These past few months have been particularly harsh here in the Southern Rockies. Santa Fe has been hammered with winter weather, leaving even the in-town XC trails in a constant freeze/thaw cycle, rendering them unrideable. We’re lucky to have a network of gravel bike trails and acequia paths that remain open throughout winter, making it a perfect time for mixed-terrain riding.
To get me through this particularly brütal winter, I’ve had a lovely companion from our friends across the pond at Cotic. They sent me their Escapade gravel bike to review and it couldn’t have arrived at a better time. While my mountain bikes remain hung up on the wall, I’ve been putting in slow miles on the Cotic Escapade, pushing this bike to become my ideal all-terrain road bike for the frigid months at 7,000′. How did it stack up? Read on for more…
An Overview of the Reynolds 853 Cotic Escapade
Gravel bikes, road bikes, all-road, and even ‘cross bikes of the plastic variety tend to just blur together for me these days. So when Cotic reached out asking if I’d like to try the Escapade “road bike,” I responded with an emphatic yes. The frame proportions were alluring in an unassuming way. Even with the big, fat carbon fork on the front, the Escapade looked balanced on Cotic’s website and even better in person.
Cotic calls this a “road bike” and in my opinion, that’s what all bikes within this burgeoning genre of “gravel” should be called. They are closer to road bikes in terms of geometry than ‘cross bikes, the latter being what most people will unabashedly correlate to the gravel hysteria that’s consuming the industry. That’s a topic for another rant so take it with a grain, but what I will say here is the only notable change a road bike undergoes to become a “gravel bike” is a widening of the rear triangle and fork to fit bigger tires. A ‘cross bike has an entirely different geometry.
With the road bike nomenclature comes the jack-of-all-trades analogy, which Cotic adopts in reference to the Escapade. Is it a commuter? A tourer? Or a singletrack chariot? For the sake of the review, let’s just stick with gravel bike. For as much as I roll my eyes at “gravel-specific” marketing regurgitation, people call these bikes gravel bikes.
Steel Feels Real
This Escapade is a one-off batch from Cotic, built with Reynolds 853, and shaving +/- 70g per frame size. Now, I have no benchmark to compare this 853 Escapade to but seeing as how the complete bike (sans bag or pedals) weighs a mere 22lbs on the nose for my review size 58cm/L, I can’t complain.
Having owned a number of custom and production road/gravel/’cross bikes over the years, I have a sensitive palette for how various steel profiles, diameters, and butting profiles ride. I’ll be blunt here: it’s hard to make a steel bike in Taiwan that rides as well as a handmade bike from a small framebuilder. A lot of that has to do with consumer safety regulations in the US. I’ve touched on this before but for a bike to be “dirt-oriented,” it has to pass mountain bike-level strength tests, which often results in stout, lifeless pedaling tanks that weigh much more than their carbon or aluminum counterpoints.
Somehow Cotic delivered a Taiwan-built, Reynolds 853 toooobed, dirt-oriented bike with a nice amount of flex, that weighs a scant 22lbs and pedals smoothly, and that doesn’t rattle out your fillings. It must be some UK magic! Or perhaps they have slacker consumer safety laws in the UK?
Well, part of that has to do with the tubing profiles. The Escapade has a down tube that is 34.9 mm in diameter. The top tube is a 25 x 31mm oval; the seat tube is 28.6mm bulge-butted; the seatstays are 16mm, and the chainstays are 27 x1 7mm oval taper to Cotic’s own design. These numbers aren’t oversized by any means and are a big reason why I love how this bike rides.
Before we get into that, let’s look at the geometry.
I have a game I play with myself when it comes to review bikes. First, I ride them for an extended period of time and try to guess a few crucial figures; bottom bracket drop, head angle, and seat angle. While they aren’t the only metrics that matter, they start to spin the web of geometric harmony. On a well balanced bike like the Cotic, those three metrics are a great starting point.
With 100% honesty here, I guessed the Cotic had a 72mm BB drop and a 72º head angle, paired with a 72º seat angle. I was wrong. Even a degree or two can drastically change a bike’s handling, and 2mm of extra BB drop or height can do the same. Yet, I was in the ballpark.
The 72 triptych number is a sweet spot I’ve found with my road bikes, which are usually 60cm or larger depending on the build era (though, in this case, I reviewed a 58cm frame). Parallel frames—where the head and seat angle are the same—are a long lost art but they ride so well for us tall people. With my long legs (36″ inseam as a 6’2″, 190lb human), my hips deflect a lot with pedaling, so a slack-ish seat angle is comfortable. Then, with a “gravel” fork offset of around 48mm, a parallel 72º head angle means the bike will respond to input quickly, without washing out from under you or flopping around turns.
Where the Cotic lays, in reality, is a 73º seat angle and 72º head angle with a 70mm BB drop. The seat angle really threw me the first time I saw the geo sheet after a few rides, as it has a 0mm setback dropper post with the saddle parked right in the middle of the rails. I didn’t experience any adverse affects from the steeper seat angle of the Escapade, rather the bike pedaled rather comfortably for me. Maybe I’ve been riding too many 78º seat angle mountain bikes as of late?
The one area I wished had a little wiggle room was the chainstays, as evident in the above photo. A 425mm chainstay with reported clearances for a 44mm tire is tight. Look at those 48mm Bruce Gordon Rock n’ Road tires! Which measure 48mm wide. I’d prefer a 430mm chainstay for a little extra clearance because I am the dolt who will always cram the fattest rubber I can into frames. As a point of reference, you can also fit a 27.5×1.9″ tire in this frame.
Speaking of fat tires…
Fat Tires, No Problem-ish
Hey remember the Rock n’ Road tires? They were huge back in 2015 and the other day I was lamenting how there just isn’t a comparable tire on the market, thinking the Rock n’ Road tires died with Bruce Gordon’s legacy (ride in peace you salty, but wonderful human), but come to find they are still in production, so I ordered a pair just for this review. For me, they are the sweet spot between a road and mountain tire: the 48mm profile still rolls fast enough on pavement but offers a billowy ride quality on hardpack gravel, while cushioning any rocky singletrack you might want to pedal through.
Swapping out the 40mm WTB tires supplied for a pair of the Rock n’ Roads changed the Cotic’s tone drastically. Now it looked like a proper off-roader.
Yet, after changing tires I did notice a few things right off the bat. For starters, I got toe overlap, which is already common on road bikes and isn’t uncommon for me since I wear a size 12 or 13 shoe and because I run my cleats all the way back on my SPD pedals. Overlap isn’t a big deal, or imo, not nearly what people make it out to be. Truth told, I only experienced it going through tight turns like you find on pedestrian gates at trailheads, or tight switchbacks, which I barely encountered during the review period.
Another obvious issue with tire clearance this tukt is mud! Although calling what we have mud does it a disservice. The UK has mud. The Southwest has caliché. It’s stickier than clay and damn pervasive. It gets on your bike, hardens quickly, and locks up your drivetrain. It’s so resilient the indigenous Pueblo tribes built their homes from it. Hence, the abundant adobe structures that still exist here, thousands of years later. It’s no joke and after a failed attempt at a favorite ride here in Santa Fe, I had to pull the rear wheel and wash it off in an overflowing culvert to pedal home.
Aside from the two issues with bigger tires on the Cotic, I wouldn’t swap them out for the world. They just increased the enjoyment of pedaling this beaut.
Originally I wanted to write a separate review of Campagnolo’s Ekar kit (and, maybe I will at some point) but I’m still on the fence with this groupset. In short, Ekar is Campy’s 13-speed gravel group, and sports a fresh, modern design, with the same ergonomics Campy fans love.
What’s nice about Ekar is the gearing steps. The 13-speed cassette offers delicate shifting advances that are so smooth they’re hardly noticeable. Coming from a 1x SRAM setup, Ekar is like soft whipping creme while SRAM is like a stale Oreo you found in the bottom of your framebag. I mean that as a not-so-subtle diss on SRAM. Their mechanical drivetrains getter done but there ain’t much romance in that shifting experience.
For Ekar, Campy redesigned the hoods and profile of its shifter/brake levers. Again, coming from a five-year-old Force shifter with a massive hood profile, these hoods felt teeny in my big hands. For many rides, I was wearing big, warm, leather gloves and actually lost grip a few times on rutted descents. Yet barehanded, they felt amazingly compact. The one bummer is the side of my thumb rubbed the inside shifter and on bumpy rides, it became an annoyance and detracted from the ride.
Another annoyance is when you spec a dropper lever on the inside of the left shifter, you get this uncomfortable bulge from the hood to the bars, due to back-wrapping the tape. If you look at the above photo for too long, your palms will itch with anxiety. I tried re-wrapping a few times and couldn’t get it to go away. Granted, I didn’t use any gel pads or bar tape scraps to make more of a ramp but the hood material is super thick compared to Shimano or SRAM. Maybe it makes for a more durable hood but nothing is worth the discomfort.
Another mechanism within the Ekar ecosystem is the crank and derailleur design, which at first looked like a stingray that swam through a viscous mutagen and found its way onto the side of my bicycle. Still, after a while, it grew on me. By the end of my time with it, I’d begun to feel like the design harkens back to the C-Record era of Campy design; my second favorite to Nuovo Record. It’s got that Campy DNA mixed in with a postmodern typeface and interesting four-arm profile. If I had to keep the crankset, I wouldn’t be mad.
Yet, it ain’t all pissin’ in the lemonade over here. I’m not grumpy, I swear! The same Italian magic that went into Ekar’s crispy shifting was clearly cast upon these flat-mount calipers. Now I get it. Now I understand why people love flat-mount brakes on road bikes, and now I can surely say that all other flat mount calipers (that I’ve ridden) are IN-FUCKIN-FERIOR to Ekar’s flat mounts. Goddamn, Campy just dropped the mic on you, Shimano, and SRAM. Jesus. Fuck. Okay, I’m done.
These calipers didn’t lose modulation, stopping power, or make a single squeak. Even on a long, cold descent down from our ski basin, they maintained control without heating up and walking in their mounting bolts. I never had to adjust or fuss with them. Even their design! They just seem to blend into the drivetrain with their small and compact profile. They are perfection.
Is this whole kit worth the £3,100 ($3789) upcharge? That’s on you! For me, it’s not. I’d rather cobble together a kit from various cottage industry makers than pay that much but I will say, Ekar has grown on me.
So. In short, the TL;DR on my single-cup of coffee Campy Ekar review is:
- Crisp shifting
- 13 speeds = smoother shifting steps
- Exceptional!!!!!! braking
- Unique design
- Shit shifter ergonomics for big hands
- Aesthetics take a bit to grow on you
Ride Quality and Notable Notes
If I were to grade this bike’s ride quality on a scale of one to ten, with one being a two-legged, drunk pig with one eye, and ten being Shadowfax (a descendant of Felaróf, a descendant of the Mearas, the most outstanding horse of Middle-earth) I’d plop this bad boy in at a solid eight with a one point deduction due to the carbon fork instead of a lightweight steel fork. Hey… I got a schtick, and I gotta stick to my schtick! ;-)
Jokes aside, the Cotic Escapade is an exceptional bike that careens through chicanes, glissades through sandy stretches, and is not afraid to dance the dance when you want to sprint up a hill. I found it entertaining on chunky stuff, never feeling like I was getting in over my head. With a nice, plump tire, it was ready for any change in terrain.
There are a lot of cables on this bike, and they’re all managed so nicely. Everything has a place, and the internal porting is clean, out of the way, and easy to maintain. Even the rear chainstay fender mount is understated and simple. Overall, a lot of thought was put into the management of this bike and as someone with an eye for details, I appreciate the amount of work that went into this frame’s design. Well done.
I added a few upgrades to the Escapade, mainly focusing on the contact points: tires and bar tape. We’ve already touched on the Bruce Gordon Rock n’ Road tires, which I highly recommend, and most readers have at least seen the Campandgoslow bar tape. If you haven’t given it a spin, I highly recommend it! But I wanted to shout out the Moosepacks frame bag. It fit the bike perfectly both in profile/silhouette, and width. It didn’t rub my legs and it held all my riding essentials (read: snacks, snacks, and snacks!) and the camo really added to the fun of this build! Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Moosepacks.
It has some lovely detailing, of which the last image in this spread shows a neat bottom bracket/chainstay gusset, providing strength at a potentially weak juncture. It’s locked and loaded for touring with bosses a plenty. Fenders would be no issue with a 40mm tire, and it would be a formidable ally in dry or arid bike rides thanks to extra cargo bosses on the fork and underneath the downtube.
The team at Cotic thought of everything and the Escapade is hands down one of my favorite production
gravel bikes road bikes I’ve ridden. Its lightweight, nimble, flexy chassis provides a pleasant pedal and although it suffers from a stuffed chainstay, it’s still rideable when “over-tiring” it with a 48mm gravel tire like the Rock n’ Road.
My only nit-pick, which should be obvious since I didn’t even touch on it in the main review, is the dropper post. They’re just not for me on a road bike like this. I like the experience of under-biking road/cross/gravel bikes on singletrack. I’ve been doing it for a long time and never felt like a dropper was necessary. Particularly an X-Fusion dropper which I couldn’t get to work well, anyway.
Look at it. This is perfection. Especially for people who like carbon forks. The Cotic Escapade came from the UK and was specced with Campagnolo Ekar. While this complete as shown would come in at around £4,362 ($5331), it’s by no means a cheap complete. This Taiwanese-made frame was built with Reynolds 853 and offers one of the plushest ride qualities of any Taiwanese steel frame I’ve thrown my leg around. While it could use a few extra millimeters on the chainstay, it fits a 48mm tire (but just). Its geometry is smack dab right in the ballpark for an ideal road geo as a 6’2″ 190lb human, and it’s coated in a lovely matte grey tone. The Escapade is all you need in a road or gravel bike; everything else is just marketing.
- Lightweight for steel
- Geometry is tuned for off and on-road riding
- Tubing profiles provide a lovely, flexy ride
- 853 is a nice addition
- Great cable management
- Plenty of cargo bosses
- 853 is a limited batch; once they’re gone, they’re gone!
- Shipping from overseas adds some Co2 to your purchase
- Rear end could be longer (5mm)
- Carbon fork adds some thickness to the silhoutte
- At £999, you’re nearing the cost of a US-made custom frame (£4,362 for a complete as shown)
I wanted to thank Cy from Cotic for sending over this lovely bike, which is for sale, by the way! So if you ride a 58cm frame, you can email Cotic for purchasing. See more on the Escapade at Cotic Bikes. Got questions? Drop them in the comments!