Spend 48hrs in Rotorua riding with a local and you’ll return home yearning for more. It’s not just the place but the people who make this iconic mountain bike town shine. To round the year out (and what a bloody weird year) Gary (Gaz) Sullivan invited us to come and ride his local trails aboard the new Canyon Spectral 29.
The early summer weather was in full swing and long days meant for long rides. To start the 48hrs we’d heard about the amazing sunsrise at the bench overlooking Mount Tarawera. It’s best to start with a bang so we rose early to be up there before the sun. Before the sun – the pre-dawn when you feel most connected to Papatūānuku. The faint light before dawn was soon overshadowed by the sun’s rays peeking over Mount Tarawera. Once the sun was up, part two of our adventure began.
Canyon Spectral 29 Tech
Firstly, as Canyon is a consumer-direct brand it’s worth noting that the box arriving is the first thing you actually touch and feel from the brand. They ensure it’s a good experience the box that the bike comes in is super organised and uses minimal excess bubble wrap and plastic.
The Canyon Spectral CF 29 is a new trail bike from the direct-to-consumer company. The rig comes with 150 mm travel at the rear and, depending on the model, 150mm or 160mm upfront. So, you might have guessed by the name, but yea, it rolls 29 wheels. Initially only available as a carbon version (CF). Canyon’s masterplan with the Spectral 29 was to mix the agility of the 27.5” existing model with additional stability. The Spectral 29 bears little resemblance to its 27.5” counterpart. This is ground up and the geometry and suspension have had fundamental revisions. And even though there’s longer geometry the company claim it’s lighter than the Spectral 27.5”. But it’s stiffer too thanks to the huge chainstays (with tough protector) and reduced kink in the downtube. However, with the thick chainstays, it does limit the Spectral 29 to 30-34 chainrings. Canyon’s own G5 cockpit is top notch and up for abuse too. What’s more, is that Canyon has made improvements with the durability of the pivot bearings.
Canyon’s paid real attention to making the Spectral 29 durable and easy to service. Cables and hoses are routed through tube-in-tube guides and feed out where they’re meant to. There’s a threaded BSA bottom bracket. I particularly liked that you can get replaceable inserts to ensure the frames not destroyed by pesky cross-threaded bolts. Lastly, all the suspension pivots are removed from the non-drive side. Bloody brilliant idea!
Let’s turn to the suspension. Canyon has refined their “Triple Phase Suspension” concept. Anti-squat at sag has been increased, but it also drops off more quickly as the suspension compresses to reduce pedal kickback. The support and progression of the suspension have also been increased. Not only should it help the bike climb more efficiently but also offer more traction, pop and control for the descents.
Onto the geometry, the Spectral CF 29 is longer, and significantly so! The reach-in size L is a generous 485 mm and at the same time, the 64° head angle is noticeably slacker while the 76° seat tube angle (160 mm model in low setting) is 2° steeper. On the 150 mm fork Spectral 29 in the high setting, that goes up to 77°. Chainstays are 437 mm long across all sizes. A flip-chip on the shock mount allows the geometry to be adjusted by 0.5° to suit your preference. Canyon states that this is offered primarily for those riders looking for a higher bottom bracket on the climbs. I did notice a few bottom outs with pedal strokes so would have raised if we’d had a little more time with the bikes.
The bottom bracket drop is 36 mm in the low setting. Uber modern! But there’s a long seat tube. In size L, which is what I rode, this is 460 mm long. Which means you’ll need to choose the bike around the seat tube length rather than reach. It makes it easier to choose frame sizes for most riders according to Canyon.
Lastly, Canyon offers the Spectral CF 29 in two versions with two spec options for each. You can choose to go with either Spectral CF 7 or 9 which comes with 150 mm travel up front, SRAM groupset, RockShox suspension and DT Swiss wheels. Or you can opt for a Spectral CF 8 with a 160 mm fork, Shimano XT, FOX suspension and a Minion DHF and DHRII pairing laced on DT Swiss XM1700 - which is what we had for testing. It’s a lot of bang for buck coming in at $6,949. The 7 and 9 ranging from $5,699 to $8,649. There’s also the Spectral LTD which runs FOX and XTR for $10,399.
Back to the trails! It’s on the second day when Gaz wanted to showcase one of his iconic loops throughout the lush forest. This is where having local intel or someone that’s been to the area often helps. I always get a little excited about a ride like this as it’s a showcase of the local’s best stuff. You know they’ve ridden the trails thousands of times so you know what they’ll send you down will be the goods. Before we set off for the day, we headed for breakfast at Zippy Central Café. A plate of eggs and a strong black coffee had me sussed for the ride ahead. I’ll let Gaz fill in the details of the trails we did and how he stitched them all together.
“Taking a visitor for a lap of the forest is one of my favourite things to do. Somehow it refreshes my view of a place I have been riding since before there were trails. I know Liam is similar to me in that he likes a decent ride. Even on my own, I am inclined to make most rides a loop - just feels more like I have been somewhere, rather than lapping out a hill.
On this day we went up towards the top of the Tokorangi hill, via the new Forest Loop climb, but before we got where we were headed, we had a mechanical. This wasn’t with our Canyon’s it was with our photographer, Cameron Mackenzie’s bike. We returned to the start via the spectacularly rejuvenated Challenge Middle and dropped in on Ed and Lenore at Planet Bike - not only great coffee in a mid-forest location, but Ed is also a great mechanic. Sorted.
We then headed up through the remains of Chinese Menu, climbed Direct Road and Frontal Lobotomy, and then the top of Tawa Road to get to the native forest which is the roof of Whakarewarewa. My place for mental repairs and the natural trail is Tuhoto Ariki, so we did that.
After Tuhoto we turned left and climbed to Te Ahi Manawa. Another natural line, hand scratched out of the dirt and not so manicured as some others, Te Ahi dropped us on to Tikitapu Road.
We took a left again and rolled along there to Tangaroamihi, which is Grade 2 but fun. The main reason for that was so we could inhale some carrot Cake and coffee from the Airstream Cafe at Blue Lake reserve.
We then rode Feeder up to the new carpark at Te Putake o Tawa, to my amazement there was a little coffee and snacks wagon there! Note to self: give them a go.
The excellent Grade 2 Te Pou Koropu Loop trail got us to Apumoana, then we descended Hot Cross and Dragons Tail back to civilisation.”
The day was set out to be epic and it bloody delivered. What’s more, is the bike’s capability to traverse and encounter all of these trails with finesse. The pedal ability of the Spectral 29 was evident as Gaz took me on several uphill trails and fire roads. Whilst pedalling, it’s super-efficient and marches willingly forward with the rear end remaining supportive even on steep climbs. In fact, the rear shock was hardly switched, left wide open it tackled the exposed roots on the ups superbly.
That finesse I mentioned earlier is something that the bike’s given me. Tuhoto Ariki is up there for my riding ability but the bike made me feel comfortable and confident. So much so I could get across, down and around nearly all of the features on the trail. That’s something that I haven’t managed before. As the ride went on my confidence kept growing – down to the bike’s impeccable ability to handle what was handed to it.
The Spectral 29 feels planted, it’s roomy and perches you centrally. The high front end combined with the low bottom bracket integrates the rider well, creating a sense of security. Hence my ability to ride some of the steep terrains. It never made me feel overwhelmed. As we ducked and weaved in and out of the native ferns, shaded in points but the dappled light made it hard to see some the trails. Both of us hadn’t ridden the bike much beforehand but as the day’s ride ticked past three hours, we were both comfortable – that’s impressive. Gaz kept unlocking Whakarewarewa trail gems and I grew fonder of the Spectral 29.
As we pedalled our way back, we both started to feel somewhat toasty from the day’s effort. The Spectral 29 changed direction quickly, accurately and precisely and without much effort. The suspension is sensitive without being too soft. The bike generates a ton of grip but also feedback and lets you know what’s happening on the trail beneath you. The Spectral 29 is damn fun and we were both grinning ear to ear throughout the ride. On completion, we were both toast but stoked from the day’s antics. The bikes performed really well, we had a ton of fun on them and it finished with a beer in the back of Gaz’s van. What more could you ask for?!
As the pink dusk sky shrouded Whakarewarewa we headed to the Secret Spot, which is in Waipa carpark. The Rotorua Mountain Bike Club was holding a gathering. Gaz, the local in this equation knew almost everyone there. I got to see how it was to be a local within this community of enthusiastic bike riders. It’s a real bike town and you can see the absolute passion for the sport when you’re in their company. Before the day was done, we ventured to a local Mexican joint, El Mexicano Zapata. The place was authentic and the tacos were tasty. We washed them down with Mexican beer before chowing down some churros for dessert.
We both came away bloody impressed with how the Spectral 29 performs. It ticks all the boxes for a do-it-all bike – offering a ton of fun across any kind of trail. It’s versatile and capable across a wide variety of terrain, bike parks to flow trails. It’s the one bike you’ll own that really does do it all. I for one was a little unhappy about boxing it back up and returning it.
I reflected on the last 48hrs on my journey back to the big smoke. Rotorua’s a town has ample trails blended with culture and great folk that are truly passionate about their region. It’s remarkable what they’ve built there. But I suppose that’s a reflection on the sport as well as the development of trails. It feels like a real bike town and it’s great to be immersed in that culture. I felt this is what I missed most when returning home. Having the opportunity to see the region through a local’s perspective is a real treat. And, although it’s not always possible I’d recommend connecting with a local in any region you visit. They simply just give you great insights and access to their wealth of knowledge. It’s just like having the keys to the city, or rather trails.
Head to Canyon for more
Words: Liam Friary
Images: Cameron Mackenzie