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​TGR Tested: Canyon’s Strive CFR 2023 Will Make You Faster

Canyon's Strive CFR is the German brand's newest race-specific enduro bike - and boy is it fast. | Lily Krass photo.

It’s impressive what impact high-level enduro racing has had on bike design over the last decade. When the sport first started hitting the world stage, riders showed up to races with bikes ill-suited for the job. Reality was, if your bike didn’t completely fall apart by the end of the day, you had a fighting chance of standing on the podium. Now that it’s 2022, enduro race bikes have become engineering marvels - machines designed to reliably and comfortably hit ludicrous speeds on technical trails that also have the ability to pedal long distances up steep climbs. For years, the German bike brand Canyon has had one of the most successful teams on the Enduro World Series, with riders dominating aboard their purpose-built race bike, the Strive CFR. A few years ago, it was still a 27.5-inch wheeled bike with a revolutionary second air shock called the Shapeshifter, that allowed on-the-fly geometry and travel adjustment to allow racers to adapt their bike during a race run. Today, after a few more iterations, the Strive returns to Canyon’s lineup as a 29-inch-wheeled 170mm travel super-slack carbon monster truck with one goal – being the fastest enduro bike in the world. The CFR stands for Canyon Factory Racing, and it’s the weapon of choice for top EWS racer Jack Moir. We tested it this summer on some of our favorite home tracks in the Tetons, and brought it on the road to test in the rooty, slippery and loamy PNW. Turns out it's a versatile speed demon - read on to see how it fared.

The Tech:

The heart of Canyon’s new Strive CFR is the Shapeshifter 2.0, a small air shock inside the rear suspension linkage that moves the upper shock mount between two positions – what Canyon calls “shred” and “pedal.” It’s cable-actuated by a handlebar-mounted remote lever and, by moving the shock mount position, changes the headtube and seat tube angle by 1.5 degrees and changes the bottom bracket height by 10mm. In shred mode, that gives the bike an ultra-slack 63-degree head angle and a very long long wheelbase (1270mm for a M). The bike was redesigned from the ground up around the Shapeshifter to create a dedicated race machine. Front travel comes in at 170mm, with 160mm of Horst-link driven rear travel. Canyon’s Triple Phase suspension layout is a straightforward affair, with nothing crazy going on – it’s designed to be supple off the top, supportive in the mid-stroke, and ramp up at the end. In other words, the suspension prioritizes traction, while providing support for pumping and carrying speed through flat sections of trail, and gives efficient power transfer through the pedals for climbing and sprinting. The kinematics change significantly between both the pedal and shred mode, with "shred" opening up the full travel to keep the top end even more supple, and "pedal" providing, you guessed it, more mid-stroke pedal support.

With a 63-degree head angle, super long wheelbase, and low center of gravity, the Strive CFR remains planted for unbelievable traction at high speeds. | Canyon Bikes photo.

The frame comes with adjustable headset cups, allowing the rider to change the bike’s reach in 5mm increments. The cups simply sit in recesses in the frame, requiring no tools to change them. The down tube has a bottle cage bolt, while the bottom of the top tube has a two-bolt tool storage mount for the nifty Canyon LOAD bag (which fits a Tubolito emergency tube, tools, and an inflator perfectly).

The Strive CFR comes complete with a race-ready component package out of the box, including a Fox Factory 38 fork, Fox Factory Float X2 shock, a full Shimano XTR drivetrain and brakes, DT Swiss EX511 alloy wheels with 350 hubs, RaceFace NEXT R carbon cranks, a Canyon G5 adjustable length dropper post, Maxxis Assegai 2.5 MaxxGrip EXO+/Minion DHR2 2.4 MaxxGrip EXO+ tires, and a Canyon G5 alloy cockpit. Some small components of note are the minimalist bashguard under the chainring, the steerer tube locking spacer (that makes it easy to travel with the bike without having to re-adjust your headset every time), and the threaded BB. The frame can be run with an air or coil shock. Shock size is a common 230x65mm. The only upgrades worth making here would be for personal preference, and it’s undeniable this is one of the fanciest build kits available on a bike. 

The Shapeshifter 2.0 unit is hidden inside the shock linkage, and is actuated by a remote lever on the handlebar. | Canyon Bikes photo.

With the bike growing in travel and length and gaining the adjustable headset cups, Canyon has switched up their recommended sizing on the Strive CFR. At 6’0”, I’m used to sitting right in the middle of the L size range. I was now riding the M frame, which felt right and even a little roomy with a 480mm reach in the middle headset cup setting. Given the sizing, I think it would make sense for Canyon to spec a 200mm dropper on the M frame (it comes on the L and XL units). With such a low standover height, the supplied 170mm length dropper simply wouldn't far enough out of the way when set to an appropriate saddle height for pedaling.

A note on the Shapeshifter. Within two weeks of testing in wet weather, our test bike’s Shapeshifter unit unfortunately failed. We sent the bike back to Canyon for inspection and repair, and after replacing the faulty unit, were re-issued the bike. Since Canyon is a direct-to-consumer brand, most local bike shops won’t be able to help much when it comes to issues on the frame or with the proprietary Shapeshifter unit – but Canyon will take the bike back and repair it under warranty if any issues should arise like this with consumers. Given that I personally owned a Strive with the same Shapeshifter unit for three years without problems and know of several other units that have worked without issue for years, I’m inclined to think that this was a one-off fluke and not a deeper issue with the Shapeshifter itself.

The Ride:

Swing a leg over the Strive CFR, and you’ll immediately feel it’s race-focused intentions. With the generous reach and a 63-degree head angle, the front wheel is WAY out in front of you, inspiring confidence to go fast. I had spent several years riding the old 27.5-inch Strive and fell in love with its snappy handling and composed nature at speed, so I was excited to see what the new 29-inch wheeled beast could offer.

The Strive CFR makes easy work of chunky trails. | Lily Krass photo.

Living in the Tetons, I often take test bikes out on long backcountry rides to get a feel for what they are all about. However, with what Canyon was making the new Strive CFR out to be, I figured I would put it through the wringer with true enduro-style rides: settling in for big mellow climbs before dropping into long, rowdy descents.

Point the bike uphill, pop it into pedal mode, and you’ll find a comfortable climbing position for grinding out fire roads and mellow singletrack climbs. Personally, I would prefer a slightly taller stack height, and given that the bike ships with the steerer tube cut relatively short, the only option is adding higher-rise bars. The traction is there to get yourself up and over roots, ledges, and other obstacles, but the incredibly long and slack front end do require some deft maneuvering to get the front wheel through this kind of terrain. In other words, it’s not the bike I would choose for a long XC ride, but it is certainly capable of it.

Unsurprisingly, the bike truly comes to life on the downhills. Pop it into “shred” mode, shift your weight back, and the reassuring whoosh of the Shapeshifter system moving into slack mode means it’s ready to party. Two things stand out about how the bike handles. First off, I’m hard pressed to name a bike that can generate as much traction through rough terrain as the Strive CFR, especially given how stiff the frame feels (Canyon claims to have stiffened it up significantly to prior versions). The rear end simply stays glued to the ground, begging you to choose the risky race lines and let off the brakes when things get steep and rowdy. It's the kind of bike that makes you feel like you're going slower than you are. Secondly, that traction translates directly into well the bike corners. For a bike this long, I was surprised at how easily you can whip it around turns. The incredibly low standover height helps when leaning the bike over, and the limitless traction gives you confidence to just let it do its thing at speed. Enduro racing is as much about speed on straightaways as it is being able to hold speed through tight, twisty corners – and the new Strive CFR is capable of both.

For a bike this long and slack, it corners exceptionally well. | Lily Krass photo.

One thing the bike is not is poppy. I managed to sneak in some late-season bike park laps at Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee, and it’s not a bike that jumps very well. Sure, it can easily reach and hold the speeds for clearing big jumps, especially ones with questionably chunky takeoffs, but it lacks that extra pop that makes certain bikes fun to throw around in the air. On trail, that lack of pop means it’s more the kind of bike that rewards plowing through chunk that bouncing over it. Keep your eyes up, stand up on the pedals and let it eat.

I tried the bike in all three headset configurations, and ended up settling on liking the middle reach setting the most on the size M. I do feel that having the ability to easily change the reach would be useful to change how the bike handles for different tracks – a shorter reach for slower, windier tracks, and a longer one for faster, straighter ones. I found that while I used the Shapeshifter to change the geo for climbing and descending, I rarely used it in the middle of a run. The bike pedals well enough in “shred” mode that I found it unnecessary - it’s easier to just crank out a few extra watts on short climbs.

On trail, I compared the Strive CFR against the Alchemy Arktos 150, the Yeti SB150, and my current favorite race bike, the Rocky Mountain Altitude. It’s no surprise that most of these bikes consistently top podiums on the EWS circuit – and it was a fun exercise to compare them on a similar trail. Of course, I can’t ride at the level of Richie Rude, Jack Moir, or Jesse Melamed, but it’s interesting to see what difference a certain bike can make. The Strive feels fastest out of the bunch, especially on straightaways or when sprinting out of corners, but I must add that I felt more fatigued after each lap than on the other bikes. That might ultimately come down to suspension setup more than anything, but I feel that the stiff frame can also lead to fatigue over long descents at high speed. The Yeti and Alchemy (which both share a similar suspension platform) felt much poppier and playful - at the expense of stability and composure at speed. The Rocky felt most comfortable, but doesn't accelerate nearly as quick as the Canyon.

The Bottom Line:

The 2023 Canyon Strive CFR excels at what it was designed for: winning enduro races. The super stiff frame paired with the plush suspension and super-aggressive geometry come together to offer unbridled speed, control, and the ability to tame any obstacles a race run could throw at you. The Shapeshifter 2.0 system gives the bike a dual personality, with on-the-fly adjustable travel and geometry to offer a climbing/pedal mode and a downhill-focused “shred” mode. While $7300 isn’t cheap, the build kit you get at the CFR level is nearly as good as it gets, and you’d be hard-pressed to find something as good at the price. It’s not the most versatile bike Canyon offers, but if your goal is slapping on a number plate and racing the clock it’s one of the fastest choices out there.

Get the Strive CFR here - $7300

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