As good in a straight line as it is when the road gets rough and twisty - the Canyon Grail CF SL 7 eTap is one of the most complete gravel bikes on the market
- Super fast on all terrain
- Exceptional ride quality
- Well-balanced handling manners
- Unique handlebar assembly works
- Relatively lightweight
- Well priced thanks to the direct-sell model
- Colourway not the most inspiring
Gravel riding has exploded on a global scale and more and more entrants are populating the best gravel bike line-up, making it harder to formulate a decision on which bike to buy. Of all the manufacturers however, Canyon was one of the early adopters of the concept, not only when it came to creating a gravel-specific bike with the Canyon Grail, but also developing unique components to help make the off-road experience faster and more comfortable.
The all-carbon CF SL nameplate is sandwiched between the range-topping CF SLX and entry-level Grail AL monikers, and represents the brand's second-tier option. It combines electronic shifting with proven geometry and ride comfort, but how adept is it when the trail gets gnarly?
Canyon has an answer for that already - it's called the Grizl - but what if I told you the Grail can do everything you throw at it and more - intrigued? Thought so.
Design and aesthetics
The Grail CF SL 7 eTap is available in two colourway options - 'sand' or 'forest' and both aren't very inspiring hues if I'm honest. Finished in matte, the forest-green shade is the most attractive of the two options.
Canyon has tried to add some contrast to the visual package with a blacked-out fork and headtube which flow into the top- and downtube, but this looks more like an afterthought than a dedicated design decision.
That said, Canyon does offer a range of proprietary bags that fit neatly within this black section so I guess it does kind of serve a purpose... The Canyon wordmark takes pride of place on the downtube while the model designation is reversed out on the black paint on the toptube. The frame design is typical of Canyon, featuring boxy tube profiling and chamfered sections - visual touches that double up as compliance measures, too.
Viewed in profile, it's hard to confuse it for anything other than a Grail. The toptube, which falls away after the kink behind the headtube, and the double-decker 'hoverbar', has become trademark features of the carbon-specific model. The hoverbar - or CP07 in Canyon speak - is the Grail's most defining feature. Polarising in appearance and application, it does serve a purpose, but more on that later. The frame, however, has been built around the bar. So if you want to fit a 'regular' handlebar, not only will you lose that flush stem/frame look, if you ditch some spacers, the front end will end up alarmingly low and ultimately ruin the handling dynamics and comfort.
In terms of the geometry numbers, finding the correct size can be a little confusing. The model pictured here is a medium but comes with a quoted toptube length of 56cm. At 175cm tall, I tend to straddle the small or medium sizing spectrum (52/54cm) but after digging into the Canyon's rhetoric the medium looked a better option for me. Why the peculiar sizing? Well, Canyon refrains from quoting standard reach and stack figures, not to mention the toptube figure which is longer for each particular size. This comes down to the proprietary cockpit assembly as the frame dimension figures are included together with the hoverbar and stem.
Specifications and build
The Grail CF SL 7 eTap is a handsomely appointed bike. It's built around a SRAM Rival eTap AXS XPLR groupset - rock-solid componentry that has impressed us since its launch last year. As such, there's a SRAM 40T narrow/wide single chainring up front driving a 10-44T cassette at the rear. The brakes too are SRAM Rival, which clamp down on Paceline rotors measuring 160mm front and rear.
Rolling stock comes from a DT Swiss/Schwalbe G-One R 40mm combination. The proven GRC 1600 Spline carbon wheels complete with aerodynamics by Swissside are both lightweight and stiff. At 40mm, the wheel profile looks pretty deep for all intents and purposes of gravel riding but they come with a 24mm internal rim width which helps provide a more voluminous tyre footprint - a necessity for technical gravel riding.
The balance of the build is a combination of Canyon's in-house-developed components such as the CP07 hoverbar and S15 VCLS 2.0 CF seatpost, and a Fizik Argo Terra perch.
Ride, handling and performance
Out on the road, the Grail is a frighteningly fast bike, regardless of the terrain. While most of my testing was carried out on dirt, I did open it up on some asphalt and was thoroughly impressed by its urgency and ability to accelerate. This sense of speed is the same on gravel and its ability to hold momentum is impressive, even when the trail ahead becomes more serpentine in flow. In fact, it's in the more technical sections of trail that the Grail impressed me most - especially when descending and climbing up appreciably steep terrain.
The SRAM Rival eTap AXS XPLR works well in this application. Shifting is responsive and reliable and the braking precise with superb modulation. Despite the clutch-actuated rear derailleur there's still plenty of chain slap about, but the preinstalled chainstay protector does its job properly. The 40T, 10-44T drivetrain is well balanced and supplies a good combination of top end speed and climbing proficiency - there's enough low-end gearing to wrestle it up super-steep inclines but that also comes down to its 8.79kg weight.
While it can deliver a jarring ride quality on more corrugated gravel tracks, and the bike isn't particularly set up for taking blow after blow from stepped descents, it can handle some of this kind of riding without much concern.
The combination of the chunky frame, 40mm tyres, S15 VCLS 2.0 CF suspension seatpost, and hoverbar do a great job of ironing out trail buzz. The hoverbar in particular is much more functional than a gimmick. Its unusual configuration provides multiple hand positions. I counted up to five, which not only provides rest when you've been in the saddle for several hours but also lets you get creative in terms of manoeuvrability and navigating trickier sections of off-road terrain. In terms of the upper section of the hoverbar's 'flex area', there is some perceptible give but that's best exploited by dialling in the correct tyre pressures, too.
Speaking of tyres, the Grail comes fitted with Schwalbe G-One R 40mm tyres out of the box. They roll well but do have a propensity of clogging up in wetter, muddier conditions. Still, they supply ample grip on loose gravel and dispatch sand quite effectively too, but this may be down to the low pressures that I usually run - around 32psi front and rear. Not only does this provide an added sense of connection in the front end but also acts as a suspension measure, too.
The handling is superb. In fact, it's one of the best behaved gravel bikes in the segment when it comes to leaning into its grip reserves and trusting the front end. The same can be said for the underpinnings which deliver vivid communication, to the point where mistakes can be corrected before there's a problem.
For information on Cyclingnews' testing protocol and how our scoring system works, see our how we test page.
Barring the rather bland paint scheme, the Canyon Grail CF SL 7 eTap is a difficult gravel bike to fault. While designed to dispatch off-road terrain with relative ease, it's no slouch on pavement and Tarmac roads either - and can even hold its own on more technical singletrack terrain.
Not everyone will approve of the hoverbar cockpit but it does its job and adds to the bike's allure. As a one-bike option, the Grail is versatile enough to be used as an everyday bike or a weekend explorer where stitching together mixed terrain is a primary focus. It does everything well - there's also seven frame size options spanning XXS to 2XL.
As an out-and-out race-day gravel bike, the Canyon Grail CF SL 7 eTap makes a strong case for itself, more so when you consider the £3,349 / $3,199 / €3,599 sticker price. It's razor sharp at speed, communicative and responsive, and climbs with resolute ease. That said, the Grail range is comprehensive with options for all riders and price points - including the just-as-capable £2,399 / $2,649 / €2,499 Canyon Grail CF SL 7.
|Design and aesthetics||Design-wise the Grail looks superb, and cuts a unique and vivid profile. Our test bike however, looks a little bland and could have done with a bolder, catchier paint scheme||7/10|
|Components||SRAM's third-tier electronic groupset - Rival eTap AXS - powers the Grail. It's reliable, offering instant shifting, powerful braking and a stellar mix of gears||9/10|
|Performance, handling and geometry||A versatile, razor-sharp dirt destroyer - the Grail combines road-bike-like speed with hardtail mountain bike traction - the result is a fast and precise gravel bike||10/10|
|Weight||Weighing 8.79kg, the Grail CF SL 7 eTap is lighter than some aero road bikes. This means it's fast up the climbs and even sprightlier through serpentine terrain||10/10|
|Value for money||At £3,349 / $3,199 / €3,599, there aren’t many options as well appointed for the same money. It’s easily one of the best gravel bikes on the market||9/10|
Logbook: Canyon Grail CF SL 7 eTap
- Temperature: 0 to 28 degrees
- Weather: Windy, sunny
- Road surface: Mixed surfaces but mainly gravel and singletrack
- Route: Tarmac, bridleways, gravel
- Rides: 11
- Mileage: 407km
Tech Specs: Canyon Grail CF SL 7 eTap
- Price: £3,349 / $3,199 / €3,599
- Frame: Carbon, Grail CF SL
- Size: Medium, 56cm
- Weight: 8.79kg (actual without pedals)
- Groupset: SRAM Rival eTap AXS XPLR
- Crankset: SRAM Rival D1 Wide, 40T
- Cassette: SRAM Rival eTap AXS XPLR, 10-44T
- Wheels: DT Swiss GRC 1600 Spline
- Tyres: Schwalbe G-One R, 40mm
- Brakes: SRAM Rival eTAP with Paceline rotors
- Bar/stem: Canyon CP07 Gravel Cockpit CF
- Seatpost: Canyon S15 VCLS 2.0 CF
- Saddle: Fizik Argo Terra X5
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Aaron is Cyclingnews' tech editor. Born and raised in South Africa he completed his BA honours at the University of Cape Town before embarking on a career in journalism. As the former gear and digital editor of Bicycling magazine and associate editor of TopCar, he's been writing about bikes and anything with wheels for the past 16 years. A competitive racer and Stravaholic, he’s twice ridden the Cape Epic and completed the Haute Route Alps. When not riding, racing or testing bicycles in and around the UK's Surrey Hills where he now lives, he's writing about them for Cyclingnews and Bike Perfect.
Rides: Cannondale SuperSlice Disc Di2 TT, Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Rim, Cannondale Supersix Evo Ultegra Di2 Disc, Trek Procaliber 9.9 MTB