Canyon's Spectral WMN CF 9.0 SL is the top flight trail bike for women but tweaks make it fundamentally different from the men’s mountain bike in terms of suspension, geometry and spec. Although the suspension is well tuned, conservative design makes it more of a cross-country machine than a true trail ripper.
Bang for your buck
There’s no denying that this bike is great value and for this money you get a full carbon frame, a Fox Factory 34 Float fork and Float DPS EVOL shock, SRAM X01 Eagle 12 speed (with carbon cranks), SRAM Guide RSC brakes, a 150mm Rockshox Reverb and a carbon rimmed DT Swiss XCM 1200 Spline wheelset.
It’s pretty much the same spec as the men’s bike save for the guys getting a 32T chainring and wider tyres; namely a 2.6” Maxxis Minion DHF and Rekon rather than 2.4” DHR II and Ardent on this machine. The WMN bike also comes equipped with one of my favourite saddles; an SDG Allure, plus some rather too narrow Ergon GE1 Slim grips and Canyon's own 740mm wide bars.
To put the price into perspective, a new carbon Stumpjumper Expert at £5,000 only gets GX Eagle and Guide R brakes for £500 more. The similarly specced YT Jeffsy is an identical price but has 20mm more travel - so maybe not so comparable. Canyon offers the Spectral WMN at other price points too; down to the base level at £1,799 which gives you an alloy frame, 2x Shimano drivetrain, a Rockshox Pike fork and Deluxe RT shock.
The frame of the Spectral is updated for 2019 with a revised four-bar suspension linkage layout that gets more durable sealed bearings at the rear, integrated cable channel routing and an integrated seat post clamp. There's also ‘Eject’ bottle system for smaller sized bikes and nifty storage box on the small and medium bikes.
The big difference between boys and girls is that the Spectral WMN is only produced in three sizes; XS, small and medium. Given that I am 5’4” (160cm) and rode the Medium bike, any riders taller than me will have to look to riding the men’s bikes. This bike is fitted with 175mm cranks, which is a bit of a rarity for a medium sized bike - especially rare for a women’s specific medium bike where shorter cranks for better clearance is the trend.
Women's specific stuff
Where Canyon has really altered the Spectral for their 'WMN' market is with regards to the suspension kinematics. They have shortened the shock stroke from 60mm to 55mm and also increasing the leverage ratio. That's had the effect of 'optimising' the suspension for lighter riders. This setup - theoretically - will make the bike more sensitive as there is more leverage to overcome friction in the shock at lower air pressures so it will react better over small bumps.
Canyon use what they call their ‘Triple Phase Suspension’ which, as you might guess, has three stages to the shock kinematics. The first phase uses high leverage from the linkage to get the shock moving, then the middle phase which Canyon says provides a stable platform and mid-stroke support and the third phase sees the shock ramp up progressively to avoid bottom out. My bike had a 0.4” volume reducer installed to aid ramp up too.
The suspension design allows Canyon to use a light compression and light rebound tune across the whole range of Spectrals (men and women, Fox and Rockshox kit included) to improve sensitivity.
I had hoped to back-to-back test two similarly specced Spectrals but only rode a differently specced men’s Spectral, making any direct comparison of the suspension kinematics difficult. The Spectral WMN with the Fox DPS EVOL shock felt good from the off; the bike is indeed sensitive to small bumps in the early part of the travel, eating up trail chatter nicely whilst still ramping up well for bigger hits. The mid-stroke support is evident too, the bike pumps and pops with good response from the shock in the middle zone of the travel.
Geeking out on geometry
In terms of geometry, the Spectral WMN features some subtle and not so subtle differences when compared to the men’s bike. The reach is 10mm shorter which Canyon say is the product of recording that women have shorter arms than men in relation to their torso - and therefore need the bars closer to them to avoid being too stretched out.
Giant's female specific brand Liv provided similar research recently when I questioned them about the Hail 2 so there may be some truth in this. I do, however, question the decision to shorten the reach of a bike in order to accommodate shorter arm lengths.
In terms of geometry, a longer reach means more room in the cockpit, creating a longer front centre and adding to the stability of the bike when descending. There are other factors at play here; seat tube angle, head angle, chainstay length and wheelbase.
In my opinion, a roomy reach figure helps the rider feel centred on the bike and enables them to weight the front and rear independently. In terms of the seated position, the length of the effective top tube is also affected by the angle of the seat tube. A steeper seat tube angle will shorten the effective top tube length but leave the reach the same; this means that the seated position will change but the position the rider finds themselves in when descending will be the same if the reach figures of any two bikes are the same.
My point here is that Canyon could have kept the same reach as the men’s bike (440mm for a medium) but steepened the effective seat angle of the women’s bike further (they made the Spectral WMN 0.4° steeper than the men’s version) to position female riders close to the bars when seated.
Women would then have the best of both worlds. The steepened effective seat angle would enable the bike to be a better climber, placing the rider in a more efficient position, the ‘short lady arms’ would be accommodated when climbing leaving the rider less stretched out.
Then, when descending, the rider would gain the advantages of a longer reach. Albeit this reach of the Spectral still quite a compact one, Canyon hasn’t pushed the boat here when designing the geometry of the new bike, making the 430mm of the women’s bike pretty short.
I asked Canyon about their design decisions, they told me: “Our focus was to replicate the neutral riding position of men on the standard Spectral, for women riding the WMN Spectral. This means both top tube length must be considered- for comfort while seated, as well as reach whilst standing- which is why we chose to adjust more than only the seat angle. Our research found, on average, women tend to have less muscle power in their upper body. For an active riding style and to get pressure/the weight over the front wheel, a lot of muscle power is needed. A slightly shorter reach supports getting the weight over the front wheel even after a long day on the bike. The feedback we got was that with this reach length you feel more like a rider, not like a passenger on the bike. Canyon aim to strike a balance between stability and keeping the bike playful and controllable without being too stretched out. We found this, alongside the lowered top tube, helps riders move around the bike more dynamically.”
Other changes include a lower top tube although this is coupled with a 440mm seat tube which when using a 150mm dropper post puts me right on the cusp of what is possible. 440mm is a little long for a modern bike and will mean that riders wanting to benefit from a longer reach and size up, might have to size down in the dropper post department.
Canyon says: “The seat tube length has been calculated based on the saddle height requirements of each rider size- using the same data acquisition process as our torso/arm length findings. The top tube and standover has been lowered to give riders more room to manoeuvre whilst on the bike.”
However, when the seat tube is still relatively long, no matter how low the standover is, moving around on the bike will still be more difficult as the rider still has to avoid the saddle.
The Spectral WMN also has a lower bottom bracket than the men’s bike; it’s only 3mm lower on the medium bike but it’s hardly discernable. Canyon also talk about short stems but there was a 50mm stem fitted to the medium test bike, which isn't short by modern standards.
The 50mm stem gives a less direct steering feel and, as with other bikes using the same setup, I can't help feeling the Spectral would benefit from a longer front centre and a shorter stem. The rider position could be the same but the rider would gain the benefit of more direct and decisive steering.
Canyon said “As with the standard Spectral- 50mm was chosen to strike good a balance between playful, controllable handling and neutral weight distribution for both climbing and descending.” I don’t agree here, a longer front centre would help the bike’s climbing ability and aid riders weighting the front of the bike to gain grip both up and down hills.
I’m in the ‘longer is better’ camp and whilst I realise not everyone will agree, I think the Spectral WMN really does suffer when both climbing and descending due to the short reach. Heading uphill, the short wheelbase (1160mm) and slack’ish seat angle (74.5°) plus short chainstays (430mm) causes the front end to lift on technical climbs and it’s hard to balance the weight effectively to conquer this.
When descending it’s hard to find that centre point; it’s too easy to get too far over the front of this bike which gives the bike a feeling that it wants to tuck the front wheel under - go too ar the other way and you get too far off the back, limiting front wheel grip and beckoning a washout.
Whilst the bike is slack enough at 65.9° (let’s call it 66° as you won’t notice the difference, I didn’t) this doesn’t do much to help regain any feeling of confidence when winging it downhill.
The build of this bike is also incredibly light; so light that it can feel like a bit like a pinball on gnarlier trails, pinging you from line to line or from rock to rock. That's great climbing, but less so downhill.
Combined with the relatively skinny legged Fox 34 forks which felt out of their depths in terms of stiffness on steeper trails, it makes for a bike which is less accurate, lacks grip and isn't so ready to eat up the chunder. Get the perfect smooth line and the Spectral will reward you with speed but get it wrong and it’ll likely send you haywire down the trail and grabbing for the brakes; though the Guide RSC’s will at least pull you up in double quick time.
It sounds like I’m having a moan, and yes, I probably am but I’m really not a fan of bike manufacturers making the reach of bikes shorter for women - or in general - regardless of which sex they are for. With that in mind I took the Spectral WMN away from the more technical trails of my local woods and off for a long cross-country ride in the Mendips.
Here I can say the Spectral WMN excelled, the light build helped me power up climbs despite the no so steep effective seat angle. It was an efficient number for churning out the miles in comfort and when it came to the descents the little bike got me down some relatively rocky bridlepaths safely too. The suspension felt great for the all-day ride, sensitive whilst responsive and supportive enough for me to forget I was on a bike with 30mm more travel than most others, I think I found the bikes forte.
The Canyon Spectral WMN CF 9.0 SL is banging value for money if you are looking to get the best kit for your money in a great looking, light package. It’ll be hard to beat this for a head turner on the trails with change from £5,000, it’s also a bike that won’t need any upgrades in the near or distant future, it really is ready to ride straight out of the box. The suspension is really very good too, its part of the women's design package that I feel benefits the bike. The Spectral does tick a large number of boxes on a bike shopping list.
The bike is let down by its geometry, however. Canyon say this bike is ‘for your gnarliest downhill runs’, it’s not though, its light weight and short geometry make this bike better for long distance XC rides. It’s not stable enough to provide confidence on the downs and it's so light that in combination with those slight bendy forks, you’ll get bounced off line given a moment's notice. Riding the men's bike (9.0 CF Pro) and things were a little different, the slightly longer reach and wheelbase in conjunction with a slightly stiffer Pike fork makes the bike more stable and more confidence inspiring too, it rides as I expect a 140mm trail bike too, despite the compact geometry.
The Spectral WMN is, however, fun for razzing tamer singletrack, it will also take you in great comfort over a marathon distance ride where the weight weenie build makes easy work of the ascents and there's enough travel to conquer chunky bridleways on the downs, just pick your lines wisely. If the Spectral is on your shopping list for all its qualities such as the value and suspension action then my advice is, look at the men's bike regardless of your sex. I think my choice would be the Spectral 9.0 CF Pro model.
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