This is a big bike hidden in a little bike’s clothing
With the short travel 29er Cotic FlareMax the British steel specialist forges agead again with upgraded geometry and flexible speccing.
Cotic FlareMax need to know
- Short-travel 29er trail bike with big-big geometry and sizing
- Reynolds 853 Ovalform DZB tubed steel front end, alloy rear
- Adjusted shock position gives more linear suspension feel to the 125mm travel
- Proudly externally routed cables and hoses
- Silver, Gold and Platinum builds, from £2,749
Longer, lower, slacker. Three words that have come to define the development of mountain bikes over the past five years, describing in one pithy phrase the great leaps forward modern bikes have made.
The latest buzz word though is ‘steeper’, with brands pushing hard to make their seat tubes more vertical — Norco, Evil, Calibre, Nukeproof, Specialized and more have all steepened up the actual seat tube angle on their latest bikes. The FlareMax is now in its third frame generation, and it too has that vertiginous feeling, adding two degrees in actual terms to that seat tube angle.
We’ll come to the details later though, because the bike needs something of an introduction. The Cotic FlareMax has 125mm travel delivered through its linkage-driven single-pivot suspension design, that’s an increase of 5mm from the old bike and a change Cotic says is down to a shock position tweak.
Made from a blend of Reynolds 853 steel tubing combined with an alloy swingarm, the bike looks unpretentious and workmanlike. Cotic hasn’t tried to hide all the cabling inside those tubes either, something that will appeal to plenty of riders who work on their own bikes.
Max means it runs on 29in wheels, and you get 130-140mm travel up front, depending on the specification options, delivered either through a Cane Creek or X-Fusion suspension fork. There are three basic builds, Silver, Gold and Platinum, but delve into each of these and you can specify either a SRAM or Shimano drivetrain. That’s not the end of the fettling though, you can change pretty much anything and Cotic will automatically price it up for you — even to the point of sending in your own parts and having Cotic build them onto your bike.
This model is the Gold build and comes with a 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, Cane Creek Helm fork and DB Air IL shock. It’s the same price as the Gold 12-speed Shimano XT build — we really like the fact you can choose your favourite drivetrain.
It’s been two years since Cotic first adopted its Longshot geometry — dramatically adding length to the top tube and reducing it from the stem, transforming the bike into what we said at the time was a trail shredder. Now in 2020 the changes are more subtle, with the reach having crept up 5-8mm, dependent on size. The extra reach is really important because it allows Cotic to run that steeper seat tube angle without the bike feeling too cramped when you’re seated. Combine that with the FlareMax’s brilliantly low standover height, and even riders under 6ft could fit a size XL, if they so wished.
The bike climbs better too, of course, with that steeper seat tube putting you further forward and over the BB and closer to an ideal pedalling position. I reckon there’s still way to go though; the seat tube could be plenty steeper and I wouldn’t complain.
How it rides
Cotic says some lighter riders struggled to get all the travel on the old bike, so this latest version has a longer shock stroke and consequently less progression. To me it feels spot on, the suspension is deliciously lithe throughout the travel and works well on off-camber sections and that sticky, loose brown stuff that’s everywhere at the moment. At the front the Helm fork is a proven performer, supportive yet echoing the supple feel from the bike’s suspension. I started off with 130mm travel but upped it after a few rides to 140mm, something you can do in half an hour with a few spacers — kudos to Cane Creek.
With that little extra insurance (and a dab more ride height) the FlareMax dishes out confidence on steep natural trails, in large part thanks to the excellent geometry. With a ground hugging bottom bracket height, good length and relaxed head angle, this is a big bike hidden in a little bike’s clothing. It’s still fun though, just as a short-travel bike should be, it’s easy to flick between turns and returns your input into the trails.
There are limits, of course. At first I figured the Shimano XT brakes were underpowered, but now I’m convinced their power was intermittent — it may be just the set I tested, but you could downgrade to Deore (and save £99) or upgrade to Hope Tech3 X2s for £150 more. The WTB Vigilante didn’t work for me either, so I swapped it for a Minion DHF for £30 extra. And of course, it’s easy to reach the travel limits of a 125mm-travel bike with pretty linear suspension… then again, isn’t that what we want from a short travel bike?