Cotic’s Soul hardtail has gained a cult following, wooing riders with its blend of good value, tidy handling and steel ride character. As the longer-travel, lairier counterpart to the Soul’s trail riding bent, the BFe (it stands for ‘burly iron’) is a good bet for heavier or harder-hitting riders looking for a do-it-all machine with attitude.
For 2010 it’s been redesigned from the ground up. But can one design really tackle anything from four-cross racing to alpine descending, with everything in between? In a word, yes. Lighter, smoother riders who don’t need the extra travel or strength will be better served by something a bit less overbuilt, but if you like your trails hard, steep and fast the BFe’s huge versatility is hard to resist.
Ride & handling: Big-hit tough but ride-all-day comfort – the best of all worlds
Despite its hardcore aspirations and undoubted long-travel ability, the BFe pulls off the impressive feat of riding for all the world like a regular trail bike most of the time. The laid-back 65-degree head angle when the bike’s at rest with a 150mm fork plugged in the front, combined with the stubby stem, give a hint of its hard-riding potential. But set off down the trail in bumbling-along mode and you’ll ﬁnd you don’t have to make any concessions to the raw beast within.
It goes, steers and stops to all intents and purposes like a shorter-travel trail hardtail, and the extra strength of the design over the Soul hasn’t sacriﬁced any ride quality. Sure, there’s plenty of rear end rigidity for instant get-up-and-go, but there’s also enough subtlety in the frame’s slender and thin-walled tube proﬁles to give it some of that characteristic steel spring. Just about the only tell-tale of the bike’s boulder-swallowing potential is a hint of front end wag on the steepest of uphill grinds.
Turn up the wick and show it some fast, technical trails, and the BFe comes into its own. You still get most of the trail-riding resilience that’s made its Soul stablemate a byword for steel subtlety, but with enough rigidity to make that long-travel fork up front work hard for its living. Weight up the front end, allow the rear to follow through, then marvel at what you’ve just cleared.
Frame & equipment: Subtle and versatile chassis, with solid mid-range spec
The need to comply with CEN certiﬁcation may have provided the impetus for the BFe’s new formula, but this was also an opportunity to rethink the whole frame. The Reynolds 853 down tube provides a stiff, light and very strong backbone for the new BFe’s chassis, while a switch to the cheaper 631 tubeset – which performs the same air hardening trick as 853 around welded areas so it’s very nearly as strong – for top, head and seat tubes helps keep the price down.
The top tube is ovalised to increase lateral (pedalling) stiffness while adding some vertical ‘give’ to the main triangle, and the down-tube-sized seat tube loses the bottle boss mounts to allow the saddle to be dropped completely for steep descents. The rear end, meanwhile, has been tweaked so that it’s more forgiving than the previous version which, according to Cotic designer Cy Turner, was rather overbuilt.
The new setup is supposed to be comfortable enough for all-day riding, but strong enough to run any fork length from 100 to 160mm – with a new XS frame size deliberately aimed at riders who want a chuckable bike for jumping or four-cross racing. There’s even an ISCG 05 chainguide mount for ﬁtting a compatible chain-retaining device, should you be so inclined. The BFe betrays its British roots in the bridgeless chainstays, which drop the usual mud collecting brace in favour of discreet reinforcing gussets.
Our test bike arrived wearing a Cotic demo ﬂeet setup of 150mm-travel Fox 32 fork and a functional blend of Shimano SLX and XT kit. In spite of the burly build and long fork it weighed a respectable and eminently trail-worthy sub-28lb, though a lighter build would easily be achievable. The BFe’s lack of obvious big-bike styling cues – such as big gussets – gives it a subtle appearance that’ll win over riders who like to push themselves hard but don’t want a bike that looks too burly.