Cotic SolarisMAX long-termer – the build and first ride impressions

Bike Perfect’s Senior Tech Writer Graham joins the cult of Cotic with his SolarisMax long-term test bike build

What is a hands on review?
Cotic SolarisMax long term build
(Image: © Graham Cottingham)

Early Verdict

The Cotic SolarisMax frameset has built into a trail and skill-flattering 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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There’s little more satisfying for a bike enthusiast than turning a pile of shiny new bits into a complete bike that's ready to ride. To see the hours of consideration and compilation come together perfectly into a rideable bike is truly satisfying.  

I chose the Cotic SolarisMax as the base for my longtermer build as I wanted a versatile frame that could be fun across a wide range of riding. Cotic’s Solaris Max finds a beautiful balance between a light, agile, and inspirational feel on flow while still being planted enough that I am not left white-knuckling the handlebars when the trails start to get steep, techy, and fast. 

The frame is only part of a bike, so I needed to put together a build that reflect my riding intent, and other than a few initial tweaks, it was immediately clear this bike was going to be a riot on the trails. 

Cotic SolarisMax long term build

The Cotic SolarisMax frame has built into an agile yet hard charging hardtail (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Gathering of gears

While some parts were quickly accumulated, others proved to be far more difficult to get my hands on and significantly dragged out the process. The drivetrain was a particular sticking point, hence the mish-mash of parts. I have chosen the previous generation SRAM GX AXS derailleur for a couple of reasons, firstly electronic shifting is refreshingly fuss-free but I also already had it scurried away in my parts box after finding an incredibly good deal on the derailleur and shifter last Black Friday. Up front, I paired this with a Rotor Kapic crankset, I went for 170mm cranks and despite the alloy construction, they are still pretty light at 558g for the cranks, axle, and bottom bracket. I fitted an oval chain ring to a bike many years ago and remember liking it a lot, Rotor also does oval rings so I thought I would give it another go. The oval ring feels a little odd at first but I really like how it delivers pedal stroke power on climbs. I chose a 32t chain ring to give me a little extra oomph on faster flatter trails.  

e*Thirteen Helix Plus 12-speed cassette fitted to a MTB

Helix Plus 12-speed cassette offers a wide 556 percent gear range (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

The e*Thirteen Helix Plus cassette was the last piece of the drivetrain puzzle. The two-piece aftermarket cassette offers a wider 556 percent gear range thanks to its 9-50t spread and at 415g (actual) it’s lighter than the equivalent GX Eagle cassette too.

I have been putting in some good mileage on Reynolds Blacklabel 329 Trail Pro wheels. Despite being aimed at trail riding these wheels have an impressive strength-to-weight ratio and have so far shrugged off plenty of messy enduro runs despite weighing sub 1,600g, stay tuned for a full review of these wheels on Bike Perfect soon. 

Cotic SolarisMax long term build

Reynolds wheels are fast and tough, unfortunately the Mauka tires were only fast (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Despite all my optimism for a summer of dusty days on the trail, in reality, it was a pretty dreadful summer in Scotland with most rides seeing me caked in muck as if it were the depths of winter. With winter now upon us properly, I swapped out the American Classic Mauka downcountry tires in preparation for the trails getting wetter and slippier. I have switched them out for a grippier and tougher combo of Continentals Krypotatal front and rear with the Trail casing and Endurance rubber. The Continentals only weigh around 100g more each and the Endurance compound rolls well too, when you start demanding traction though the tread has a predictable and dependable hold on the trail.

Putting the tire’s braking traction to the test are Hayes Dominion T4 brakes, which I have paired with SwissStop floating rotors. The lightness of the lever pull on these brakes is unbelievable, feathering the brakes is effortless and I have felt a noticeable reduction in arm pump when using these brakes, particularly on steep physical descents that have previously left me shaking out my hands at the bottom. They aren’t perfect, but you will need to wait for my full review to find out more.

Cotic SolarisMax long term build

Hayes Dominion T4 brakes are paired with SwissStop rotors for punchy braking performance (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Propping up the front is Ohlins’ RXF34 m.2 fork which impressed me when I tested it last year. It's a perfect match for the SolarisMax, with 130mm of travel and a stout 34mm chassis. As this bike is aimed at much of the riding that I originally tested the fork on, I have kept the same settings with factory-recommended pressure, seven clicks of low-speed compression, and four-volume spacers to increase progressivity for more support.

The Crankbrothers Highline 7 dropper hasn’t skipped a beat, I specced a 170mm dropper although in retrospect I could have snuck a 200mm in for a little extra drop. The cockpit is a little unusual, featuring a highly backswept but low 15mm rise SQLab 30X 16-degree handlebar, along with a 50mm Protaper MTB Stem.  

The complete build came in at 12.2kg, although a few 100g extra now it has the burlier Continental tires fitted, which is respectable considering the build uses a steel frame, big brakes, and a build durable enough to let loose on most trails. 

Cotic SolarisMax long term build

The Cotic SolarisMax has a lively hard charging ride feel (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Initial ride impressions

It's hard to put into words how the SolarisMax rides as it's got an almost transformative quality that adapts to any type of trail. A light and lively touch keeps flow trails fun and the SolarisMax feels short and easy to maneuver with steering inputs having an almost instantaneous effect on direction. Pick up speed though and the handling remains composed and precise thanks to the slack head angle while the long stays keep the bike feeling planted when the trails get chundery.

The combination of longshot geometry, low front end, and shallow bars gives a forward riding position that might feel a little at odds compared to other trial-orientated bikes or rowdy hardtails like Stif’s Squatch which prefer to sit you more centrally and rely on short chainstays to enhance maneuverability. 

Stay loose and the SolarisMax encourages a lead-from-the-front, rear-end hanging-out, style of riding which I have always found effective when descending quickly on a hardtail. When rear-wheel traction is required, drop the heels as if you’re a horse rider in spurs and the SolarisMax will respond positively, gathering itself back up ready to slam the anchors or rail a turn. 

The skinny steel tubes give the SolarisMAX a softness that helps dull square edges and it does an impressive job of enhancing traction through corners, slithering through slippery rock sections, and edging into off-cambers. Schralp into particularly grippy sculpted berms at speed and you will feel a lot of flex in the rear end which can be a little disconcerting. Even with the rear end at full twang, the steering remains focused and responsive thanks to Cotic’s use of oval tubing in the front triangle which helps resist corner twisting.  

Cotic SolarisMax long term build on a rock slab

The natural flex in the flame tubing filters out harsh impacts and boosts traction (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

The combination of sharp handling and traction-rich control combined with impressive speed retention means less technical trails are still entertaining too. With the initial downcountry tires fitted, the rolling speed on the flat was great, but even with the grippier Continental tires it's still sprightly. Being a hardtail you have the obvious efficiency on climbs and the frame's natural spring kept me feeling fresher for longer. That means although it shines on the descents, the SolarisMax is still happy to roll out the miles without dragging its feet.

The elbows-out chin forward position works the fork quite hard on rough trails though and although the Ohlin’s 34 has been performing admirably, a slightly stouter RockShox Pike would give me a little more confidence and precision through the rough. I also found on very steep, tight pocket berms there were a few instances where the front wheel would stall and unceremoniously spit me down the trail. The SQLabs 30X bar I'm running only has 15mm of rise so raising the stack a touch would probably help if I was riding really steep technical trails more often.

Cotic SolarisMax long term build covered in mud

Typical 2023 Scottish summer riding conditions (Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Incoming updates

As this SolarisMax's main job is to act as a test mule for all the kit I review on Bike Perfect, the spec of this bike will naturally evolve. I have some interesting wheels from Forge+Bond and Crankbrothers plus some more e*thirteen drivetrain components already lined up to get their trail time soon. I also want to sort out some on-the-bike storage for bag-free riding and have received a few goodies through the post from Topeak that should lighten my pockets.

Tech specs: Cotic SolarisMAX

  • Frame: Cotic SolarisMax, Reynolds 853 steel front triangle, 4130 cromo wishbone stay rear end
  • Fork: Ohlins RXF34 m.2, 130mm travel
  • Weight: 12.2kg (medium)
  • Wheel size: 29in
  • Chainset: Rotor Kapic, 170mm chainset with Oval 32t chainring. 
  • Rear mech: SRAM GX AXS
  • Shifter: SRAM GX AXS 
  • Cassette: e*Thirteen Helix Plus 12-speed 9-50T
  • 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: Reynolds Blacklabel 329 Trail Pro
  • Bars: SQLabs 30X, 780mm
  • Grips: ODI Ruffian Pro
  • Stem: Protaper MTB Stem, 50mm 
  • 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 is all about riding bikes off-road. With almost 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.