Words Daz Hall Photography Chipps
First published in Singletrack Magazine issue 126
Price: £3,249.00 (as tested) From: Cotic, cotic.co.uk
On a recent holiday to California, I was brutally reminded of a side of human nature that I’ve never been very comfortable with. The ostentatious displays of material wealth and the traits that drive it were everywhere to be seen, from the size of the SUVs and trucks, the thousands of multi-million dollar beachfront properties, to the yachts in the marinas. The primal urge to have the best, biggest, fastest, or most technically advanced possessions from cars, laptops, phones and even everyday appliances such as kettles seems to be ingrained in us and almost impossible to resist.
This is especially true when it comes to the choice of which bikes we ride. In the relatively short history of our sport, bikes have advanced at an exponential pace, and invariably these advances have focused on making bikes bigger and, as a result, faster. Forks and suspension have more travel, wheels are larger, handlebars wider, tyres fatter and frames longer, lower and slacker. And these trends are the result of the demands of riders wanting to go bigger, faster or further. They’re also a result of the same basic urge that makes us buy cars that can do double the limit at which we’re allowed to drive on public roads.
Bigger isn’t always better though. While bikes have changed beyond all recognition over the past 30 years, the one constant has been the trails. The first mountain bike guidebook I bought was written in 1997. The trails it sent me up and down are the same ones I ride today – fun and challenging on those bikes from 20 years ago and the bikes I ride now. Of course, I can ride them faster now thanks to the wonders of modern bikes, but the enjoyment and sense of adventure was pretty much the same then as it is now and in many ways, more so. However, the sense of achievement gained from the thrill of riding at the edge of your ability can be more difficult, and risky, to attain on a bike that is too capable. The question is where the sweet spot exists and what bike facilitates it?
Some time back in the latter half of the 2000s, I remember reading a review, possibly in this magazine, of a strangely named steel hardtail hailing from Sheffield. Fed up with the dysfunctional full suspension cross-country bike I was riding at the time, I took the plunge and bought a Mk1 Cotic BFe. Since then I’ve been a fully signed up member of the Cotic fan club and can count four Cotics in various guises in my garage, although the new Flare is not one of them.
Fast forward a few years from my introduction to Cotic bikes, Cy Turner and team had established a stellar reputation for building extremely trail-capable hardtails from varying combinations of Reynolds steel, and had begun to apply their experience to the full suspension market with the early incarnation of the Rocket. Some rave reviews and production issues later, the Rocket was updated and the range expanded in 2016 to four models under the Droplink product line, including the 650b Rocket, 29in Rocket Max, and their shorter travel trail oriented counterparts, the Flare and FlareMAX.
As if that wasn’t enough, and not resting on the fact that the new Droplink models sold at a rate faster than Cotic could make them, Cy was already busy on the next generation. In 2018 Cotic updated the FlareMAX with its interpretation of the new longer-lower-slacker trend in frame geometry, dubbed ‘Longshot’. The Longshot geometry was applied earlier this year to the Flare, and the result is a bike which is much longer and slacker than its predecessor.
Like Bird, Cotic sells direct from its premises in the Peak District and each bike is hand built and shipped within a week following purchase. A range of specifications are on offer from the Silver model we’ve chosen here, to Gold and Platinum with a number of options to customise or upgrade individual components. Historically all the frames were made in Taiwan but this new generation features a UK-built steel front triangle, which will be a big pull for many potential buyers.
The Cotic Flare Details
Much has been said about the Longshot geometry since its launch in 2018. Like Bird before them, Cotic has not been shy in applying the new philosophy of longer reach and a slacker head angle to the Flare. If you’re going to jump, you may as well go all in, and Cotic is pushing the boundaries on this front with a reach of 467mm for the medium on test here. It has also kept the front end relatively low with a stack of 589mm. The long and compact frame design, the robust Reynolds 853 of the front triangle, and the classic Cotic gloss green paintwork combine to give the Flare an appearance that will turn most heads. I may be slightly biased from my previous fandom but it surely must be one of the better-looking bikes on the market today.
The droplink suspension provides 125mm of rear travel via a specifically tuned X-Fusion O2 RCX shock and is based around a 34.9mm Reynolds 853 seat tube and an aluminium rear triangle connected with a very short and almost invisible droplink to provide what Cotic claims to be one of the stiffest suspension set-ups on the market. The frame can accommodate up to 2.6in tyres and features external cable routing on the front triangle with the gear cable internally routed through the right seatstay.
The Silver build may represent the bottom of the spec range for the Flare, but that’s not to say it lacks quality componentry. The drive train is made up of a combination of 11-speed Shimano SLX gears and Race Face Aeffect cranks, and a 30-tooth front chainring is preferred to spare the rider from having to grind up the steepest inclines as a result of the 11-46 cassette. Supplementing the Silver package, we chose to upgrade the forks and wheels in the form of the X-Fusion Sweep HLR 140mm forks and the excellent Hunt Enduro Wide 27.5 wheels adorned with a 2.5 WTB Vigilante on the front and 2.4 Trail Boss on the rear.
At £3,299 this build represents excellent value for money, especially in a world where you can easily splash out £5k on a bike that isn’t a top range model. It’s likely that some of the components, in particular the Shimano Deore brakes, may need replacing or upgrading in due course, and if that’s something a potential buyer is unwilling to wait for, they can avail themselves of the numerous upgrade options on both the drivetrain, brakes and other components.
Compared to the other models in the Droplink range, despite its similarity the Flare looks like it’s suited to something different from the all out trail-bulldozing aggression of the Rocket and Flare Max. It very much resembles a miniature version of its bigger wheeled and longer travelled siblings, and this might result in some assuming that of its performance too. It’s probably the most compact and tidy bike of the range though, and this hints at its potential for ripping up trails on a huge variety of terrain.
The Cotic Flare Ride
My first experience of Cotic’s Longshot geometry wasn’t the Flare, but a short ride on a Longshot SolarisMAX a few days before its launch. I’ll admit I was initially underwhelmed. It felt like a radical departure from the Solaris I’ve spent years riding on everything from big mountains to endurance races. Being something of a Luddite with new innovations probably didn’t help though and, as a result, a heightened sense of curiosity was in evidence on the first ride of the Flare.
Unlike those inconclusive and probably inaccurate first impressions of the Longshot geometry on the FlareMAX, the Flare soon dispelled any worries about excessive length, and instead directed attention to the low stack height. In combination with the steepened 74.5°seat angle this shifts your position forwards when seated, which might explain the lack of length anxiety. It also means that the rider is in the ideal attack position for both uphill and downhill terrain, and as result this doesn’t feel like a bike for cruising around all day in an upright position.
Early forays onto the trails indicated that some experimentation was required with the set-up. Setting the shock at 30% sag resulted in some bottoming out on rockier terrain, although the stiff rear end was in evidence as the bike still tracked predictably and precisely through corners and twisting singletrack. A couple of iterations, and another 15 psi in the X-Fusion shock later, along with some tweaking of the fork set-up to match, something quite dramatic occurred. It might be somewhat clichéd to talk about a bike ‘coming alive’, but in the case of the Flare it’s more than justified. A ‘jump on and ride’ approach will be forgiven, but any effort put into tuning it will be more than rewarded with a noticeable improvement in responsiveness, stability and overall liveliness.
Although the Flare is at home on pretty much any type of terrain, from big mountains to trail centres or grassy moorland, where it really finds its niche is tight, nadgery, natural singletrack of the sort we find here in Calderdale. The stiff droplink rear end, the low centre of gravity and the aggressive riding position combine with the lively suspension to devour rocks, roots, drops and any other obstacles in your path, and the faster you go the more capable it feels. There’s also a pleasing lack of trail buzz, thanks to the dampening provided by the steel front triangle and WTB tyres and wide Hunt rims. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Flare excels the harder you push it, and the more you do the more you will find yourself wondering just where the limits are. And when the limits are approached, some caution might be required as you’re likely to be travelling at a speed where getting it wrong will have consequences.
The Flare has benefits when the trail turns uphill too. Like the Aeris it’s by no means a primary climbing machine but will get you to the top of the trail with a minimum of fuss. A particularly attractive feature is that the long and low geometry and the lockout and two pedal settings on the shock enable the successful ascent of steep trails where many other bikes would have you falling off the back of the bike with the front wheel in the air. At a weight of 14.4kg you need the legs to get you to that point though, even if chewing the stem and perching on the end of the saddle are not required.
Cotic Flare Overall
It’s fiendishly difficult to find any negatives about the Flare. Those of a ‘ride all day’ cross-country disposition will probably find that the aggressive cockpit isn’t the most comfortable for longer rides, and it’s certainly no mile-muncher. For its intended purpose though as a ‘technical trail tearaway’ it passes with flying colours. The interplay between the hugely effective Longshot geometry, droplink suspension and the steel front triangle provide an energetic, almost hyperactive character. It begs to be ridden hard, thrown about and abused beyond a level which you’d expect for a bike with only 125mm of rear travel. It does require some effort, a lazy rider’s bike this is not, but for those who match its enthusiasm the Flare will give back a whole lot more than you put in.
Spec Update – More travel and Cane Creek shocks
Since Daz tested this bike it’s had an update by Cotic. It’s now got 135mm of rear travel and all variants come with Cane Creek shocks. You can find out more details here
The Cotic Flare Spec
- Reynolds 853 front, 6066-T6 swingarm 125mm
- X-Fusion Sweep HLR 140mm
- X-Fusion O2 RCX Cotic Tune
- Hunt 3 RapidEngage 12×148
- Hunt 30mm 15×110
- WTB Vigilante 2.5 front/WTB Trail Boss 2.4 rear
- Race Face Aeffect 175mm, 30T chainring
- Shimano SLX M7000 11 speed
- Shimano SLX 11 speed
- Shimano SLX M7000 11-46T
- Shimano Deore M6000 180mm rotors
- Cotic 35mm
- Cotic Calver 780mm 25mm rise
- Cotic Black, own brand
- X-Fusion Manic, 125mm Drop
- Cotic Cromo Rail
- Small, Medium, Large
- 14.4kg (31.75lbs)
- £3,249.00 (as tested)
This review was first published in Singletrack Magazine issue 126. It has been reproduced here in association with Cotic Bikes.
|Tested:||by Daz for|