Longterm Review: Cotic FlareMAX

by
July 11, 2017

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review

With 120mm of travel, the Cotic FlareMAX is the RocketMAX's baby brother. Make no mistake though, this is one capable steel trail bike

Brand:
Cotic Cycles
Product:
FlareMAX
From:
Cotic Cycles, Cotic.co.uk
Price:
£1499 frame with X-Fusion O2 RCX shock (other shock options are available)
Tested:
by James Love for 6 months

Nigh on a year ago Cotic bikes swelled its range with the release of a whole host of new suspension bikes of different flavours – three new full suspension frames were added with differing amounts of travel and compatibility with various wheel sizes. And like the already established 150mm travel 27.5in wheeled Rocket, the new models use COTIC’s  droplink suspension system and are (mostly) made out of steel.

COTIC FlareMAX

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
FlareMAX in the woods.

COTIC FlareMAX frameset specifications

  • 120mm travel trail bike with 120mm/130mm fork compatibility
  • 29 inch/27.5+ inch wheel size compatibility – clearance for 29 x 2.5 inch & 27.5 x 2.8 inch PLUS tyres
  • Reynolds 853 steel mainframe, steel seatstays  & 7000 series aluminium chainstays
  • X-Fusion O2 RCX shock (std) or CANE CREEK shock or FOX shock options
  • 44mm headtube – tapered steerer compatible
  • SYNTACE X-12 Boost148 spaced rear axle
  • ISCG 05 mounts
  • External routing for gear cable and brake hose
  • Internal/external routing option for dropper post hose
  • 2x drivetrain compatible
  • Bottle cage bosses on underside of top tube
  • Available in Medium, Large & X-Large sizes
  • Frame weight: 3.9kg (8.6lbs) for X-Large size including rear shock
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Winning if you’re grinning.

The Frame

This is the 120mm travel FlareMAX. A trail bike from UK company COTIC bikes. One that can use 29er wheels or chubbier 27.5+, 120mm/130mm travel forks. It’s a clean and simple looking frameset mostly made out of steel tubes. Steel has long been used to build bicycle frames and COTIC itself is well versed. It’s very first bike, the Soul, was a hardtail made from steel and it’s the brand’s material of choice for both hardtail and full-suspension frames.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Steel for real.

Reynolds 853 is used for the mainframe, 7000-T6 series aluminium for the chainstays, the droplinks are aluminium and there’s titanium hardware + steel nuts & bolts holding it all together. It currently comes in this rather fetching aqua colour or a subtler shade of grey.

It’s not as look at me as some/most of the carbon and aluminium bikes on the market with swoop this and oversize that, the FlareMAX has a less showy look. It has a quiet aesthetic featuring good old metal tubes. Some round, some slim and a large diameter seat tube (to suit a 31.6mm seatpost) for stability and support of the swingarm. It is beautifully engineered. The way it’s put together is bang up to date and some subtle attention to detail and neat features.  And just because it’s made out of steel doesn’t mean it carries a massive weight penalty, it doesn’t.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Standing still. Looking fast.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
44mm head tube. Gussets and neato welds. It’s a nicely put together & finished frame.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
COTIC’s 120mm travel 29/27.5+ inch trail bike.

Side on there’s straight lines and a purposeful profile. Give it a closer coat of looking at and you’ll see some specific shaping and tube profiling. The top tube is formed into an oval profile, the slender seat stays curve along their length for both heel and tyre clearances and on the underside of the downtube and toptube up by the head tube there are reinforcing gussets for added strength. It is nicely detailed. The Syntace X-12 rear axle is a particular favourite of mine. Being flush with the frame it’s low profile, there’s nothing sticking out. Super clean. Yes, you’ll need a 5mm allen key to remove/install your rear wheel, but there’s no bulky lever protruding that can hook up on trailside features. When you are threading the needle this can make a difference.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
There are no trail debris snagging axle whiskers here. X-12 is a flush fastener.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
You can bolt on a bashguard if you like to get rowdy.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
That bung plugs a hole that you can send your hose into for stealth dropper routing.

The bottom bracket shell is threaded and there are ISCG05 tabs for fitment of a chainguide/bashguard/what have you. ISCG05 mounts on a trail bike eh? Well that’s a this-bike-is-ready-to-go-turbo-if-you-are indicator in my eyes and strongly hints that this is a trail bike that’s up for rallying. The FlareMAX shares the same shilloute as its droplink stablemates, however as the fork travel is in the 120 – 130mm range and therefore there is a little less force to deal with than an is applied by a 150mm travel fork some weight can be saved and the downtube is a thinner gauge than the RocketMAX…

Gear cable to the rear derailleur and rear brake hose routing are external. In general this is routed nice and smooth out of harms way. Both run along the topside of the downtube and through the upper shock mount they then split either side of the seat tube and head down the underside of the seatstays heading for the rear derailleur or rear brake calliper. There is a little contact at the side of the head tube where it’s necessary to apply protective film to preserve paint finish and stop abrasion from cable/hose.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Ovalform toptube, round tube downtube. Both gussetted.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Bottle bosses.

Top tube is dropped out of the way for standover clearance and a small tube braces to the seattube. There’s room within the front triangle for a bottle of water. Bosses feature on the underside of the top tube, perhaps not your typical location but I’ll gladly take it. Whatever works! So much better than a below the downtube location. At first I thought that I’ll be brushing the bottle sides with my knees but there has been no connection issues for me.

ohlins-shock_4
Insert bottle here…or a tool keg if you like.

On paper/on the screen the FlareMAX measures up with a slacker head angle than most all 120mm travel 29ers, the seat angle is 74.4° steep, chainstays are 447.8mm and reach for me just long enough. At 6ft 1 and a bit inches tall, I typically feel at home on bikes with a reach figure of 485mm or thereabouts. The X-Large FlareMAX that I have been riding has a reach of 472.31mm.

Geometry with 120mm travel forks

Frame Size Medium Large XL
Seat Tube (centre-top) 440mm 480mm 505mm
Top Tube Length (Effective) 612mm 632mm 648mm
Head Angle 67.3° 67.3° 67.3°
Seat Angle 74.4° 74.4° 74.4°
Chainstay Length 447.8mm 447.8mm 447.8mm
BB Drop -34mm -34mm -34mm
Head Tube Length 110mm 120mm 130mm
Reach 443.1mm 459.6mm 472.31mm
Stack 613.8mm 622.9mm 632.1mm
Wheelbase 1184mm 1208mm 1225mm
Usual Height Range 169cm – 180cm 178cm – 188cm 186cm – 195cm
Stem Length 45-70mm 45-70mm 45-70mm
Frame Wheel Travel 120mm 120mm 120mm
Wheel Size 29″ or 275/650B PLUS 29″ or 275/650B PLUS 29″ or 275/650B PLUS
All measurements are static based on 120mm travel fork.

Geometry with 130mm travel forks

Frame Size Medium Large XL
Seat Tube (centre-top) 440mm 480mm 505mm
Top Tube Length (Effective) 614mm 634mm 650mm
Head Angle 66.9° 66.9° 66.9°
Seat Angle 74.0° 74.0° 74.0°
Chainstay Length 447.8mm 447.8mm 447.8mm
BB Drop -31mm -31mm -31mm
Head Tube Length 110mm 120mm 130mm
Reach 438.1mm 454.6mm 467.3mm
Stack 617.8mm 626.9mm 636.1mm
Wheelbase 1188mm 1212mm 1229mm
Usual Height Range 169cm – 180cm 178cm – 188cm 186cm – 195cm
Stem Length 45-70mm 45-70mm 45-70mm
Frame Wheel Travel 120mm 120mm 120mm
Wheel Size 29″ or 275/650B PLUS 29″ or 275/650B PLUS 29″ or 275/650B PLUS
All measurements are static based on 130mm travel fork.

 

What does it ride like?

The Ride

Going up. Climbing is good sitting and spinning. The 74.4° seat angle, roomy wheelbase and long enough reach place the rider in a comfortable position to simply get on with it and just keep on pedalling until you get to the tippy top. The 447mm long chainstays aren’t short by modern standards, but that’s actually a good thing on those trickier climbs that require a heavy forward lean and a concertedly smooth pedal stroke to keep tread-stuck-to-dirt. It’s surefooted and there’s no position fussing or squirming around needed. Suspension is nicely balanced and gives good traction when pedalling seated and if standing up to attack a climb there’s no discernable loss of momentum to bob. There’s good levels of grip and no weird feedback when pedalling over trail irregularities. Power delivery overall is smooth.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Sit and spin/stand and give it some. The FlareMAX is an efficient and comfy climber

Pedalling along the FlareMAX is calm and composed. The ride is balanced and the suspension feels taut under drive – even with the rear shock set to the wide open compression setting. The FlareMAX is an effective pedaller with a real zip on rolling terrain. It rides far lighter than you’d expect for a structure that features welded steel tubes. With increased effort through the cranks and/or a slight downward gradient you’re quickly up to speed and it’s a formidable ride when you get it on song. There is a real punchy feel when you up your power through the pedals. It’s most definitely up for attack and won’t shy away from rough and technical trails…you can hustle and finesse the FlareMAX through messy terrain and it’s capable of a blistering pace on undulating singletrack. It’s a precision tool this one with lots of feel.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Sorted for singletrack flow.

There’s plenty of grip on offer and corners can be railed at speed. At slower speeds it doesn’t turn in quite as quick as some other 29ers that are equipped with much shorter chainstays, but then Cotic has favoured a longer rear centre in the name of stability, tyre clearance and high-speed confidence. It’s a different way of doing it (some advocate as short as possible) and it’s just dandy… I have not struggled with getting round any apex on this bike. It’s simply a matter of timing and effort.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
No slouch heading down ‘n’ around.

Descending is a hoot. You can have a blast on this ‘short’ travel bike. The FlareMAX runs a 67° or thereabouts head angle. 66.9° if using a 130mm travel fork and 67.3° with a 120mm travel fork. This is as slack as some 160mm travel 29ers and when you hop aboard it has the feel of a longer travel bike. Astride the bike it sits into the travel nicely and you’re well positioned. Overall wheelbase for a 120mm travel 29er is at the longer end of the spectrum. At higher speeds it maintains composure, remaining poised and stable.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Whooohoo.

The ride position together with the quality suspension give a calm and collected quality. You can push on if the mood takes you, in fact the FlareMAX very much encourages it rewarding effort and commitment eagerly. That’s not to say it’s a demanding ride. Rather that there’s a range of use on offer that’s very versatile. The geometry is modern and just right…not super long nor overly short. It’s not nervous, neither is it numb. There’s a great blend of pop and poise. It’ll rail fast sweeping turns and dance through twisty tech singletrack and will not shy away from steep and difficult chutes. Going is good when things turn steep and technical and if you just want to get out into the hills getting lost on purpose it’s down with that too. There really is a beguiling blend of characteristics to the FlareMAX.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Flies through the air.

It’s stable and sure, happy at speed. It’s both a dancer and a fighter. If there’s some really rough stuff ahead where the amplitude and frequency is going to overface the amount of travel you have then there is an option – jump it. It’s an engaging ride experience. The FlareMAX is confident and supremely capable…with rich trail feedback.

Suspension Notes

The droplink system has been in use by COTIC for a good few years now. droplink is a linkage driven single pivot arrangement. There’s a healthy amount of anti-squat with the main pivot positioned inline with the font chainring and suspension action is largely unaffected by pedalling efforts. It swings from a large diameter seat tube, chainstays/swingarm is stout, droplinks are short and seatstays slim and shapely. It feels solid, it’s a bike that can be ridden hard.

The FlareMAX frameset and bikes comes with a couple of shock options – the as standard X-Fusion O2 RCX shock and for more moolah there are also Cane Creek and RockShox options.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
X-Fusion O2 RCX shock.

I started off with the X-Fusion O2 RCX shock and X-Fusion McQueen HLR Roughcut fork set at 130mm travel. The X-Fusion rear shock works really well, though more tuneable shocks (read below) will take performance further and have the edge when impacts get really fast & furious. There’s a discernable difference when trail conditions are fast & rocky. The O2 RCX has 4 levels of compression adjustment accessed easily by a lever on the shock, and the simplicity of both shock setup and on-trail adjustments makes it an appealing foundation for the FlareMAX.

I also spent some time on an Öhlins pairing of STX22 shock and RXF36 fork set at 120mm travel. The Öhlins is a great performer with adjustable low speed & high speed compression. Using a shock such as this is over the standard damper… like the Cane Creek option it does more, has more adjustments and variables. This means you can get setup just so and take performance up a notch or two.

And we have experience of the Cane Creek DB Inline on the FlareMAX, here is what colleague Tom Hill has to say about it; ‘The X-Fusion shock works just fine. However, the Cane Creek is noticeably more active and responsive even when set at 30% sag. It also manages to do this without blowing through the travel too quickly. Climb mode on the Cane Creek is more active than the X-Fusion, which takes some getting used to, but after a couple of rides I actually preferred it. With added complexity though more adjustments on offer the CC app helps, and I got the shock pre-adjusted from Cotic in the firt place. I’ve not felt the need to move away from those settings other than slowing down the high speed rebound a click.”

Cotic can help with shock choice. Either way/whichever shock you go for droplink works very well. It has some great qualities –  Grips and pedals great. Has good support in the mid-stroke and progression towards the end stroke. Exactly what you want for GoodTimes™

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Linkage driven single pivot suspension.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Plenty of clearance for up to 2.5in wide 29er tyres, or up to a 2.8in 27.5+ tyre. Space for muck also included.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Slender steel seatstays. Aluminium droplinks.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Shock mount bolts to downtube.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Stout main pivot and deep section aluminium swingarm.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
The non-driveside chainstay pivot does double duty also serving as a mounting point for the rear brake this results in a neutral feel when haulin’ on the anchors.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Slender & stout.

Impressive. For a 120mm travel the Flare MAX is capable of handling messy trails. You can really push on. The suspension has a great feel and does a great job of sucking up low level trail chatter and copes with drops and bigger hits with aplomb. It’s been tuned to give good levels of initial grip and traction, a supportive mid-stroke and progression at the end. It achieves this brilliantly.

Durability Notes

Any issues? Yes. I lost a pivot nut and blew up the X-Fusion rear shock…

I had been riding and having a good old time… when lifting the bike up onto the rack on the back of my car, my eyes drew level with the main pivot and I could see thread. At some point during that ride the nut had worked loose and was somewhere out there in the wilderness.

Cy Turner (owner and lead designer at Cotic Cycles) had this to say about the AWOL nut – “The first time James lost a droplink nut from his FlareMAX was around the time late last summer when we had a few go missing from other customers’ bikes too. We traced the problem back to a lack of threadlock on the axles, which was specified but unfortunately didn’t get put on the frames during assembly for this first production run. We supplied replacement nuts to all customers affected and we now strip, check and threadlock all pivot axles ourselves here in the UK before any droplink frames or bikes leave the building. We had James’ bike back to sort this out.”

The X-Fusion O2 RCX shock worked a treat and then J.R.A. it didn’t… one moment there is rebound control the next a total loss of damping. UK importers Upgrade sorted this quickly with a rebuild of a failed shim stack.

Apart from these two quickly resolved issues it’s been a sweet ride. Myself on the other hand…

Three things that could be improved

Not a lot really. I don’t have three things that could be improved.

Here is one nitpick though;

The cable routing is good except one spot. Where the brake hose is routed on the non-driveside seatstay tyre clearance is limited a little. With this positioning the hose sits to the inside of the chainstay rather than underneath. It’s not caused any problems but does creep into available space somewhat.

Three things that we loved

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Whooosh!

1. Moon on a stick qualities. Pace and pop. Surefooted and spry. The Flare MAX is quick to get up to speed and can fly through singletrack. It rides light yet feels planted…an easy ground covering cruiser at tick over that doesn’t hold back when you give it some beans. Get it on song and it’ll go fast and far on straightforward and complicated trails.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
The FlareMAX is a 120mm travel 29er with excellent manners and wide range of use.

2. Not a chore for lots & lots of pedalling, it’s efficient and spins along really well. It’s very much up for the technical side of things whilst not sluggish feeling pedalling along get spinning and it’s quickly on song speeding along nicely…and it’s got pop. Proper moon on a stick stuff. Nice! There’s a really wide range of use with this bike with sorted geometry and balanced suspension.

3. There’s justenoughtravel™ rather than a load of travel to get lost in or carried away with. What you have is a great connection rather than isolation from the trail. You can push on on the Flare, it’s got oodles of character and an upbeat can-do attitude. Works great as an all day pedaller and hooning around in the woods. It’s a trail bike that doesn’t feel out of place having a go at enduro…

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Do you enduro bro? You can have a go on the FlareMAX Here I am hanging on through the Tweed Valley woods in the dappled sunlight with a numberboard gazing lovingly at the corner exit at the Whyte VALLEJULAH 2017. A JWDTphotography photo.

Suck it and see. COTIC has a really good demo program. If you want to try before you buy & live in the UK it is pretty easy to do so. They offer a travelling demo service that brings bikes to you/an area. You can ride the model that you are interested in, try different sizes on familiar trails. Brilliant.

Overall

It impressed on the first ride and continues to do so. It does fast, fun and far very well.

2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Taking in the views.

Short to mid travel 29ers are typically good all-rounder options. This one is better than good; it’s great! Good times on all sorts of trails. There’s a fine blend of pop and power. The FlareMAX has both a playful and purposeful character. Aggressive, can be ridden hard and is versatile… what’s not to like?

The COTIC FlareMAX is a truly brilliant all-round, up for anything trail bike. It’s an enjoyable ride on big cross country days out in the hills and very capable hooning around the woods seeking out the fun and challenging lines. It’s just the ticket. Can be taken out for a big day out and ragged.

The FlareMAX has a great feel – tough and strong and rides light. It’s got POP & an easy vibe. It’s a lot of fun.

Well mannered and a joy to ride. This is a sum of wheels + geometry and quality suspension performance. And the steel construction? Yes I would say so. I’ve used a couple of different shocks and run different wheels, whichever way it’s been built there’s been subtle differences and a great feel and ride quality that’s consistently shone through.

The FlareMAX has been build a couple of ways in the time that I’ve had it. It’s been a longterm test bike used to try out different fork, shock & wheels. It was planned to run a 27.5+ wheelset but injury and a lingering nerve issue in my arm put paid to this…

Here is a look at the different builds –

Cotic FlareMAX Custom Build Details:

  • Frame // Reynolds 853 Steel Tubing & 7005-T6 Alloy Swingarm, 120mm Travel
  • Shock // X-Fusion O2 RCX & Öhlins STX22
  • Fork // X-Fusion McQueen RC HLR w/130mm Travel & Öhlins RXF36 w/120mm Travel
  • Headset // Cane Creek 10 series
  • Hubs // Hope PRO 4, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
  • Rims // Hope Tech Enduro & Sixth Element Carbon Enduro
  • Tyres // Continental DER KAISER projekt 29×2.4in & Maxxis SHORTY 29×2.3″ R + Specialized HILLBILLY 29×2.3″
  • Chainset // SRAM X01 Eagle 32t
  • Chainguide // One-Up Components Upper Guide
  • Cassette // SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed 10-50t
  • Rear Mech // SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed
  • Shifters // SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed
  • Brakes // SRAM Level Ultimate 180mm Rotors Front & Rear
  • Stem // Chromag Ranger 40mm Length
  • Bars // Chromag FUBARS OSX 780mm Width
  • Grips // DMR Deathgrip thick ‘n’ hard & Ergon GE-1
  • Seatclamp // Hope CNC Alloy
  • Seatpost // Magura Vyron ELEC
  • Saddle // DMR Stage 1
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
Confident on difficult tracks, without feeling dull on flatter/rolling trails a really good and versatile all-rounder.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
If you’re after a trail bike that can go far and do the fun things, the COTIC FlareMAX should be right up there at the top of your shortlist.
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
The Flare MAX is game if you are. I’ve not found it lacking whether pushing on bagging peaks or…
2017 COTIC Flare MAX review
…sending it down steep & slithery stuff. It’s got bags of character and a charming ride quality. A top trail bike.

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