Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 review

The new Canyon Spectral 125, released in February, is a short-travel relative of the 150mm and 160mm Spectral trail bikes – and with less suspension and a lower weight, it should outmanoeuvre them on climbs and trail centres. But with geometry, suspension kinematics, and strength reminiscent of its longer-travel siblings, it’s still designed to excel on technical descents. Canyon says it has built the “rowdy” 125 to be more playful, with more progressive suspension and additional anti-squat over longer-legged Spectral stablemates. Five models – two alloy versions, a cheaper carbon CF7 (keep an eye out for a review of this model soon) and range topping CF9 – are all available in 29er only.

Canyon Spectral 125 Cf8 16 A294364

Cables are routed internally. Is this a successor to the original 26in Commencal Meta 4x and the Specialized SX? Is it the quiver-killer, do-it-all bike that old-school riders have been asking for? Or is it a parts-bin, mish-mash, jack-of-all-trades-king-of-none?

Canyon Spectral 125 Cf8 11 5Cce65C

A short 40mm stem improves handling. Canyon already makes a 120mm trail bike in the form of the Lux Trail. So what is the German brand trying to do – steal market share from itself? Well the proof is in the pudding, so let’s see whether the new Spectral 125 fills a niche all of its own.

Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 frame and suspension

Canyon Spectral 125 Cf8 08 7D4657C

Fox’s Float X shock provides the damping control. The 125mm rear suspension travel and exclusively 29er spec screams downcountry, but the long reach and slack head angle (similar to a full-blown enduro rig) suggest an aggressive trail bike – and Canyon is quick to emphasise that this is not a downcountry bike. The general air of thuggery around the machine with its chunky tubes, tiny seat mast height and substantial linkage suggests jib/slopeduro/razzing/4x/play bike. In short, it’s truly an impossible machine to pigeonhole.

Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 geometry

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The Spectral 125 bridges the gap between downcountry, trail and enduro. A size large has a reach of 486mm (as long as many enduro bikes), a slack 64 degree head angle, and short 437mm chainstays. The long reach should give high-speed stability, while the compact rear end ought to keep handling sharp. The short seat tube (435mm on a large), sits at a steep 77 degrees for confident climbing. There is also a flip-chip for fine geo adjustment.

Seat angle (degrees)70.470.871.171.5
Effective Seat angle (degrees)76767676
Head angle (degrees)
Chainstay (mm)437437437437
Seat tube (mm)395420435460
Top tube (mm)587611636660
Head tube (mm)110120130140
Bottom bracket drop (mm)35353535
Wheelbase (mm)1,2001,2301,2591,288
Standover (mm)756762763768
Stack (mm)613622632641
Reach (mm)435460486511

Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 specifications

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The Fox 36 is an impressive performer. Canyon has sacrificed weight to the Spectral 125’s downcountry opponents but only to bring you that meaty frame, large brakes, a substantial fork and a 200mm dropper. The 140mm Fox 36 up front gives a stiff and confident cockpit with a great first touch and ample support. The XT 4 pots grab huge 203/180 rotors showing that this bike is ready for some serious descending and that 200mm dropper means the seat is well out of the way of any body-English you may be planning.

Canyon Spectral 125 Cf8 10 D746910

The dropper post on the size large has 200mm of travel. DT Swiss aluminium wheels are no featherweights but these rugged hoops never missed a beat despite taking a beating. The stiff wheels wrapped in sticky Maxxis tyres add to the speed and confidence you feel. All these aspects significantly enhance the riders experience when the going gets fast or steep. Shimano’s XT M8100 12 speed is lightweight, precise, rugged and offers a wide cadence spread – although a 30t chainring would certainly have been nice on steeper climbs.

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Canyon’s 600ml water bottle just fits inside the frame. You can squeeze Canyon’s 600ml bottle into the front triangle using the side-loading cage. Canyon also includes an adorable tool-bag that is bolted to a plastic mount on the top tube, including a ratcheting multi-tool with hex-bits (common Allen key and Torx sizes), C02 inflator and tubeless repair plugs.

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A frame bag is included with the bike. Unfortunately the way the bag is mounted means the captive strap only prevents the bag from migrating backwards, not forwards, and consequentially it wriggled free and fell off during the final descent of the blue-rated Twrch trail at Cwmcarn in the South Wales Valleys. Upon retrieval I removed and re-fitted its cage backwards and it has been leashed snugly enough ever since – although it has marked the down tube where the zipper from the bag rubs.

Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 ride impressions

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Despite only having 125mm of travel, the Spectral is engaging to ride downhill. I was looking forward to flinging the Spectral 125 down an assortment of different grades and flavours of trail to see where (if anywhere) it feels at home. I’ve spent the last three months mercilessly thrashing Trek’s quite fantastic Top Fuel 8, an aluminium downcountry bike with a substantial frame and 120mm travel, albeit held back by its 120mm travel RockShox SID fork. The Trek was wonderfully playful and impressively light, and the more I rode it, the more evident its resilience to my unrelenting pummelling became.

Canyon Spectral 125 Cf8 09 129A1De

The Spectral has a geometry flip chip. I could manual, scrub, whip and nose-bonk that bike more easily than anything I remember riding. So there’s some context on the tough contender – one of my favourite ever downcountry bicycles – the Spectral 125 was up against. I was massively looking forward to seeing how the Canyon, with its bigger rotors, stiffer Fox 36 fork and longer reach, compared.

Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 climbing performance

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Shimano’s XT M8100 drivetrain always impresses us. The long reach and steep seat angle means the Spectral 125 is comfortable on the climbs. That said, there is noticeable bob from the rear suspension so the Fox Float X’s effective lockout system needs to be pressed into action. This bike isn’t the lightest, so although climbing is dispatched confidently enough, it’s not going to zap you up like a lightning bolt the way an XC-derived downcountry thoroughbred will. It’s more of a winch-and-plummet machine, which might seem odd considering its short-travel credentials.

Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 descending performance

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The progressive geometry encourages hard, fast riding. As per Canyon’s warnings, don’t let that short travel fool you, this is definitely no downcountry bike. It’s a burly descent slayer with an aggressive attitude. On steep-tech under an aggressive rider this bike is almost too much fun. Ridiculously confidence inspiring, the grin-inducing front-end grip and whippy short chainstays marry to the progressive suspension and taut frame in a crescendo of perfection.

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Chunky XT brakes have plenty of power. It feels like Canyon went way out of the box with the shape and kinematics of this bike precisely to tailor it to this kind of gravity fed schralp-fest. If you’re a precise rider, who loves steep-tech, with a penchant for schralping a berm, this could be the greatest ride you’ve ever had. The geometry of an enduro sled keeps you pointing where you need to regardless of how fast or how steep the terrain is, the stiffness of a burly park bike means no off-putting flex when you’re really loading up the bike in a turn or G-out, and minimal travel means your energy and speed are funnelled inexorably toward the next feature, rather than bleeding off momentum into unnecessary suspension movement.

Unfortunately, elsewhere the Spectral 125 comes up somewhere between lacklustre and awkward. On flatter, undulating trail-centre paths, the extra weight of the 125 makes it feel sluggish compared with its downcountry-focused rivals. The 64-degree head angle also makes the Spectral 125 feel rather uninspiring on slower, tight turns – precisely those that are most rewarding on steeper, lighter XC-derived downcountry machines.

Canyon Spectral 125 Cf8 04 6C561Ea

When the terrain got very chunky it got a little out of its depth. Equally frustrating is performance on really rough terrain. The aggressive geometry and sure-footed frame stiffness goads you into romping down techy blacks and reds, before ploughing into root and rock sections where the progressive suspension tune and short travel bucks off speed and throws you about. This soon had me wishing I was on a true enduro bike of a similar weight, shape and spec – but with more travel.

Canyon Spectral 125 CF8 bottom line

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The Spectral 125 is NOT a downcountry bike. This is a very different bike to Canyon’s 120mm Lux Trail; a nimble downcountry whippet. In comparison the Spectral 125 (although similar in travel) fulfils a very different niche, as a more descent-focused, burly play-bike. On steep, technical descents and hyper-speed flowing bike park runs this is a sensational ride: fast, planted, confidence-inspiring, and endlessly entertaining.

But on the pie-chart of many riders’ MTBing, that’s a pretty thin sliver. This is either the bike you’ve always dreamed of, and you’ll be on your knees thanking the heavens, or it’s a curio that falls between two stools. It’s neither responsive downcountry whippet nor terrain-swallowing enduro machine, but with the travel of the former and the weight of the latter.


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