Jul 27, 2023

Canyon's Second Generation Grail

The Double Decker bar is gone and the new Grail is a leaner and faster bike for modern gravel racing.

The Takeaway: For the second generation Grail, Canyon ditched the Double-Decker handlebar for a more conventional cockpit and refined the bike for the high-speed nature of modern gravel racing.

When Canyon debuted the first-generation Grail in 2018, what the bike was and what it was for was immediately lost in the conversation about those handlebars.

The Grail’s Double-Decker drop bar (with integrated stem) looked almost too weird to be true—and it launched a thousand memes about biplanes and bookshelves. The upper deck was a leaf spring that, with the rider’s hands upon it, suspended the rider and cushioned their hands and arms against bumps and vibrations. The lower deck, meanwhile, provided the necessary rigid connection to the stem and drops.

The chassis to which those crazy bars were mounted was Canyon’s first stab at a high-performance/race-oriented gravel bike. Canyon stretched the front end and wheelbase for stability, then adjusted reach with a shorter stem (a mountain bike-like approach). But otherwise, Canyon kept the bike’s geometry and dimensions on the more aggressive end of the scale. It was a fairly clean and simple frame, with just two bottle mounts and moderate (42mm) tire clearance.

Today marks the launch of the second-generation Grail. This is no minor revision but a wholesale rethink of the Grail’s design while maintaining its position as the high-performance/race-oriented gravel bike in Canyon’s line, with the Grizl occupying the role of the adventure-oriented drop bar bike in the brand’s roster.

Although today is the Grail’s official debut, the new bike already has impressive palmarès. It is the bike Caroline Schiff used to destroy the competition at this year’s Unbound 200. It’s also the bike raced by Kasia Niewiadoma as she soloed away from the pack to win the rainbow jersey at the 2023 UCI gravel world championships.

As is clear with a single glance, Canyon’s Double Decker bar was relegated to the dustbin of cycling history. Not only that, but the new Grail also features a standard headtube design—the gen-one Grail had a truncated head tube and a stem that sat flush with the top tube—and a fork steerer with a standard 1-1/8” upper diameter.

Brake hose (and derailleur wiring) routing is integrated but enters the head tube through a mouth in the upper headset cover. Combined with the 1-1/8” steerer and traditional head tube, this set-up ensures that riders can fit the new Grail with the stem and handlebar of their choice.


To reiterate, Canyon does not use a proprietary bar and stem system on the new Grail like on the brand’s Aeroad, Ultimate, and Endurace models (which are a nightmare should you need a different size). Again: Woo-hoo!

Still, routing the brake hoses, shifter wires, or shifter housing (all models of the new Grail are mechanical shift compatible) through the upper bearing is not ideal, in my opinion. Dirt-oriented bikes need relatively frequent headset cleaning, maintenance, and bearing replacement (and this is complicated by lines routed through it).

The demise of the Double Decker was due to a few practical considerations. The bar made mounting bar bags awkward, was incompatible with aero extensions, and generated more aero drag than a conventional design.

On the aero front, Canyon claims the new Grail has 9.1 watts of aero savings (at a very rapid 45 km/h) versus the outgoing generation. This savings is due to a new handlebar design and some tube shapes borrowed from the brand’s Ultimate road bike model.

Canyon ships all new Grail models with a one-piece carbon cockpit dubbed Double Drop. This bar’s tops sweep back at five degrees towards the rider while simultaneously tilting downward from the stem. The drops are flared (five degrees at the hoods, 16 degrees at the drops) and have a bit of extra length behind the hoods. Canyon states this is an extra hand position.

The Double Drop bar comes in a handful of combinations: 60mm stem by 420mm wide (at hoods) that is fitted to 2XS and XS frame sizes, 70x420mm (small frame), 70x440 (medium and large frames), and 80x460 (XL and 2XL frames).

Higher-end models get the CP0039 cockpit with “Gear Groove.” This is an accessory mounting point in the center of the bars to which riders can fit Canyon’s aero bar system, a GPS computer mount, an SP Connect smartphone mount, and a light or camera mount. Base Grail models get a CP0045 cockpit that’s dimensionally the same as the CP0039 but does not have the Gear Groove.

Canyon also offers the CP0047 Pro Sport cockpit for aftermarket purchase. Developed for its pro racers, this bar has the Gear Groove, measures 400mm at the hoods (in all stem lengths), has 15mm deeper drops than the CP0039, and is offered in longer stem lengths (80 to 110mm).

While Canyon shifted away from a proprietary handlebar system at the front, it did away with the outgoing Grail’s 27.2mm seatpost. That means the new Grail isn’t compatible with Canyon’s very effective VLCS leaf spring seatpost.

Instead, Canyon shifted to a D-shaped post with the dimensions of the Ultimate’s seatpost. Canyon states that the VLCS was too bouncy for some performance-oriented riders, it was slightly heavy for a race-oriented bike (the new post is 40 grams lighter than the VLCS), and the D-shaped post helps with aerodynamics.

Though dimensionally the same as the Ultimate’s post, the Grail’s SP0072 post features a different carbon layup designed for greater compliance. While not reaching the flex levels of the VLCS, the SP0072 is about 28 percent more compliant than the Ultimate’s post.

The SP0072, at present, is only offered with seatback. Riders who use a zero offset post will need one of the (stiffer) posts mentioned below.

Riders who want a yet lighter post and/or a firmer ride can opt for the Ultimate’s seatpost (SP0055) or Canyon’s “Ultimate Lightweight” SP0064 seatpost (which weighs a claimed 70 grams).

The new Grail sees a big bump in storage capability. Not only is the handlebar more friendly to bar bags, but it now has a mount on the top tube for a bag and a third bottle mount under the downtube.

Canyon also added in-frame downtube storage to the higher-end CFR and CF SLX frames. Pop the door to access a zippered pouch with spaces for a TPU tube, Co2 inflator and cartridge, and tire levers. Canyon built into the door itself receptacles for a mini tool and mini pump.

An aftermarket Quickloader frame bag that tucks into the main triangle is also offered. Secured with a Fidlock SNAP attachment system, this bag snaps into place without tools and releases with the tug of a loop. The quick release system is necessary because (when in place) it blocks access to the Grail’s in-frame storage. With the Quickloader attached, the Grail gains 1.5 watts aero advantage over the bike without the bag.

Canyon also offers what it dubs Load Fork Sleeves as an alternative to the three-pack mounts employed by other gravel bikes (which Canyon says adds too much weight). “The fork sleeves merge with the notch on the inner side of the fork for the perfect fit and can carry up to 3 kg load on each side,” the brand stated.

Tire clearance remains at 42mm. However, that clearance is the same whether the bike is naked or fitted with the Custom Defend Fast full-coverage fender system. Developed for the Grail, it attaches to a handful of largely hidden fender mounts.

Though 42mm clearance is on the low side for a modern gravel bike, Canyon insists it is more than adequate for the demands of modern gravel racing. It also allows the Grail to fit narrower road cranks with up to 52/36T chainrings.

Finally, Canyon adopted the SRAM universal derailleur hanger. So, the new Grail is ready for SRAM's forthcoming “full mount” gravel (and road) derailleurs.

The first-generation Grail was early to the trend of using a mountain bike-like approach of a longer top tube coupled with a shorter stem and a relatively slack head tube angle.

For V2, Canyon pushed the geometry even further to, in its words, “increase stability across fast and rough terrain while maintaining agility” and place the rider in a more centered position between the wheels. To achieve those goals, it (compared to Grail V1) reduced the head angle a degree (all sizes are set to 71.5 degrees), and the wheelbase was lengthened by 27mm (due, in part, to the slacker head angle).

The new Grail arrives in a host of models priced from $2,700 to $9,000 (more info below). While all models feature a carbon composite frame and fork, the bikes use three frameset tiers.

The lightest and stiffest of the trio. This frameset is 118 grams lighter than the CF SLX. And the frame is 10 percent stiffer (and the fork is 4.5 percent stiffer) than the CF SLX’s.

The mid-tier frameset. It’s lighter than the CF, but the stiffness is the same.

The base level frame. The heaviest, but its properties are otherwise similar to the CF SLX. This frame does not feature in-frame storage.

The new Grail arrives in the USA in six standard models (seven for the rest of the world: The USA does not get the CFR Di2) and one special edition limited to 70 units worldwide. Below are prices, brief build kit information, claimed weights, and estimated availability dates. Only the limited edition $9,000 CFR LTD and the $5,000 CF SLX 8 Di2 are immediately available for sale in the USA.

The CFR LTD is identical to the CFR AXS model, but the LTD features a dazzle-camouflage paint similar to what Canyon’s athletes rode ahead of this bike’s public debut.

One build detail: Although the Grail is positioned as a race bike, most models do not come with a power meter. I find this slightly odd since Canyon fits every model of the Endurace (which is NOT positioned as a race bike) with a power meter.

The new Grail made it clear, almost from the first pedal stroke, that it was for racing. That’s not because of the aerodynamic tube shapes, the somewhat aggressive riding position, or the lack of three-pack or rack mounts. It is how it moves and feels that telegraphs its intentions.

I rode the $5,000 CF SLX 8—killer build for the money, by the way—which notably has the heavier and less stiff frame than the CFR models. But even so, it still scoots.

It is very responsive and moves forward or drops into corners with little prompting and no resistance. It is so quick that, even with the stock 40mm wide Schwalbe gravel tires, I could knock out a recovery spin on the pavement at 18 mph. This bike is fast.

It is certainly stiff, too, and in more than one way. It’s stiff in the pedaling efficiency and responsiveness way, but also in how transmits shock to the rider.

The new Grail transmits more shock to a rider’s hands and butt/legs than I expected, but it is not a brutal ride. I didn’t feel a lot of give or compliance in the frame, fork, bar, or seatpost: What smoothness was there seemed to come mainly from the tires.

For context, I ran the stock tires (set up tubeless) at around 25 psi (which was as low as I dared). While I did not flat at that pressure on the rougher roads and trails I traversed, I did feel and hear the tire bottom on the rim several times.

Whether or not the Grail’s ride is a deal breaker will depend on the gravel you ride.

Much of my gravel riding has me rolling through hard-packed rain ruts, forest access roads with braking bumps, and dirt with sizable embedded rocks. The Grail was among the less compliant gravel bikes I’ve tested in these conditions. Riding the Grail for hours on these sorts of roads (and trails) is not appealing.

However, when I got on the smoother dirt roads around me, the Grail transformed into what could be the fastest gravel bike I can remember riding. Woosh, it flies. And the handling—as precise as it is predictable—lets you easily carry that speed on slippery surfaces.

I can’t think of a gravel bike—or other bike of any kind—that I so loved in some conditions that I felt so different about in others.

Maybe I’m doing gravel wrong?

As I watch the race coverage of gravel, I find it looks more and more like road racing, albeit with fewer team tactics but a touch of the brutal attrition of cross-country mountain bike racing. The pace is wicked fast, and the roads look fairly buff.

If this is an accurate picture of gravel racing, the new Grail—essentially a road racing bike with 10mm more tire clearance—is perfect for the application. But for me and, I think, a sizeable contingent of riders, the Grizl is a better bike for our vision of gravel riding.

A gear editor for his entire career, Matt’s journey to becoming a leading cycling tech journalist started in 1995, and he’s been at it ever since; likely riding more cycling equipment than anyone on the planet along the way. Previous to his time with Bicycling, Matt worked in bike shops as a service manager, mechanic, and sales person. Based in Durango, Colorado, he enjoys riding and testing any and all kinds of bikes, so you’re just as likely to see him on a road bike dressed in Lycra at a Tuesday night worlds ride as you are to find him dressed in a full face helmet and pads riding a bike park on an enduro bike. He doesn’t race often, but he’s game for anything; having entered road races, criteriums, trials competitions, dual slalom, downhill races, enduros, stage races, short track, time trials, and gran fondos. Next up on his to-do list: a multi day bikepacking trip, and an e-bike race.

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