Gravel / Canyon / Grail – First Impressions!

As winter closes in here in the Alps, I was looking for ways to extend my training season outside. My TT bike is already parked on the turbo and the road bike is getting less used.

I already own a mountain bike, however its pretty much a bike for kicking around with, and I never have the desire to ride it. This may be a bit of a shame as I live in mountain biking heaven… however I am full gas with tri and I am not sure another hobby would fit into my life!

The ongoing marketing of Gravel bikes caught my eye, in particular the ability to ride on less perfect roads and connect up routes… (A trip to home to Scotland earlier this year also had me feeling the same on public roads!). It seemed a good compromise to give up a little of the top end speed of a carbon racing machine for a more robust and versatile bike.

After a few months of window shopping, YouTube watching and waiting, I finally settled on the Canyon Grail SF 8.0.

Why? As it is mountainous here, a classic cross bike’s gears might be restrictive and I was searching for as large a range as possible. Shimano’s new GRX group-set fitted the bill without breaking the bank for SRAM / ETAP.

The sweet-spot seemed to be GRX810 with a wheel-turn to crank-turn range of 0.91 to 4.36 with a 34-11 cassette and 31-48 on the front. I knew I could get up all my local climbs (up to 20%) with my road bike gears down to 1:1 ratio, so this should work.

As with my TT bike, I couldn’t find anything else to compete with the Canyon, and the Hover bar looked like a good solution… so the order was placed and the bike arrived this morning (5 days later)!


Assembly was easy, with a few lessons learned from my TT bike:

  1. I have my own torque wrench and socket set… the supplied one is not very good.
  2. I cut off the horrible plastic guard supplied on the rear wheel.
  3. I transferred the measurements from my road bike to get an initial fit.

In total I spent about an hour before being ready to go. Most of this time was consumed making sure I had done everything correctly and reading the various manuals… a useful addition would be a quick assembly guide to make this easier.

First Ride

The forecast rain somehow never happened and I was really lucky to have a fantastic sunny day in the Alps. I set off to find some bumpy, gravelly, but not too technical tracks!

The first thing I noticed was how easy the ride was, no annoying bumps… just straightforward cycling. The speed was a little down, but not too much that you would notice.

The first road climb felt easy and the gears felt confident and straight forward… so far so good!

As the gradient got steeper I found that the gears were more than adequate… my biggest challenge was keeping weight on the back wheel to avoid spinning. The bike felt like it was in its element.

This was great fun!!

As I hit the gravel section, I could feel a smile creep across my face! It was great fun… not an overly damped mountain bike trek, but full gas fun! I couldn’t believe this bike felt so easy on this stuff.

The last time I rode this trail on my road bike, it was one foot unclipped terror… this time was like doing all the naughty things you shouldn’t do on your road bike!

Unfortunately I haven’t figured out a GoPro mount so there is no chance of descent pictures yet…

On the way down, I fishtailed a couple of times sliding when the disc breaks did their job. Being used to callipers and breaking late, I am still not yet fully able to anticipate the breaking point. It was still fun though and none of the skids were out of control.

Home and ready for a wash!


My first day of a gravel bike was fun! I enjoyed the freedom and didn’t miss the speed as much as I thought I would. First impressions are good… but I need some more kilometres to be sure.

For me the GRX groupset seems good for the hills round here… time will tell whether I should have went for a hardtail.

Will update after a few months of riding!

Todays ride can be found here….

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