With mountain bikes getting more and more capable, Cy from Cotic designed the new Cascade gravel bike during Covid to take him back to his off-road roots and open up front door adventuring possibilities. The result is a hugely versatile and most importantly hugely fun RADventure bike that re-centers on the early days exploring, not ‘everything is extreme’ part of the off-road experience. Fork choice plays a big part in the performance, though.
Does it deserve a spot on our list of the best gravel bikes? Keep reading to find out.
Ever since his original Soul hardtail, Cy has been building mountain bikes (and the occasional ‘all road bike’ before they were really a thing) out of top quality Reynolds 853 steel main tubes. No surprise then that the Cascade uses the same recipe, including his trademark slightly elliptical ‘Ovalform’ top tube and an oversized seat tube. There are lots of other nice details too such as the tiny ‘coccyx’ wishbone at the top of the skinny seat stays and pocketed dropouts at the rear and on the matching Alpaca steel fork. The Cascade is absolutely awash with mount points for bottles, three-bolt everything cages, front and rear racks (high and low rider) as well as dynamo wire and dropper post routing. There are mounts (including an offside chain stay stub) for full mudguards and all the cables and hoses are P-clipped or saddle clamped for easy servicing too. MTB style ‘Boost’ axle spacing means there’s room for 29x2.6in or 27.5 x 3.0in wheels and tires in the frame and fork too.
Cy has kept build choice as open as possible too, building the 69-degree head angle of the ‘Sure Shot’ geometry around the length of a sagged 100mm suspension fork (483mm). Sure Shot also follows Cotic’s Long Shot geometry cues with a relatively long reach (410mm on a medium frame) matched to short stems and wide bars. It’s available in S, M, L and XL in three different colours.
As you might expect for a bike that’s designed to wander in the wilderness between gravel and MTB, the parts list is a mix of both menus. Road riding provides the SRAM Force and Rival mix of wide range gears, shifters and brakes, but the Wolf Pack tires tires, Hunt Trail Wide wheelset (production bikes will come with Hunt XC Wide) and X-Fusion Manic dropper post are definitely MTB. Easton single ring chainset and Cotic’s own flared 46-52cm Valley drop bars are gravel specific. While there are several set builds ranging from £2,099 for Microshift/Deore to £4,529 for SRAM Force 1 with Eagle AXS, Cotic is happy to accommodate whatever ideas and existing kit you want to bring to the build. It even offers a rolling chassis with Cane Creek headset and Hunt XC Wide wheels for £1,265. The custom Restrap frame bag seen in the pictures comes in two sizes to fit the frame and with either grey or rainbow laces.
The really critical choice to the ride though is the fork. Our bike came with Cotic’s own tapered steel Alpaca fork which is bristling with bag/rack/bottle mounts but weighs in at a hefty 1,380g uncut. That’s actually slightly more than the 100mm travel RockShox SID SL suspension fork Cotic offers as an alternative, and over twice the weight of the Salsa Firestarter 110 Deluxe Carbon fork option.
Obviously fork choice is going to have a big impact on how the front end feels and how many things you can carry on your Cascade. Sticking a 100mm travel suspension fork in the front is going to make things a lot more comfortable and controlled on MTB-style terrain, but there’s no official way to mount luggage on it. The Salsa carbon fork still has everything cage mounts and is impressively smooth according to Cy. It does have a longer offset though, so the front wheel can feel slightly distant and ‘floppy’ compared to the short offset Alpaca or SID options. We tested with the Alpaca anyway, so it’s that handling this review is based around.
And while some of you will be here for the tire and baggage bolting versatility and others for the slim steel aesthetics, handling is undoubtedly one of the best of many great aspects of the Cascade. Even with a relatively conventional bar (Cotic offers the 52cm wide PNW Coast Bar as a £40 upgrade) the relaxed handling angle, long reach and short stem on short offset fork are both reassuringly stable and playfully responsive. That meant I was soon barreling into normally very gravel hesitant sections off the brakes and on the hunt for clipped apexes and fast, wide exit lines. Obviously the tall fork means you’re in a more upright controlled position than the normal head down, ass up pose of an off road road bike whether you’re on the tops or drops as well. Having a dropper post that can be triggered remotely from the drops is also a big enabler when it comes to getting down and dirty.
Cotic’s Cascade rides right along the edge of the ‘why not just get an MTB’ line and the fact the steel fork makes it something of a tank in terms of weight can’t be ignored. If you want a drop bar bike with masses of fork switching, sweet handling, smooth frame versatility the Cascade is a pull down menu of positives. Then there’s all the various blended build options and ‘several steps beyond’ customer service you get with a small, super keen team like Cotic to factor in compared to buying a bigger brand bike with a ‘better value’ price tag.
Above all though, the Cascade is the bike equivalent of that mate who isn’t the fastest, fittest or fanciest but who never lets you down however heavy things get and always makes daft adventures or just the daily grind way more fun than you expect.
Tech Specs: Cotic Cascade
- Discipline: Bikepacking/Adventure
- Price: £2,799 (Shimano GRX Gold build)
- Sizes: S, M, L*, XL (*tested)
- Head angle: 69 degrees
- Frame material: Reynolds 853 steel custom main tubes
- Weight: 12.7kg (large without pedals)
- Wheel size: 29x2.25in
- Components: SRAM Force 1 Shifters and brake levers with Rival 11 speed mech and cassette. Easton single ring chainset. SRAM Rival brakes with 160mm rotors. Wolfpack Race 29 x 2.5in front and rear tires on Hunt Trail Wide wheels. Cotic Valley 460mm flared drop bar and Pro 60mm stem, X-Fusion Manic dropper post, Cotic saddle.