A Sporty, Low-Maintenance Ride

At first glance it’s easy to dismiss the Canyon Commuter Sport 8.0 on looks alone. Among standard bikes, it looks like a sort of Quasimodo: a neck-less, humped-back monster. But the frame is no mistake. After a ride, or more than a glance, the bike starts to grow on you. As you look down while pedaling, your perspective changes, the geometry looks normal, right. It becomes more stylized than awkward, a choice. An effective machine with more than a shake of style.

Geometry is not the only place where the Commuter Sport diverges from the pack, though. At almost every opportunity, the Canyon team took the opportunity to do things a bit differently, to make a bike purpose-built for fun, sporty commuting. It’s perfect for the athletic person looking to get around faster, who has always wondered about a bike but been wary of the classic trappings of ownership and maintenance.

Unlike most bikes, the Canyon is belt driven. For the uninitiated rider, that means no chain and, most importantly, no dirty chain grease. You’ll entirely avoid the mess of ruined shoes, marked-up pants, black-covered fingers and thumbs from a  chain that slips off the gears and grease marks that somehow always make their way to your face.

This drive-chain choice also eliminates most of the maintenance, like cleaning and oiling, that new riders hate and avoid leading to crunchy, loud, unenjoyable pedaling. Without a chain, all you have to do is pedal, ride after ride after ride.

The belt drive feels different, but only slightly. Compared to a chain drive, it’s refined, smooth. Whereas cranking down on a pedal gives you a sharp response, the belt drive has a smoother response. It is softer without rubber banding and still snappy and responsive enough to rock back into an exuberant wheelie in the lowest gear.

The gearing itself adheres to the same low-maintenance, low-mess, high-performance ethos as the rest of the bike. An expansive 11 gears live within the rear hub with a range low enough for city hills, and high enough to get to work on time. While the bike can move quickly, the drivetrain won’t get you up to bike-messenger-like speeds to weave in and out of moving traffic; you’ll just be one of the faster bikes in the bike lane.

The shifting process, however, is one of the few awkward points of the bike. The thumb shifter is harder to use than expected, requiring a deep, deliberate push until you reach the tactile and audible click of a new gear. As I sped up in traffic, I expected to be able to slap quickly through the gears, but my shifting had to be far more deliberate. But the ability to shift two gears up or down at a time by pushing past the first click did help alleviate this issue somewhat.

The hand grips have a great texture without a blister-inducing rubberized finish. They make the bars more comfortable on a daily ride, but a bit wanting when the grips get wet. The bars themselves are narrower than I expected at first, but for a commuter they’re narrow enough to squeeze past a car parked in the bike lane or pass a pedestrian stepping off a curb without catching a backpack strap.

The seat shares the same grippy material as the grips and has an aggressive cycling shape to it. This is not a padded BarcaLounger for a beachside cruise. This saddle is made to let you get up out of it and stomp the pedals hard to get through that yellow light. While it might seem more aggressive than some are ready for, it makes pedaling easy; it doesn’t get in your way, it lets you get to work. The seat post is also impressively easy to adjust, which will help you get the most comfortable saddle position you can. Combine that with wide, studded platform pedals and you have a comfortable solid connection to the bike.

The rest of the bike’s features are effective and simple. Like offensive linemen, they quietly and unceremoniously do their job. The disc brakes work great and the motocross-style brake levers are easy to grab with any finger; the cable routing is internal, which helps you avoid snagging; and the bars even have a handy bell, though it’s better suited for moving a bike-path walker than dinging at a car. The smooth Schwalbe Kojak 35mm tires give the bike a soft, slightly doughy road feel, and their claims of puncture resistance held up on our test rides, which included some stretches of broken-bottle-strewn bike lanes.

But what really matters is the ride. The Canyon is pleasant to ride. Every aspect of it—turning, pedaling, steering—felt smoother than a normal bike, as if every edge had been slightly softened or rounded. It is a welcome softening when you spend every morning and after-work commute in the saddle. Yet the lack of suspension and geometry of the frame still gives the bike an athletic feel, requiring pothole weaving and allowing fast pedal pushing. It balances sportiness with a confident and comfortable ride. I even biked with a 20-pound backpack, and the frame geometry meant I felt balanced and comfortable, while avoiding the forward slide of a backpack toward my head that comes with a drop-bar bike. Things like laptops and gym clothes can come along for the ride comfortably.

Is this a speed racer, a “beat the train across the bridge” bike? No, it’s not, and it doesn’t try to be. It’s a wonderful platform that allows you to get to work on time, get into cycling and feel good while you’re doing it. Plus, it stands out in a crowd. You didn’t drag this out of your garage after a decade or pick it up at a yard sale; it’s as reflective of your personality as the car you love or your favorite tie. And the dark paintjob helps give it just that touch of “mean” you want at that red light as you look through the window of the driver who nearly hit you with his mirror.

What at first looked like something that should toll the bell at Notre Dame when the clock strikes midnight is actually the one going home with Cinderella when it does.

PRICE: $1,999
WEIGHT: 23.4 lbs/10.6kg
TARGET AUDIENCE: Athletic urbanite who hasn’t ridden in a few years
WHAT WE LOVED: Maintenance free, athletic riding position, durable tires
WHAT DIDN’T HIT: Shifting could be easier, grips slippery when wet
WHAT WE TELL OUR FRIENDS: A belt drive that’s responsive and fun to ride

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