Bringing back the Cycling Cap one Domestique at a time

Review: 2015 Canyon Aeroad 8.0 CF SLX

Canyon isn't exactly a household name in the world of cycling. With its origins dating back to the mid eighties, the German brand was formed in 2001 in the city of Koblenz; a relative youngster in an industry where some players boast of being established in the 1800s. While not exactly a mass market name, the Canyon brand is a familiar name for those in the know as it supplies frames to professional powerhouse teams Katusha and Movistar.

Canyon is known for its direct sales business model. Customers order their bikes via Canyon website and expect direct to doorstep deliveries in a few weeks (or a few months). By eliminating the whole distributor-dealer chain and commissions, Canyon able to offer their products at an exceptional value and with equipment levels several rungs up their competitors' offerings.

And a few months is what it took to get my hands on my current road bike and subject of this article, the Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 8.0 Di2.

Author's Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 8.0 Di2 (upgraded to 9.0?)
Unfortunately, the Philippines is not among those countries Canyon serves. Acquiring this bike required a bit of creativity but we managed to pull it off. A few months into ownership, I'd say the whole exercise was well worth it!

The Aeroad 8.0 spec sheet is pretty impressive. Full Ultegra Di2, Reynolds Strike SLG full carbon wheels and a finishing kit worthy of bikes more upscale.


The Frame


The aptly named Aeroad is Canyon's entry to the ever expanding aero-road niche. Unlike other brands which offer different carbon layups of the same frame design in the hopes of upselling, all aeroad frames from the bottom range model to top-of-line feature the same carbon composites and differ solely on bundled equipment.

On its second iteration, the current Aeroad is a thoroughly modern design with the expected aerodynamically optimized tube shapes and profile. If there's one thing which the Aeroad screams, it's the word "Fast". The frame features Canyon's Trident 2.0 tube cross-sections which are a varied mix of different Kamm style shapes; some feature longish truncated foils like the down tube and some are much shallower like that of the seatpost.



As in almost all modern aero-road bikes, the rear seat stay is mated to the seat tube well below the top tube level. The overall look is very sharp, with the top tube itself almost horizontal. The rear wheel is shielded from the wind by the lower seat tube which was reshaped to double as a cowling. The top of the forks blend smoothly with the headtube, again for aerodynamics.

Aero moderne: shielded rear wheel and low mounted seat stays

Smooth Fork-Frame transition
Adding to the overall sharpness is the Aeroad's electronic integration. The Di2 battery is tucked inside the downtube, nowhere to be seen. The junction box is also cleverly hidden, this one under a small compartment underneath the handlebars, resulting in one of  the cleanest full electronic installs in the market. 

Also worth mentioning is the adjustable rake feature of the Aeroad. By repositioning aluminum shims at the end of the fork, users can set the rake (fork offset) to two positions: Agile or Stable. The shims did not feel flush when mounted in Agile mode so back they went to the default Stable.

The body is finished in matte black, accented with gloss black accents and logos. While I'm all for the "murdered out" black look, I felt there was nothing wrong with a little brand recognition, hence the sticker job.

The choice of sticker color was deliberate. We wanted to offset/match the Dura Ace cranks, hence silver.

The Components 

Groupset

The Aeroad 8.0 comes with full Ultegra Di2 components. Unfortunately, I was unable to test this as we immediately replaced this to Dura Ace Di2. I was hesitant to go electronic as I found nothing wrong nor room for improvement with the Dura Ace 9000 mechanical group. But seeing how prices and components were laid out in the Aeroad lineup, going electronic was almost a no brainer. (not to mention I wanted the H11 handlebars and the Reynolds Wheelset).

Di2 is indeed better than mechanical. Consistent shifting, front and rear, every single time. Auto trimming on smaller cogs, programmable long press behavior and shifting speeds.... This is not something a mechanical 9000 user would exactly crave for but once you go Di2, it's very very hard to imagine going back to mechanical. Another bonus: you will see your mechanic less for tuneups. A lot less.

Another first for us are Direct Mount brakes. Arriving at the same time as the bike were a pair of Dura Ace BR-9010 front brakes to replace the Ultegra Direct mounts which came with the bike (the Aeroad does not use the rear-specific design). The only difference we see with the direct mounts versus regular brakes are the two mounting screws versus only one on regular brakes. I can't really comment on how well these work compared to the run of the mill Dura Ace brakes since it has been a while since I was on regular BR-9000s but they compare well to the TRP aero brakes on our Argon 18 Nitrogen. And those have a lot of stopping power and good modulation.   

Contributing to stopping power are the updated Reynolds Cryo Blue POWER brakepads. These are a whopping 44% larger than the regular Reynolds Blue pads. Indeed, carbon braking has come a long way and these parts already perform no different from their alloy counterparts.




Wheelset

As with the group, the Reynolds Strike SLGs which came with the Aeroad were likewise replaced with Reynolds Assault SLGs before ride number 1. While the Assault SLGs are a modern design featuring a 25mm width which mates perfectly to 25mm tires, its 62mm depth is a bit too deep for all around riding. The 42mm Assaults, however, are just right. They also weigh 120 grams less at 1515g. Tires are GP4000 S2's from Continental. These come in staggered configuration with 23mm for the front and 25mm for the rear.


Cockpit

While certainly not the first implementation of an integrated bar and stem, the H11 Aerocockpit CF may be the first to do so for aerodynamic purposes. Frontal area is reduced by flattening the bar and airflow improved by rounding out the shape.

As previously mentioned, the Di2 junction box B is housed in a groove underneath the stem portion of the bar. Canyon claims 5.5 watts of aerodynamic improvement over a conventional rounded bar and stem. We'll have to take their word for that. What we can tell is that this is a beautifully crafted piece of carbon fiber. And while we'd rather have shallower drops, found the 128mm drop on our bike quite workable.

Junction B feels cozy in there


Worth mentioning are the minor design details which show the Germans think of everything. The "stem" cutout is diagonal to more evenly distribute clamping stress and the aero shaped headset spacers have pegs which keep allow them to stack like loose lego bricks.



Optional Bits & Other Pieces

We also got a couple of optional parts specific to our needs. First is the 9mm seat clamp for carbon railed seats. We needed this to mount our SMP Compost CRB. Next is the Garmin Edge mount for the H11 cockpit. Why give up all those aerodynamic gains by using the Garmin rubber band mount? Do we need to mention it looks really snappy?

1Also installed was our incumbent SMP Composit CRB saddle, KMC X11SL DLC black chains and KCNC Skewers.

H11 with the optional Garmin Mount



On The Road

Believe the hype: The Aeroad is a legit race bike.

Ride leisurely and the Aeroad behaves like any other carbon bodied bike. Stable, compliant and dare we say... almost borderline comfortable considering the bike's primary mission. Pile on the wattage and the Aeroad comes to life. Whether it's the frame's stiffness or the aerodynamics, the Canyon will keep up with your best effort; rewarding you with more and more speed the more you put into it. The 23mm front tire turns quicker than when using 25mm tires. A small advantage, but it's there.


Finishing off the build with a Stages Power Meter and Keo Blade 2 Ti Pedals


And it's not just an aero-road bike but a talented all rounder.

The bike weighs in at around 14.9 pounds with Look Keo Blade 2 Ti pedals installed and while not a dedicated climber, it does adequately well in climbs and is perfectly stable in fast descents. More proof of the Aeroad's flexibility: Alexander Kristoff of Katusha opted to use one for the torturous 2015 Paris-Roubaix instead of Canyon's all rounder Ultimate CF SLX. He finished a decent tenth place in a field of 133 finishers and 67 DNFs and OTLs. Oh, and he used an Aeroad to win the 2015 Tour of Flanders, a race with cobbles, climbs and sprints and everything in between.

Alexander Kristoff's Aeroad - Photo c/o Bikeradar
The Aeroad is almost universally acclaimed by the world's press, and personally I find it hard to fault. As of the end of 2015, this may not only be the best bike for the buck...but possibly the best bike out there.




Verdict

We're in love! It's hard to think of any negatives for the Aeroad. Acquiring one, if Canyon does not service your country, is another matter altogether.




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Review: Selle SMP Composit

27 Oct 2015 -

Saddles take time to figure out. We all have our anatomic differences and personal preferences and finding the right one requires a fair bit of research and a little bit of luck. Once you settle on a certain saddle shape, it would usually take a lot to convince you to shift and move to another shape/brand.

Such was my current experience with the Fizik Antares. The shape such a good fit that I did not consider looking for another saddle.  At least not until a chance conversation with a cycling buddy brought to light a saddle which, according to him, gave his rear end less issue than the Antares on long rides.

Enter Selle SMP.

This Italian saddle maker has been in business since 1947 and their products are based on a unique shape. They have a wide range of products which cater to different pelvis widths and padding preferences.

Browsing through their catalog, I settled on a carbon railed, carbon bodied, leather wrapped contraption called the Composit CRB. My first new saddle in almost half a decade.


                     

The Saddle

First things first. The Composit, and most SMPs in general, are not as photogenic as a Fizik Antares. Where the Antares is looks very sharp and simple, the SMP is curvy and somewhat out of place on an angular, modern race bike. The look takes a bit of getting used to, but as previously mentioned, these design details give the SMPs their identity and their functional advantages.


Let's take them point by point:

1. The Eagle Beak nose - May as well be SMP's defining design detail. Their press materials state that this is supposed to prevent urogenital crushing. Yep, we certainly don't want our urogenitals crushed. Seriously, though, this feature is much appreciated on the drops as there is less pressure on the groin area leaning forward. Another observed plus is it's a lot easier to return to the sitting position coming from off the saddle standing efforts.

2. Curved Top - This is where the sitbones make contact. Depending on the amount of lean you take, the curve contacts different parts of the sitbones, offering relief where needed. The upward curve of the rear keeps you secure when pushing hard on the saddle.

3. Central Groove - Prevents nerve and blood vessel pinching and provides ventilation. More than anything else, this keeps you riding longer.

The Composit CRB is made with a carbon fiber body wrapped in leather. Padding is nonexsitent. Rails for our model are also in carbon fiber, saving 50 grams from the stainless steel version. The all carbon Composit CRB weighs in at 160 grams.

The leather cover is adorned with brand embroidery. While I prefer plain all-black, this is something we can with.



On The Road

What can we say? Those shape features combine to make one very comfortable saddle...shape wise that is.  One thing that immediately stands out is the lack of padding.  Of course, that is not the saddle's fault. Selle SMP offers a whole range of similarly designed saddles in different widths and different levels of padding.  If you're decided on getting the Composit, make sure you have a decent set of bibs with a great set of pads to take the sting out of road bumps.

Getting back on the subject of shape, the Composit's features really allow you to ride longer. It feels as if  only the sitbones make contact with the saddle as thigh rub is kept to a minimum and the sensitive bits have minimal contact thanks to the large groove in the middle.

As mentioned, getting your pelvic measurements is key as it will point you to  the right saddle model within the SMP range. The Composit range is suited for riders of Extra Small to Medium built.


Verdict

This curvy piece of handmade Italian goodness is definitely something to try. Saddles are a personal thing but in our experience, using the Composit CRB was rewarding. Make sure you have a decent set of shorts though.



That Made In Italy thing ain't going off anytime soon.






















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Review: 2015 Argon 18 Nitrogen

1 Sep 2015 - Sometime March 2015, after 9,167.3 blissful kilometers with the road aero pioneering Scott Foil, I gave in to upgraditis and decided to get a new frame.

Being an early adopter of road aero, any and all equipment I decide to purchase must be as aero as possible. It goes without saying that my next frame should be as well. To be honest, I am not really sure if it makes any difference in making my cycling any faster, but aero looks fast....and if it looks fast, it looks good. Just like a fighter plane. The aggressive looks of an aero bike is a quality in itself.


Superficial, yes. But if we want to be technical about it, aerodynamic benefits work at any speed, albeit exponentially the faster you go. The bicycle makes up 20% of a cyclist's surface area, with the cyclist himself taking up the rest of the 80 percent. Any aerodynamic efficiency against the bike's 20 percent contribution to drag should enhance performance. Yes. Memorize and repeat....memorize and repeat.

So off I went to that happy place somewhere in Pasay. In one of the shops, as if written on a movie script, I looked up to find an Argon 18 Nitrogen in my size just hanging from one of the shops' ceiling. Luck.

The first full on roadbike I had was an Argon 18 Radon and I'm quite familiar with the Canadian maker's products and quality. Getting another Argon made sense and was like a coming home of sorts.

2015 Argon Nitrogen,  Most likely in Medium/Large - Photo credit: Argon 18

The Frame

Argon 18 has extensive experience in designing aerodynamic frames. In fact, they several time trial bikes currently on offer which, along with the UCI approved Nitrogen, benefit from this experience.

Unassembled, one would be forgiven for mistaking the Nitrogen as a TT frame. It's certainly easy on the eyes. With aero features like a thick seatpost, rear wheel cutouts and aero brakes, the Nitrogen certainly has that 'fast even while on the bike stand' look. That being said, the Nitrogen looks better from sizes Medium and up. Small and Extra Small have this pinched head-tube look and the rear seat stay goes up until nearly the top tube. (We prefer it connecting to the middle of the seat tube-a la modern 2015's bikes, thank you).

The Author's Nitrogen. Right at home in the living room. Note where the seatstays start.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that Argon 18 pursued a different path in designing the Nitrogen. Argon 18 decided to use more traditional shapes in its choice of tube cross sections. Unlike most of its aero road competitors, it does not utilize a truncated airfoil or Kamm-Tail tube design. Bikes such as the road aero pioneer Scott Foil, the Trek Madone and the Canyon Aeroad all utilize the Kamm design to marry the opposing requirements of stiffness and aerodynamics.

The Nitrogen, instead, goes with long and thin teardrop airfoil shapes which can be seen in the slender seat stays and the seatpost. Curiously, the downtube cross section is neither Kamm-Tail nor teardrop but is of oval shape. The seatpost is reversible; you get either 72-76.5 degrees or 78 degrees.

Aero setback seatpost.

That's an Italian Flag there. Just saying.
Other wind-cheating features include the TRP v-brakes which are flat and are hidden from the wind by virtue of being mounted on the aft ends of the fork and chainstays. Keen observers will note that the rear seatstays no longer connected by a bridge as the brakes are mounted directly on the stays.

Front V-Brakes. Hidden from the wind.

Rear TRP V-Brakes. No seatstay bridge.

Also, aerodynamically shaped headset spacer caps are provided in several different heights to help guide air around smoothly in this area. Brake and shifter cables are internally routed; de facto nowadays for any modern top tier bike. The rear wheel arc eats into the lower rear seat tube section, shielding the anterior wheel edge from the wind. We used 25mm Continental GP4000S' tires there without any clearance issues.

Headset spacer cover. Aerodynamic, of course.
Wind tunnel test results from Argon suggest that they have created an aerodynamically sound frame. Second only to the Cervelo S5 in terms of overall performance at multiple yaw angles. Of particular note is the Cervelo's performance at 0 degrees (head on wind), and how both the S5 and Nitrogen both leave the rest of the pack behind at this angle.


A Nitrogen frame in Medium weighs in at 960 grams.  It's not gonna win any weight weenie contest with this figure but it's still far from being considered porky....just don't challenge an Emonda at the scales. Unfortunately, we were not able to put our XS size frame on the scales because of the rush to upgrade.

Rear wheel eats nicely into the lower seat tube. 25C tires shown.
On The Road

The first thing which stood out with the Nitrogen was its comfort. Having been used to the Scott Foil, whose ride may be described as harsh, riding the Nitrogen is a welcome relief.  Enough so that it brings back memories of the Cannondale Supersix HM which was (and still is) my bike of choice for rougher road surfaces.

Handling is right about average for a modern carbon bike which is good. Yes, bikes have progressed to that point where they all mostly track like a diving falcon on steroids. Compared to the Foil though, the Nitrogen gives up half a point on this category. So too with stiffness. Whereas the Foil was designed to cut and thrust, the Nitrogen is more of a cruiser, happier with zipping along at high speed than engaging the next chicane. But this does not at all mean it can't!

What did surprise was the braking power. Yes, it's that good. Even better than the Dura Ace BR-9000 units we had installed in the Foil, the TRP-Argon units grip so strong that you almost feel scared that your carbon wheel brake surface might just light up and flame away.

As usual we do not have any professional equipment to measure aerodynamic efficiency. We'd avoid using that oft-used cliché of feeling like continuous tailwind was behind us and just say that the Nitrogen zips along merrily, comfortable and confidently at speed.


Verdict

The Argon 18 Nitrogen is a serious aero contender for your hard earned money. With the features you get vs. the price it's a steal! Bonus Fact: This exact frame design is used by the Bora-Argon18 Pro-Tour Team. Therefore, this has street cred.

-A

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