90

www.pinkbike.com

Review: Cotic FlareMAX

90
...


for a complete build price of £3,699. The titanium Cane Creek eeWing cranks are an optional £799 upgrade bringing the price up to £4,498. Cotic will ship anywhere in the world. Contact them for prices and shipping costs.
bigquotes The combination of great suspension and geometry lets you attack the trail with conviction and verve normally reserved for bigger bikes.






Why Steel? Aluminum may be lighter and carbon, stiffer and sexier, but steel refuses to fade away. Move your gaze to the fringes of the bike industry and you’ll find a handful of steel bike brands offering an alternative approach to the mainstream, particularly here in the UK, where there has been a resurgence of steel frame-building in recent years.Cotic favors Reynolds 853 steel tubing, because it is strong, tough, and still reasonably light. And, let's not forget its fabled ride quality and promise of additional compliance that can make many older mountain bikers go a bit misty-eyed and nostalgic - especially if your first ever mountain bike was made from steel. (Mine? Diamondback Ascent with a True Temper frame). Cotic considered using aluminum for its original Rocket, but when they found a 35mm diameter seat tube was the maximum they could use with their suspension design, steel was the better option. It hit the desired stiffness figures, and they’ve not looked back since.

FlareMAX Construction & Features

FlareMAX frames are adorned with some well-considered details. The custom-shaped Ovalform top tube for example, which provides the right blend of lateral stiffness and compliance, and a 44mm-diameter head tube with an external headset bottom cup. Rejoice in its threaded bottom bracket (the common-sense choice for gritty UK conditions), and it’s ISCG05 mounts, onto which a One-Up Top Guide chain device is fitted as standard. That's a nice touch. There’s no fitting a front mech to this bike. The FlareMAX is designed entirely around a 1x drivetrain, which has allowed Cotic to beef up the bottom bracket area for added stiffness.

The rear triangle breaks Cotic's all-steel tradition with a single-pivot 6066-T6 aluminium swingarm. The seatstays are steel, however, and they drive the Cane Creek shock directly, stabilized by the aluminum Droplink rocker. Rear spacing is Boost 148, using a Syntace X-12 thru-axle. The FlareMAX is designed for 29” wheels with clearance for up to a 2.5” tire, and is also compatible with 27.5” x 3.0” tires if anyone is still interested in going down the Plus route. Cables are routed externally on the main frame, running along the top of the down tube. The rear gear cable is tucked inside the seatstay and the dropper-post cable is also internally routed. There’s one bottle mount - on the underside of the top tube for a 500ml bottle - but due to their desire to accommodate a piggyback shock, space is tight for a conventional bottle placement. But, one does fit - Just.

Personally, I think the FlareMAX is a really good looking bike. It’s not as oversized or curvaceous as some, but I like the simplicity and the myriad of well-thought-out details that reveal themselves when you look closer. This bike traces its roots back to the original Rocket. There is a clear progression and evolution that I like about it, and the blue with orange accents kills it for me.
Geometry & Sizing Cotic offers the FlareMAX in four sizes, from small through to XL. The new Longshot geometry is the company’s response to the trend for longer, slacker and lower bikes. It’s designed around 35 to 50mm stems and is compatible with 120 to 140mm suspension forks, but its numbers are optimized around a 130mm fork. Our size large test bike with a 130mm fork, has a 479mm reach, putting it in similar company to the longer bikes in this category. The head angle is 65.6°, seat angle is 73.6°, chainstays are 447.5mm, the wheelbase is 1246.2mm, and the bottom bracket drop is -32mm. The seat tubes are kept short to allow for longer dropper posts, measuring 460mm on the size large.
Suspension Design


Components
Bike Setup
Testing was conducted on all my local trails plus regular trips into Wales for some bigger days out on the bike, bigger terrain, and bigger roots. Conditions were dry as a bone. The UK has been experiencing a mad heatwave, which is great for BBQ and tan lines, but the trails are dry, dusty and very loose. I’m not complaining, but some of the trails are like riding on marbles.
Climbing Short-travel bikes usually excel on climbs and flatter trails, and the FlareMAX was no disappointment on this sort of terrain. It won't shy away from embarking on long, cross-country jaunts, but it favors technical terrain, where the suspension and geometry come to the fore, and its weight is less noticeable. You don’t need me to tell you that a steel frame is never going to be as light as aluminium or carbon. At 33 pounds, the FlareMAX is clearly giving away a number of pounds to aluminum and carbon rivals. Now, I’m not going to try and tell you that it rode lighter than its weight - that would be daft. You notice the weight when you lift it off the car rack, and it doesn’t speed up climbs with the same verve as lighter bikes.It favors demanding and challenging terrain. There’s ample traction to get up and over the trickiest climbs, and plenty of stability to keep its handling calm and measured. The combination of the Cotic's suspension and the Cane Creek shock moves a lot, even under light pedaling, and it definitely takes some getting used to. But, with the climb switch engaged and a few more clicks of low-speed compression damping, the FlareMAX becomes an efficient climber. In my experience, it favors a smooth, seated pedaling style. The bike isn’t all that conducive to rampant, out-of-the-saddle attacking.It's not that it's slow, it’s just that progress is a bit steadier. Get it up to speed and the FlareMAX maintains momentum well, thanks to bigger wheels and its refined suspension. There’s no excessive flex from the steel frame robbing you of energy when powering up climbs. I’d love if it was a bit lighter, but after several months of testing, the weight hasn't been the big issue I thought it may have been when I first pulled it out of the delivery box. Since then, I’ve done some mammoth rides and the steepest climbs I could find, and not once could I lay any blame at the bike. It’s cleaned the gnarliest ascents and got me 'round some killer loops.The longer and slacker geometry proved to be no handicap when climbing. I had no problems tackling steep grades and tight switchbacks, and though the seat angle isn’t the steepest in its class I was able to maintain a comfortable seated position, with plenty of breathing space behind the wide bars on extended climbs. There’s ample traction from the tires, and the suspension is refined and efficient (with the climb switch on).
Descending "Fun fast and stable" are words that spring to mind here. It might be short on travel but it’s big on fun. The FlareMAX delivers a massive dose of confidence on fast and technical descents. The suspension sucks up everything, big and small, and the frame displays adequate stiffness when pushing the limits. On the descents when gravity is on your side, the weight becomes a non-issue. This thing flies. If anything, maybe the weight helps its stability, keeping the tires pinned to the ground for traction and stopping it from bouncing off-lineWhile it might not be the most athletic climber, the Longshot geometry helps the FlareMAX to be blistering fast. The slack head angle and long wheelbase, coupled with suspension that is sensitive and supportive, means you can fire this bike down any boulder-lined trail and it’ll pull off some impressive dance moves. The small amount of flex from the steel frame gives the FlareMAX added calmness on really rough trails when the tires are trying to ping off rocks and roots. Keep it tidy and neat and it makes rapid progress.Minimal suspension travel gives the FlareMAX a very involving and interactive ride. It’s a playful bike with plenty of pop. I had no problems manualling the front wheel, and it definitely unleashed my inner hooligan. I had huge fun dropping into steep turns and flicking the back end around hairpins - generally being irresponsible. The suspension provides ample progression to ensure it ramps up for the bigger impacts. You can easily dial in more high-speed compression damping if you need more support, but I never bottomed out harshly, despite the rubber O-rings regularly revealing full travel had been achieved. The FlareMAX at times feels like a bigger bike, it's that capable at high speed and on rough trails, with steadfast stability to help you hold even the trickiest line choice. I had no problems manoeuvring it around some tight switchbacks on one of my favorite descents, and the slack head angle comes into its own as the gradient increases. I think 475-480mm reach is my Goldilocks. The weight does blunt its ability to quickly get up to speed on slower trails compared to lighter steeds, but once it’s rolling it trucks along.If there's a downside to short-travel bikes with such progressive geometry, it's the increased likelihood of getting out of your depth on more challenging terrain. But, I rarely found that to be the case. The Helm fork was more than capable of dealing with the bigger impacts and I never felt like the 120mm travel out back wasn’t enough. My one reservation when I started testing this bike was thinking that, at this weight, you might as well lug around a bit of extra suspension travel, and would the similar, but longer travel Rocket be the smarter choice? I was pleasantly surprised, that the majority of the time, I found the FlareMAX operating within its wide comfort zone. So it stands up on its own and is a decent choice if what you desire is a short-travel trail ripper.

How Does it Compare?

The category for short travel 29ers with decent geometry is growing all the time. One bike that springs to mind is the Specialized Stumpjumper ST (effectively, the new Camber), which is lighter weight, and offers the same front and rear travel as the FlareMAX on 29” wheels. But, its geometry isn’t as progressive, with a 455mm reach and 67.5-degree head angle on the size large. A rival that is closer to home (but which PB has yet to review), is the Swarf Contour 29er - a similar steel frame with 115mm rear-wheel travel, a 465mm reach, and 66.5-degree head angle. It would be interesting to pit these two steel full-suspension bikes side by side in a future test.
Technical Report

Cane Creek DB Air IL shock: I was initially intimidated by all the dials and levers, but the factory settings provided a really good setup, ensuring the shock worked really well. This is a brilliant little shock that perfectly suits the FlareMAX. It's eager to move, which can take some getting used to. The climb switch is super useful, and a couple of extra clicks of low-speed compression soothed its bobbing tendencies on flatter trails

SRAM Eagle GX 12-speed: How many times has it been said on here? SRAM's 12-speed GX is a solid performing groupset that didn't miss a beat. Easy shifting, all the range for the steepest trails, and reliable. What more would you want?

Cane Creek eeWings: These titanium cranks are things of utter beauty. The weight is in the same ballpark as a carbon crank and they are incredibly stiff - but crikey, that price tag!

WTB Vigilante and Trail Boss tires Not the most fashionable tires, but I really like them, They seem to just work well on my local trails, and the fast-rolling Trail Boss has been ideal for the super dry conditions we've been 'blessed' with this summer.





Is This the Bike for You? If you love riding technically challenging trails at speed and don’t mind trading a bit of climbing speed for extra capability in the rough, the Cotic FlareMAX is pretty easy to recommend. In a market saturated with aluminium and carbon bikes, it’s nice to see steel getting a bit of attention, but you don't have to be passionate about steel to buy the FlareMAX. It’s a wicked fast and fun bike. And, if you’re British, buying local might be the final clincher. I just wish it was a bit lighter.
Pinkbike's Take
bigquotes The combination of great suspension and geometry lets you have loads of fun on all sorts of trails, but it's agile enough to enjoy when the trail doesn't demand a big bike - and for a lot of UK trails, it's all the bike I think many people need. Yes, it's maybe a bit heavier than I'd like, but the way it rides, I'm almost prepared to overlook it. It certainly hasn't dented how much fun I've been having testing this bike. Fun, fast, engaging, and exciting - the FlareMAX has won me over. David Arthur

Visit the high-res gallery for more images from this review.