How Different Can a Road Bike Be? Canyon Ultimate vs Endurace vs Aeroad
April 10th, 2017
April 10th, 2017
Anna is a jack-of-all-bikes, and has been riding and racing in a myriad of genres for over seven years; from World Cup level cross-country, to grass roots coaching kids on the road.
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It's easy to look at two similar bikes, with a similar spec, at a similar price range and think; they're pretty much the same. Cycling brands put a lot of research and development into their bike frames, hence cycling genres have spawned more and more sub-genres lately. There's no such thing as 'just a road bike' anymore, there are endurance road bikes, fast endurance, aero, race, time trial, sportive, women's, triathlon, touring, criterium, adventure road.... the list goes on. But are they really that different? We took three of Canyon's road bikes to Lee Valley Velopark, a one-mile closed-road circuit in London, to test them back to back and see if we could tell the difference during constant conditions. We had the Aeroad (designed in a wind-tunnel for professional level racing), the Endurace (made to maximise comfort over long distances) and the Ultimate (made to be good at everything). All three were carbon frames with an Aero- or Ergo-cockpit (integrated handlebars and stem) with very similar groupsets (deep-section carbon wheels, mechanical Shimano Ultegra and disc brakes) in the same price range.
This bike is designed for speed and understandably has multiple Tour de France stage wins under its belt. Designed and altered with the help of a wind tunnel, the Aeroad has tubing shaped to cut through the air and create minimal drag, which allows you to pedal speed at less effort. On test is the Aeroad CF SLX Disc 8.0 with mechanical Ultegra groupset at £3,799. From the moment I set off, it was clear this was no ordinary road bike; it accelerates effortlessly, literally. Pedalling this bike is like dancing on a cloud. I honestly felt like I was soft pedalling to keep up with my riding group most of the time. At the Velopark, headwinds were horrendous, offering a good testing ground for its aero promises, and it didn't disappoint. Solo missions away from the group didn't feel too much of a disadvantage, and headwinds were laughed at by this bike; however, sidewinds were not my friend, especially when creeping round corners. Gusts from anywhere other than head-on would hit the deep section wheels and cause a split-second nervous wobble. This was totally controllable, but won't be to everyone's liking. Cornering was also a little different; the shorter wheel base, and the preference for aero profiles on the front of the bike in favour of stiffer, more rigid oversized tubing, means that cornering can be a little vague. At slow speeds the Aeroad's responsiveness can be mistaken for nervousness too. These defining attributes are obviously not negatives, they are simply a side effect from creating a blistering quick bike. Moving over to the other two bikes and it was quite obvious I wasn't going to beat any PBs for the rest of the day. The profile and the handling of this bike is very much designed to be ridden fast, say 30kph or more. It is therefore very much a race bike and will perform best when ridden in anger by a competent rider. It is very clearly a road racing bike, though the cornering may leave a little to be desired for criterium racer, club riders and lesser experienced road riders. For the top percentage of racers, this is a weapon to cut through the pack and earn your Elite racing licence.
Canyon say that the Endurace is designed to go far and go fast. It is not a cheap and heavy carbon bike for beginners, it is designed to cover any scenario, but to do so with maximum comfort. The frame has been engineered to have vertical comfort with lateral stiffness, meaning the bike will absorb bumps in the road without feeling soft when power is put through the pedals. On test is the Endurace CF SLX Disc 8.0 with Ultegra groupset for £3,899. On the start-line Endurace doesn't accelerate as quickly as the Aeroad, but the weight of the frame and a few changes to the spec would be the biggest contributors here. What is immediately noticeable, however, is how much more confidence it has when out of the saddle; the Aeroad was a bit of a handful, while the Endurace felt like a stable support to work with my body over the handlebars while I munched through the pedals. There is certainly no 'nervousness' or over-sensitivity here, probably thanks to the longer wheelbase on the Endurace making it more stable. Bumps in the road were no longer noticeable, and the saddle (or perhaps the compliance from the VCLS split seat post) was infinitely the most comfortable of the day and I can see why this was built to go the distance. This Endurace came with an integrated stem and handlebar combo we usually see on the race bikes, but this is the Ergocockpit, which receives a more swept-back shape in comparison to the racey Aerocockpit, to give a more upright position and a more comfortable place for hands that like to rest on the top of the bars. The Endurace is a nice release on the shoulders after man-handling the Aeroad and clearly meets its criteria for comfort. On the short hills it didn't feel much different to the Aeroad, although it is a nicer bike to ride out of the saddle, however, as soon as the head-wind hit the Endurace felt like I'd put the brakes on. The two bikes are very different beast designed for two niche styles either end of the road riding spectrum.
I was glad to ride the Ultimate after riding the other two, as the Aeroad and the Endurace really highlighted the extremes. The Ultimate is pitched as being the best of both words, which is a hard concept to grasp before getting on it, but it really is the Goldilocks of road bikes. Not too slow, and not too harsh, just smooth and functional. On test is the Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 with Ultegra for £3,799. I felt right at home sprinting off with this. Where the other two excelled in some areas and obviously had drawbacks from being so extreme, the Ultimate just felt good everywhere. It was not exceptionally draggy in the wind, but not as fast as the Aeroad, and not as slow as the Endurace. It was not as forgiving as the Endurace, but infinitely better at cornering, and far more confident and comfortable than the Aeroad. The Ultimate is a hard bike to review, or even describe, but riding this bike is somewhat uneventful. Now that sounds bad, but an uneventful ride is a good thing, as it means there's nothing bad to write home about, and this is the mark of a well thought-out bike that let's you get on with your riding without wishing it did or didn't have a certain atribute. Never wishing for more from a bike is the ultimate in perfection. I was able to confidently put the power down out of the saddle, making it a great climber, mountain rider, or real-life road and sportive rider, and it cornered beautifully, making it great for foreign switch-back descents or even closed-road racing and criterium. No, it's not as the Aeroad in a straight line, but it didn't worry me at any point, and there's a lot to be said for that. It made me smile from start to finish, and if I had to own only one road bike, out of the three bike here, I'd take the Ultimate.
The Final Verdict
So how different can a road bike really be? Well, the short answer is; very different! Never underestimate the power of subtle changes to geometry and tubing shapes. If you're looking at Canyon and can't decide which one to choose from, I feel your pain. I've ridden all three, and have had prior experience with Canyon road bikes in different specs too, and I would still struggle to choose one, but I do always feel right at home on the Ultimate. Perhaps that's because I do everything, and the Ultimate suits my purpose. Perhaps you are one of the riding extremes that would favour the Aeroad or the Endurace. Either way, it's good to know first hand that Canyon's road bikes back up their purpose and marketing. If you're a strong and confident rider, you will pull the best out of the Aeroad. It really is a great bike for saving watts and seconds. That being said, if you're not going to ride this bike in anger, you may find it to be a bit of a handful. Responsiveness can be mistaken for nervousness between the legs of inexperienced racers. Going from the Aeroad to the Endurace was quite the contrast; the Endurace was not much slower to accelerate off the line, but I immediately felt at home getting out of the saddle on it. Bumps in the road were smoothed out, and the ride was similarly smooth too, carving more confident lines than the Aeroad, but noticeably slowing down in head-on winds. Sitting between the Endurace and Aeroad in performance and comfort, the Ultimate is not just an 'all-round', it does everything really, really well. It's stiff front end corners with magnetic conviction, and the semi-aero lines (further helped by the Aerocokpit) has noticeably less drag than the Endurace. It is quietly confident, which translates to an equal riding style. Sure, the Aeroad is incredibly fast, but the Ultimate is the ultimate weapon for all occasions and will serve the most of us normal human beings extremely well for the majority of our rides. It really is the best of both worlds with little disadvantages.