About a year ago I (Stace) wrote a report from a demo of the Cotic FlareMAX Mk2, and now you can enjoy a full review courtesy of my pal Andy…
By Andy Perry
Cotic bikes are proudly rooted in the heart of the Peak District in the UK and have been making (predominantly steel) bikes since 2002.
Although they don’t have the mainstream media presence of the big boys they do have a cult following, cultivated through clever marketing, brand positioning and a strong grassroots following – not to mention good-looking and performing bikes.
You could say they were at the heart of the ‘steel is real’ movement, and have recently shifted manufacture of much of their full-sus range back to the UK.
I bought this Mk2 frame when Cotic knocked £500 off prior to the release of the Mk3, with a view to it being used for my local trails, rain or shine. I was drawn to the short travel and geometry.
I’ve ridden steel bikes before and like the slightly flexy, damped feel they have, which suits my light weight. I also wanted something fairly reliable, durable and easy to maintain – which Cotics are noted for.
I went for the 132mm travel version rather than the 120mm, as it is the same rear shock with an internal spacer removed (why wouldn’t you?).
I shouldn’t have waited this long to say I also love the look of the frame and colourscheme. It seems well-proportioned, looking slender as well as substantial.
I’m going to nail my colours to the mast and also say I prefer the old head tube logo. I think it suits the brand’s nature better than the new (dare I say boring) one and the orange accents work great on mirror silver.
Call it convenience or me being a style junkie I was also swayed by the bottle cage mount and custom frame bag which allows me to ride pack-less. Being able to grab the fully loaded bike, not have to faff filling a Camelbak and check I’ve got the relevant tools. It genuinely makes it quicker and easier to get out riding in addition to not getting a sweaty back.
I transferred the kit across from my previous hardtail, which was a Cotic SolarisMAX, so thankfully everything was the same size and it was possibly the easiest bike build I’ve ever done, which is a testament to the design and cable routing.
The details are:
- Cotic Mk2 FlareMAX frame in medium.
- Reynolds 853 Steel front end, steel seatstays, aluminium chainstays and linkage.
- Linkage-actuated single pivot.
- 132mm rear travel with Cane Creek Air Inline rear shock (190×50).
- 120-140mm front travel.
- Long, low and slack geometry, but not extreme.
- Threaded bottom bracket.
- External cable routing.
The full build is bang-on 35lb, which on the face of it is heavy for a short-travel bike, but worth considering it’s a fairly sturdy build kit including Procore inserts, chunky tyres, Lyriks run at 140mm and no carbon in sight.
I’ve been riding this bike since November 2019 and during lockdown on my local loop which has given me the chance to really understand and think about how it handles. As a bit of context my local trails are at Rivington, on Winter Hill to the north of Manchester, and consist of climbs on fire roads (some cobbled) and rocky trails, and descents on natural singletrack, a boulder-strewn bridleway and some hand-cut steeper stuff with small drops and tighter turns.
A full enduro bike is overkill for these trails and as I ride from my front door with a 10 min tarmac climb to the trails, a shorter travel trail bike is a better bet.
Size and geometry
I’m a self-confessed geek when it comes to the geometry, so I spent a bit of time comparing the stats with my other bike. I’ve been bought into long, low and slack 29ers for a few years now (cheers Stace K) and at 5’ 8” have settled on 460mm reach, sub-65deg head angle and chainstays 445mm or longer.
The medium Mk2 FlareMAX is closest to this with a smidge shorter reach (452mm) and 65deg head angle (with 140mm forks).
I could have run a size large, but figured for my local trails slightly shorter would be a bit more nimble and suitable.
I’ve run both single pivots and four-bar bikes in recent years – and think there are pro’s and con’s for each in different circumstances.
I figured for my local trails a single pivot is the best overall as I like the climbing performance of a single pivot and the descents aren’t rowdy, long or steep enough to benefit from the improved braking performance and plushness of a multi-pivot bike.
Also, when the conditions are wet and slippery, I feel a bit more connected to the back wheel and can feel the grip slightly better with a single pivot.
The only potential issue I’ve found with single pivots is they tend to need more volume spacers and fancier shocks (I’ve found the Fox X2 to be the best) to deal with the relatively linear leverage curves.
The Cotic is a single pivot, but linkage actuated – which I’ve not ridden before so was keen to experience how it compares. Although I specced the Cane Creek Air Inline in order to play about with the damping settings and volume spacers, after a bit of faffing about and advice from Cotic (thanks Paul) I settled on zero compression (high and low speed) and a light rebound tune with no volume spacers.
OK, enough of the technobabble (yes, I am an engineer), how does it ride?
There’s minimal bob on the climbs, although I do use the pedal switch on tarmac – possibly just for the placebo effect. On bumpy climbs, once the suspension starts moving it is pretty efficient – but I do feel it takes marginally more force to get it going than I am used to.
I’m not sure if this down to the shock, suspension design (more on this later), or the lack of pies in my diet.
The long chainstays help with climbing the steeper stuff. I’ve noticed the Mk3 has a steeper seat angle, and the 73deg on this frame could be considered slack – but I’ve found a good seated position.
A lot of people mention the weight for a short-travel trail bike, and although I wouldn’t mind it a bit lighter, I find that over short-to-medium length rides, it isn’t noticeable.
If I was regularly using it for eight-hour epics I may have a different opinion.
Unsurprisingly, this bike has been designed more around descending than climbing and it’s this I was most interested in exploring.
Overall I’ve found the handling to be very neutral and balanced; not too twitchy or docile which makes it really fun and engaging to ride. It has the chance to catch you out, if you try to ride it like a fully-fledged enduro bike, but with the positive that it gives you more feedback and you feel more like you are in control than being a passenger on a more capable bike.
This has been a real eye-opener for me in re-discovering what a trail bike is all about and I’m definitely sold on it. The suspension works well and on my local trails, I’ve not wanted more travel than 132mm.
As mentioned earlier, if I’m splitting hairs it could be marginally plusher in the initial travel. Given the progressive leverage curve, I think this could potentially be down to the shock performance.
Although the Cane Creek inline is a great shock and a good match for this frame, it’s not as sensitive as a Fox X2 (but then for half the price, this is a big ask).
It would be a fools errand, but I would like to try a coil shock (Cane Creek inline) or a piggyback air shock, but these are hard to come by second hand in 190×50.
It has made me wonder that in the modern day of fancy shocks with tokens and four-way adjustment, is the extra complexity of a linkage-driven single pivot really needed on a short-travel bike?
There is definitely that ‘steel is real’ feel of compliance, which lets you get away with a bit more, is less jarring and the flex gives you marginally more grip.
I might like a bit more of that flex, but I suspect the alloy back end provides a more sturdy feel than the other steel full-sus bikes I’ve ridden.
A slight negative is I have felt the bottom bracket to be on the high side for a short-travel bike. My other bike is 1cm lower and runs more sag, and it is noticeable in feeling lower and more stable in the turns.
Over the six months I’ve owned the bike it has performed very well, but I have had the odd niggle worth mentioning.
The position of drop-link pivot on the seat tube limits compatibility for anyone my height (5’8”) or shorter that likes to run a long dropper. I run a One-up V2.1 at 170mm, but with other posts I would be limited to 150mm. This won’t be an issue for most people though.
When the weather got dryer, I noticed loud creaking from the rear end. I had to strip the rear suspension down completely and grease all the hardware, which was dry from the factory.
This wasn’t ideal for a new frame, but it is a fairly easy bike to work on so didn’t take long to do or require any fancy tools.
I have also noticed a fair bit of chain slap when descending. I have tried to fit one of these fancy ‘ribbed’ protectors, but the chain runs very close to the top of the chainstay which limits clearance on some gears (see pics).
I’m running a 30t chainring, which is big enough for a 29er, so I think this could be looked at for future designs.
As this is a medium-term review, I have had the opportunity to really get under the skin of the FlareMAX and pull out some niggles, but this doesn’t detract from my overall view that this is a really great bike for the majority of UK trails.
It has a good balance between geometry and suspension performance, it’s not too long, not too slack, not too much travel (but just right) and is more versatile and fun for it.
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