Cotic Soul 27.5 $900

650b update to a UK-centric trail hardtail

BikeRadar score 4/5

The Cotic Soul has been updated with 650b (27.5in) wheels, and our enthusiasm to ride this new version of a classic was high, despite the dismal weather.

We headed deep into the woods to see whether a move away from the tried and tested path of 26in wheels had left this bike with, well, a Soul.

Ride and handling: slide show

Despite the pouring rain we’re quickly spinning through back streets and onto the gravel climb that begins our local test loop. A fresh breeze coming down the hills gets us standing on our pedals, trying to get the blood flowing through our legs. The Cotic’s skinny tubes might suggest a noodly ride, but the Reynolds 853 steel tubes keep the bottom bracket in place, and the 4130 chromoly chainstays transmit your wattage to the rear wheel with surprising efficiency.

The top of the climb comes quickly and it’s not long before we’re hitting the first section of hardpacked singletrack. Gentle berms are mixed with the odd hump and bump. On less playful bikes it’s a fun bit of trail but on the Soul, it’s a riot. With corners coming thick and fast, the Soul eats up direction changes, the Bontrager front tyre gripping doggedly to the trail. The humps in the trail that usually invite a manual become doubles, as the Cotic pushes you to find fresh fun lines through your usual trails.

Despite dismal whether and mild hangovers, enthusiasm for riding the Soul 27.5 was high

The trail soon changed from smooth and fast into choppy and more technical. At this point, the wide tyres again helped tame the bike. Those chromoly rear stays don’t offer the buttery smoothness that some reckon steel frames should give – the non-driveside is a reinforcing strut to help cope with brake forces for a start. We weren’t losing fillings, but we did consider losing some pressure from the tyres...

By this point we were pretty soaked, as was the ground, and having managed to avoid proper mucky riding for a couple of months, we took the plunge and headed deeper into the woods for some slipping and sliding over the muddy and rooty trails that cut sinuous paths through the trees.

Once again, the quick handling of the Soul came into its own as the tyres struggled for grip on the slick roots. It wasn’t long before tyre pressures were reduced and the steering regained its accuracy. Deeper into the woods and the narrowing gaps between trees occasionally required quick thinking thanks to the well shaped 785mm wide Race Face Respond low-rise bars.

In the twisty, fun stuff we loved the playful, pliable nature of the Soul, but when the trail turned fast and slippery, or steep and rooty we started to wish for a little extra length, or at least a degree or so off the head angle.

The Soul can’t be called nervous or twitchy though, and given that our local steep stuff makes up relatively little of the riding it’s tough to call the Soul up on its performance here. The fact is, if we were looking for one bike to do it all, the Soul 27.5 still remains one of the first bikes that we’d look to.

Thoroughly covered in mud, and with thoughts of tea and cake brewing, we aimed back to the car park, taking in the last of the manmade trails on the way.

Frame and equipment: well built

Measure the angles and tube lengths and you start to see why the Soul is a blast to ride on rolling trails. With a 120mm fork we measured a 68-degree head angle, the top tube is 614mm (on our medium) and the bottom bracket barely drops below the imaginary line between the axles. The head angle is middle of the road – neither overly steep nor super slack. The top tube is long on paper, but doesn’t feel rangy on the bike.

Not too slack, not too steep. The head angle was just in the middle.

Thanks to that head angle, the front centre (centre of the bottom bracket to centre of the front hub) certainly doesn’t come up long, making the bike a quick handler. With minimal bottom bracket drop you’re less likely to suffer pedal strikes, but it’s not some low-slung long trucker only suited to fast and loose riding.

Our test bike came with Bontrager XR4 tyres fitted, but stock builds will come with a Maxxis High Roller/Ardent combo, which should work better as our return loop showed a tendency for the soft sidewalls to squirm on the 21mm wide Stan’s rim. The Cotic’s wheels aren’t heavy though, and keep the Soul feeling sprightly on the short power climbs that litter our trails.

The Soul frame is available on its own for £499 or as a £2,100 build similar to the one we tested. Single, double or triple ring setups are available, ours coming with a single Hope Retainer ring to keep the chain in place without a chain device. We’ve had good experiences in the past with X-Fusion Sweeps, and we reckon the addition of a RockShox Reverb is a good idea on a bike like the Soul, though the £2,100 complete bike doesn’t come with one, nor is it routed for an internal Stealth style hose.

To bring the Soul up to date we’d like a 142x12mm back end

Cotic has done a good job on the frame’s construction. External full length outer cable routing makes maintenance easy, while Cotic’s own tapered head tube makes the frame compatible with virtually every 100 to 140mm fork on the market – the Soul’s design is optimised for 120mm.

If we wanted to get super picky, to be bang up to date we might want to look for a 142x12mm back end, but the specially designed pocketed dropouts look neat as they are.

Tester says:

Sliding around the Bristol trails can be anything from a terrifying experience to one that leaves you giggling, depending on your bike and tyres. The Soul is a bike that makes it great fun. Some might say the geometry’s a bit old school; it’s not as long and low as some, but for bashing around the woods or having a play at a trail centre, we reckon it’s bang on.

Spec as tested:

  • Top tube length 614mm
  • Seat tube length 440mm
  • Head angle 68 degrees
  • Seat angle 72 degrees
  • BB height 340mm
  • Chainstay length 430mm
  • Wheelbase 1,122mm  
  • Sizes S, M (tested), L  
  • Weight 12.1kg (26.7lb)
  • Frame Reynolds 853 steel
  • Fork X-Fusion Sweep, 120mm
  • Wheels Hope Pro 2 Evo/Stan’s Arch EX
  • Tyres Bontrager XR4 Team Issue, 2.35in
  • Cranks Shimano XT
  • Gears Shimano XT  
  • Brakes Shimano XT  
  • Bars Race Face Respond 785mm
  • Stem Cotic 60mm
  • Seatpost RockShox Reverb

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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