Review: Canyon Exceed CF SLX 9.9 Pro Race
September 12th, 2016
September 12th, 2016
Paddy is Bikesoup Test Team's Junior XC rider, but he sits comfortably in the Elite pack. A handy and powerful rider that loves anything on two wheels, with a particular taste for weight weenie stuff.
The Best Belt-Drive and Internally-Geared Bikes for 2018
What is a Women-Specific Bike?
Best 2018 Budget Mountain Bikes for Under £1,000
Bespoked - The UK's Handmade Bicycle Show announces talks
Did you know we have a marketplace too?
We've got a new, dedicated Marketplace, with no hidden fees or commission.Find your next bike
At the 2015 World XC Marathon Championships, Canyon-sponsored Alban Lakata, from Team Topeak Ergon, showed up on a new machine that was a bit different from their previous race bike, the Grand Canyon. Alban won the race, and sped the new frame into the limelight. When the frame was finally released, it turned out that the German company had spent a long time refining their new bike, making it one of the lightest, fastest hardtails around, and they were so confident that it would out-perform anything else that they named it the Exceed.
With their new frame design, Canyon have dispensed with superfluous curves and any excess material, having realized that the lightest way to connect two points is with a straight line. They’ve also slimmed down all the nodes (junctions between the tubes) compared with their previous designs, and used smaller diameter tubes where possible. Canyon have also pulled off some neat engineering tricks, like using the brake caliper as a structural component, and bracing the chainstay/seatstay junction to shave off further grams whilst keeping the frame stiff. This all adds up to just 870g for a medium frame. That's less than many carbon road bikes.
This all adds up to just 870g for a medium frame. That's less than many carbon road bikes.
Canyon’s focus hasn’t just been on weight though, as they’ve significantly altered the geometry compared to their predecessor, the Grand Canyon. They've made the Exceed longer and slacker, but have also made the chainstays shorter to maintain manoeuvrability. This isn’t something exclusive to Canyon, in fact, almost all mountain bikes have been heading this way over the past few years, and the trickle down to XC race bikes is welcome as race courses get steeper and more challenging. Canyon have also made some concessions towards comfort with the design, using very thin seatstays, but keeping a beefy bottom bracket and chainstays for rigidity under power.
Speaking of the bottom bracket, it’s a BB92 unit, which has been one of the most trouble- (read creaky-) free press fit systems I’ve encountered, so that's a really nice touch. Another clever little feature, and one that has been around for quite a while on Canyon frames, is their Impact Protection Unit. It’s basically a little rubber stop on the top tube and a headset cover with two little arms, which come together when the bars are turned, preventing them from coming in line with the top tube. This sounds a bit odd, but it saves the top tube from brake lever induced damage in a crash, something that can write off frames completely.
Our top end frame is also adorned with some suitably expensive components, but models range from an affordable £2,149. With our test bike, the Exceed CF SLX 9.9 Pro Race, Canyon have gone for a SRAM based build, with an XX1 groupset, Guide Ultimate brakes and Rockshox’s inverted RS1 suspension fork. The wheels are nice carbon jobs from DT Swiss, wrapped in the all-rounder, XC-oriented Continental X-Kings. All great performing kit and stunning to look at. Almost all of the rest of the kit is made by Canyon or Ergon (owned by the brother of Canyon’s owner), which is not exotic, but good quality stuff. The Canyon S25 seatpost definitely does deserve a mention though, as it’s split into two halves that both flatten out as they reach the saddle clamp, meaning they can act as a leaf spring, flexing for a cushioned ride when in the saddle.
The wheels are nice carbon jobs from DT Swiss, wrapped in the all-rounder, XC-oriented Continental X-Kings. All great performing kit and stunning to look at.
The wheels are excellent, striking a good balance between stiffness and comfort. At 1,495g they’re not the lightest, but they are usefully wide and seem very tough, with very reliable hubs. The drivetrain was near faultless throughout the test, giving fast and sharp shifting even under load, and a useful spread of gears from the 10-42 cassette. Something seemed to be slightly off with the chainline though, meaning lots of noise in the biggest few cogs, but I didn’t drop the chain once, despite the lack of a chain guide on the single-ring set-up, though there is the option for direct mount on the frame should you need it.
The brakes also performed very well, with a firm feel and plenty of power, but there’s not much pad-to-rotor clearance, meaning you’re in for a lot of noise and drag when mud and grit gets in there. I'm not a big fan of Rockshox's RS1 design, and I'll explain more about why later, but it's good that Canyon have given a wide range of component options in their Exceed range; gearing options with Shimano and SRAM, and fork options in both Fox and Rockshox. If the RS1's aren't your bag, the Fox 32 Float or Rockshox SID would be a great alternative. Overall, I had very few issues with any of the components (bar the lack of stiffness in the fork), as you’d hope with such a high end build.
With all this lightening and trimming, I was concerned that the frame would be wandering all over the place when there was a bit of force going through it, but I needn’t have worried; the Exceed is as stiff and as efficient as they come. With the wide bottom bracket, big down-tube and chunky chainstays, there are no watts wasted when you’re stamping on the pedals.
With all this lightening and trimming, I was concerned that the frame would be wandering all over the place, but I needn’t have worried
As you’d expect for a dedicated XC hardtail, the Exceed climbs like a rocket. The low overall weight, stiff frame, and light wheels make for an efficient and effortless ride when the gradient points upwards. On technical climbs it’s equally impressive, with a feeling that it’ll winch its way over anything. The massive range of gears on offer is welcome too, especially those days when you just want to sit and spin rather than mash your way to the top. I would personally prefer a slightly lower and longer front end for steep climbs, but that’s easy to achieve with a dropped stem.
The Exceed’s stiffness isn’t limited to the rear end of the bike either, as the meaty head-tube junction and stiff stem make sure you can take the bike by the scruff of the neck (or rather, bars), and muscle it around. Unfortunately, the rigidity doesn’t extend to the fork, which exhibits an almost worrying amount of torsional flex. The inverted design, which places the stanchions at the bottom of the fork, means the usual brace between the two legs is not possible, so the axle is the only thing stopping the legs moving independently. Rockshox’s Predictive Steering system does attempt to stop this by using a massively oversized axle in the hub, but the fork still twists in the corners, which really undermines the Exceed's ability as well as my confidence to push hard. It’s a shame, because the performance of the fork is otherwise excellent, it’s exceptionally smooth, with nicely controlled damping, and an easy-to-use lockout. Personally, I'd choose one of Canyon's other specs with a SID or Float fork.
the Exceed climbs like a rocket. The low overall weight, stiff frame, and light wheels make for an efficient and effortless ride when the gradient points upwards
If you ignore the vague feeling in the fork, the Exceed is a confident and capable bike. The slack (for an XC bike) head angle gets you some welcome stability on steep and rough descents, but the short chainstays keep it relatively nimble, as well as making manuals easy to impress your mates. With a bike this light, it’s easy to pick the whole thing up and place it wherever you want it on the trail too, and the stiffness only aids this, so if you find yourself on the wrong line, it’ll be your fault, not the bike’s. Although the top tube is relatively long for an XC race bike, I did feel that it could have been a bit more so, just for more breathing space on the climbs and stability on the descents, however, the low slung frame means there should be plenty of standover height to go a frame size up if you want extra length. Despite Canyon’s efforts to engineer compliance into the frame, I didn’t find this a particularly comfortable bike, although it's not so harsh that it slowed me down. The seatpost is noticeably flexy, and that does help when in the saddle, but you still get the full force of any impact through your feet via the pedals. The big volume tyres do make up for this somewhat though, especially at low pressures. It’d be nice to have a slightly more forgiving bar and stem, as the ultra-rigid Canyon-branded cockpit can be quite harsh on your hands over longer rides, but I'm really nit-picking now.
The Canyon Exceed, despite being one of the lightest mountain bike frames on the market, is a brilliant value-for-money package. However, at £4,099 for the 9.9 Pro Race, I believe things should be pretty near to perfect, and there’s one niggle with the Exceed that I can’t overlook – the fork. The lack of torsional stiffness really undermined my confidence in the bike, and while it was very fast on test, and an excellent bike in almost every other aspect, not having that surefooted feeling up front meant I just didn’t really enjoy my time on the Canyon. That being said, the Exceed is clearly a thoroughbred racehorse; it's light, nimble and hauled over everything I encountered. It was comfortable and fast, and climbed everything like a rocket, and would have been pretty perfect in a slightly different spec. Thankfully Canon offer a wide range of specs for you to choose from and are not tied to particular brands, so you get an incredible choice with this range. Something that will make this the perfect rocket ship for your coming race season.