The start of our new Best of British series

We head to the Peak District and Cotic Cycles to start a new series in attempt to find out what makes British bikes so good.

>>> Trail Bike of The Year 2019

Words & photos: Sim Mainey

The Peak District has always held a special place in UK rider’s hearts. Part of this is down to its catchment area: with the urban sprawls of Manchester and Sheffield sat on either side of it, the Peak is the default playground for a huge number of riders. Luckily for those riders their playground is home to some of Britain’s most iconic trails – The Beast, Cut Gate and Jacob’s Ladder are all bona fide classics.

Despite packing a wide variety of landscapes and trails within its boundaries, the Peak primarily has a reputation for brutal trails that are a test for bikes and riders alike. Rocky, steep, fast and gritty are the words you associated with a ride in the nation’s most popular national park. The perfect place to base a bike company then.

Peak performer: Cy’s bikes have been honed by a rugged landscape

Cotic Bikes calls the small Peak District town of Calver home. Ten miles or so south west of the Yorkshire riding mecca of Sheffield, it’s also on the doorstep of some of the Peak District’s best known trails.

Things are busy at Cotic. Owner Cy Turner explains that, despite being the perfect place for a bike company, industrial unit space is at a premium in the Peak. Still, with business on the up it has had to expand into another unit that now acts as Cotic’s office. Above Cy’s desk is an illustrated map highlighting the riding spots in and around Sheffield, titled ‘Grit & Steel’. This perfectly sums up Cotic.

Grit & Steel: a map that sums up the Peak

Cotic use steel for all their frames – hardtails and full suspension alike. While this was once rare, there are more brands using steel in preference to aluminium and carbon to build full suspension frames, vindicating Cotic’s decision. This is a company not afraid to walk its own path, yet it doesn’t do things just for the sake of it.

Despite the proximity of Steel City (AKA Sheffield) and Cotic’s use of the material, Cy is more interested in talking about the Peak District’s influence on geometry than material choice.

Rocket Max: Cotic’s 29er is Cy’s go-to trail bike

Cotic’s first bike was the Soul, a hardtail designed to cover as broad a remit as possible. The Soul was conceived in 2002 when Cy was living in Nottingham and the majority of his rides were on woodland singletrack. Weekends would be spent riding in the Peak, so although the Soul had to excel on tight and twisty trails it also had to be fun when the going got rocky. For the time it was a forward-thinking hardtail, able to run a 130mm fork and with scope for fitting big tyres along with ample mud clearance.

Rather than have to wait for the weekend to get his Peak fix, Cy decided to move to Sheffield so as to be able to ride some of his favourite trails from his front door. In the process, he started to ride rougher terrain with riders who pushed him out of his comfort zone.

It’s no secret that Sheffield breeds fast riders. Plenty of folk move to the city for the riding and bring their skills with them. Others forge their skills here on the challenging trails that surround the city. Cy credits his crew of local riders for drivingthe development of Cotic’s bikes. “The level of riding informs the bikes,” he says. “I’m a much better rider than I was 10 years ago when I moved here.”

Fast friends require a bike that helps you keep up, or even get ahead and to stay ahead. A better rider needs a better bike.

The Soul is still a staple of the Cotic range, but the bike Cy rides now is the Cotic Rocket Max. A 150mm-travel full-suspension 29er, it shares little in common with that original Soul other than a family resemblance thanks to the slender steel tubing.

Maverick Cy’s a blue sky thinker

Cotic designs its bikes with five attributes in mind: fun, durability, clean lines, interactivity and the ability to inspire confidence. Cotic’s Longshot geometry aims to enhance the last two attributes.

Longshot is the culmination of a process that started back in 2015 and is now employed on all of Cotic’s mountain bike frames. After a long chat with Chris Porter at Mojo, and a ride on Chris’ own bike, Cy became intrigued by the new-school geometry concept of a longer wheelbase, lower bottom bracket and slacker head angle.

Cy is a qualified Chartered Mechanical Engineer – fashion and fads glance off him and he’s unimpressed by hype. He also admits to having a contrarian streak; if he’s told he should like something he generally takes a dislike to it. At the same time he’s not one to dismiss ideas out of hand and would rather spend time doing his own research and testing to come to his own conclusions.

Boulder-strewn trails put the Rocket Max on a weaving trajectory

Rather than fully jumping on the limousine bandwagon, Cy had a 27.5in Rocket prototype built up with extreme geometry to see if the idea had merit. “It was a real lightbulb moment. I remember riding it and saying, ‘Wow, this is so much better!'”

After a few months of riding the prototype, Cy was sold on the concept, but one thing that stumped him, and continues to, was the fact that he managed to nail the geometry of the 27.5in Rocket right straight away. When the 27.5in Rocket was signed off for production in April 2016 it used geometry that was almost identical to that of the prototype.

Cotic’s signature steel tubing helps it stand out from the crowd

Things weren’t quite so simple when it came to designing the 29in version, the Rocket Max. “The immediate application of length to the bike just didn’t feel right, and it took another 18 months to get the bike to work.” Cy puts this down to the fact that the first iteration of the bike was too conservative. It wasn’t until he started going to extremes that things clicked into place. “The slacker I made it the better it got, but that hadn’t been the case with the 27.5in Rocket. I guess was once bitten twice shy.”

The Loop Of Truth

Living on the edge of Sheffield and working in the Peak District, Cy has no shortage of trails on which to evaluate his bikes, but one 15-minute loop is key to every prototype development – The Loop Of Truth. This starts from the Lady Cannings trail centre car park, takes in a lap of Blue Steel before a quick up and down of the rock strewn Jumble Road bridleway.

Rooty sections turn the spotlight on traction and control

A blue-graded trail might seem an odd place to test a bike when you’re surrounded by stunning natural trails but there’s a logic to this. While the Peak has plenty of boulder-strewn, flat-out trails, tight and twisty flow trails are much harder to find. A mountain bike should be a versatile tool and this trail represents one end of the riding spectrum. It’s also the trail that proved to Cy that Longshot worked everywhere. That a longer, slacker bike worked on rough, high speed trails wasn’t really a revelation. That it worked so well on tight and twisty trails was.

As Cy points out, this kind of geometry is often labelled as being for aggressive riding, but he believes confidence allows aggression, and this geometry inspires confidence. It’s a virtuous circle.

After much testing, Cy is of the opinion that this geometry works no matter what level you ride at, or where you ride. It’s not a case of copy and paste though, as Cy has learnt the same numbers won’t work for all bikes.

Jumble Road tests suspension to the limit…

The second part of The Loop Of Truth is a piece of classic Peak District. Jumble Road does what it says on the tin – a wide streak of jumbled rock, some loose, some fixed. There’s no discernible easy line, forcing the bike to work hard to eat up the bumps and showing up any changes to suspension design or set-up. One relatively new addition to the toolbox for Cy is the use of a Quarq ShockWiz for set-up. How a bike feels is important, but having data to go alongside it can help unravel why things feel the way they do.

At the bottom of the trail it’s an immediate about-turn to ride straight back up what you’ve just ridden down. It’s here the subtleties of bottom bracket height, crank length and pedalling technique are brought into play. The Peak is famous for its lumpy climbs, while super-low bottom brackets might be fun in the turns but they trip up quickly when your pedals are bashing off every ledge you try and winch up and over a series of rocky steps. This trail helps with finding a balance between fun on the downs and ability on the climbs.

…while the uphills are sure to flag up a too-low BB

Not so long ago, choosing a bike for riding in the Peak District was as much about durability as capability. Grit has become synonymous with riding in this part of the UK. Granular, scouring, wearing, all pervasive, the enemy of moving parts and eyeballs. The bike killer. It’s almost taken as a given these days that bearings will last and dirt will, mostly, stay on the outside of the frame rather than working its way inside. The adoption of single ring drivetrains have made bike design simpler, but also made for a more durable, Peak-resistant bike. It’s also improved tyre clearance, or rather mud clearance. If there’s one thing British riders love to talk about it’s mud. We’re connoisseurs of the stuff and judge bikes ability to deal with it accordingly. Mud clearance is as much a talking point as geometry for many. Cy points out you can happily put 2.5in tyres in the rear of the Rocket Max and still have space for slop.

The contrast between the varieties of riding and the speed at which it can be repeated are what make this Cy’s go-to test loop, and the ideal place for back to back comparisons, but it’s not the only place Cotic uses for testing. Five minutes down the road from Lady Cannings is the infamous Devil’s Elbow. This may not be on The Loop but it’s one of Cy’s regular trails – another descent that provides a good place to test bikes, and rider ability. It has an old-school downhill track feel to it, with plenty of rocks, roots, drops and turns to keep rider and bike working. It also drains well – even after a day of torrential rain there are no puddles or muddy sections, testament to both local riders maintaining the trail and the sandy soil on which it is based. It’s a very different feel to Lady Cannings or Jumble Road and shows the variety of riding in the area as well as the need for a mountain bike that is as versatile as possible.

Long, low and slack geometry took the Rocket Max to a new level

Cotic has become the brand it is today in large part thanks to the trails around Sheffield and the Peak District. They have shaped not only the bikes, but the attitude of the company. This is not lost on Cy, and so Cotic is an active member of trail advocacy group Ride Sheffield and donates 0.5 per cent of its turnover each year to local trail projects. Putting back into the trails is the right thing to do when you get so much out of them. This acute acknowledgement of the fact that the local trails are an intrinsic part of Cotic’s bikes is probably best summed up by the map above Cy’s desk: Grit & Steel.

About this Best of British series

The UK is a world leader in mountain bike design. We have a proud engineering heritage and a stoic pragmatism that has given us a reputation for timeless, practical design. At the same time we are open minded and innovative, unafraid of pushing boundaries and not resting on our laurels. From men tinkering in sheds to large scale engineering companies we are a nation of thinkers and doers, evidenced by the number of bike brands that call the UK home.

We’ve more than just curiosity and engineering know-how to thank for this though, the geography of the British Isles has played an equally important role in influencing the design our bikes. In this series we are going to talk to UK bike brands and explore the trails that have influenced their design decisions. We want to find out if there was one trail that informed a bike’s design, a particular section of a ride that gave a eureka moment, how has Britain’s landscape shaped the bikes we ride today?