- Fun and agile handling
- Good spec for the money
- Capable on road and off-road
- Prefer a sub-compact chainset
- Ugly welds
Canyon’s new aluminium Grail adventure and gravel bike is a huge amount of fun on twisty trails and is able to provide good speed on a wide variety of surfaces, from road to gravel tracks. It’s also great value, as you’d expect from Canyon and is well specced, though I’d prefer to see a sub-compact chainset for tackling steep off-road climbs or laden with bikepacking equipment.
- The best gravel and adventure bikes you can buy for under £1,000
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- How to prepare for your first gravel race - kit, bike setup and training
Last year Canyon launched its first dedicated gravel bike. It was called the Grail, made from carbon fibre and featured the most radical/distinctive/ingenious/ugly handlebar ever seen on a bike. In producing a more affordable aluminium Grail the company has opted for a conventional handlebar and stem which keeps the cost down, provides easier setup changes and keeps the keyboard warriors at bay.
I say conventional, but it’s not quite. Canyon has taken a page out of the mountain bike design book and combined a longer top tube with a shorter stem. This contributes to hugely increased handling with quicker steering making it a riot of giggles and smiles when you ride off-road and get amongst the trees. Yet the fit isn’t at all cramped, it’s comfortable for longer rides and road stints too.
The frame is constructed from 6061 double-butted aluminium tubing with fairly industrial looking welds - it’s not the smoothest frame I’ve ever set eyes on - but is packing some neat details. There’s internal cable and hose routing, a tapered head tube, three bottle cage mounts, eyelets for fitting mudguards and even a rear rack if the idea of strapping packs to the frame doesn’t appeal to you. The fork is made from carbon to reduce the overall weight.
What perhaps isn’t so neat is the press-fit bottom bracket instead of an external type. I know it will be an obvious detractor for a lot of potential UK customers when they see that. Personally, I don’t have a problem and I didn’t have any problems during the test period, but it’s worth pointing out.
Geometry defines the bike
Geometry goes a long way to define a gravel bike, and as previously mentioned, Canyon has fitted the Grail with a shorter stem which has the effect of speeding up the steering. It gives the Grail fantastic agility on twisty trails: show it some singletrack and let the brakes off and I guarantee it’ll make you grin and holla for more!
Get on the road and thanks to the long top tube the fit isn’t at all cramped. You could always fit a longer stem if you’re focusing more on road and smooth gravel adventures, but the short stem really encourages you to have fun when you’re away from the road, so I’d encourage you to stick with it.
The geometry also features a long wheelbase which along with the slacker head angle produces a stable ride when screaming along fast gravel tracks and forest trails or pitching down steep escarpments.
Canyon’s own aluminium handlebar is wider and slightly flared which, when you’re riding in the drops, improves the amount of control you have when dealing with loose surfaces and steep descents. It feels just the right degree of flare to me, enough to increase control without being too wild.
For road cyclists reading this who might be wondering if the Grail AL is a viable alternative to the Endurace AL, I’d say that if you wanted to run really wide tyres and like the option to fit mudguards and possibly a rack, and want to dabble in opening up your riding options with off-road trails, the Grail is a solid choice. It’s not going to be as fast on the road, at least with the stock tyres, but for mixed terrain riding, there’s a lot going for it.
And for mountain bikers reading this, yes it would sit alongside your current rigs quite happily and is a good way of getting in training miles on the road but lets you enjoy tame trails that don’t require a 64-degree head angle and 150mm travel. It’s not as RAD as the Nukeproof Digger but the handling is a highlight and the price certainly makes it an appealing choice.
Great value for money
As you’d expect from Canyon, the Grail offer very good value for money. The range starts at £1,099 with Tiagra but I’ve been testing the next one up, a Shimano 105-equipped model costs £1,349. Is it worth paying extra? You save a bit of weight but if you’re on a tight budget you get largely the same equipment and all the same fun factor and Tiagra is a solid groupset these days. While the hydraulic shifters are an ugly thing to behold, ergonomically they are fine.
There’s also the Grail AL 7.0 SL (£1,449) which is specced with an SRAM Rival 1 groupset but otherwise, it’s the same wheels, tyres and finishing kit.
Back to the test bike in question, and 105 is an excellent groupset from Shimano with the hydraulic brakes a real highlight. I’m not a big fan of compact 50/34 chainsets on bikes designed for off-road riding, but Canyon has at least specced an 11-34t cassette ensuring you stand a fighting chance on steep off-road climbs. Still, there’s a desperate need for Shimano to produce a sub-compact chainset.
You can read more about ultra-low gearing for gravel bike adventures here.
Rolling stock comprises DT Swiss C 1850 Spline wheels and Schwalbe G-One Bite 40mm tyres with fetching tan side walls. The wheels use a 23mm internal width aluminium rim laced to 370 hubs with thru-axle hubs and are tubeless-ready.
The Schwalbe G-One Bite is the most aggressively treaded G-One variant with bigger knobs and as a result, is very capable in mud yet rolls nicely on hardpack trails and they’re not excessively draggy on the road either. The 40mm width hits a good sweet spot of weight and comfort and provided you run nice low pressures they help to provide a decently smooth ride.
You get a raft of Canyon branded finishing equipment including the aforementioned flared drop handlebar and stubby stem, both made from aluminium, along with a carbon SP43 VCLS seatpost topped with a Selle Italia X3 Canyon Edition saddle. Personally, I had to change the saddle as I didn’t get on with it all that much but saddles are a personal preference.
On the scales, the size medium test bike pictured here weighs 9.5kg (20.7lb) a not unreasonable figure give the price and frame material.
For leisure riding, commuting, bikepacking or touring, there’s a lot going for the Canyon Grail. The changes over an endurance road bike or cyclocross ensure it’s more versatile and can easily be tailored towards different needs with just a few small changes or additions.
The price definitely means it’ll appeal to commuters and for that sort of daily grind it’ll be well suited, may be equipped with a rack, pannier and large slick tyres if you wanted to increase the speed potential. Go the other route and with the money saved compared to more expensive alternatives you could invest in a full complement of bikepacking bags, an Ordnance Survey map and start your own micro-adventures.
As it is, it’s a fun and enjoyable bike for ranting about the countryside taking in everything from quiet country lanes to bridleways, forest trails and mountain bike singletrack. It’s not the smoothest ride but low tyre pressures go a decent way to ensuring it’s at least comfortable when facing rough terrain, and the handlebar and stem setup provides a high level of control for negotiating twisting trails and corners.
At the risk of repeating myself, the Canyon Grail AL is a really fun bike and if you’re tempted by one of these new-fangled gravel and adventure bikes then this is an easy bike to recommend. Plus the olive green with tan wall tyres looks fantastic.