Canyon Grail vs Grizl: How do gravel bikes differ?

There are a bewildering number of gravel bikes available, but what are the differences and what should you look for when buying one?

Clock17:07, Friday 10th November 2023

The popularity of gravel riding has surged over the last 10 years, driven by a burgeoning American gravel scene, and a growing European one, too. It’s grown so much that the term ‘gravel’ now encompasses a wide range of terrains and styles of riding.

That variety has passed over to gravel bikes too, and there are bewildering a number available, each with its own specialities - but what are the main differences between them?

Canyon, a long-term partner of GCN, is one of those brands that has multiple gravel bikes within its line-up, in the form of the Grail and Grizl. Both are popular within the gravel world, but each is designed for a different type of rider.

We got our hands on both bikes to learn how they differ and how these differences make them more suitable for different types of riders. Here’s what we found.

Canyon Grail

Before we look at the differences between the bikes, here’s a quick overview of each model.

Starting off with the Grail which, according to Canyon, is a performance-orientated machine. While the heart of gravel lies firmly in the realms of adventure, a racing off-shoot of the discipline has come to the fore over the last few years, and the Grail is aimed more towards those who want to go fast.

It used to be instantly recognisable thanks to its hoverbar - essentially a two-tier handlebar - but that’s been replaced by the CP0039 cockpit on the latest model, which was only released in October. That aesthetically changes the bike, but it also adds the ability to neatly integrate aero extensions to the bar, a clear sign of the bike’s performance leanings.

The bike isn’t at the extremes of performance and retains adaptability through in-frame storage and compatibility with a large range of accessories.

Canyon Grizl

While the Grail is capable of off-road adventures as well as racing, the Grizl is Canyon’s purest adventure machine.

Gravel terrain can sometimes encroach on mountain biking terrain, and the Grizl is equipped for this. That’s why it’s been the bike of choice in many of GCN’s adventures, including Si Richardson’s attempt to conquer the 640km Further East ultra-endurance race.

But how exactly is it more optimised for adventure and what makes the Grail more performance orientated? Here are the key differences between the bikes.

Tyre clearance

There are always a few key component choices to consider when preparing for a gravel adventure or ride, and tyre clearance is at the top of the list.

Generally, tyre clearance is a good statement of intent for exactly what a bike is all about. The more tyre clearance a bike has, the more oriented towards adventure it is likely to be. This is because wider tyres are required to tackle more extreme gravel terrain.

This is reflected in the Grizl which has 50mm of tyre clearance, compared to the Grail which has a more conservative 42mm - that’s inspired by athletes who said they would never go above a 42mm tyre width in a race. It’s still ample clearance for the majority of terrain you’re likely to encounter, but if you’re going to the extremes, then the extra 8mm of clearance on the Grizl could be a valuable asset.

Having smaller tyre clearance can also have performance benefits, shortening the chainstays for a more agile ride, which in turn lowers weight. Some bikes with wider tyre clearance can only accommodate 1x set-ups but not 2x, which isn’t generally a problem with smaller tyre clearance.

Geometry

Similarly to road bikes, geometry has a big effect on gravel bikes, completely altering the feel and performance.

On the one hand, there are bikes that are super aggressive - essentially road racing bikes with slightly wider tyre clearance. Less aggressive set-ups lead to better stability, making them more suitable for adventures.

The Grail falls more into the prior category, except Canyon has tweaked the design by shortening the stem but increasing the fork offset. As a result, it still retains a more aggressive ride feel, but it doesn’t sacrifice stability thanks to the extra offset.

A quick scan of a geometry chart will provide a good indication of what a bike is all about, especially the stack and reach columns. A low stack will provide a more aggressive riding position, while a higher stack is much more relaxed, whereas a longer reach is more aggressive.

The Grail and Grizl slightly buck this trend as their geometries are fairly similar, but that’s also because Canyon has designed them to both be adaptable.

Weight

We’re sorry to dredge up the topic of weight, which is a popular topic in the road bike world, but it’s an important consideration for gravel bikes too.

Light gravel bikes are likely to be fast gravel bikes, but light bikes tend to be a little less robust, simply because there is less material in the frame.

Canyon’s lightest gravel frame is the CFR model of the Grail. It tips the scales at only 850g. By comparison, the Grizl’s range-topping CF SLX weighs a little more at 955g. That’s because it’s designed to withstand heavier knocks - the kind of thing that is inevitable on a bikepacking adventure. That doesn’t mean that the Grail is brittle and it’s more than suitable for off-road riding, but it simply favours weight and stiffness instead.

Again, there will be bikes that buck this trend and not all heavy bikes are robust - robustness also has a lot to do with manufacturing quality.

Comfort

Compliance is a buzzword in modern cycling and essentially indicates how comfortable a bike will be. If a bike has more compliance, it means there is extra flex in the frame and components, which in turn means a bike can absorb more vibrations.

Comfort is often sacrificed on performance bikes and that’s the case with the Grail, which has been made stiffer at the request of athletes. That’s not a complete sacrifice, though, and Canyon has introduced a d-shaped seatpost on the latest models as it’s more compliant. It’s still not as compliant as the Grizl’s leaf-shaped seatpost and many gravel bikes will have special features to specifically boost comfort.

Borrowing from the mountain bike world, one of these is a suspension fork. These are an option on the Grizl, but not on the Grail. Even a small amount of suspension can make a big difference which is why a suspension fork can be a great option for those on the hunt for adventures.

Mounting points and accessories

Any adventure gravel bike needs multiple mounting points so that you can easily carry any gear. Typically, the more mounting points a bike has, the more adventurous it is.

Although performance bikes won’t have as many mounting points, you can use a variety of bags to store any gear instead - just make sure you use protective tape to shield the paintwork.

All of these factors are small when considered alone, but when combined, they define the overall character of a bike. When buying a gravel bike, it’s important to carefully consider all of these and match them to your needs, so that you have the best bike for the job.

For more buying advice, check out our guides on the GCN website, linked here.

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