Cotic BFe (custom build) £1800

Tough-nut steel bruiser

BikeRadar score 4/5

We’ve ridden Cotic’s ballsy hardtail before, fully kitted out with a trail-ready Shimano Deore XT 3x10 transmission. But, as the kind of bike that’s designed to be equally at home lining up at the start of a 4X race or taking the short route down an Alp, it comes pre-equipped with ISCG05 mounts for a chainguide. 

Which made us wonder, what would it be like set up with a 1x10 transmission? There was only one way to find out. Although Cotic don’t supply complete bikes, the British company were happy to spec us a one-off BFe with single chainring up front.

Whether you choose to set your BFe up with a single chainring or three, it’s a genuine wolf in sheep’s clothing. The extra strength needed to cope with up to 160mm of front wheel travel has been cleverly and subtly built in without sacrificing comfort, looks or fun. By the time you’ve built the bare frame into a complete bike it won’t be cheap, but few hardtails offer so much versatility.

Ride & handling: Big-hit tough and ride-all-day comfy

Many hardtails designed around long forks aren’t exactly subtle. The BFe, however, is different. For a start, its relatively low all-up weight (12.1kg/26.8lb) makes it a viable choice for all-day epics, as well as giving it a turn of speed that belies its hardcore potential. 

Then there’s the attention to detail in the frame build, which combines thin walls and careful tube profiling to provide all the strength required, while retaining the beguiling zing that defines the best of the steel hardtail breed. 

Combine all this with a willing 150mm fork, a reliable transmission and grippy, big volume tyres, and it’s almost impossible to come back from a ride on the BFe without a big grin. Very few bikes successfully combine such headbanging potential with ride-all-day comfort. The BFe is the exception that proves the rule.

As for the 1x10 transmission, it suits the frame’s fun character. A dose of extra ground clearance will be welcome for riders used to tackling woodsy, technical trails and, with one less bar-mounted control to worry about, it’s easy to concentrate on the important bit – the ride. Having said that, the BFe’s such an accomplished all-rounder that we did occasionally wish we had a lower gear for steep, technical climbs.

Frame & equipment: You’ll need the experience and budget to self-build

It’s not easy to design a frame that’ll tackle just about anything, but Cotic designer Cy Turner has tackled this seemingly thankless task head-on. The result, fine-tuned over the past six years, is a steel hardtail that’s tough enough to handle a fork up to 160mm (with all that that implies in terms of intended use) and yet light enough and specced appropriately, to ride all day.

The backbone for this versatile chassis is an over-diameter, thin-walled tube of Reynolds 853 – a clever steel alloy that’s remarkably strong and light. Most welded frames, whether steel or aluminium, are weakened near the joints by the heat applied during manufacture. With Reynolds’ high end tubeset, the steel air-hardens during the cooling process after welding, actually increasing strength.

Reynolds 631, a close but slightly more cost-effective relative, provides head, top and seat tubes. The top tube is ovalised to increase lateral (pedalling) stiffness while adding some vertical give to the main triangle, while the oversized seat tube is compatible with telescopic seatposts and has no bottle boss mounts, making it easy to drop a standard post out of the way for steep descents.

Bridgeless chainstays and ovalised wishbone seatstays provide great gobs of mud clearance but, unusually for a UK-designed bike, there are no down tube Crud Catcher bosses because Cy reckons they compromise strength. The BFe's oversized tubes and strategically placed gussets add strength, while comfort is retained through thin tube walls and some cunning ovalisation.

The beauty of buying a bare frame is that you can spec it any which way you like, building in parts you may already have lying around or going for broke with a complete new set of components.  Our test bike’s Marzocchi Bomber 44 RC3 Titanium fork makes the most of the frame’s big-hit potential, offering 150mm of coil and air sprung travel in a relatively light package. Finishing kit from the relatively unknown KCNC works well, and a DMR Viral chainguide provides the finishing touch  to keep the chain on board.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.

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