Living on Vancouver Island we are blessed with year round trail riding. The only caveat is half the year is wet and muddy. I’ve really enjoyed having a dedicated “winter bike” that’s setup with aggressive tires and fenders to make sloppy riding conditions as much fun as possible. Plus having a bike that’s meant to get thrashed in nasty conditions makes the accelerated wear and tear less of an issue. I sold my last winter bike, a Knolly Endorphin, and was thinking about what to ride for this winter when I settled on a Cotic BFeMAX.
I’ve really been enjoying riding the new breed of hardtails this last couple of years. I got a custom Daambuilt frame that I have built up for bikepacking that surprised me with how much fun it was for trail shredding. The only problem is I want to keep that bike setup for long days of fast non-technical riding. So that means comfort bars/grips, smooth rubber and a frame that’s designed with a lot of flex. So I looked around for a production hardtail that would be appropriate for a more burly build and would handle the hardest trails I wanted to ride. Luckily it seems like right now is the golden age of aggressive hardtails so I had a lot of choices.
Why the Cotic BFeMAX?
It’s no secret that the UK is home to a lot of companies that focus on hardtails. They’ve been making and riding aggressive hardtails for many years even though those of us in North America are just now starting to catch on. Cotic has a solid reputation for making great bikes and when they announced the new BFeMAX this spring I had a look at the large size frame and it ticked all my boxes.
- Strong frame without being overly stiff, which is a fine line to walk on a bike like this.
- Aggressive front end geometry with a ~62.4 deg HTA when running a 160mm fork.
- Designed for 120-160mm forks, which provides a lot of options for tuning how the bike rides.
- Longer headtube at 130mm since I like my bars high these days.
- Longer chainstays, which is something I was curious to try.
- Very long wheelbase of 1271mm, which is something I wanted to try.
- Higher BB to avoid pedal strikes in our chunky terrain.
- Mounts for 3 water bottles. Two inside the main triangle and one under the downtube.
- Room for a frame bag inside the main triangle as well as two bottles.
- Clearance for 29er wheels with chubby 2.6″ tires.
- External cable routing.
- Threaded BB.
- It was offered in a nice blue colour.
- Price + shipping was excellent. Delivered it was ~$1000CAD.
- Cotic was very easy to deal with. Shipping took ~1 week and was trouble free.
- They had stock as long as I moved fast. The shipment sold out in about two weeks after announcement!
My goal with the BFeMax was to build a hardtail that would be burly enough I would ride it down any trail I would ride a bike down in sketchy winter conditions. That said I do like longer rides and not every ride is going to be maximum fury. In fact now that COVID is in full swing again I am dialing back my riding to something like 70% of my capabilities so I am not irresponsible and add to the hospital staff’s workload. So the bike needed to be versatile enough to be fun when the trails are not super hard. It was an interesting balance to try and strike.
- Cotic BFeMAX large frame in blue
- Cane Creek 40 headset
- RockShox Lyrik Ultimate 160mm fork with 42mm offset
- 65mm of headset spacers [Yes I like a high bar!]
- Industry Nine 35mm stem with 31.8mm clamp diameter
- SQ Labs 16 deg sweep ~35mm rise bar
- Race Face Getta grips in 33mm diameter
- 9 Point 8 150mm dropper in 31.6mm diameter
- Ergon Enduro SM saddle
- Race Face Next R 170mm cranks with 30T ring & 73mm RF BB
- Race Face Chester pedals
- Shimano 11 speed XT shifter and derailleur + Wolftooth Goat Link
- Shimano 11 speed 42T cassette + Wolftooth 46T GC cog
- Shimano XT 2 piston brakes 200mm/180mm
- Velocity Blunt 35 rims + Sapim Race spokes + 110mm/148mm Hope Pro hubs
- Maxxis DHF/DHR 29 x 2.6″ EXO MaxxTerra tires
- Tannus Tubeless insert in the rear tire
- RP front fender
- Mudhugger rear fender
- PDW downtube splash guard
Fitting yourself to a frame just using geo chart data has some risks. The numbers don’t always work out quite the way you expected. Buying a frame from the UK meant that returning it for a different size wasn’t a practical option. Looking at the Cotic website I concluded I could safely fit onto a medium and might just make a large work. The BFeMax has a fairly slack STA with the 160mm fork at ~72 deg unsagged and ~73.5 deg at sag. That puts the saddle a long way from the bars. I wanted to see what a longer bike rode like so I decided to give the large a try knowing that there was a possibility I would have a problem.
When the frame showed up it was LOOONNNNG and I started to think I made a mistake. When assembling the bike I left the steerer uncut and aimed to get the bars about level with the saddle thinking the fork would sag ~40mm and get me to a comfortable trail shredding position. On a slack bike a long steerer tube also mean the bars move backwards towards the saddle, which for me was ideal. My go to saddle is the WTB Pure, but it has short rails so instead I tried an Ergon Enduro SM saddle mainly because it has really long rails that allowed me to slide the saddle forward towards the bars. This turns the bike’s slack 72 deg unsagged STA to something more like an average 74 deg STA. It’s important to remember that hardtails rotate forwards when they sag under the rider so that the STA is steeper when riding than what it would be unsagged. The opposite of FS bikes.
The first time I sat on the bike and pedaled it around the yard I was a bit relived to note the seated position felt decent. Definitely on the longer side and the saddle was further forward than I’d like for super long days of seated riding, but this bike was not made for gravel grinding so that wasn’t an issue. I should note that the Cotic BFeMAX page does put me right between a medium and a large based on my height and as it turns out that’s accurate. However, I should also note this frame maxes out my ability to fit on it and requires a lot of tweaks to make it work: short stem + long fork steerer + high backsweep bar + saddle with long rails pushed all the way forward.
Having put a few hundred KMs on the bike both riding to/from the trails and shredding the tech I’m happy with the fit. I can sit and spin 1hr to the trails without hating life…although I wouldn’t sign up for 3-4+hrs of that style of riding on this bike. Once on dirt where I am standing a lot the fit is great and I don’t think twice about the bike. I could ride it all day on mountain bike trails and be smiling. If I could get a frame that was right in the middle of the medium and large that would be perfect.
This frame is made in Taiwan. It’s got a brand name Reynolds 853 downtube and the rest of the frame is composed of unbranded 4130 tubes built to Cotic’s specs. The large frame weighs ~6.1lbs with axle. The welds are nice looking. The powder coat was applied well and the understated graphics suit me. The frame was packed well for shipment and arrived undamaged. I had no issues installing the BB or headset. The cable routing is sensible and uses quality metal hardware. I’m really glad Cotic didn’t try and get fancy with internal routing. It’s just annoying to deal with and I don’t find it looks remarkably better. The frame has mounts for 3 water bottles which I love as well as an additional 2 mounts under the TT that fit a variety of tool boxes/tube straps. I setup the frame with 2 bottles inside the main triangle and a TT frame bag flipped upside down to hold all my tools/pump/tube protected from the elements. I put another TT frame bag up top in the normal position to hold my phone, a snack, my credit card, a mask and it’s big enough I can stash my wind vest and ear warmers if I get hot. That upper TT bag also has the benefit of camouflaging my 65mm spacer stack!
In terms of the quality of the frame, the finish and the hardware provided I’m very pleased. It’s a top notch product at a reasonable cost.
Riding the Gnar
This bike’s mission was to let me ride any sloppy slippery steep techy winter trail that I’d ever throw myself down. I’ve ridden it enough to say mission accomplished. The frame + fork have enough stiffness and a long relaxed geometry such that it makes this style of riding as easy as possible. That doesn’t take away the challenge of getting to the bottom safely, but I’m never thinking about my bike itself I’m just thinking about the trail. The bike just does what it’s supposed to without drama and therefore fades out of my consciousness. Most excellent!
I’ve been riding Pikes a lot lately and they work fine for me, but holy cow this Lyrik is so much stiffer. Part of that is the frame design as well since you need both a stiff fork and a stiff frame to give you that next level steering precision. What this means is when things are getting dicey and my brain thinks “…it would be nice to put the front tire on a particular small patch of trail…” the tire actually ends up there every time not just somewhere in that general area. It also means the front end doesn’t get bounced off line easily. I wouldn’t rush out to replace my Pikes as they are great for a lot of less demanding riding, but for pushing my limits safely I can 100% appreciate the burlier Lyrik.
While the frame is stiff and does not flex in unwanted ways it’s not overly harsh and it doesn’t beat me up. Cotic has done a great job in selecting the tubing for this frame as it would have been much easier to just over build the BFeMAX like crazy and end up with an unpleasant ride quality. The main triangle is quite large on this bike which means you can’t have the lowest possible TT, which is the fashion for a lot of really aggressive hardtails. I’m glad Cotic went this way as I don’t find the TT too high. I never think about it when riding and being able to get all my tools/food/water/gear off my body and onto the frame is very very nice. I find that the extra weight on the bike stabilizes the frame when it’s moving fast through rough terrain helping it not get knocked off line and not having that cargo on my body makes the riding less tiring for me.
I’m glad I went with the longer frame when things get steep. I have yet to have an issue where I couldn’t descend something that was possible on my shorter bikes. Being able to stay in the middle of the bike and feeling centered between the wheels is great when things are getting hectic. That’s just one less thing to worry about.
The DHF/DHR combo has worked well for me. They are aggressive enough I rarely want for traction, but not so slow rolling that I hate them when I have to cover a lot of KMs. The 2.6″ width suits the 30mm inner width of the Velocity rims. They setup tubeless easily and I have not had a flat yet. The Tannus Tubeless insert in the rear is something new for me. I honestly was not pro-insert in the past and while I am not rushing out to install them in every tire on every mountain bike I own this insert is making sense to me for the Cotic. This new version of Tannus insert is reasonably lightweight, easy to install, not crazy expensive and performs well. So that solves some of the issues I had with inserts in the past in terms of being heavy, expensive and hard to install/remove. The main benefit of the insert is I can ride that back wheel quite hard at a lower pressure for traction [currently ~17/18psi] without worrying about rim damage or flats and the rear tire doesn’t feel squirmy in turns. The downside is it does make the backwheel heavier. Given the mission profile for this bike it’s a trade off I’m willing to make.
Riding Easier Terrain
The Cotic is my bike for all winter trail riding not just when things are at maximum fury and as noted above with COVID happening I have dialed back my riding to be responsible. So how does the bike work on less demanding terrain? The answer is not bad, but it’s not perfect there either. Despite being quite long and slack I don’t find much problem maneuvering it through our slower tight tech. It does require some thought and it’s not as easy to ride in those conditions as a shorter bike, but it’s not a big deal. For some reason this bike is easy to ride slowly and even pause for a second then keep pedaling. The more I ride it the more natural it is to work it through each feature. At the very limit of what’s possible for me to ride I have run into places where the length means I have to dab and readjust, but that’s rare. So in a lot of ways the fact this frame is so capable doesn’t come at too high a cost for terrain where it’s not being pushed hard. Heck I am surprised that riding the 1hr each way to/from the trails has not proved to be a hassle. That’s great since I am less and less stoked about driving to ride a bicycle these days.
All that said you can’t a bike this long and this aggressive with no downsides on easier terrain. I’m not popping this bike into the air or throwing it around like it’s a BMX bike. If you want to play off every little feature at slow speeds this is not the right bike for you. The faster you go the more the BFeMAX likes to take to the air and feels playful. That’s not shocking this bike was made to go fast. Particularly with the longest travel fork installed and in the longest size I can ride. If you don’t have very steep difficult terrain to ride I wouldn’t pick this bike. It would be like taking a rock crawler jeep down a tame logging road. It can do it, but you are not using the vehicle’s full capabilities.
The long fork and higher BB on the Cotic mean I get no pedal strikes. On my Daambuilt I’ll usually hit the bashguard at least once a ride if not a few times. On the BFeMAX I don’t recall hitting it once. The plus side of this means I can pedal through tech without worry about ratcheting. The negative is the bike can feel high occasionally. I suspect what I’ll do long term is lower the Lyrik to 140mm perhaps with an angle adjust headset to keep the current HTA. It’s not something that bothers me a lot so I’ll wait until the fork needs a lower service and adjust the travel at that point.
I like to climb. I really like to climb tech. I don’t shuttle and I don’t ride bike parks so to get to the top of a trail I pedal there. I won’t put up with a bike that doesn’t climb well. The BFeMAX has much longer CS than I am used to, is much slacker and much longer than I am used to. I really wasn’t sure what that would mean for climbing. Having pushed my saddle all the way forward the bike handles seated non-technical climbing well. I don’t have to move much as I am centered in the bike and I neither have issues with rear wheel traction nor the front end wandering. The main constraint to my performance with this kind of climbing is the fact I am rolling on aggressive knobbies. So far I have been happy with how fast the DHF/DHR’s roll in the 2.6″ width with this casing and rubber compound. I have no plans to make any tire changes.
For technical climbing the Coitic has done very well. I’ve cleaned all the sections I typically clean. The combo of the longer CS and 2.6″ DHR run at a lower pressure has provided excellent traction. The length of the bike has not proved to be an issue and it means I can stay in the centre of the bike and crank away without having to worry about weighting either end of the bike. On some of the more challenging tech climbs where I don’t always clean them I’m still learning how to ride the Cotic. When every inch counts I need to ride this bike more before I’ll have my technique locked down. All in all though I’m happy with how the BFeMAX climbs.
As you can see I’m pretty happy with this bike as is. It’s performing well in some very demanding conditions. But there are a few items I think will get changed in time.
- The 160mm fork makes the bike quite tall and given the rear is rigid I don’t really need this much travel since I can only smash through chunk so fast. When the lowers need a service I will drop in a 140mm airshaft. That’ll lower the bike quite a bit without affecting how well it steers doing down steep tech.
- I may drop in a -1 degree angle adjust headset when I lower the fork. That would maintain the current unsagged HTA. Since the bike is very slack that may not be needed. I’m going to ponder this a while and make the call last minute.
- The 150mm 9 Point 8 dropper I have is 4 years old and still going strong. At some point I’ll replace it with a 175mm travel dropper so I can use all the space I’ve got in the BFeMAX to get the saddle as low as possible. This will be nice, but I’m not in a rush to do that.
- The 2 piston XT brakes are also 4 years old and they have been less than amazing the whole time I’ve owned them. They suffer from the common Shimano wandering bite point problem. So I never know how far I need to pull the lever in before I get into the meat of the braking action. That is really annoying when you are trying to feather the rear brakes in marginal conditions. You either get no braking or you lock up the rear wheel. The new breed of 4 piston mid-level brakes look nice and will be a noticeable upgrade. I’ll make this happen in early 2021.
- I started riding this bike with Ergon grips that were 30mm in diameter. Most of my bikes have Ergons on them and I like them a lot. However, on the Cotic they felt small/hard for some reason. So I tried some 33mm diameter Race Face Getta grips and prefer those.
What’s up next?
I’m just going to keep riding the Cotic as my winter trail bike for the rest of our wet season. I’ll post a Part 2 follow up review when summer comes with my longer term thoughts. Part of me is tempted to skip riding FS bikes in 2021 and try doing a full year of hardtailing. With COVID likely to limit my travel to Vancouver Island and close by areas through next year that might not be crazy talk. I’ll have to ponder that idea a bit more.