For someone looking to get into gravel cycling and wanting a bike that will serve them for a long time, the Canyon Grail AL 7 eTap is an excellent option. It's easily one of the best gravel bikes I've ridden, in terms of comfort, components and value.
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Canyon Grail AL 7 eTap - Technical details
The Grail is Canyon’s “light” gravel bike model that takes medium-width tyres and is efficient in a range of riding situations. The Grail is perhaps the most well-known model for its integrated Double Decker bars - but these are a feature for the carbon Grail models only.
But here, we have the more affordable aluminium Grail that features carbon only on the fork and seatpost. Canyon says this is a bike for your daily commute year-round and offers the same balanced geometry as the CF SLX flagship (the carbon fibre) models.
The Grail AL 7 eTap is the top model in the three-bike strong aluminium Grail range and comes with electronic SRAM Rival XPLR eTap AXS shifting and a 1x12-drivetrain. It runs on DT Swiss Gravel LN wheels that are wrapped with 40mm wide Continental Terra Trail gravel tyres.
There are three bottle mounts on the bike: one on the seat tube, one above and one below the down tube, as well as Canyon-specific mudguard mounts on the front and rear. But these are the only mounts the Grail has - if you’re looking to bung more cargo on, then the brand’s Grizl range might be a better option.
The Grail comes with a SRAM press-fit bottom bracket which is perhaps the only negative I can pick out of the spec sheet - but only in terms of it being slightly trickier for home mechanics to swap. In terms of functionality, I had no issues with it whatsoever and overall, this is a majorly impressive build for the money.
The alloy handlebars and stem, carbon seatpost and bar tape are all provided by Canyon and the saddle is Selle Italia’s Model X.
The AL 7 is available in three earthy colours and sizes ranging from XXS to XXL, catering for riders from under 166cm to over 197cm tall. The two smallest frame sizes run 650b wheels, whereas the others roll on 700c hoops.
Canyon says the bike weighs 9.5kg - my size XXS bike came in at a little shy of 8.9kg, including bottle cages and tyres set up tubeless.
Canyon Grail AL 7 eTap - Performance
Although I, like many cyclists, appreciate a lightweight, nippy carbon bike, I appreciate a well-performing and affordable aluminium bike like the Grail even more. I think Canyon has really nailed performance and value with the Grail AL 7 eTap.
The Grail has been with me for over four months, as it was originally my ‘team’ bike when I was riding with Team ORCC but I have continued to ride it after the season - because I’ve liked it so much. Needless to say, it’s been through some serious riding and even though this would not perhaps be a bike that someone wanting to dip into gravel races thinks of first, the more I rode it the more it made me believe it should be.
I admit that on the first rides, when the terrain started to incline upwards, I noticed I was not riding a carbon-framed race bike anymore. Even though I was perhaps slowed down slightly by the weight of the bike, it was on the first descent that I forgot about the frame material and weight altogether. Downhills and singletracks quickly became much more fun when I was riding this bike, as I felt more comfortable and planted on the Grail’s small frame than on many much lighter and more expensive counterparts.
Much of that feeling is down to this bike's geometry. Canyon is one of the only major bike brands that offers its smallest bike frames with smaller wheels, and the Grail is one example of this. At 164cm (5ft4in) the XXS frame was pretty perfect for me, and because of the size-specific geometry, it felt like "my size" in a way that a 700c wheel gravel bike seldom does. In practice, the size-specific componentry means less toe overlap, slacker geometry angles and a bike with better overall handling. All of these were tangible, positive features of the Grail.
The XXS frame has a 516mm top tube length, and it comes with a 415mm chainstay, compared to the 430mm on the sizes from S upwards. The bottom bracket offset is also 60mm instead of 75mm. The slacker head angles, which dropped to 70 degrees in the size XXS that I tested, mean that the bike has a stable feel to it, even when zooming downhill. Fitting 700c wheels on a small frame usually pushes the seat tube angle to be steeper, and the benefit of having smaller wheels is visible on the Grail: it has a 73.5-degree seat tube angle when for example 700c-wheeled Liv Devote in size XS (similar top tube length) has a lot steeper 75-degree angle.
Geometry and weight aside, it's a given that the Grail, being an aluminium bike, offers a different ride feel to its carbon counterparts. The Grail AL is compliant enough for an aluminium frame, but this of course also comes down to the wheels and tyres - and the carbon fork - it's paired with. And even though the frame is stiff enough for it to not feel like a marshmallow, it doesn't make this bike a sprinter's machine. There is some flex to the frame around the bottom bracket and overall, it lacks that little 'snap' of a carbon frame. I can imagine that for a larger frame, this flex might be more tangible.
The XXS is the smallest Grail in the range and, because I am at the upper end of the recommended height for the size, I could have easily ridden the bike with a longer stem than the stock 70mm it came with. I didn't though, as I had no stems that would've fit the 1 1/4 steerer diameter (most steerer tubes are 1 1/8). This is a bit of an inconvenience, but not any bigger than the press-fit BB is, I'd say.
The well-thought-out tyres and wheels of course played a part in making the Grail ride so well on the rough stuff. My XXS Grail came with a 650b-sized DT Swiss Gravel LN wheelset and 40mm Continental Terra Trail tyres. Both performed excellently and were a reliable combo I had no issues with. I rode the tyres tubeless and was really impressed with their performance, with low pressures on the gnarly singletracks and higher pressures on mixed road rides.
The finishing kit on the Grail is provided by Canyon apart from the Selle Italia saddle that I swapped for my own favourite after a few rides (it is a decent saddle, just not for me).
The handlebars (Canyon HB0063), which on my tiny bike were 40cm wide, were excellent in terms of comfort and shape, despite being alloy bars. I usually find 40cm handlebars a little too wide for me, but these bars seemed to be on the narrower side. The bar tape usually doesn’t really get much of a mention in bike reviews but the Canyon Ergospeed Gel that was wrapped on the bars deserves one, as I found it sublimely comfortable and grippy.
I am a relatively recent convert to electronic shifting on gravel and the Sram XPLR Rival eTap AXS quickly won me over with simple and crisp shifting. This bike comes with a 1x system, meaning there is a single 40T chainring at the front and a 12-speed cassette at the back, offering sprockets from 10-44T. I found this gear ratio to be very suitable for gravel - it was plenty for steep climbs and didn’t spin out too quickly on fast descents, either. The easy maintenance of a 1x system is also always a welcomed addition to a gravel bike.
Canyon Grail AL 7 eTap - Verdict
You can, technically, take any bike on gravel but only the best gravel bikes feel like they’ve been made to maintain a stable ride feel even on very uneven terrain. Canyon really delivers that feel with the Grail, even for the smaller riders.
Value-wise, it’s hard to find a better value than the Grail AL 7 eTap offers. It retails for £2,249 and with that, you get excellent wheels and shifting. The alloy frame - although a smidgeon heavier than a carbon counterpart would be - will serve any gravel enthusiast on both recreational and racey rides and because on gravel things often get scratched, on alloy frames, there’s less reason to cry over it.
To compare the Grail to other bikes we've tested, I would mention two bikes. The Stanton Switchpath that Matt tested is in the same price bracket but Matt said has harsh ride quality and limited sizes. We have also tested the Vaast A/1 Allroad, which Aaron praised for its performance. Neither one of these bikes comes with electronic shifting, though, which I think at this price point is a huge perk for the Grail.
For me, as a small rider, the Canyon Grail AL 7 represents a near-perfect, versatile gravel bike. It is a simple, fun and great value bike that offers electronic shifting, and frame-size specific componentry in a sleek-looking package that serves a wide range of cyclists, from recreational riders to amateur gravel racers.