Review: The 2022 Canyon Strive is longer, looser and still has a shapeshifter
Press the other button and the Strive relaxes and folds back. The suspension is very supple at the start of the stroke, providing a reassuring feeling of grip on the ground when crackling over tangled roots and small rocks. Yet when it drops into a berm or catch hole, the suspension never wallows or squats too much; it still gives you something to push against and drive forward, maintaining its angles as you push through a turn.
With two volume struts, it’s quite hard to bottom out, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a sudden ramp towards the end, more like a continuous, smooth support ramp. When going through really big sections it’s not the most plow-like, but I could afford to remove another spacer or increase the sag to unlock more compliance, so it’s a choice of configuration, not a limitation.
How much of that supple but suprtive goodness is due to the Fox X2 shock versus the linkage design is hard to say, but I’m sure I haven’t gotten the most out of the shock yet. Most of my suspension setup work has been spent messing with spring pressure front and rear, and I’ve only tried a handful of the roughly 30,000 pawl combinations so far. . Having two four-way adjustable shocks is arguably overkill for a bike that arrives in a box, so it will be interesting to see how accurate and informative Canyon’s setup guide is.
It is under braking that the suspension impresses the most. It doesn’t lift or tilt forward as much as many Horst Link bikes, so the bike feels stable and stable even during short, hard braking periods. But at the same time, the suspension is very supple even on the brakes on rooted and rocky surfaces. I think Canyon has struck the right balance with the brake response.
My concerns about “shrinking in size” went away on the first run, as the proportions of the large size were very easy to get used to, and I felt confident and centered on the bike from the start. The bike never felt too small, unstable, or prone to tripping, which should come as no surprise given that its actual wheelbase with the neutral headset is less than a centimeter from a XXL Giga Nukeproof. I’d like the bar height to increase by about 10mm – with a longer reach you need a longer stack height, and despite the 20mm spacers and the 30mm handlebar a elevation, it was just a fraction too low for me. A higher bar would solve this problem, but given that the rest of the bike is well proportioned for my size, it would be nice to be able to get the cockpit in the right range right off the bat and have room to adjust it from top to bottom.
Although the 442mm rear center is longer than expected, it is still a bit shorter than some of the bikes that go that long in the front center. Does this mean that the front wheel is understeering with every turn? Not really. A 10mm increase in chainstay length (making it one of the longest on the market) would only increase front wheel pressure by 1.5%. In order to get a significant increase in front wheel traction, you need a much more extreme shift in the rear center than is offered by most bikes with size-specific chainstays.
Only Forbidden seems to do this right now (the Dreadnought’s rear center changes 42mm between sizes and the XL has a 480mm rear center at sag, which has drawbacks as well as advantages). In my opinion, front-wheel grip is much more about rider confidence, suspension and stability than a few millimeters of rear-center length, and the Stive delivers that in abundance. The slack head angle lets you really lean forward without worrying about it tucking or being deflected; the rear suspension provides support to prevent the bike from squatting in a turn, and the stable braking behavior means you don’t have to lean back when you hit the brakes, only to find your weight too far when you lower them again. The Fox suspension also provides class-leading small-bump sensitivity, helping the tires find consistent grip in choppy sections. All of this makes it easier to stay centered on the bike, get into corners, and rip through corners.
While the Strive feels its best on steep, technical terrain, it is no slouch on flatter flowing trails and mid-trail descents. The suspension is balanced and supportive when pumping through rollers or berms, and you can always use the Shapeshifter if you want a firmer platform to push against. Despite its racing intentions, relaxed head angle and planted feel on downhill trails, it’s surprisingly versatile and enjoyable when the trail softens.
Every bike is more than the sum of its parts. How the suspension, geometry, stiffness, weight distribution, components and more fit together on the track is not something you can extrapolate from the numbers alone. In the case of the Strive, its balance of stability and handling, plushness and support allowed me to ride fast, aggressively and confidently on the first ride and every ride since. This general sentiment is obviously subjective, and someone else may not have the same view. So, for a second opinion, I recruited one of my riding buddies, who is about the same height and weight as me, to ride the Strive for a day. I made sure not to tell him what I thought until he was done. He too found it easy to get along and ride fast almost from the start. Interestingly, he spontaneously commented that he brakes very well. It made me a little more confident in my view that this is a particularly easy bike to ride fast.
Issues/Opportunity for Improvement
The complexity of the Shapeshifter is a concern and something that would make me think twice about wanting to own this bike. Don’t get me wrong, it does what it’s supposed to do, worked perfectly throughout testing, and is a useful feature, but I think you could get most (but definitely not all) of the benefits with an angle of stiffer seat and a simple remote lock. I also think Canyon might as well have given it a more extreme seat angle if you could still loosen things up for the flat pedaling sections, which is the only time an effective 80 degree angle really feels too steep . In 2022, I shouldn’t have to slam the saddle forward to feel comfortable, especially on a bike that has a dedicated climb mode.
On the other hand, the Shapeshifter is basically a simplified damper and linkage, but one that you use multiple times per ride instead of a few thousand times. Canyon suggests having it serviced at an authorized dealer every 200 hours or so of riding, but I doubt it will need it that often. Scrolling through the forums, it looks like a few people had issues with the first-gen system, but version 2, which is shared with the 2019 iteration of the Strive, seems to be more reliable. Bike Yoke offers a purely mechanical version for 90 euros, which could be a good option to keep you rolling in the event of a problem or during gas spring maintenance.
Another issue is that the upper shock mounting hardware is shared with the Shapeshifter linkage, which means removing the shock requires you to push in a cotter pin that covers the shock eyelet and link which it is mounted on (Canyon will sell you a tool to do this for £27.95). This makes removing the shock or replacing volume spacers a little more complicated than with other bikes.
It’s easy to read too much into customer service horror stories (which you can find online about almost any brand), but the combination of Shapeshifter’s added complexity and Canyon’s direct selling model is not most attractive from a long-term ownership perspective. . When I asked about it, Canyon said: “Some readers may recall the very first Shapeshifter, introduced in 2014. Unfortunately, this suffered from reliability issues… With this component produced by fox [introduced on the 2019 Strive], reliability has been rock solid for our customers and riders for 3 years – and this new Strive uses the exact same unit. If something is wrong with your Shapeshifter, a Fox Service Center should be able to get it up and running within standard service times.”
Two things Canyon could implement immediately to improve the user experience are:
• Provide the bike with the shock removal tool, or at least place all volume spacers in the bottom of the air canister; this way they can be removed without removing the shock.
• Leave the head tube longer, especially on larger sizes. You can always cut it.