Cotic’s charismatic steel framed FlareMAX is back for round five, and it’s embracing the down-country theme it stumbled across back in 2018.
The first generation FlareMAX 29er was a down-country blueprint before the genre really became a thing. We ride the latest evolution, in Gold XT spec, to check out how Cotic has fine-tuned its short travel platform.
Need to know
- Latest version of the FlareMax 29er trail bike
- DropLink suspension delivers 125mm travel, where frame geometry is design around a 130mm fork
- UK made Reynolds 853 front end combined with Taiwan-made steel seat stays and alloy chainstays for a best of both worlds ride experience
- More size options and a switch to C-Sizing: C1 to C5
- Bikes available worldwide, with free shipping to UK and Europe
- Available as a frame with shock for £2,099
- UK made frames have Datatag installed from the factory
First a bit of background though. Born in 2018 as the 29in version of the 27.5in Cotic Flare, the 5th generation FlareMAX still rolls on big wheels. The frame tubing is mostly a custom ‘Ovalform’ version of Reynolds’ premium 853 air hardening steel too, so it doesn’t look radically different either.
Dig a little deeper however and it’s clear that the design has continually evolved. Yes the signature ‘DropLink’ suspension still yields 125mm rear wheel travel, just like on the 3rd Gen bike, but the kinematics have changed, inspired by Cotic’s mid-travel Jeht bike, first introduced on the Gen 4 FlareMAX.
And it was for the Gen 4 bike that Cotic officially included lightweight 120mm RockShox SID forks on the options list, alongside 130-140mm trail forks, after lockdown ‘downcountry’ experiments online created a surprising amount of sales and rave reviews.
The main structural changes to the Gen 5 bike then are to increase strength. Cotic founder Cy Turner told me that this was to add insurance for increasingly aggressive riders who are sending it as hard on short travel bikes as they are on Cotic’s 140mm travel Jeht, and 160mm travel Rocket models.
As a result, the new FlareMAX gets the same alloy chainstay assembly, dropouts, smoother finished linkages and shock mount as those bigger hitting bikes. The down tube itself also changes to a plain gauge Reynolds 853 tube rather than being butted, so it’s not thicker at the ends. Happily this adds significant strength without increasing weight, so it’s still got a noticeable gram advantage over the Jeht.
There’s a new short triangulation tube between down tube and seat tube in front of the BB too, which noticeably stiffens and strengthens the power delivery and corner pushing capacity of the FlareMAX.
It’s been a while since Cotic’s Longshot geometry, with its stretched reach, short stem and relaxed angles, seemed really radical, probably because all of the other brands have caught up. Still, the 65.6º head angle, 75.8º seat angle and reach measurements stretching from 439mm to 515mm on the latest FlareMAX are spot on for a bike in this category.
Cotic has also adopted a proportional sizing theme initiated by Specialized, but also taken up by Forbidden, Merida and others. By switching from S-XL sizing, to C1 – C5 sizing, the Gen 5 adds a size and reduces the jumps in reach measurements between each size to 19mm, down from 26-27mm. Shorter seat tubes also allow sizing up without restricting dropper post stroke options, so while I hovered between M and L before, the new C3 fit was spot on.
Steel is arguably a more planet friendly material to make bikes out of than alloy or carbon, and Cotic has always been pushing for a lower ecological footprint overall. That’s one of the reasons it started working with renowned Scottish frame builder Five Land Bikes a few years ago and the new FlareMAX front end is immaculately welded at the base of the Pentland Hills in South Edinburgh.
The alloy linkages and shock mounts are made by Rideworks in Coventry and sharing those (and the Asian made rear end) with the Jeht and Rocket adds economies of scale that help offset the higher UK manufacturing costs..
Even the box you bike arrives in is made from recycled cardboard. And while Cotic is a direct sales brand, you can visit its HQ in the Peak District and pick up your bike in person. To further reduce waste and lower consumer cost, Cotic not only offers a rolling chassis option for £2,799 with RockShox Revelation fork and Shimano wheels, it’s also happy to swap any existing parts you already have into the complete bike builds.
All in, the pricing is impressive, compared to generic Asian carbon or alloy competition. Especially if you value the semi-Scottish, artisan built frame, small scale of Cotic as a company, and its reputation for going way beyond the call of duty to help customers out wherever possible.
The team also invests a significant amount of its profit and personal time into all sorts of local and national advocacy and inclusivity projects, which is something a lot of bigger brands could learn from.
How it rides
It’s all very well buying a bike from a feel good company, but the warm fuzzy feeling soon dies if the bike itself doesn’t feel good. As a massive fan of the almost comically compliant traction of the previous FlareMAX, the reinforced frame of the Gen 5 made me a little apprehensive.
The new frame means there’s definitely more to press against through corners and offers a really positive, rather than obviously flexy, feel when you stomp on the cranks. And the improved frame stiffness translates to the front of the bike too – the Cotic custom tuned Cane Creek Helm fork holding its line with more confidence through rougher, random sections, rather than obviously looking for the path of least resistance.
Factor in Cane Creek DB Inline shock that’s a multi-adjustable winner and the bike feels superbly balanced and capable. A less obvious bonus of the smaller jumps in frame size is that you can choose a shorter/stiffer, or longer/looser frame to manipulate the ride feel more easily too.
Even on the size C3 I tested, which is shorter than the large Gen 3 I still ride a lot, there’s still enough of Cotic’s signature compliance to suck the sting out of the biggest hits, and it still moulds to the trail rather than getting pinged off line or slapped hard. This means you’re definitely experiencing the trail in a dynamically different way to a carbon or alloy bike. You’ll feel that flowing ‘friendliness’ whether you’re pushing race pace or just chilling at a cruise, but one element that’s always surprising is just how fast the FlareMax is.
The steel frame weighs in around 4.5kg with shock which is 30% heavier than similar travel carbon models I’ve tested from the likes of Yeti, Santa Cruz and Pivot. However, the Cotic hides that weight extremely well by often carrying speed better through the rough, and gripping where a stiffer/easier bounced bike might slip.
The suspension is also impressively efficient even before you flick the ‘climb switch’ lever across. Keen pricing means complete bikes will often come out surprisingly competitive on weight, and way ahead on component performance, where the lightest down country version comes in at around 13kg for £6,999, which is definitely carbon competitive.
Cotic’s newest FlareMAX short travel steeler mixes the latest trail sizing and ethical trends with traditional materials and awesome company values. In doing so it's create a brilliantly different, yet very speedy and cost competitive down-country package.