Cotic has stuck to its tried and tested front-end steel construction for its latest FlareMax, but it's pushed the boundaries with the geometry, making it the longest bike in our 2018 Trail Bike of the Year test.
- The Cotic FlareMax Silver, Custom is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women's bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.
Cotic has a number of standard builds for its bikes, but then allows upgrades within each build kit. I picked the Silver build kit (£2,699; approx conversion $3,500 / AU$4,750) but added the Roughcut version of the X Fusion McQueen forks over the standard RL2 (£100), a Cane Creek DBInline Air shock over the standard X-Fusion O2 (£300), Hope Tech Enduro wheels replaced the Deore/WTB i25 (£200), and I picked Maxxis tyres for an extra £50 over the Continental Trail Kings.
This took the overall price to £3,349 (approx conversion $4,460 / AU$5,880), £1 under the maximum for Trail Bike of the Year 2018. International buyers should contact Cotic for prices and shipping info.
On initial inspection I suspected the length of the tubes and their narrow diameter would result in a flexy feel, but the FlareMax is stiff enough to translate to good trail manners, without being overly stiff that it pings through rock gardens. That little bit of flex helps the bike mould to off camber turns and prevents the tyres stuttering through flatter corners or losing their hold over trail-crossing roots.
Cotic has re-imagined its line-up with longer shapes across the board, reflecting the current trends seen in longer travel bikes. The 120mm travel 29er FlareMax has a reach (Large) of 475mm, which puts it among some of the longest bikes on the market, regardless of travel or intended function.
With 130mm forks plugged in up front, there’s a 65.6-degree head angle, pushing the front wheel yet further ahead of the rider, while the chainstays give the required fore-aft rider balance at a long 447.5mm.
I’ve often found that Cotic’s have a high bottom bracket — a function of their home trails in the Peak District in the UK. With plenty of rocks around on trails that require pedalling, the higher BB was there to give some extra pedal clearance.
On its current raft of bikes, Cotic has dropped the BBs a touch to reflect the improved cornering handling that this gives, however with only a 32mm drop on a 130mm forked 29er, they’re still reasonably tall. This does still give it plenty of pedal clearance, and the long chainstays help keep your weight in the middle of the bike, ideal on technical climbs.
This is handy because the effective seat angle of the FlareMax isn’t particularly steep, and with this combined with the 15kg weight, I found myself a click or two lower down the block than I expected on prolonged climbs.
Fortunately, the long top tube seems to give the feeling of a lower BB, so the FlareMax doesn’t feel like it’s on stilettos.
The reason longer travel bikes are erring towards longer and slacker geometry is the added stability, confidence and grip afforded by the longer wheelbase and weighting of the front wheel. As such, the FlareMax feels like it wants to be ridden flat-out everywhere — it’s not a bike that requires finesse to get the most out of its ride — it’s more of a point and shoot bike, on most terrain.
On the rougher tracks though, the 120mm of rear wheel travel becomes apparent.
The Cane Creek DBInline shock on my test bike is very adjustable, so can be set up to deal with a wide range of trails, but there’s no doubt the shape of the FlareMax encourages you to push the bike beyond the limits of its travel at times. This can lead to a feeling that the rear wheel can’t quite keep up with the front, which benefits from slightly more travel (up to 140mm).
Riders who often punish their rear wheel might want to consider tyre inserts or strong casing tyres, because the speeds at which the FlareMax can be piloted would make short work of the tyre when slammed into an un-seen rock.
While the back end is supple and controlled, the X Fusion McQueen with the Roughcut HLR damper isn’t quite to my taste. When the compression damping circuit is open during repeated impacts, it’s relatively smooth (if a little noisy), but the damping circuit isn’t always the most willing to open up fully — it’s not binding, nor spiking, but there’s a definite hard-edged feeling on isolated hits — certainly noticeable thanks to the active back end.
Fortunately, Cotic offers a customisation package with all its bikes, so I’d suggest playing around with the bike-builder to get the spec you want. My Silver build was upgraded to the HLR damped fork, and the Cane Creek shock, over the £2,699 original spec.
If you dial in the back-end to make the most but not over-awe the rear wheel travel, the extra length and slack head-angle rewards an aggressive weight-forward stance on the bike, pushing the front wheel in to the ground to gain maximum cornering speed from the Maxxis Minion front tyre.
At this point you can really let go of the brakes and plough through pretty much anything the trail has to offer. It’s a bike that definitely suits steeper and rougher tracks where you can make the most out of the length of the bike and the cornering traction. Similarly, it’s here, with repeated hits that the fork feels at its best.
On flatter, twistier trails the FlareMax feels a little sluggish — it’s not the quickest to react to direction changes, nor is it the most sprightly under power. With the longer back end it’s also harder to pull the front wheel up in to a manual, confirming the feel that this bike is happier being pointed at the exit point of the trail section, rather than a super nimble play bike that you can pick up and place as you go.
It’s definitely a shorter travel bike doing a great job of feeling like an enduro machine, and as such works best on those more technically challenging, steeper trails.
The rest of the specification was totally solid. The Shimano SLX drivetrain might not have a cache of SRAM’s Eagle groups, but it’s a solid performer with an 11-46t cassette and has proven reliability too.
Shimano’s Deore brakes are currently proving to be their most reliable, and while a touch wooden in feel, offer plenty of power when combined with 180/200mm rotors.
Hope’s Tech Enduro wheels have a wide rim bed and very user-serviceable hubs. I got these mounted with Maxxis’ Minion tyres, front and rear, which is a definite worthwhile swap from the stock WTBs, I feel.
Cotic’s own Calver bar and ShortStem 45mm stem worked well, providing plenty of leverage to muscle the bike around corners.