Cotic has been proving steel mountain bikes can still be really good for years now. But while the natural flow of ferrous tubes is a gift for creating lively, lovable hardtails, can cro-mo really still cut it for flat out enduro racing and ragged edge raving?
The RocketMax is certainly at the cutting edge in terms of shape thanks to its Long Shot geometry, 160mm fork, 150mm rear travel and the ability to run big 29er tyres or really big 27.5in rubber. It's the experience built into the frame that makes it stand out on the trail though.
Design and geometry
The RocketMax uses Cotic's proven Droplink suspension system where a small alloy kicker linkage (made by Superstar in Lincolnshire) on the kinked seat tube manages the rate of a horizontal shock bolted into a mid down tube mount. The main pivot sits level and central with the chainring while the rear pivot is on the seat stay so it's effectively a neutrally positioned, linkage managed single pivot.
Geometry is definitely radical though with a DH standard 63.5-degree head angle at the end of a 490mm reach on a large frame. After a lot of testing Cotic have settled on a 75.3-degree seat angle for reasonable climbing bite without a weird feel on the flat and the bottom bracket is high enough for spinning up steppy, rocky climbs. The alloy chainstays are relatively long at 448mm but that gives plenty of room for chunky 29x2.5 or 27.5x2.8in tyres.
What really sets the RocketMax apart is the mainframe built by Five Land bikes in Scotland. It's one of the first Cotic frames to realise founder Cy Turner's dream of a UK-manufactured front end. Not also does this guarantee excellent build and finishing quality (logos are painted not stickered and the frame is fully corrosion protected internally for only £250 more than Far Eastern built Cotics), but it also makes responding to orders or slight tweaks super easy. The tubes are a custom mix of Reynolds 853 including an OvalForm top tube, DZB down tube and a custom-butted 35mm seat tube that Cy helped Reynolds design to stop twist across the main pivot. The rear gear cable runs through the seat stays and it's stealth post ready but otherwise, the cables are clamped up the down tube. This means the bottle has to hang under the top tube which looks odd, but doesn't get in the way of your knees or eject on the first drop as you might expect. While the 3.85kg (8.5lb) frame weight sounds like a ton of metal, that's only 300g heavier than the claimed weight of a Yeti SB-150 Turq frame, and a large Santa Cruz Megatower CC carbon frame with coil shock is 4.2kg (actual weight).
Components and build
There are 7 levels of complete build from Shimano SLX based 'silver' at £3199 to Cane Creek Ti cranked, Hunt Carbon wheeled, Hope and Burgtec loaded XO1 Platinum at £6649. The Gold is the package we'd pick though, with cost-effective SRAM GX drivetrain and the excellent Cane Creek Helm forks and DB Inline Air shock as standard. It also gets Hunt Trail Wide wheels which add life and tyre volume to the latest generation WTB Vigilante and Judge tyres. After years of groaning when we saw WTB on spec lists the latest generation of Tritec compound tyres are properly grippy and well-damped rubber right up with Maxxis and Schwalbe in performance terms. It comes with X-Fusion's solidly reliable Manic dropper post and a 35mm (get this one) or 45mm Cotic stem and 780mm bar. The only potential grumble is the Shimano XT brakes which can be glitchy on bite point.
Ride, handling and performance
With a 1290mm wheelbase, 490mm reach and a front wheel so far away that will feel like you're chasing a wheelbarrow down the trail if you're not used to a progressive bike, the Cotic takes some adjusting to. It's never going to be a pick up and flick acrobat either - get the 120mm travel, 27.5-inch wheeled Cotic Flare for that.
Cotic have clearly worked extremely hard to balance out the super slack geometry though. While the plush Helm fork held at 63.5 degrees is pretty much unshakeable if you're ploughing into random debris or ruts, the 35mm stem gives immediate traction catch and micro line adjustment if you need to tweak control.
The steel frame also sucks up a noticeable amount of sting and chatter that would otherwise knock you offline and flexes enough to make a real difference on ankle breaking landings. There's enough muscle in the custom seat tube and oval-shaped main tubes to make sure it never strays too far off line or flicks you high side if you smash a block or drop mid-turn. The DropLink suspension is basically very sorted too. That means while there are masses of adjustment of both the low and high-speed rebound and damping settings, it still feels fine when using base settings and sag if you're impatient to get going. Add the new, massively improved WTB tyres on the Hunt wheels and you've got an outstandingly gripped and grounded bike when gravity is your primary propulsion.
The Cane Creek Droplink suspension also pedals remarkably well, with enough sensitivity to flatten stutter bumps and roots but the stability not to just bounce when you stand up and attack a short climb. Flicking the Climb switch on numbs rebound and compression for a grippy start to a solid mid-stroke if you're really muscling the gears uphill too.
Obviously, at 15.3kg it takes some grunt to get moving but there's enough clearance under the cranks so you don't have to back off power often. There's no distracting kickback through the pedals either so you can get some power strokes in to stoke speed however rough it gets under your rubber.
If you want total hard-edged precision, or lightweight, long-travel trail agility then the RocketMax isn't for you. The radical geometry with its need to take the longer way round tighter sections won't suit everyone either and it's the first bike too long to fit straight in our test van. The steel tube aesthetics with their transverse pipe section terminals won't float the boat of fat carbon fans either.
If you want a bike that delivers all the damping and shock shrugging advantages of steel, while retaining a warm sense of spring but never twanging too far off line then it's fantastic. The geometry and key componentry have been carefully curated to take the unshakeably grounded and gripped feel from tyre knob to bar tip. The result is an enduro tank that stays utterly calm and confident well beyond our test team's normal panic points and takes up position as one of the fastest gravity bikes we've ridden - regardless of material or origin. Additionally, it pedals well enough to hide a lot of its weight and stays enjoyably engaging on less taxing trails.
Finally, the fact hat Cotic are a small firm who'd be personally delighted if you turned up at their regular demo's or Peak District HQ is another potential bonus in a world of increasingly similar bikes and brands.
- Temperature: 15-degrees, mixed
- Trails: Red, black and double black park, super tech and super fast natural
- Terrain: Steeper the better
- Price: £4,149 / US$5,159 / AU$7,621
- Head angle: 63.5 degrees
- Frame material: Custom Reynolds 853 mainframe, alloy chain stays
- Size: Large
- Weight: 15.34kg
- Wheel size: 29-inch or 27.5+
- Suspension (front/rear): Cane Creek Helm 29 160mm fork and DB Air InLine shock (150mm travel)
- Components: SRAM GX Eagle gears and cranks
- Brakes: Shimano Deore XT brakes
- Wheels: Hunt Trail Wide wheels with WTB Vigilante 29 x 2.5in front and Judge 29 x 2.4in rear tyres.
- Bar/stem: Cotic Calver 780mm bar and Cotic 35mm ShortStem
- Seatpost: X-Fusion Manic dropper seat post
- Saddle: Cotic CroMo saddle