A few years ago I wrote a review of my previous Cotic Solaris, a lovely steel hardtail which (in my opinion) looked as good as it rode.
That was the second-generation Solaris, then last year I demo-ed the second-generation SolarisMAX – so-called because it has boost spacing and/or can take B-plus wheels.
Despite the obvious similarities, it was a very different bike to the older Solaris – and I happily ordered one after the demo ride amazed me with what a hardtail (albeit somebody else’s, so I wasn’t too worried about damaging rims) could handle on the rocky trails of Grizedale Forest.
I swiftly ordered a frame in the classy “dark metal” paintjob, building it up with a Fox 34 Performance Elite fork set at 140mm, a mix of Shimano 11 speed transmission, Deore brakes, Mavic XA Elite wheels and a carbon handlebar.
Following the impressive demo with the bike in B-plus mode, I also treated myself to a Stans Baron S1 B-plus wheelset and a pair of 2.8in High Roller II tyres.
Two bikes in one, I hoped.
With a threaded BB and external cable routing (dropper aside), it was one of the easier bike builds I’ve tackled in recent years, so it wasn’t long until I was putting rubber to dirt.
A bloody good bike
The SolarisMAX (and this was still the current model at the time of writing) has been a big success for Cotic – and may well be the UK’s most-popular steel hardtail – judging by the number of friends who’ve had them and the amount I see on the trails.
And there’s a very simple reason for that: It’s a bloody good bike.
With a 460mm reach on the medium model, a head angle of around 65.5deg (sagged) and a healthy 444mm chainstay length, it was the first bike for a few years that I didn’t need to size up to a large – and I was immediately comfortable on it.
The geometry is a step change from the previous models, which were more conservative XC/trail bikes. The angles on the current bike put it firmly in trail/enduro territory – and the lower seat tube and standover combine with the other figures I’ve mentioned to make steep and technical trails much more comfortable.
My main intention was to get a hardtail that would be good for my local, from-the-house trails – as well as trail centres and the odd ride further afield where I might have usually taken a full-sus bike. It was also nice to be able to swap the wheels straight over from my other bikes, as they shared boost spacing.
And the Solaris certainly delivered. It was very enjoyable on flowy woodland singletrack, it could handle the rockier and rootier trails at Rivington well and it covered ground well on longer, mixed terrain rides.
In comparison to the Mk2 Solaris, I felt the new model had a more solid, subdued ride feel – which was probably a combination of a touch more stiffness (through axle rear) and the slacker, more planted geometry.
The #steelisreal feel was still there of course, but perhaps a touch more muted and firm. I thought it was a good balance for the intended use, as the bike felt very predictable and calm at speeds which would have been very twitchy on the older model.
My happiest memories of the bike are from a week’s holiday in Dumfries and Galloway, which kicked off with a day in the North Lakes, tackling Grisedale Pike and Whinlatter.
The hike-a-bike up to the summit of Grisedale Pike had never been so easy as with the hardtail on my back, and while I felt tentative on the Hobcarton Descent, once I got used to the feel of the B-plus wheels on the fast, open trails – the lower section was quite enjoyable.
Dropping into the off-piste woods was where the chubby-wheeled Solaris hit its comfort zone, an experience which I would find was repeated later in the week riding the brilliant off-piste trails at Mabie, Ae and nearby.
At Mabie especially, which is kind-of rooty and loamy but in a smooth way – and very twisty. There was virtually no penalty vs. a full-sus bike.
I took three wheelsets on that trip: The B-plus Barons, some E13 TRS-rimmed wheels with a Supergravity rear tyre from my enduro bike and a lighter set of Mavic XA Elite with Maxxis EXO casing tyres.
Swapping between those wheels – sometimes in the same day – showed how versatile a bike the SolarisMAX could be.
B-plus for twisty, grippy off-piste fun (but a bit squirmy and awkward on gravelly berms), burly 29in wheels for straightlining rocks and roots while trying to keep up with full-sus enduro bikes and lighter trail wheels for mellower XC rides, with the odd gnarly bit.
And then there was the chubby mullet potential of running a B-plus 2.8in rear with a 29in front wheel sporting a 2.5in Minion DHF.
This set-up was actually better for me than full chubby, providing a Goldilocks BB height, slightly slacker HA and great rollover combined with more-intuitive cornering.
It excelled on the Mabie off-piste, made steep bits more comfortable and basically increased the fun factor by a notch or two. It was only compromised by the rear B-plus tyre’s relatively flimsy carcass being a bit squirmy on hardpack and getting holed on rocks too easily.
My longest ride on the SolarisMAX was a double lap of Kirroughtree (a bit over 60km IIRC), and I was struck with how much easier the flowy, rocky, techy trails seemed than when I was riding them on a mid-travel 26in bike a decade previously. Basically I could just hit everything on sight on the hardtail, whereas I used to stop to recce certain bits before.
We can probably thank modern geometry and 29in wheels for that, but it shows that the Cotic is a particularly good iteration of the “do it all hardtail” (it’s not a “hardcore hardtail” unless you stick a 36 or Lyrik and some burly wheels/tyres on it) .
Unfortunately, I never got the chance to take the bike to an XC race, but I think it would have felt a bit sluggish with the 140mm fork. I’d like to have tried it with a 120mm fork actually, though that might have compromised the BB height for the B-plus wheels.
So why did I get shot of the thing? I just wasn’t riding it very much really and I had a short-travel 29er itch that I needed to scratch. No fault of the bike’s really, and it was brilliant for some of my riding – but I just found it too limiting in the end.
If I still lived down south where most of my riding was loam, mud and roots, I’m sure I’d still be enjoying it now.
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