This old-school mountain bike is perfect for cheap thrills (no frills)
Enveloping shades. Mules. Jorts. If you haven’t noticed, these three 80s/90s staples are back in style. And these are not the only memories that come up, like zombies, from the cemetery of nostalgia.
After all, German two-wheel DTC sensation Canyon – makers of excellent road, gravel and mountain bikes and recent recipient of a $30 million investment from LeBron James – believes in at least one product whose heyday resided at this time. I am talking, of course, of the hardtail mountain bike.
Hardtail is slang for a bike with only front suspension, and back then such a setup was your only realistic option. Yes, full-suspension bikes technically date back to well, 1885 (!), but mountain bike innovators didn’t start experimenting with them in earnest until the ’90s, and even then hardtails were the norm.
Fast forward to 2022, and full squish bikes are all over the trails, while hardtails almost look like shifter cars: increasingly rare. Yet just as there is a certain satisfaction in using a manual transmission properly, these old-school bikes have their own appeal. So when Canyon offered me the opportunity to test drive their affordable and anachronistic Grand Canyon 7, I pulled out a Doc Brown and said, “what the fuck?”
So, having not ridden a hardtail in probably 20 years, I got into the saddle. Here are my impressions after several weeks of testing.
What’s Great About The Canyon Grand Canyon 7
The Grand Canyon 7 is surprisingly cheap
Most people I know who are interested in mountain biking but haven’t tried it yet are quick to mention that mountain bikes are, in a nutshell, Dear. And certainly if you’re looking for tons of bells and whistles, or multiple shocks or even, say, an engine, you’ll probably be looking at the price deep into the four figures – especially if you’re buying new.
That’s why I blink every time I look at the price of the Grand Canyon 7. Yes, there’s no rear suspension, but it does have a snappy Rockshox Judy Silver front shock, SRAM SX Eagle 1 drivetrain x 12 soft, beefy Schwalbe Tough 2.25-inch Tom tires and an Iridium dropper post. And yes, none of these components are top of the line, but they’re still a hell of a value to pack into a bike that costs…wait…$1,299.
The Grand Canyon 7 is relatively light
Considering there isn’t an ounce of carbon fiber present in this bike, you might not expect it to be a featherweight. But the frame isn’t steel, it’s aluminum, which is pretty light on its own. And as great as the rear suspension is, there’s no doubt that it adds a few pounds.
Those two factors leave the Grand Canyon 7 tipping the scales at 30.8 pounds, at the lower end of the scale for an aluminum mountain bike. For comparison, Canyon’s new carbon-framed Neuron CF 9 weighs 28.6 pounds, a 2.2-pound difference you probably won’t notice as much as the fact that your wallet is $5,200 lighter than it wouldn’t be if you bought the bike being reviewed here.
As I mentioned in previous comments, I often stroll testing mountain bikes at Cunningham Park in Queens, New York, 16 miles from my home on the west side of Manhattan. That distance can be hard work on bikes not designed for road riding, but with the Grand Canyon 7, I was cruising positively.
It’s worth noting that most modern mountain bikes have little dials you can turn to adjust the suspension level – and essentially turn it off for maximum efficiency on paved roads. The Grand Canyon 7 has a small lever/button combo on the left handlebar that allows you to simply turn the front shocks on or off. It’s less flexible than high-end mountain bikes, but having the switch at your fingertips is, quite literally, quite handy.
The Grand Canyon 7 is incredibly fun
Of course, neither of those first two points would mean anything if, in practice, the Grand Canyon 7 was clunky, clumsy, or boring. But it’s none of that. The user-friendly drivetrain (with an 11-50 cassette and 454% gear range) and relatively light weight combine to make this a pretty capable climber. As for obstacles, I found the front fork and its 120mm (nearly five inches) of travel to be happy bouncing over rocks and overcoming medium-sized logs.
Coming down, although not exactly effortless, was totally doable. Besides the front shocks, the two MTB components I rely on the most are a dropper post and reliable disc brakes. Having these three elements working together, I had the confidence to tackle the three biggest descents in the park – and have fun doing it. (Yes, it’s a small ATV park in Queens, but it’s not bunny trails.)
Because the reality is that if you go back behind the seat, stay loose, and gently push the bike over the elements in front of you, that front wheel and your own “human suspension” will absorb the majority of the impact. The suspension-less rear wheel may bounce under you, but you can stay upright and bottom out in one piece – just like the hardtail mountain bikers of yore – most likely with a smile that’s both relieved and happy on your face. That was my experience, anyway.
What’s Not So Great About The Canyon Grand Canyon 7
The Grand Canyon 7 can’t do All
As I mentioned above, 30.8 pounds is light enough, and 4.7 inches of front fork travel is good enough to tackle common trail characteristics. But if you’re looking to go the extra mile—in the form of epic climbs, jaw-dropping descents and rocky descents—this entry-level trail bike will likely leave you feeling, shall we say, under-riding. In other words, with less suspension and capacity than you really need.
The Grand Canyon 7 is less forgiving than a fully squish bike
The good thing about full suspension mountain bikes is that in many situations you are actually overloaded. You have more than you need, which means if you misinterpret a situation and hit a feature that goes too fast or too slow or at the wrong angle, the bike will leave you a little slack. It may not be pretty, but you won’t slip, endorse or otherwise bail. With the Grand Canyon 7, you might not be so lucky.
I also know this from experience. About an hour into my first trip to the park on this bike, I hadn’t realized the back end of a roller didn’t exist. When I got overhead I looked down to see my front end falling off, and the next thing I knew I was flying over what was actually a small jump. It wasn’t the worst accident in the world, and it was almost entirely my fault, which actually helps to make the point: on a hardtail, you have to be a bit more locked in and skilful – and, you know, maybe really inspect trail features before blindly scolding it.
The verdict on the Canyon Grand Canyon 7
I feel like I’ve pretty much said it all, but to wrap things up, I’ll come back to my very first point. If the biggest factor holding you back from trying mountain biking is thinking you need to spend or five grand to get started, the Grand Canyon 7 is 31-pound proof that you don’t. It’s not the lightest, fastest or gnarliest mountain bike out there, but for the money it’s a great way to get your foot in the proverbial door – and once you have it fact, we don’t know how far you can go.
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