It would be easy to pigeonhole the Cotic as just another steel frame looking to climb aboard the big-wheeler bandwagon but, as with all good things, the devil's in the detail.
The Solaris is one of the most inspiring steel framed mountain bikes we've ridden in a long time. Two years of slow development from its original inception was well worth the wait, and the bike has just won the What Mountain Bike New School Old School award for 2012.
Here's what the judges had to say…
"It’s been 20 years since steel was replaced by aluminium as the default choice for bike frames; carbon has been wrapping up the top end of the market for the past decade. However, niche builders such as Cy Turner at Cotic have carved themselves a cult following for bikes like the Solaris, with its carefully chosen mix of Reynolds 853 and True Temper OX Platinum steel.
While the 5lb frame is nearly triple the weight of carbon, and the £499 price double that of some other UK steelies, the Solaris is rich with subtleties that make it one of our favourite hardtail frames.
Like its material, the Solaris’ geometry is relatively old school in nature, with a steep head angle keeping the steering fast and flickable, even with big wheels. The short back end is similarly agile, but slim wishbone stays still give decent mudroom and the long top tube keeps things stable once you learn to trust the steering.
The 44mm head tube makes tapered fork use possible, while the 31.6mm seat tube is dropper post compatible – a very rare feature on a steel frame.
Riders with a thirst for rockier terrain should opt for a 120mm (rather than default 100mm) fork to give more naturally centred steering, but it’s accurate enough to trust on technical trails or carve across roots and rocks.
The frame compliance makes those same roots and rocks melt under the bike’s wheels as the steel takes the sting out of sharp edges. Its flex also helps stick the back wheel onto rough surfaces more consistently than stiffer carbon bikes, so while it lacks their acceleration snap it flows the rough climbs like a snake.
Plenty of today’s 29ers have a go-anywhere, do-anything attitude, but few steel big-wheelers offer the hard-riding appeal of the Solaris without an added weight burden."
Read on for our full review of the Cotic Solaris:
Ride & handling: Light but reassuringly tough; among the best 29ers we've tested
The Solaris offers an inspired, confident, stable ride over all but the harshest terrain. Steep geometry (71° head, 73.5°) and a perfectly balanced ride position create a sprightly, fun-filled ride that just gets better and better as you go harder and faster.
The long top tube and the 100mm-travel Marzocchi Corsa fork with 44mm offset that was supplied with our £2,000 custom build contributed to an overall ride character that sits between a hard hitting trail bike and beautifully relaxed race bike. The frame will happily take a 120mm-travel fork too – good news for riders who favour big terrain with rocky drops.
Lots of 29ers promise this sort of 'go anywhere, have a go at anything' performance, but very few steel 29ers manage the hard riding appeal of the Solaris without an obvious heft burden: the bare 19in frame weighs a gnat's whisker under 5lb. Like many quality steel frames the Solaris feels slightly more forgiving over rough ground than the many and varied aluminium alternatives out there. It pleased everyone who rode it.
The beefed-up tube profiles set it slightly apart from the skinnier tubed steel framed 29ers we've tried, creating a ride feel that exhibits the direct tracking handling feel of stiff aluminium framed big-wheelers when pushed, but without losing the comfort and 'spring' of a classy steel structure. Oh, and if you don't like the Bright Blue colour scheme you can go for Bright Orange.
Our test was on the frame, but inevitably parts choice influences the ride feel. We assessed the Solaris with a wheelset based on alloy Stan's rims but also tried it with Reynolds carbon hoops. Handling was similar with both but the Reynolds wheels did an amazing job of sucking small vibrations away and adding a soft-pile-carpet effect to the ride – as they should, considering they add around £1,000 to the complete bike price.
Frame: Based on the Cotic Soul, but far more than just a Soul with bigger wheels
The Cotic brand was started in 2002 by Cy Turner: Cy Cotic, see what he did there? His first production bike, the Soul, was a steel hardtail intended for use with a 120mm fork. It was designed for hard and fast cross-country use and it created the template for a lot of other long forked hardtails biased towards cross-country riding. Ten years down the line the Solaris is, for all intents and purposes, the 29er version of the Soul, but it's far more than just a Soul with bigger wheels.
Geometry tweaks have been made to get the best out of typical longer offset 29er forks and a longer top tube (than on the 26er Soul; 24.6in on our 19in test bike) creates a longer front centre that manages to keep the handling feeling both sprightly and confident using a short stem. The back end is sensibly short, but still with room for big treads, and the True Temper OX Platinum/Reynolds 853 tube mix is relatively chunky to keep things stiff and stable but light enough for a sub-26lb full bike build.
The short head tube takes a standard or tapered steerer. It's also ring reinforced with an integral top cup to avoid the tall front end that afflicts some 29ers. It's well worth reading Cotic's website for more detailed information on the development of the Solaris. It serves as a useful way of understanding the pros and cons of different geometry configurations on 29ers.