerating rapidly from a standstill and offering power up to the standard e-bike 15.5mph mark. But even then, it’s possible to ride the electric Canyon fast, with the motor cleverly sensing the optimum moment to offer assistance and the light (ish) frame cruising well.
It’s an absolute blast out on the open roads and dispatches of regular routes in fantastically quick times when set in its most potent modes, while the Bosch battery pack offers an impressively huge range, with us barely denting the battery levels over several 40+ km rides.
That said, this is a bike that’s super sensitive to tyre pressure and pumping up those fat Schwalbe G-Ones for optimum on-road performance equates to a really harsh ride on rough terrain. The carbon frame, bars and seat post are pretty unforgiving and we had to stop and let out air on a number of occasions, as things got a bit painful. So pack a pump.
The clever cockpit is supposed to help iron out this issue and in a way, it does a fairly good job, flexing as you pound over divots and drops, but the distance from the hover bar at the top to the brake levers is hefty and not really where you want to be when bombing down muddy, slippery declines.
In fact, we feel the bars are probably going to be a bone of contention for many, as they are awkward to mount bike computers to, tricky to fine tune for fit adjustments and just a little bit unwieldy to use.
Also, we typically sit somewhere between a small and medium frame, but this test bike was delivered in small, meaning we had to expose a fair amount of seat post to get things right. It was great for increasing the flex and suspension offered by the post, but we could have done with some risers for the bars, as it ended up being a fairly "slammed" riding position. A minor issue, admittedly, and probably only experienced by our stubby stature, but definitely worth checking before popping one in the basket.
There’s no denying the Grail:ON is a formidable gravel bike that blends the best bits of a road bicycle with the chunkier side of all-terrain and mountain machines. It’s also packed with innovation, like a wild carbon frame and double decker carbon handlebars, while its tried-and-tested Bosch motor makes mincemeat out of slippery terrain. It’s not without its quirks though, and we sometimes found it tricky to get comfortable, while its overall weight and general heft means it’s not the easiest to lug around.