Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Canyon Endurace CF SLX Disc. Part 2: Road Test - Singapore To Kuala Lumpur

The continuing story of my new endurance road machine. See part 1 for the background. This is where I put it through it's paces, pitting the machine against the elements that it was designed for.

After a couple of short rides around Singapore to get my position sorted, my plan was to do a 2-day ride to Kuala Lumpur through a route up the west coast covering around 450 kilometers.

Though it's long been a part of our bike touring operation, I had been itching to do this ride 'randonneur style' - carrying everything on the bike with me - for quite a while, but contingencies had always been against me for one reason or another. Having a home in 2 cities definitely creates this option, but the caprices of my working life do mean that I can't function for too long without my laptop - in either place - and I'm really not willing to carry that much!

The stars eventually aligned - more through determination than anything else - and I chose a Thursday/Friday slot in late October for my mega-commute. A little over a week since the arrival of the Endurace in my clutches, and it was time to get this beast onto some proper roads. I deliberately made no precise plan or hotel booking, or warned anyone of my ETA. I want to enjoy this!

Day 1: Singapore to Malacca

Though the ride would be a solo endurance effort, I had the welcome company, for the 40 or so kilometers of the Singapore stretch, of my good friend Charles, who offered to accompany me in the wee hours up to the border crossing. I don't often ride in Singapore at 5am, but I can see why so many of the city's riders do. It's about the only time you get anything resembling a relaxing stretch of quiet roads to ride on, and the ubiquitous road-lighting means visibility is great.

The weight of my luggage, though minimal, was definitely affecting the bike's handling, and any incline in the road had a significantly greater effect on my effort than it normally would have. Just as well I have 2 almost completely flat days ahead. Actually, beyond phone/wallet/passport/keys,  and the crucial tubes/pump/tool kit, I was essentially carrying only one set of ultra-light shorts and t shirt, plus a small tube of sun block, and chargers for the gadgets. My plan, as usual with these rides, was to get hold of a cheap pair of flip-flops in Malacca for the evening footwear - that is if the hotel didn't provide them anyway. Nevertheless, I wouldn't be able to get a true feeling of the handling properties of the bike with all this ballast, but I would at least get to see how it fared as a beast of burden.

Charles bids adieu

Charles left me at the Woodlands crossing into Malaysia, and continued his morning ride. I found my way onto the end of the expressway approach to the crossing, hopped over the kerb into the motorcycle lanes through immigration, and made my way among the noisy rabble of motorcycles, bracing myself against the toxic atmosphere.

Dawn was breaking as I rolled into Malaysia. The route follows the coast for the first kilometers and then cuts inland through the urban sprawl of Johor Bahru. I was overjoyed to find a Shell station with an espresso vending machine, which gave me the essential morning caffeine shot. This was already more than I expected: an espresso is still a rare commodity outside of city centres in Malaysia. A short while after, and still before leaving the larger urban area, I stopped at a good breakfast spot that we have used a few times in the past on our tours.

breakfast stop day 1

Rush hour in JB. By now I was enjoying the incredibly solid feeling of the bike. I mean, this bike feels like it can deal with anything, so you worry much less about patchy road surface, and this also means that the proximity of heavy traffic is less alarming, since you can actually ride in the ditch if you have to.

The overall feeling of the front end is super stable. On rails. I guess it's the combination of the fork rake, head tube geometry, single-piece cockpit, wide rims with 28mm tyres, through-axle precision, and disc braking. If this was a heavy steel touring machine it would perhaps be more expected, but it's not.

About the 135km mark I hit the town of Air Hitam. This is my next food stop at the Chinese food court on the corner doing pretty good Dim Sum. Up until this point I've been mostly on route 1, which is the old main Singapore to KL road, but from here I will turn down to join route 5 up the coast. Should be slightly quieter.

The town of Batu Pahat marks the point at which I join route 5 which will bring me all the way through to the day's destination. At the moment I'm still feeling good, motivated, and enjoying the ride, though the tropical sun is now bearing it's full weight down on me. I'm getting through more water now, and I stop in Batu Pahat at a petrol station to refill the bottles. At this 165km point I am well over half way with around 100km to go.

I'm getting to like the gearing on this bike. The 52/36 "semi compact" chainring pairing of this bike with its 11-32 cassette is not a combination I've used before. Having been an overnight convert to the joys of compact gears a few years back, I had gone immediately for the smallest chainring options in order to be able to deal with the gradients above 25% common to Northern Thailand. So my default chainring set up has been a 50/34, whereas I switch between cassettes depending on the terrain. On initial consideration the gear selection on the Canyon seemed slightly illogical: extreme at the back, but moderate at the front - but I'd have to say that I'm beginning to understand the choice.

The alignment of chainring to cassette on this bike allows me to stay a lot longer in the big chainring, which means that even a combination of 52x28 is possible - and effective. Basically the idea is that transfer of power is better when using larger rings, mainly because torque stress is less, plus the chain has to bend less, which means less friction. Being someone with a relatively high cadence that mostly chooses to  ride hills, I tend to spend a lot of time in the small ring, but on this ride I don't think I used the small ring until somewhere near the end of day 2 on a couple of short grinds.

As I approach the 200km mark I start to fantasize about a latte. Only option I can think of is that in the upcoming town of Muar I might be able to find.....a McDonalds with a McCafe! Quick google moment later and I have a plan. At the 215km point I am sitting with some of the worst food on the planet in front of me, but at this point it is what I need. The meal is followed by the closest thing I'm going to get to a latte today.

After spending way too long fiddling around trying unsuccessfully to book a hotel for the night in Malacca on my phone, I eventually leave the air-conditioned chaos of McDonalds behind and head back to the furnace of route 5, eager by now to arrive at the day's conclusion. The unrelenting flat, long-and-straightness of the route is starting to wear on the patience.

The day is cooling down as I enter the urban edges of the ancient trading city of Malacca, and I make my way through slow traffic to the centre of the old town. By now I'm really looking forward to dinner, so though I need to identify a likely hotel, my plan shifts to identifying first the restaurant, and then a nearby hotel so walking is minimised. I quickly discover one likely combination and my day's ride is over at 269.5km.

Well not quite. After checking in and discovering that the hotel doesn't provide flip-flops in the bathroom, I jump back on the bike and ride around the block to a convenience store to buy the cheapest pair I can find. Then my legs officially get time off.

Malacca is getting hipper these days, and I manage to find a couple of promising places for a dinner in 2 courses with some quite acceptable Rioja. Perfect end to the day!

Day 2: Malacca to Kuala Lumpur 

a beach-side moment

After a fairly good sleep, I hit the road at the relatively lazy time of 7am in the beginnings of daylight. Seems I'm getting used to riding in rush hour traffic, but I have some nice beach-side routes out of Malacca which are a great way to start the day. Weather seems fine at this point, and I succumb to a second visit to McDonalds - this time just for the latte. Hard to ride without coffee.

The stretch between Malacca and Port Dickson is one that I look forward to most on this route. If you look at maps of Malaysia, it seems there are a lot of roads that run along the coastline, but when you're on most of them, you don't see the sea at all. People in this part of the world are not beach lovers, so mostly they build roads a few hundred meters inland from the actual coastline, and you often get quite thickly growing plantations completely obscuring any beach view.

This road is an exception. Possibly something to do with linking the old port of Malacca with the colonial beach resort of Port Dickson, but at any rate, it's a lovely road to ride a bike on. There are plenty of little chalets and homestays along this stretch of road that presumably cater to the globally itinerant backpacker community. I stop in one of the beach-bar type restaurants for a breakfast, more to enjoy the beach-side moment than the more-or-less-edible food.

breakfast on the beach

I get to try the bike on a couple of brief off-road moments riding over patches of gravel and at one point sand onto a beach, and though hardly enough to form any solid opinion of the bike's off-road capabilities, it does remind me that this bike can do way more than I'm using it for.

I'm starting to see some dark clouds up ahead over the sea. A bad omen. I try to mentally brush it off. I'm happy if I get cloud cover all day, but I'm really not looking forward to the kind of rainfall that those clouds are promising. Hope they are moving towards Sumatra. Fat chance.

that road-beauty moment

At around 100km in, Port Dickson provides another nice beach side moment featuring one of my favourite bits of coastal road. Here I stop at a great roast duck and pork place for second breakfast (or is it third by now? or lunch?). From here on we're moving inland towards KL, and it's going to get increasingly rolling, and increasingly urban, at a painfully gradual pace that will really test the resolve.

Then it starts raining.

For those of you who don't have first-hand experience of a tropical downpour, it's like having a bathtub of water dumped on you continuously. The road turns into either a pond or a river depending on the gradient, and you can barely see 5 meters ahead.

The rain started as I was getting close to the town of Sepang, at around 140km. I stopped in a petrol station for shelter until the more torrential part was over, but soon it had faded to a steady drizzle and I set off again.

Now I was really getting to see what this bike could do. I was riding through a lot of standing water, getting repeatedly drenched by the bow wave from passing cars and trucks, and it just felt solid as a rock. The rotors of the disc brakes have a distinctive squeak when it rains, but they never got any less effective regardless of what was happening, and my wheels were just ploughing through it all with disdain.

The new road after Sepang gets wide and straight through acre upon acre of oil palm estate, before getting back to some more rolling, older roads as we get towards the more traditional settlement of Semenyih. Normally I'd take this road and continue through up past the dam to Ulu Langat and back onto some quiet but hilly roads that lead into the eastern side of the Klang Valley, but in this case I had to aim for the centre of town where I would pick up my car.

I have honestly never ridden through the aftermath of this sort of deluge on a Friday afternoon rush hour in Kuala Lumpur, and though I can't say I'm looking for the next opportunity, I was on the right bike, and would be prepared to tackle it again only with the assurance of being on the same one.

The kind of confidence this bike inspires is so intoxicating that I haven't been able to ride anything else since. I am starting to tick off all my favourite endurance rides, and testing it against all the toughest, roughest surfaces and hairy descents, and it's shrugging all of it off without breaking stride. I honestly can only liken it to driving a top new BMW model after spending your whole life driving cheap hand-me-downs.

I finished day 2 in the centre of Kuala Lumpur after completing 184 kilometers. The rain had made the last 50km pretty miserable, but it had tested the bike to the extreme. It was completely coated in mud and sand, which had dried to a solid cake by the time I got it home and hosed it down.

a seriously muddy beast

One other great feature of using discs is that it's very easy to access all the muddy bits. No fiddly calipers at the wheel arches exactly where all the worst shit congregates. No sand and grit ground into oily smears on your poor wheel rims. The actual brakes pick up very little muck from the road since they're at the centre of the centrifugal force of a spinning wheel.

A Verdict?

What I've tested here is basically how this bike handles adversity: load it up with a few extra kilos, ride it on some dubious road surfaces for 2 whole days in tropical conditions, throw all kinds of shit and truckloads of water at it, and how does it fare? Well it came through with flying colours.

What I didn't test on this ride is how it behaves under normal, unladen riding conditions: how it climbs, descends, corners, sprints, and handles or compliments my riding style. I have tested all of these things regularly since then so I guess another chapter is brewing....

I'm sure I'll write about this bike again. I can't stop riding it, and when I do, I can't stop talking about it. My only dilemma now is what to do with my other bikes.

My Strava record of Day 1
My Strava record of Day 2

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Bike Review: Canyon Endurace CF SLX Disc. Part 1 - The Journey Begins

I had been raving about this bike long before I rode it. In my view Canyon have really come up with the way forward for riders like myself here. The mantra with the Endurace model is to offer the vibration-damping of an endurance machine while not losing the character of a carbon race bike. Add to this the shift to disc braking, and the clearance to use wider tyres and this becomes a really versatile, all-weather, all-road-condition breakthrough. The price point for the CF SLX, their top carbon frame, also made it attractive as a complete set-up, since for around USD$4k (current 2018 price) you get the frame and a Reynolds Assault wheelset, equipped with full Shimano Ultegra mechanical components. Shipping will cost you another $340, plus whatever import tax into wherever you are.

I'd come across enough glowing reviews, not only of the Endurace as a bike, but also of the Reynolds wheelset, that I would have gone for this bike over most others on the market anyway, with it's absolute specificity for the kind of endurance riding that I gravitate towards these days. Factor in my recent awakening to the sheer practicality of disc braking, and this one had my name on it.

Despite these lofty expectations, I have so far spent almost every minute on this bike grinning from ear to ear. It is nothing short of a revelation. I still fully expect this sensation to endure for a while, since I'm only now scratching the surface of the list of rides that I bought it for. Plenty of happy miles ahead!


If anyone needs an introduction to the Canyon phenomenon, I'd say it's like the bicycle version of Apple in the early days: a brilliant combination of innovation, design and engineering. On top of that, the bikes are only available through direct sales from their factory in Koblenz, Germany. This not only means they are totally in control of every aspect of design, manufacture, assembly, sales and shipping, but also fully responsible for following up should anything not be to your liking.

It also means that they beat the shit out of the competition. Their prices are way under the equivalently set-up machine from any of the other competitive brands. And with their presence in the world of professional sport - they are regularly ridden to wins at World Championships, Grand Tours and Monuments, and visibly sponsor many professional athletes and cycling teams - there can be no doubt that they make seriously good bikes.

I had heard a couple of  (unverifiable) horror stories about the delivery time, but my experience was quite the reverse. I paid for the bike by credit card online on Friday morning in Singapore, and it arrived by UPS the following Monday at my door. In fact it was already in Singapore Sunday morning but only cleared customs in the afternoon ready for delivery the next day. Less than 4 days door-to-door, half-way around the planet. So far 100% nailing it!

The bike arrives in its own purpose-built box, basically fully assembled, though the front wheel, seatpost/saddle and one-piece handlebar/stem assembly are removed and strapped carefully to the frame with plenty of foam rubber pads separating the parts. The box also includes a simple hex-key torque wrench, a hefty manual, various bit and pieces, and any accessories you ordered with the bike. There's also a smaller booklet with basic initial out-of-the-box assembly instructions.


Most of this literature was not immediately very helpful, as the instructions are non-model-specific, and since the Endurace comes with quite a few idiosyncracies, including a one-piece bar and stem, and disc brakes, I had to look quite hard to find any reference to these specific set-ups. I'm fairly confident of my bike-assembly skills, so I did manage to get everything into place soon enough, but I would think a lot of people might rather leave this to a mechanic they trust.

For a start, the bar and stem are the one-piece H31 Ergocockpit. So whereas the manual explains the process of mounting handlebars on a stem already attached to the steerer tube, the Endurace comes with the steerer loosely mounted in the headset assembly, and you will need to mount the Ergocockpit onto the steerer with the spacers positioned according to the height you want, taking care to make sure the bearing cups all line up, and then tighten the headset cap carefully to the point that there is no play in the headset, but that the steerer rotates freely. You then tighten the stem bolts once the bars are in position to a torque setting of 5nm, and the crown ring which holds the headset in place to a mere 1nm. Careful here!

I actually managed to over-tighten the bolt on the headset crown ring, as I was following the general rule in the instructions that 5nm was an appropriate torque setting, only to discover - once I'd cracked it - that there was a small, faint "1nm" printed beside the bolt. Sorry guys, my eyes are really not that good. It didn't seem to have any negative effect on the steering however, as the forks were already held firmly in place with the stem bolts. I have already received the replacement part FOC within a few days of pointing this out to Canyon, so all good.

Next thing was mounting the disc brake front wheel with the through-axle. Again, possibly not so self-explanatory if you're the average roadie, but straightforward enough. Taking care to slot the disc rotor between the brake pads, the wheel hub slots neatly into grooves in the fork, and you push the axle through from the left and then using a 6mm hex key, you just screw it into the thread on the other fork. This is a brilliant feature which makes the wheel-mounting massively more secure, stable and consistent.

After a few rides I was getting a slight rubbing of the front discs on the pads, and discovered that the through-axle had loosened itself. Once tightened, the rubbing disappeared, and it hasn't happened again since. There is a "quick-release" type handle on the back axle which can be detached and used for either, but since I always carry a multi-tool anyway, this is probably something I'll remove at some point. Makes the wheels much harder to steal.

The next thing to mention is the S15 VCLS seat post. This is one of the main shock-absorbing features of the Endurace. It's basically a leaf spring where the saddle is mounted on a bridging platform between 2 halves of the post. Aside from it's shock-damping properties, this is actually a very clever design for a seat post. The 2 leaves of the post are held in relative position by a bolt recessed into the bottom of the post. You adjust the level of the saddle by loosening this bolt, replacing the post in the seat tube, getting the exact level you want on the saddle, taking the post out again, and tightening the bolt. Once you've done this the level will not shift regardless of adjustments you make to the height, or position of the clamp on the rails.

I had read an early review complaining that there was an unpleasant spongy feeling from this seat post, though more recent reports had not mentioned this, so it may have been a teething issue with the early design. As far as I'm concerned it feels very close to a solid seat post, but it is very effective in reducing the road vibrations to the body. This alone is a design award-winner in my book.


The saddle that comes with the Endurace is a Fizik Aliante. Not a saddle that works for me so I changed it. I'm now using the new Specialized Power saddle, which does seem to work well - more on that elsewhere.

Since the one-piece Ergocockpit doesn't allow for rotation of the bars, and since I wanted a couple of cm more reach, I moved the position of the shifters around the curve of the drops by a few mm, and got exactly what I needed.

I have also now switched out the Ultegra cranks for a Rotor 3D+ crankset with the INpower meter. This also involved a new BB pressfit bearing set. I did like the Ultegra cranks, and the 52/36 "semi-compact" chainrings are a great match with the 11-32 cassette, but I'm used to 175mm crank arms, and the size M frame comes only with 172.5mm arms.

It is one unfortunate feature of this type of sales process that you can't really tailor components to your exact requirements, so you may have to spend a bit more to get it exactly right. You can always sell off the bits you don't use.


Out on the road, the immediate sensation is one of floating. The combination of all the built-in shock absorption features and the 28mm tyres really smooth-out any vibration from the road surface. However, once you get out of the saddle or start to put a bit more power into the pedals, you realise that there is plenty of agility there. It just feels so stable and robust at a cruise that it's responsiveness to changes in pace takes you by surprise.

On descents it really inspires confidence. The wheels are fast and aero, and with 28mm tyres and disc brakes, there's a real feeling of security, and a robustness that is only reinforced by the whole bike. The front end is super stable: I can't quite get over the solid feeling of the one-piece bar and stem despite it's relatively slender aero front profile. No idea how they manage it. German engineering!

One issue to note is that you will need inner tubes designed for a 28mm tyre. I wasn't aware of this, and expecting to be able to use my existing stock of tubes, I discovered after repairing my first flat on these that the tubes I have, designed for tyres up to 25mm, will inflate very unevenly in a wider tyre. One rather lumpy ride home followed.

Read Part 2 - the road test - in a separate post as part of an endurance ride story. Much more to come!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Wheelset Review. Hunt Race Aero Wide

My quest to find the great all-rounder wheelset continues.

The primary spin-off from the atrociously early demise of my beloved Dura Ace C24s, with their rapidly vanishing braking surface, was the momentous decision that disc brakes are my future. The secondary one, since I'm not willing to just sell all my rim-brake bikes immediately, was a search for a worthy replacement for my favourite climbing wheelset. One that could handle the relatively harsh conditions of tropical roads, but one that you might be able to replace parts of without too much diffculty, should they go wrong.

I had been paying attention to the Hunt company, a British outfit, barely 2 years old. Their customer reviews - not to mention sponsorship of British Pro Continental teams and numerous design awards - gave me the confidence to take them seriously. Plus, they are one of the new breed of manufacturer that only deals directly with the consumer online, and have all sorts of safety nets for the customer, including a 60-day returns policy.

I was obviously looking for something robust, but being that it would be part of my climbing bike setup, I couldn't help trying to factor in a bit of weight reduction if at all possible. Dangerous ground perhaps. You have to save the weight by reducing something, and one of the criticisms of the C24s is that the braking surface is compromised through attempts to shave weight. Many of the options I looked at were bomb-proof, gravel crunchers, but somehow I wanted to try and keep the set under 1500g. In the end though the choice for me was between two Hunt options: the extra-robust 4-Season Aero at 1579g a pair, or the lighter Race Aero Wide at 1487g.

It was the Race Aero that won. These wheels not only have a weight and aero advantage, but at around 400 GBP, are remarkably good value too. At 31mm of depth and 24mm width, these are designed to work with 25mm tyres for the optimum aero advantage, plus the ability to run lower tyre pressure for improved comfort and handling.

Every wheel you check out on the Hunt website has availability listed immediately in the opening description, so apparently I'd have to wait 3 weeks before the stock became available. Not an issue, and they also offer the option of paying an initial booking deposit so you only have to pay the full price when they are ready to ship. They also offer free worldwide shipping on any order over 70 GBP.

True to their word, the wheels came into stock a little ahead of schedule. They arrived on my doorstep within a couple of days of shipping, and were soon equipped with a pair of 25mm Continental GP4000s and rolling happily up and down all my favourite local hills.


The first impression is that they roll very nicely. The bearings are fast and smooth, and the wheel has a robust feel to it. They really climb very well and feel laterally stiff when out of the saddle. They also feel quite aero, and are quick to pick up speed on descents. In the corners they quickly inspired the confidence to trust them, even at their higher rolling speed, and with the 25mm Contis at around 80psi, I'm really rocketing down my favourite technical descents.

I switched the skewers to a pair of Dura Ace after a few rides. I have yet to be convinced that anyone except Shimano knows how to make skewers. I just can't enjoy a ride if my bike is making noises, and it's an art I have not yet mastered to stop the average skewer from creaking. I hoard my old Dura Ace skewers, and any new wheelset almost immediately gets the skewers switched out. Freehub sounds nice though.

A lot of the roads I ride have poor surfaces, and these wheels definitely have a good amount of vertical compliance which is important for the kind of endurance rides I do. In fact it's a given that the nicest, quietest roads have the worst surfaces, since the integrity of poor old tarmac is no match for the flash-floods of the tropics, and only the roads which see heavier traffic volumes get regular facelifts.Vertical compliance is possibly the most crucial consideration when putting a bike together here.

The wheels looks great in a nicely understated way, with an anodised silky-matt surface and the quite minimal but stylishly different brand logo. Add a pair of the very black GP4000 tyres, and the braking surface really stands out, especially on my "stealth" machine, so visually they are a great match for this bike.

Overall I'd say that they feel a lot more expensive than they are, and for the money, you're really getting a great wheelset that should last you a few years. If you're in the market for a light alloy-rimmed wheel for hilly rides that you can train and race on, then I can't see you finding anything significantly better than this.