In the 2016 film “20th Century Women”—which takes place in 1970s Santa Barbara, California—there’s a scene where a biplane flies along the coast. The approach to the Santa Barbara airport, where that plane takes off, is right above an area where we sometimes ride gravel bikes. And we just so happened to see that scene being filmed in person about five years ago.

PELOTON

When something drastically different comes along, our natural impulse as human beings is to try to categorize it, to associate it with the familiar. Riding the Canyon Grail CF SLX 8.0, with its unique double-decker handlebar design, while watching planes approach for landing, we’re reminded of that very same scene and realize that the Grail has the look of that biplane we saw overhead half a decade back.

THE DETAILS

We’re not alone in playing a guessing game of what this bike looks like. Everywhere we rode it, people had opinions about the double-handlebar design. Whether you love the look or deride it, those bars are highly functional and comfortable.

So, what’s the deal with the bars? There are many approaches to adding suspension to a gravel bike; for its part, Canyon has opted to add it via the handlebars. The Grail Cockpit—which includes an integrated stem that recesses into the head tube to create a continuous line through the top tube and stem—takes advantage of carbon’s elastic properties to create a socalled Flex Area on the top bar that absorbs road vibration. Just by pushing on the bars, you can feel the flexibility, though it’s not alarmingly bendy. Adding just 120 grams, this system weighs less than other forms of suspension.

Picking up the Grail caught us off guard. We’ve tested some road bikes recently that weigh more than its 18.4 pounds (8.4 kilograms). You would never expect something with 42mmdeep rims, an extra handlebar’s worth of carbon, knobby 40mm tires and a cassette the size of a dinner plate to weigh so little. A frame weight of just 830 grams (medium) plays its part in keeping the weight down.

We appreciate Canyon’s ability to deliver top-tier build packages. SRAM’s mullet 1x Force/Eagle AXS combo, with a 10–50 cassette, works flawlessly off road. And Schwalbe’s excellent G-One Bite tires look superb with a tan sidewall. At retail, the DT Swiss GRC1400 wheels alone would set you back half the price of the $5,000 complete build. Add the frameset to the wheels and you’ve just sailed $500 past the complete price. The build alone is reason enough to eye this bike.

THE RIDE

Cyclists are a resolute bunch steadfastly wed to their traditions, many of which are neither productive nor efficient; adoption of new technology often moves at a glacial pace. If holding fast to tradition, even though we aren’t sure it’s possible to have a traditional bike in the relatively new, wild west world of gravel, then the unique and dare we say, progressive handlebar design of the Grail may be too much for you.

But those who can put aside their notions of what a dropbar bicycle should look like will find a very capable gravel companion. Thanks to its light frame that retains plenty of stiffness, the Grail feels almost like a road bike at times, with a lively, racey feel that accelerates well. With a total package weight a few pounds lighter than many other gravel bikes, going uphill is a (relative) joy—that 42×50 granny gear helps too!

When the tarmac turns to gravel, the handlebar’s Flex Area does its job. Subtly deflecting road chatter, it isn’t distracting and you never lose confidence in the handling. The handlebar design also creates an additional place to hook your thumb in the drops for added control on descents—though it took us a ride or two to fully get used to it.

If your idea of gravel means riding endless Kanza-style roads or maintained dirt fire roads, the speedy Grail is game. The bike flows through well maintained singletrack, groomed gravel loops and longer, less technical gravel adventures.

If you are looking for a fast, unique, progressive gravel companion in this growing space, the high-end build, amazing price and nod to modernity of the Canyon Grail make this a top-tier choice.