Canyon bikes recently released the second generation of the Strive, their flagship enduro racer and all-mountain machine. This version retains its hallmark on the fly rear travel adjustment, but receives several significant changes to bring it in line with modern times. We spent the past few months tearing up trails around the PNW to give you the scoop.
Words: Toni Walbridge
Photos: Misti Walbridge
The Concept and What’s new
Canyon bills the Strive as the sort of bike that you might race enduro on one weekend and jam around on your local trails the next. It’s a bike that’s fully capable of winning races but not so competition focused so as to be a drag on your home town loop. This is facilitated in part by the Shapeshifter feature which adjusts both suspension and geometry, With the push of a button, the Strive goes from a descending demon to a snappy trail bike. The original Strive was of the 27.5″ wheeled flavor that was all the rage a few years back. In version 2.0, Canyon has kept with the times and made the move to 29″ wheels. With the larger wheels also comes decreased rear wheel travel from 163 mm to 150 mm in long travel mode and from 138 mm to 135 mm in short travel mode. The Shapeshifter travel adjust feature has also been significantly refined. The gas spring that alters the linkage, once exposed, is now mostly hidden between the rocker links and under a cover. The remote is also all new with a much better ergonomic design that now integrates with the Fox dropper remote making for a cleaner install and more functional setup.
From a geometry perspective, the Strive’s numbers are a mix of modern and conservative. For instance, the size Large has a reach on the longer side of mainstream bikes at 470 mm, but a seat angle that is a bit slacker than the latest trends at 73º in 150 mm and 75º in 135 mm mode. Up front we have a few unexpected combinations as well, such as a steep (for this category) 66º head angle matched with a low offset (44 mm) fork. Across the size range, fully modern short seat tubes accommodate long dropper posts and standover clearance is generous. There are no real surprises in chainstay length or BB height other than the BB height is heavily affected by the Shapeshifter feature such that it’s fairly low in long travel mode but provides a lot of clearance in short travel mode.
The Strive CF is available as a frame-only or in three different complete build configurations. The Strive CF 8.0 that we have reviewed here is built around a host of high-end components and a full carbon frame at a retail price of $5300. Some of the component highlights include Fox Performance Elite suspension, an X01/GX Eagle drivetrain, and Reynolds TR Carbon wheels. Notably, carbon wheels at this price point are a very rare thing and both the BlackLabel and TR-S wheels that we have reviewed in the past have been nothing short of impressive. It’s undoubtedly clear that the Strive is a great value but to put a fine point on it, a comparably spec’d Santa Cruz Megatower would set you back another $3100! That’s a lot of tires and travel money right there, folks.
Up front, a Fox Float 36 Performance Elite fork with the FIT4 damper offers solid small bump performance, three high speed compression settings, 20 clicks of low speed compression, external rebound, and tunable bottom-out via air spring spacers. For all the tuning options it does provide, the FIT4 comes up short in this test but we’ll delve into that more in the ride review. This is the second Canyon I’ve ridden with the DHRII spec’d as a front (and rear) tire and while I’ve always been a DHF fan up front, I do really like the steering feel of the DHR II. Moreover, this is yet another example of how well spec’d the Strive is at this price point. Right out of the box, this bike is ready to throw down.
The Shapeshifter spring is nestled between the linkage and the seat tube and hidden under a plastic cover. The whole bike just looks so clean and refined that most casual observers seemed to have no idea that there was a fair amount of extra hardware onboard this bike. The dead giveaway is probably the Schrader valve on the top non-drive side of the cover. This is where you alter the air pressure in the gas spring to control how forcefully the link extends when shifting to climb mode. Pressure can be set anywhere from 50 to 200 psi, accommodating a wide range of rider weights and preferences. I ran 125 psi throughout most of the test. This slightly biased the ShapeShifter towards moving into long travel mode which suits my style. I could see racers tinkering with this setting depending on the course.
Considering that the ShapeShifter requires a lever and a release button to move between travel modes and must share that space with a dropper remote, Canyon did a bang-up job fitting it all into a clean and intuitive configuration. They even managed to integrate the remote pod with the mount for the Code brakes via a SRAM Matchmaker compatible mount. Someone hand these guys a gold medal. I’m currently also riding a bike at twice this price point and the remote configuration is an absolute clusterfuck by comparison. In case the Ergon grips are catching your eye, I should note that I swapped out the stock G5 cockpit components with my own just to ensure the ergos were on point and I could give the Strive a fair evaluation of handling. I did ride the stock config and the rise and sweep on the bars felt fine, but the 40 mm stem was a hair long for me and the grips not quite the tacky rubber feel I prefer.
From the rider’s perspective, the two lever buttons on the top control the Shapeshifter and the bottom lever controls the Fox Transfer dropper post. It took my old, slow brain a few rides to get used to pushing so many buttons but eventually it became second nature. Thanks to my sausage fingers, I found that I could press both outboard levers at once with my thumb to simultaneously raise the dropper and reduce/firm suspension travel to sprint up hills. Those with more delicate appendages might not be able to pull this off with the single press of a button but just the same, the levers are well organized and miles ahead of any other multi-remote setup I’ve used.
Below, I’ve popped the cover off the Shapeshifter so you can see exactly what’s happening. In the photo on the left, the spring is fully retracted, placing the Strive in long-travel mode. In the photo on the right, the spring is extended, altering the linkage position and placing the Strive into short travel mode. It’s also important to point out that not only is the travel reduced, but the kinematics are substantially altered and the resulting feel is quite different in 135 mm mode than in 150 mm mode. Anti-squat, in particular, is higher in 135 mode and the Strive is much snappier pedaling in this mode. At the same time, small bump compliance and traction is much better than simply leaving it in long-travel mode and flipping the lever on the rear shock to climb mode.
Hydration pack haters will rejoice as there’s plenty of room for a full sized water bottle in the front triangle of the Strive. I was also able to easily fit my OneUp pump with EDC tool inside and a spare tube (not shown) in the front triangle. This left me free to go completely pack-less on shorter rides. #nosweatyback
Up front, we can see that the clean lines of the Strive are partly attributed to internal cable routing. I must admit, I was a little bummed to see the departure from the system used on the Canyon Torque we reviewed in the fall. The Torque routes its cabling inside an integrated down-tube guard that pops off in moments should the need to re-run cabling arise. That said, the Strive looks great and I had no issues with the routing or noise inside the frame. The entry and exit points are super clean and Canyon even provided protective film to ensure zero damage from cable rub.
Another surprising specification with the Strive is the use of 165 mm cranks. I’ve long ridden 175 mm for trail and 170 mm for DH and extra-low trail bikes but I can’t say I’ve ever pedaled long days and thousands of feet of vertical on 165’s until now. Before I tried them, I felt like it was probably a stupid idea. Now that I’ve ridden this setup, I do see the merit. With 165’s you can pedal almost anywhere, even with flat pedals. Yeah, it takes away a little torque on steep hills but on low angle descending and rolling terrain they show their value. On flat’ish root and rock infested trails, the short arms allow you to keep pedaling with very few strikes where you would otherwise be forced to coast and ratchet. And for all out DH it’s even better. The 165’s allow you to smash downhill, accelerating everywhere with little regard for pedal clearance compared to those running traditional length cranks. I still don’t entirely love them for big climbs, but this is an interesting and effective setup in a lot of situations.
There are plenty of bikes in the “enduro” category that merely tolerate the climb and only come alive on the downhill. The Strive is more well rounded and directly addresses low angle climbing and descending and rolling terrain better than any other bike in this class that I’ve ridden. When climbing, in 135 mode the Strive delivers a genuine trail bike experience. You can pedal straight through would-be pedal strikes thanks to its short cranks. As the pace quickens, and you shift to long-travel mode, the Strive strikes an unusual balance point between the stability afforded by the long’ish wheelbase, active suspension, and the quick handling of the steep’ish head angle. Combine all that with a 44 mm offset fork which imparts tenacious grip to the front end and I felt I could maintain more speed and had more fun on otherwise flat and boring sections of trail than I typically associate with bikes in this class. Interestingly, Canyon managed to cultivate this sense of speed without resorting to overly efficient (harsh) suspension. In fact, unless you spin the DPX2’s climb lever to the firm position, the Strive is actually fairly active. This adds up to a set of characteristics that will appeal to racers fighting for traction and seconds as well as casual riders just looking maximize the fun factor.
Building on the aforementioned quick handling, the same attributes that help the Strive excel in mild terrain lend a sense confidence in more challenging terrain. Some of my favorite trails are full of precision moves, for instance the shot below following a steep roll into a tricky turn over roots in front of a tree while pivoting around deadfall on the inside line. I’ve ridden this line countless times and on the Strive I found my confidence to exactly place my front wheel at an all time high. Time and again, I found I could consistently take my cornering right to the edge of traction and hold the line. This is a perfect example of characteristics that didn’t really convey in the raw geometry numbers but on the trail are unmistakable. The more time I had on the Strive, the more I found myself searching out the most technical direction changes at increasingly higher speeds. With so many races won and lost in the corners, this is a bike to pay attention to if your local races are twisted and technical.
Testing in the PNW means plenty of steep, rooty, rock infested lines. In the winter, those roots and rocks are slicker ‘n snot and with the Strive being with me through later winter and spring months I saw many nasty days. The kind of days where you head out in full rain gear and come home covered head to toe in mud. These were the days where my relationship with the Strive was strained. That steep head angle and quick handling that made quick turns so easy, made riding committing steeps a bit frantic. Even worse, as speeds increased, my confidence diminished. I consistently felt like I was battling the front-end to stay up and that I had to ride further off the back of the bike than I would like. This, in turn, compromises setup for exit corners and along with my confidence, my ability to maintain speed faded away as well. To be fair, the rear-end of the Strive is brilliant, even with the little DPX2. Rear wheel traction and tracking was always right on point on the slickest lines. I also suspect that a Float 36 with the Grip 2 damper and it’s wider range of adjustability might have been able to somewhat address this issue. In the end, there’s no getting around the fact that steeper head angles magnify any flaws in fork damping and in the case of the FIT4 equipped Float 36, it just isn’t up to the task. As much of a big deal as I’m making, I want to be clear that this shortcoming is far from a deal breaker for me. Not everyone even has access to trails like we have in the PNW and coastal BC or the inclination to ride them. And, as we covered earlier in the article, the Strive benefits from it’s design when the trails are less critical. Overall, I feel like the Strive is more than up to the task of most any terrain I’ve ridden outside of this region, it’s just not the ultimate machine if you live for the gnar.
And now for my favorite part of mountain biking… screwing around, hitting jumps, and giving no f*cks about anything other than maximizing fun. Dropping into a winding gap jump line through the forest, the Strive smashes technical corners and easily generates whatever speed you need for the next jump. Overshoot a landing? All is forgiven, the Strive remains composed and confident when things get a little off track. The short 415 mm chainstays help make quick work of manualing through rollers but the bike never feels hyper or spastic thanks in part to the overall wheel base. Being a 150 mm 29’er, the Strive is a bit too much bike to be the ultimate fun machine on small jumps and little jibs but if you have some fast, flowy trails to open it up on, the Strive really comes into its own. I would not hesitate a second to take this bike to any bike park and spend the weekend lapping fast tech and jump lines. For anyone looking for a single bike to handle mellow local trails that can still step up to the task of a weekend at Whistler, this is a great option.
The Bottom Line
Overall, the Strive is one hell of a bike. Similar to Canyon’s Torque that we reviewed last fall, I feel like there so much performance and so much value that it’s impossible not to strongly recommend the Strive. Yeah, it’s not perfect, there are a few things that I liked more about the last long travel 29’er I reviewed, the Orbea Rallon, but that bike comes in at almost twice the price. Let’s face it, bikes are expensive these days and most of us just don’t need to spend nearly $10k on a bike to have a really good time. And even if you are a dead serious racer with deep pockets, take a look at what Florian Nicolai has accomplished aboard the Strive so far in the EWS this year. It sure isn’t holding him back.
Who’s the Strive for?
Anyone who’s looking for a kick ass 29″ wheeled enduro bike with a great speed for a great price.
Who’s the Strive not for?
Anyone who demands the absolute latest in geometry and/or the highest priced most exotic (expensive) bike out there.
Model: Strive CF 8.0
MSRP: $5300 USD
Frame: Carbon fiber, 150 mm travel
Shock: Fox DPX2 Performance Elite, 230 mm x 60 mm
Fork: Fox Float 36 Performance Elite, 160 mm
Bars: Canyon G5 carbon, 25 mm rise
Stem: Canyon G5, 40 mm
Grips: Canyon G5 lock-on
Saddle: SDG Radar
Post: Fox Transfer Performance Elite, 150 mm
Clamp: Canyon G5
Brakes: SRAM Code R 200 Fr / 180 Rr
Cranks: Truvative Descendant Carbon, 165 mm, 32t chainring
Cassette: SRAM XG-1275 (GX)
Derailleur: SRAM X01 Eagle
Shifter: SRAM X01
Wheels: Reynolds TR 309 Carbon
Tires: Maxxis DHRII Fr / Rr