Cotic FlareMAX Gold Plus review£3,599.00

Can swapping wheels really give you two bikes in one?

BikeRadar score4/5

While most plus-tyred bikes will take 29er wheels, there aren’t that many out there that are explicitly built for both. Cotic’s newly released 120mm travel FlareMAX, along with its longer travel brother, the 140mm RocketMAX, are specifically designed to run both wheel sizes.

Cotic built its name around steel hardtails, and this legacy is evident in the new frame, with its steel front triangle clearly taking inspiration from the Solaris. Reynolds 853 tubing makes up most of the front triangle, while at the Boost spaced rear an alloy swingarm is used.

The Cane Creek DBInline rear shock is driven by Cotic’s ‘Droplink’ suspension system, effectively a linkage driven single pivot. The back end is held together with a bolted Syntace X-12 axle, for security and stiffness. Heel clearance is good, and although we didn’t clip our calves, the seat-stay linkage bolts do stand out a touch. A cowled pivot housing and threaded BB shell means the bike should be easy to work on when parts start to wear out.

The Droplink suspension has sturdy, almost industrial looking linkages and pivots
The Droplink suspension has sturdy, almost industrial looking linkages and pivots

Up front, Cotic supplied X Fusion’s new McQueen Boost fork. Supply issues meant we didn’t have the Roughcut HLR damper version, which will come on retail bikes, but even without this, the performance of the fork impressed, offering decent compliance and support. The 34mm chassis fits in line with the feel you’d get from a Fox 34, so only felt a touch overwhelmed in bigger terrain.

Shimano’s XT groupset is paired with Race Face Turbine cranks for a drivetrain that simply works. A rolling change on Shimano brakes has quelled the dodgy bite-point issues we’ve had this year, on this set at least.

The RockShox Reverb seatpost needs no introduction, but it’s nice to see Cotic size-speccing the drop — Medium bikes (there’s no small) get a 125mm drop, while Large and Extra Large get 150mm. The Cotic saddle and RaceFace cockpit drew no complaints. Fussy riders will enjoy Cotic’s customisation programme too.

Wheelie good?

Cotic will provide 29” wheels for an additional cost
Cotic will provide 29” wheels for an additional cost

So, the big news is the two pairs of wheels (usually the bike comes with one, but Cotic will supply various 29” wheel/tyre packages from £470). We first rode with the 29er wheels, an upgraded pair with loud-as-ever Hope Pro 4 hubs and WTB Ci24 carbon wheels (£1,470). These were shod in WTB Vigilante 2.3in and Trail Boss 2.25in tyres front and rear.

This set-up was probably the FlareMAX’s only floundering point, as we found the deep section WTB rims harsh on rocky terrain, and struggled to find the balance between tyre stability and grip on well-worn dry trails. Some harshness may be tempered with the correct HLR damper, but a tyre swap, up front at least, wouldn’t be amiss. On dirt though, the Vigilante’s tread bites well, and we were able to run higher pressures, with less risk. Likewise in wet conditions, the tyre combo made much more sense, offering plenty of traction through mud.

In 29er form, the FlareMAX moves like any regular tyre bike — it’s easy to get up to speed, turns on a dime, and is happy hopping from line to line. The plus version feels different — not worse, but different.

Fast, fun and adaptable
Fast, fun and adaptable

Rough terrain disappears beneath the tread, and even with the less complicated damper in the fork, gives a buttery smooth ride. On all but deep slippery mud, traction is impressive from the 3in WTB Trail Boss and 2.8in Ranger combo. There’s a definite weight penalty, both in the rims and tyres, so getting up to speed takes extra effort, but once rolling, it holds speed like little else.

Swapping wheels brings differences to geometry, largely the BB height, which is raised with 29er wheels. When riding plus we had more confidence in corners, as our weight was held lower in the bike.

It’s not all about the wheels, though, as the frame can hold its own against the competition. There’s a weight penalty from the steel, but the feel the material gives helps the vibrant, fun feeling the bike has, as does the progressivity of the Droplink suspension. The geometry is equally sorted, with a 460mm reach, 67.3 degree head and 74.4 degree seat angle giving a nice shape.

Swapping wheels does give a story of two halves. For winch up and plummet riding, we went for the lower slung, grippier plus option, whereas for longer days in the hills, we tended to pop the 29er wheels on, for easier mile munching and a lighter feel.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.

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