Based on the edge of the Peak District near Sheffield, Cotic Bikes have developed a reputation for selling exceedingly well-thought out mountain bike frames and complete builds – usually to the more experienced MTBer.
Ever since launching the quintessential UK hardcore hardtail the Soul in the mid-noughties, the brand has done things its own way – with an emphasis on high-quality steel and careful design details.
And doing things its own way now extends to marketing too, with a full time demo dude called Sam recruited to travel the country, meeting riders face-to-face and introducing them to Cotic’s bikes on their own territory.
When I heard Sam was coming to my local hill at Rivington I was quick to express my interest in demo-ing their 29in full-sus bikes – as I could have a gap opening up this year and I’d heard good things about them.
First up was the FlareMAX in size large, a mixture of the “silver” and “gold” build options with X Fusion suspension and Shimano shifting and stopping bits.
The bike is quoted at over 30lbs on Cotic’s site, but the bike felt slightly lighter than that to heft – and pedaled incredibly well.
A quick spurt up the bottom of the highly technical Ice Cream Run was a real eye-opener, with the long chainstays (448mm) and longer reach (460mm) combining to keep the bike stuck to the ground and tracking over the lumps and bumps much more easily than I’m used to.
And it shot off up the first proper climb like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe, maintaining forward momentum easily over the cobbles and responding well to power.
Taking a break halfway up the climb to regroup, I noticed the 853 steel top tube actually had an oval profile – a detail that instantly made me fall in love with the bike just a little bit.
Heading into the first descent, a varied run with muddy ruts, steep bits, big rocks, steps and fast open sections, the FlareMAX was just as lively as on the climb – picking and sticking its lines easily, with the 120mm travel (both ends) filling in the gaps nicely.
The top half of Rivington’s famous cobbled climb awaited us next, and again the bike surged uphill. I could really get used to a bike that climbed this well.
The mega-rutted descent from Rivington Pike itself seemed less sketchy than normal. Perhaps due to the superb stability provided by the Flare’s long wheelbase.
Taking the bike “off-piste” into the woods, it instantly felt comfortable on some of my favourite steep and greasy singletrack, with those long stays allowing me to weight the bike more easily than normal.
To be honest I had partly wanted to demo the Cotic 29ers to challenge my own preference for a short chainstay of around 430mm, and I hadn’t really expected to like the FlareMAX as much as I did.
Even with the basic X Fusion fork and shock it had a really well-balanced ride feel: solid-yet-sprightly, composed-yet-responsive and it felt fast both up and down hill.
Does the steel front triangle and seatstays play a part in the bike’s well-damped feel? I don’t feel qualified to give a definite “yes” on that, but in the same way that a nice cro-mo hardtail filters out the white noise there was a refreshing lack of distraction riding the FlareMAX.
So were there any negatives? This is a personal thing, but I don’t think the sizing is quite going to work for me. The reach on the large is perfect but the 480mm seat tube means that I can’t quite get the saddle low enough for steep sections.
The long stays mitigated this to an extent, but I still felt the saddle bumping my weight forward once or twice. Please note that I have short legs and a long torso though.
Unfortunately the rotten conditions and the nature of the local trails meant that there wasn’t really a chance to test the bike on any flat, twisty singletrack – to see how it’d feel down the local woods or at a trail centre. I’d guess it’d be OK though, as it was very fast on the flat and I was impressed with the handling generally.
So the RocketMAX had a tough act to follow – but I was really intrigued to get on board what would be the longest-travel 29er I’d ridden to date.
And the 140mm of travel each end was provided in the more blingy form of a Cane Creek DBinline shock and Fox Factory 34 fork – two suspension units that I know work very well indeed.
The upmarket theme continued with WTB carbon rims, XTR transmission and a carbon Joystick handlebar – so the overall weight wasn’t too far off the FlareMAX.
Attempting the same climb up the bottom of the Ice Cream Run (to keep warm while everyone’s bikes were prepped) it was noticeably harder work – the slacker angles and longer travel combining to bog it down a bit.
Up the easier main climb it was a different story however, with the stiff, light wheels building and keeping momentum easily. The bike felt much more planted, but somehow covered ground just as quickly.
Doing the same loop as the morning meant that I had the chance to pit both bikes against one another on the same trails – which I know like the back of my hand.
Down the first – quite technical – descent, the RocketMAX was clearly quicker over the rough stuff and more composed. A proper enduro bike as opposed to a trail bike.
Compared to the FlareMAX I felt it perhaps had a bit less character. It didn’t have the same sparkly ride, perhaps down to thicker gauge tubing? It felt indistinguishable from an aluminium bike to me.
However, I don’t want to jump to conclusions. I also felt the carbon wheels were giving the bike a slightly harsh, jarring ride (it was my first ride on plastic rims) – so the RocketMAX may have had a bit more “life” with metal wheels.
Taking the bike down a long, rooty, sloppy, technical descent at the end of the day I felt like I was all over the shop, pinballing off stuff and struggling to hit lines that I know really well. Perhaps a combination of the appalling conditions, super-long wheelbase and those rims?
There’s certainly no faulting the speed of the bike. I notched up a Strava PR on a climb and even scored a 4th overall on a flat section as I rushed back to demo guy Sam after my cheeky extra climb and descent.
So there you go – I genuinely think the FlareMAX is one of the best-feeling, most-lively and characterful full-sus bikes I’ve ridden, if the seat tube was shorter I’d probably already be working out how to buy one.
The RocketMAX is like a train when it gets up to speed and I’d love to ride it in the Lakes or Peaks where the trails are more open and rocky, with a set of aluminium wheels of course.
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