Cotic SolarisMax long-term review – my winter MTB companion gets a summer refresh

Graham Cottingham has put a load of winter miles on his Cotic SolarisMax long-termer and now it's time for a summer update

What is a hands on review?
Cotic SolarisMAX bike pictured from the side
(Image: © Graham Cottingham)

Early Verdict

The Cotic SolarisMax frameset is the heart of a trail and skill-flattering hardtail mountain bike thanks to the frame's smooth and grippy nature and dialed geometry.

Pros

  • +

    Versatile trail-orientated geometry

  • +

    Compliant frame boosts traction and comfort

  • +

    Tidy finish

  • +

    Decent weight for a steel frame

  • +

    Many, many bosses for mounting stuff

Cons

  • -

    Internal dropper routing requires clip-on guides

  • -

    Seat angle could be a degree or two steeper

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It's been a cold wet winter of gritty climbs and plowing through trail rivers, perma-puddles, and quagmires on the way back down. Despite my local trails in the Tweed Valley probably riding better when wetter, the pre-ride Gore-Texing and post-ride de-mudding every ride was getting tiresome. Luckily my filth-bashing Cotic SolarisMax longtermer build has been an absolute delight, keeping it fun out on the trails and battling the elements without complaint. 

Even by Scottish standards, the first part of the year has been an unrelentingly wet winter of MTB discontent with 29 percent more rain across the three winter months than the long-term average Thankfully, summer seems to finally be taking hold and celebrating the return of dry(er) trails and longer days I thought it was about time I gave the Cotic SolarisMax a spruce up so it’s sorted for summer.   

First of all, it's a testament to the reliability of the parts with which I initially built it up that I don’t need to strip the bike back to the frame and start again. The Crankbrothers Highline 7 dropper is still diligently moving up and down and the Ohlins RXF34 m.2 still feels smooth and controlled, although it's probably well overdue a service. The Cane Creek 40 headset has zero notchiness and other than needing a quick lever bleed and some new pads, the Hayes Dominion T4s still feel light, sharp, and powerful.

Winter has had its effects and some bits need attention to get rolling smoothly again. I continued riding the Reynolds Blacklabel 329 Trail Pro after writing my review and they are still running straight, true, and tight. The front hub is still spinning smoothly although the rear is rumbling for a bearing change. The Rotor bottom bracket is also starting to feel a bit sorry for itself and the less said about my jockey wheels the better.  

Cotic SolarisMAX bike pictured on a gravel track with grassy hills in the background

Before you ask, yes a mid-length mudguard is summer attire in Scotland (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Getting ready for a summer of shredding 

Luckily I have a load of new parts waiting in the wings to freshen up the SolarisMax ready for a summer of big trail missions and post-work evening adventures. 

The lightweight carbon Reynolds trail wheels have been replaced with an all-mountain set of Forge+Bond AM 30 wheels. Rather than using traditional carbon like many of the best MTB wheels, Forge+Bond builds its rims from a thermoplastic material called FusionFiber which it claims has a more sustainable manufacturing process and can be recycled at the end of a product's life.

Although I enjoyed the feel of Rotor’s oval ring, I have switched out the Rotor crankset for an e*Thirteen Helix Race crankset equipped with a 32t chainring. To match the crankset and chainring, the e*Thirteen Helix Plus cassette has been upgraded to an e*Thirteen Helix Race cassette with an even wider 9-52t range and lower 407g (actual) weight. 

Cotic SolarisMAX bike with e*thirteen cassette and cranks fitted

The e*Thirteen cassette offers loads of gear range and combined with the GX derailleurs updated pully wheels delivers slick shifting performance (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

I initially had reservations about SQLab 30X handlebar with its radical 16-degree back sweep when I first fitted it, but I quickly grew accustomed to the shape and found it offered lots of control. It’s time to switch things up though and I have replaced the SQLab and Protaper stem with a RaceFace Next R handlebar and Raceface Turbine R stem. I tried to keep the hand position somewhat the same between the two cockpit positions, swapping the 16-degree backswept bar and a 50mm stem for an 8-degree stem and stubby 32mm stem.

The lovely people at Enduro Bearings took pity on my poor GX derailleur and supplied me with an XD-15 pulley kit. It’s an expensive upgrade but Enduro Bearings claims its Ceramic Hybrid Bearing is “guaranteed to last forever against corrosion”, if there was a person to put that to the test it's me as I managed to kill two sets of SRAM pulley wheels this winter. Hopefully, these new pulley wheels will still be spinning smoothly once the mucky miles rack up.

Cotic SolarisMAX bike pictured on a gravel track with sheep in the background

Ready to get rowdy (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Ride impressions

I’ve managed to get out for a few rides on the bike since it’s summer makeover and the changes have significantly altered the bike’s ride feel. Although the dramatic change in trail conditions from soft and soggy to hot and baked will have contributed, the bike feels considerably stiffer and more direct although potentially not in a way that enhances the ride. It's still early days and further testing is needed to get to the bottom of it as there are potentially a few factors at play.

The most notable change is the cockpit setup. It’s odd going back to a conventional handlebar and stem but the RaceFace cockpit was easy to set up, requiring little more than a rough eyeball setup to find a comfortable position. The Race Face Turbine R stem is beautifully machined and saves 82g over the longer Protaper MTB stem it replaces. The Next R MTB handlebar gives a solid precise feel and my initial suspicion is much of the added stiffness through the front end is due to the handlebar, rather than the wheels.

The new Forge+Bond wheels were easy to set up tubeless and performed well. Like the outgoing Reynolds wheelset, the Forge+Bond wheels have Industry 9 Hydra hubs so I still have the same snappy acceleration and buzzing soundtrack as I did before. 

Another obvious change to the ride feel was the new MTB crankset and chainring. It was a bit of a shock to the legs going back to a round ring however the e*thirteen Helix Race crankset feels stiff and direct particularly when climbing. I’ve noticed gear shifts feel noticeably sharper although it’s hard to pinpoint whether the crisper performance is from the upgraded Helix Race cassette or the Enduro Bearing pulley wheels, maybe there is something to premium pulley wheels after all.

Forge+Bond wheels fitted with Continental tires and an orange e*thirteen tubeless valve

Chunky tires may have added a bit of weight, but the Continental Kryptotal Trail tires add loads of grip and still roll pretty quickly (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

The original build with XC tires was a svelt 12.2kg, with chunkier treads and a few extra grams here and there the bike is now significantly plumper at 13.1kg. It doesn’t show it though, retaining enough hustle to dispatch climbs with cross-country exuberance albeit a touch slower.

The SolarisMax continues to impress me with its descending capability however at the end of the day it’s still a 130mm hardtail and I have noticed more arm pump and fatigue on longer descents with the new build. To counteract this, I already have a few updates in mind to help elevate this. My ODI Ruffian Pro grips are getting a bit worn and thin so I am switching these old favorites to a set of Ergon GD1 Evos for a little more grip and squish. I swapped the Continental Krypototal Trail tires from the old wheels for testing consistency but once I have a feel for the new wheels I will switch them out for a plumper set of 2.6in Surly Dirt Wizards. Apidura has also sorted out my storage situation with its little 1L Backcountry frame bag, it fits snuggly in the front triangle of the Cotic and should have enough space for all my bits and pieces.

Tech specs: Cotic SolarisMax Update 2 build

  • Frame: Cotic SolarisMax, Reynolds 853 steel front triangle, 4130 cromo wishbone stay rear end
  • Fork: Ohlins RXF34 m.2, 130mm travel
  • Weight: 13.1kg (medium)
  • Wheel size: 29in
  • Chainset: e*thirteen Helix Race, 170mm chainset with 32t chainring. 
  • Rear mech: SRAM GX AXS
  • Shifter: SRAM GX AXS 
  • Cassette: e*Thirteen Helix Race 12-speed 9-52T
  • Brakes:  Hayes Dominion T4 brakes with Swissstop Pro 203/180mm rotors
  • Tires: Continentals Krypotatal front and rear, Trail casing, Endurance rubber 29x2.4in tires
  • Wheels: Forge+Bond AM 30
  • Bars: RaceFace Next R, 800mm
  • Grips: Ergon GD1 
  • Stem: Race Face Turbine, 32mm 
  • Seatpost: Crankbrothers Highline 7 (170mm dropper)
  • Saddle: Prologo Scratch
  • Finishes: Supernova Orange (featured), Midnight Blue
  • Sizes available: S, M (tested), L, XL
  • Price: £719 (frame only)
Graham Cottingham
Senior reviews writer, Bike Perfect

Graham Cottingham is the senior tech writer at Bikeperfect.com and is all about riding bikes off-road. With over 20 years of riding experience, he has dabbled in downhill, enduro, and gravel racing. Not afraid of a challenge, Graham has embraced bikepacking over the last few years and likes nothing more than strapping some bags to his bike and covering big miles to explore Scotland's wildernesses. When he isn’t shredding the gnar in the Tweed Valley, sleeping in bushes, or tinkering with bikes, he is writing tech reviews for Bike Perfect.

Rides: Cotic SolarisMax, Stooge MK4, 24 Bicycles Le Toy 3, Surly Steamroller

Height: 177cm

Weight: 71kg

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.