In my mind, a great gravel bike – which the Canyon Grail:ON electric bike unquestionably is – is the perfect all-rounder. It features the best bits of a road bike – racy geometry, lightweight frame and drop bars. But it also borrows some of the best bits of a mountain bike – namely the plush, grippy tyres.
The result of this marriage is a bike that’s great on good road surfaces but also on poor surfaces, gravel tracks and dirt. Add a motor and a battery to a gravel bike and you’ve got a great machine for all-day rides, even if you’re not at the peak of your fitness.
T3 really likes Canyon’s gravel bike, the Grail, which won a T3 award for best gravel bike in 2019 for delivering “fantastic value for money, giving more thrills to the buck than any rival”. Well, now the German bike maker has tweaked the geometry of the Grail and given it a powerful Bosch motor. The result, the Canyon Grail:ON, is just spectacular.
Canyon Grail:ON review: price and availability
The Grail:ON range goes on sale on Wednesday 22 July 2020 and prices start at €4,999 / £4,699. US prices have not yet been announced.
The Grail:ON range will initially comprise of four models, beginning with the Grail:ON CF 7 (€4,999) also available as a WMN-spec model featuring women’s-specific contact points. Completing the range are the Grail:ON CF 8 (€5,299), and the flagship Grail:ON CF 8 eTap (€5,999) with electronic SRAM Force AXS eTap shifting, carbon wheels and a weight of 15.9kg (size M). The bike is available in seven sizes: 2XS, XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL.
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Canyon Grail:ON review: specifications and features
The new Canyon Grail:ON features Canyon’s Double Decker cockpit, flexible leaf-sprung VCLS 2.0 seatpost, a lightweight carbon frame, and wide, high-volume tyres. Oh, and that speedy motor, which is the fourth-generation Bosch Performance Line CX Gen4 drive system.
The innovative – and very distinctive – Double Decker cockpit offers four hand positions. Riding on the top of the bars is ideal for bumpy conditions as the bar flexes to absorb vibrations. You can also ride on the hoods, the horizontal base of the bar and on the drops.
Where the Grail:ON differs from its non-motorised sibling is in its geometry and some of its components. First, it features a longer wheelbase – it’s about 28mm longer than the non-motorised Grail. It also has an increased stack-to-reach ratio, which translates to a more upright riding position which provides more comfort by reducing pressure on your back and shoulders.
The wider 50mm Schwalbe G-One Bite tyres provide additional comfort as well as extra stability when you’re powering over rough terrain, and because they’re wider you can run lower pressures for even more shock absorption.
All Grail:ON bikes also feature e-gravel-specific HG-series DT Swiss wheels as well as one-by shifting – ie: a single chainring at the front. Depending on the specific Grail:ON model you choose, the derailleur and cassette will be made by Shimano or SRAM.
For stopping, the Grail:ON features hydraulic discs with 160mm rotors front and rear. If you want to stick mudguards on the bike there’s a custom set available.
In terms of the motor, the Bosch unit offers ample power and torque to get you up the steepest hills, on road or off. It offers four levels of assist: Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo and the system provides support of up to 340% of the rider’s own power.
Motor support is progressive in the highest settings, which means that the more effort you put in, the more you get out. That support is delivered up to 25kph, or 32kph if you’re in the US. As with any e-bike, once you hit that speed limit and the support cuts out, you’re left riding a fairly heavy unpowered bike because of course you’re now carrying a motor and battery, neither of which are doing anything more than adding weight. That will either do great things for your fitness or, more likely, lead to you slowing down a little so the motor kicks back in.
Canyon Grail:ON review: what’s it like to ride?
I live in a hilly area in the South West of the UK, with lots of narrow lanes, gravel-strewn canal paths and green lanes where I could put the Canyon through its paces. Starting my ride on a gentle but long hill, I found the lowest level of assist – Eco – to be enough but as I progressed I switched up through Tour, Sport and then finally, as I joined a main road, to Turbo. Once in Turbo mode, that’s where I stayed, which I’ve found is what happens on any e-bike that I ride, unless I’m trying to conserve battery.
I then took a narrow lane which I’ve ridden many times on my road bike so I know how jarring the broken, pot-holed surface feels. But on the Canyon, while I wouldn’t say it was like floating on clouds, it was way more comfortable. That comfort is provided by the leaf-sprung seatpost which has plenty of flex and damping, the plush 50mm tyres which do a good job of soaking up the bumps and cracks of rural British roads and the Fizik saddle which has a small amount of gel cushioning.
On gravel paths, the Grail:ON was superb. Again, having ridden my road bike on gravel, I know what an unforgiving surface it can be as vibrations are transmitted through the bars and into my shoulders, but the Grail:ON felt really at home here as it did on softer surfaces where the Schwalbe G-One Bite tyres offered plenty of grip.
The Grail:ON features a one-by drivetrain, meaning just one chainring at the front instead of the more usual two. That means bigger gaps between gears which on a non-powered bike might be an issue but on an e-bike it makes perfect sense – I didn’t feel the gaps at all. The bike I was riding – the Grail:ON CF 8 eTap – featured the SRAM Force eTap AXS with a 10–36 cassette and wireless shifting. Simply tap the shifter on the right to change up and the one on the left to change down.
I got to test the brakes when a jogger darted out from a footpath across the lane that I was riding on. We learned that those disc brakes, and the larger contact patch afforded by the wide tyres, provided plenty of stopping power, which was good news for both of us, really.
Canyon Grail:ON review: verdict
The Canyon Grail:ON is the perfect all-rounder e-bike. It would make an ideal commuting machine, with its super comfortable fat tyres and flexing seat post and handlebar top. It makes light work of uneven road surfaces and has plenty of power so you don’t have to break into a sweat on the way to the office. But if on the way back from the office, or on a weekend ride, you spot an interesting-looking gravel path leading off your route you’re free to explore with the knowledge that the Grail:ON will take you wherever you want to go for as long as you want to go, whatever your fitness level.
It’s not the cheapest option on the market but you’re getting a seriously well specced bike for your money. You’re also buying something that improves your physical and mental health and that you’ll be able to enjoy for years. Sure, there are cheaper electric gravel bikes on the market, but if I opted for a cheaper model to save a couple of grand, I’d be forever casting envious glances at the Grail:ON.
Canyon Grail:ON review: also consider
If the Grail:ON is a bit out of your price range, you could consider the Ribble CGR AL e which starts at £2,299. It’s another gravel e-bike but it’s lower specced and has an alloy rather than a carbon frame. It also has a smaller battery and motor.
Or, if the Grail:ON feels too cheap for you, take a look at the Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert EVO for a princely £7,499.