Cotic Bikes FlareMAX Gen5 Review: Less is More

From snow to sand, wildflowers, and close encounters with a rattlesnake, John’s been putting the Cotic FlareMAX Gen5 through the wringer for his in-depth review on this made-in-the-UK short(er) travel, metal full-suspension bike. Read on for his full take on how less is more with the FlareMAX’s design below…

In March of 2019, I took delivery of a steel full-suspension bike for review, and ever since, I’ve tried to throw my leg around any all-metal, particularly steel, bike models companies will send me.  To contextualize where this journey has taken me, check out the following reviews:

Editorially, the team has also reviewed these two bikes:

I’ll also add that I firmly believe that a 140 mm hardtail gets the job done in most cases, yet there is no denying the added benefits of rear-wheel travel in terms of traction and playfulness. While my personal full suspension bike is perhaps a bit too big in terms of travel numbers, for many of the readers of The Radavist, there is an allure to what people are calling a “downcountry” bike these days: shorter travel, progressive–not overdone–geometry, big wheels = all the fun, none of the fuss.

I’ve been eyeing Cotic for some time now but being they’re a UK brand, they’re not as common in the States. (Cotic ships bikes all the time to the USA though.) To show good faith that I’m indeed a curious fan of the brand, I first reviewed the brand’s new, at the time, gravel bike, the Escapade. When Cotic announced the FlareMAX Gen5 last year, I pinged them to finally ride one of their mountain bikes. A few months later, the FlareMAX arrived…

Cotic Bikes FlareMAX Gen5 Quick Hits

  • 130 mm travel fork (120 – 140 mm)
  • 125 mm travel rear shock
  • 29″ wheels
  • Gloss Teal (pictured) or Matte Limestone color offering
  • C1 through C5 sizing
  • Size: C5 reviewed here
  • Complete bikes from $3,670
  • Priced: $5,765 reviewed here as a Trail Gold kit with a few part spec tweaks
  • Lightest full-suspension bike in Cotic’s catalog
  • Made in UK at Five Land Bikes in Scotland from Reynolds 853 steel with an aluminum chainstay
  • Droplink suspension design
  • Long Shot Geometry
  • 65.6º head angle across all sizes (in the shown configuration)
  • 75º ish seat angle (in the shown configuration)
  • All pivot bearings Enduro MAX
  • Datatag enabled
  • English threaded bottom bracket as every metal bike should use!

Longshot Geometry

Abandoning the traditional XS-XL sizing seems to be the way to go these days. People tend to have a hard time picking a size with reach dimensions continuously expanding, and there is no consensus as to how seat tube angle is measured, which can result in confusion.

Instead, Cotic offers C1-C5 sizing, broken down in approximate rider height:

Cotic calls its geometry “Longshot” as the frames are longer and lower with plenty of standover room. The brand recommends referencing the sizing as laid out above, based on your height, and running a super short and responsive 35 – 45 mm stem to dial in your fit. I’m 6’2″ with a 36″ inseam and long arms, and I found the C5 to fit perfectly with a 35 mm stem. Almost as if the bike was custom tailored to my exact dimensions. I cannot emphasize how rare it is to feel perfectly “fit” by just setting my saddle height at 80 cm, baselining the suspension, and just GO!

If you’re intrigued, you can nerd out on Longshot geometry granularity more at Cotic.

Gen4 to Gen5 Tweaks

The FlareMAX Gen4, if you require a reference, used S-XL sizing and had longer, 25 through 27 mm reach steps between sizes. The Gen5 shrunk this down to 19 mm reach steps from C1 through C5 and offered a few more tweaks to the frames overall such as a shorter seat tube for longer dropper posts, the bottom bracket heights dropped a good 4 mm, the head angle slackened to 65.6º degrees and actual seat angles now range from 75.1 to 75.8º across the sizes, depending on saddle height.


Droplink Design and Philosophy

All full-suspension bikes offer various personalities, usually dependent upon their linkage, be it Horst, DW Link, or variations on the trusty single-pivot design. Cotic refined Droplink with its Gen4 FlareMAX, and the Gen5 got slightly different frame engineering and sizing options to take advantage of this linkage design.

If you want the full nitty-gritty, check out this post, where Cy from Cotic breaks it all down, but here’s the gist of how Droplink works. Droplink is a single-pivot design fundamentally, meaning the rear wheel’s travel arches around one pivot. However, unlike my Starling Murmur, Droplink includes a linkage in play to actuate the shock in a more complex way than Starling’s single-pivot design.

Other brands that use linkage-driven single pivot design are Evil, Kona, and older Commencal bikes. 

Cotic offers seven tenets to Droplink philosophy, which I’ve paraphrased based on my experiences:

  • Droplink’s suspension performance balances the fact that through the wheel’s movement and shock travel, there is little chain growth and pedal feedback. This offers more nuanced climbing performance and better traction overall. This sensation progressively reduces to minimize pedal kickback, regardless of rider weight. Kickback is still there, but on very rare occasions, you will experience it.
  • This linkage design is incredibly stiff, especially when combined with the aluminum chainstay, 34.9 mm diameter steel seat tube, and buttressing between the seat and down tubes above the main pivot.
  • The frame rate curve gives an interactive feel. Droplink offers controlled progression, which gives the rider a working edge to push against instead of the suspension just disappearing underneath them. Finding and feathering on this edge when riding off-camber or on twisty and tight, slalom-eking terrain was part of the fun in this review process.
  • The tire clearance is plentiful at 2.6″ (confirmed) because there’s no need for a brace on the seatstay between the tire and the seat tube. I ran into this issue with the Darco’s Horst Link design.
  • It offers a more stable braking performance. The forward brake mount and integral seatstay pivot/brake bolt point the forces in a helpful direction. You won’t find the rear of the bike skipping or jumping upward when braking down steep slaps or loose rocky descents.
  • The weight is lower on the bike compared to a rocker link design. Lower weight seems to make the bike feel more controlled and planted when it needed to be and added additional mass to use like a catapult when hitting jumps or jibs.
  • The seatstay lines compliment top tube’s slope, and the little droplink itself is tucked behind and under the seatstay, obscured from sight by the drive-side crankarm chainring.

All Metal Designed to Mettle: Chassis Construction and Detailing

With the FlareMAX, the main pivot is above the bottom bracket. The chainstay and dropout casque on the FlareMAX are aluminum and feature a large gusset at the main pivot. The seat stay of the swingarm is a Cotic-specced cromoly chainstay. Since you can’t weld aluminum and steel, they are joined with a clevis and stainless hardware, as shown below.

The derailleur hanger is a Syntace-style hanger clamped into the rear dropout. Note: FlareMAX is not UDH compatible.

Above the main pivot is a stout steel brace that runs from the seat tube to the down tube, buttressing the linkage. The linkage above this pivot, shown in black in the above photo, is also aluminum. This reduces overall frame weight, adds to the stiffness of the rear triangle, and allows Cotic to get creative with the design of the FlareMAX.

For instance, I really, really, really dig the “loam shelf” and linkage structure, made possible by the aluminum construction. Also, now’s a good time to note that Cotic implements the Datatag system, a UK-based security platform for personal property. Oh, so many other countries have their shit in order in so many marvelous ways…

What impressed me the most was how clean the cable routing on the FlareMAX is. The lines run on the top of the downtube, through the shock perch, and from there split either into the seat tube (dropper post), seat stay (rear derailleur), and down along the non-drive chainstay for the rear brake. The porting is meticulous and clean.

Best of all,  zero zip ties are required to hold the cables on the FlareMAX. Everything is routed through clamps of differing sorts. This makes everything easier, from maintenance to air travel. Plus, less microplastic waste is a good thing.

I also like the Cotic-branded chainstay protector, chain guide, and head badge, all of which are evidence of a brand that pays attention to subtle detailing without blasting the air horn of ostentation. Damn, I need to clean this bike thoroughly, that grease is gunked up!


With the minutiae out of the way, let’s talk about the signature detail that attracted a bike nerd like myself to the FlareMAX. For starters, the word MAX immediately evokes memories of Columbus’ iconic tubeset, MAX. Remember this Chris Bishop track bike or my old Icarus track bike?

Columbus MAX’s tube design

MAX was more robust with larger diameter tubing and stouter butting, but it was best known for its bi-oval design, which reportedly offered increased stiffness. Eddy Merckx used this resilient tubeset on its various race teams’ sprinters’ bikes. Merckx took the MAX orientation–the seat tube end flattened along the X axis, and the head tube end flattened along the Y axis–and flipped it the other way around, resulting in the coveted MX-L configuration. Custom-cast lugs were made to reflect these changes.

Merckx’s designers believed this orientation resulted in the proper rear-end stiffness its sprinters required. You can see how Merckx flipped the MAX tube “backward” on its MX-L bikes in this gallery of Mark’s MX-L Merckx.

All this to say, Merckx modified Columbus MAX into Columbus MX-L and used a flare top tube design, much like Cotic’s shaping of the top tube on the FlareMAX. Now, Cotic calls this top tube profile Ovalform, and it’s easy to see why.

Curious if this shape was a throwback or homage to Columbus MAX or MX-L, I reached out to Cy, who said:

“Whilst the Ovalform has a good basis in engineering (I wanted to stiffen the frame laterally without losing compliance or adding weight of a bigger round tube), I can’t deny I love the fact it throws back to MAX. There was an MBUK test of a Serotta T-Max in about 1993 and I put it on my wall and read and re-read about the MAX tubeset when I was at school. Loved it.”


Neat. I can go on and on about the tubing profiles and diameters used on the FlareMAX and how these moments of consideration scratched my inner architect’s desire for beautiful detailing work–hence the Mies van der Rohe reference in the title–but for digestibility’s sake, let’s move on…

Component Spec

This particular bike is noted as a Trail Gold build tier (with a few minor part tweaks due to availability – technically, this is a Trail Silver spec with an updated drivetrain) and features Deore XT components, Cotic-designed Shorter stem and Calver bar, a RockShox Pike, Cane Creek’s DB Air IL shock, Hunt wheels, a Hope seatpost clamp, and a One Up dropper. I supplied the contact points for the build kit: Ergon grips, a WTB Silverado saddle, and my tire of choice, the Teravail Kessel 29 x 2.6″.

Cotic also has a custom frame pack for the FlareMAX that goes under the shock, made by Restrap. 

Atavistic Playfulness: Riding the FlareMAX

Ever wonder why a sea otter will slide down a rock or a dolphin will surf a wave, all for seemingly no reason other than it’s fun? That’s the atavistic urge for living things to simply play, and it’s a big reason why I find full suspension bikes, particularly in this shorter-travel range, so enjoyable. They offer just enough travel to jib around on without being “too much bike” for day-to-day riding. Yet, the FlareMAX loved to get bouncy in the rocks and wasn’t afraid to hit some bigger (for me anyway) jumps.

In fact, it effortlessly graced lips and landings alike, with the bike seemingly doing all of the work on its own. All it took was minimum body language to coerce it into mid-air acrobatics or high-speed scrubbing across berms and into/out of g-outs and this is just one of the reasons I really vibed with the Droplink design.

The other notable causality is the stiffness of the rear end, thanks to the beefy bottom bracket cluster, main pivot interface, aluminum chainstay, and thick seat stays. It tracked and gently pushed back on me as I came into high-speed off-camber turns to ride that fine edge of the Droplink design I previously mentioned. While it didn’t allow for the same spring-loading sensation the Murmur provides, it kept the energy focused and made for super precise flicks and follow-throughs.

This resulted in the short(er) travel rear end than I’m used to feeling more solid, stable, and snappy. You could visualize where to land the rear end, be it in a half-assed whip (like above,) or side-hit, and know exactly where it was going to plant you back on the trail. Even loading into side-hit jumps felt more precise.

What was interesting is contrary to logic, I felt more secure hitting these features at a higher speed than I do on longer travel bikes, which can feel more erratic in some ways. The other bikes that behaved like this were the Chromag Darco and REEB SST, but the Horst link design never felt as snappy and playful as the Droplink design. Rather, that felt more planted and speed-focused.

Compared to the Murmur

The FlareMAX’s single pivot is one step more refined than the Murmur’s simple design, offering a different sensation entirely, all thanks to the extra linkage and stiffer rear swingarm. Having a stiffer rear end–thanks to the Droplink, aluminum chainstay, and oversized seat stay–is not necessarily a “better” sensation compared to the Murmur, but it is one that causes pause and is note-worthy. If you like abrupt, calculated, and precise glissading down scree or steep slopes, you will dig the FlareMAX. However, the Murmur’s design might be more up your alley if you like to feel the rear end pop and flex, like a snowboard or skis on a slope.

Climbing the bike was about what I would expect with the travel, tire size, and reach numbers in this size C5 chassis and pleasant build spec. This ain’t a XC racing bike, it’s more of an underbiking all-mountain sled, as reflected by the 34 pound complete bike weight as shown here, including pedals.

Efficient climbing is a mixture of mechanical advantage, geometry, suspension travel, and tire (and psi) selection. In this setup, the FlareMAX was more like a tractor than a trophy truck going uphill, and that might be part pilot at play. However, it’s worth noting not to conflate this bike in its current permutation with an ultralight XC-racing machine or me with an XC-racing “athlete.” You could spec it with a 120 mm fork and lighter components to achieve a racier ride, though.

I’m not a fast climber, but I’m more than capable of a fun time on the downhill!

After a couple hundred miles of dry and dusty riding, I felt like I had a good grasp on what this bike was all about. As winter waned and spring sprung, I was slightly unsure if I was feeling the “honeymoon phase” of this review bike on terrain that I’m most comfortable in–loose, rocky, chunky and steep–so I decided to take this show on the road…

I left the rocky and loose Southwest for greener pastures out West, where I chased fit friends only a place with year-round riding cultivates. Riding in Santa Rosa, Calistoga (above), and Santa Cruz led me to the conclusion that my setup was tuned for chunk and in order for me to properly enjoy the FlareMAX in swoopier, smoother terrain, at higher rates of speed chasing fit riders, I’d want to dial in the component selection, namely the tires to something faster-rolling and smaller in diameter. Did I? Nope. Because as soon as I had this realization, it was time to go home.

Just as I was questioning my component selection and personal fitness, I was back home in the Santa Fe National Forest, realizing that the bike was setup perfectly for my home terrain. Don’t let the smoothness of this climbing trail fool you, the descent is anything but idyllic and homogenous. It’s more chaotic and chundery, offering a cacophony of rubber-mashing rock and downtube pings all the way down. Did I mention the downtube on this bike is now straight gauge, not butted like its predecessor?

Once collected on my home turf, it was time to write about the FlareMAX. I found myself changing the title of this review from “Double Vision” to “Less is More” for one reason: I felt like the duality of what is considered an XC bike based on travel numbers alone with the trendy nomenclature of downcountry bike resounded in an amplified chorus with the FlareMAX.

This is not a committed XC bike, yet it can be built to pedal faster and more efficiently, and it’s not a full-on trail bike with only 125/130 travel numbers. As someone who likes to push back on marketing terms used to sell more shit from time to time, I found myself feeling comfortable with the “downcountry” label for the FlareMAX, uncharacteristically, for no other reason than it evoked a particular sensation that I felt throughout the riding period: an atavistic urge to play. Juxtaposed by pure racing as “XC” often suggests.

A New Crown-Wearer: But One Critique

The FlareMAX is a personal favorite in the downcountry space, but it’s not without one teeeeeeeeeny critique. Whereas in the past, I’d find myself getting hung up on either a bike’s stack height, its pedalability, or perhaps its behavior in certain terrain, my takeaway critique of the FlareMAX is its lack of a water bottle mount in the front triangle. That’s not to say I couldn’t fit a water bottle on the bike; I could but via less-than-favorable means.

You can clearly see the two bosses underneath the top tube of the bike, used for a bolt-on spare tube or tool kit undoubetly. But they’re too far forward for a bottle to fit. Even a KLICKfix bottle wouldn’t fit in that space. So, I had to utilize a Wolf Tooth B-Rad 3 adapter that bolts to these bosses and supplies a cantilevered attachment for a bottle cage. Technically, you’re supposed to wrap the tube with a supplied zip tie, but the fact that the frame had zero zip ties made it feel sacrilegious to do so…

Yes, the FlareMAX has two bosses on the underside of the downtube, but as is evident here, who wants to drink from a bottle splatted with mud?

I felt a bit deflated at first, as living in a place with 5% humidity means drinking a lot of water on rides. I abhor wearing a backpack, especially on a review bike as it can drastically alter the riding experience. Yet, the B-Rad 3 system worked out quite well for me over the several-month-long review period with ner a hiccup or issue.

Still, I wondered why Cotic had made this design decision. They told me that it had to do with the compact nature of the frame’s triangle, in favor of a longer dropper, and for riders that want to run a piggyback shock as a bottle would interfere with these shocks.

But why not offer the option? I’d prefer an additional pair of bosses to at least have the choice. This leads me to ask the question: What do you need more, a piggyback shock or a water bottle?

Cy, once again, replied thoughtfully:

“Maybe another third boss further back would be a good idea to give people options. “

One other teeny qualm was this size C5 bike was delivered with 170 mm cranks. Is this a thing now? Is the proliferation of eMTB speccing of shorter cranks–due to the “powerband” pedaling and power efficiency–spilling over to “pedal” bikes now? These cranks destroyed my legs on climbs. I missed having that little extra leverage (believe me, you can feel it.) FWIW, every bike fit I’ve ever had said I needed at least 175 mm long cranks and would even benefit from 180 mm cranks due to my long legs and hip deflection…

Cotic can build a bike with whatever crank length you’d like.

Final Thoughts

The FlareMAX’s prowess lies in its ability to traverse all terrain with a sure-footedness often emboldened by bikes with longer travel numbers while maintaining a unique balance and ability to chomp on some chunk when you need it to. Not many bikes feel so comfortable at high speed in diabolical descents as they do steep and loose climbs and are balanced enough to make undulating terrain fun and engaging.

The FlareMAX packs a lot of plusses for a neat and tidy package. It’s all made in the UK from metal, with concerted and concise detailing that makes an ex-architect and bike nerd like myself pine over profiles and details whenever I throw a leg over it.

This bike lives up to my expectations after hearing the hype secondhand over Cotic’s accomplishments and being an admirer from afar. For my terrain, it’s perfect as is. For slightly faster and flowier terrain, a simple tire swap from these tough casing knob monsters to a lighter casing race pattern would make it a more zippy companion.

As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe espoused in his design principle, “less is more,” simplicity and restraint can prove to be powerful tools in design and implementation. Rather than defaulting on complexity or ornamentation, there is beauty in simple solutions. Some might argue that a full suspension cannot be a simple machine by nature. Still, I’d argue that bikes with the above considerations are indeed simple, minimal, and efficient examples of concerted engineering, design, and materiality.


  • All metal construction.
  • The top tube shaping is beautiful.
  • The Chainstay protector and branded chain guide are nice touches.
  • Made in the UK from Reynolds tubing.
  • Clearance for 2.6″ 29er tires.
  • Progressive yet balanced and playful geometry.
  • The travel numbers align with the bike’s personality and behavior but can be under or over-forked to fine-tune.
  • Droplink offers a more refined single-pivot experience.
  • No zip ties are required for cable routing.
  • The Gloss Teal color is great! Also comes in Matte Limestone.
  • Weight, at 34 lbs complete for size C5, is acceptable for use case.
  • Sizing is easy with C1 through C5 size specs.


  • No UDH (is that a con?)
  • There are no dedicated water bottle bosses inside the front triangle.
  • UK shipping + USD conversion is high, but for what you’re getting, it’s worth $5,765 (plus shipping).


I enjoyed my time with this metal shred sled and feel lucky to be allowed the experience. Many, many thanks to Cy from Cotic Bikes for even opening my email. It means a lot. You and your team have crafted one hell of a bike. Check out more information on the FlareMAX at Cotic.

In fact, if I were in the market for a new full suspension and if I wasn’t broke, I’d be buying this FlareMAX from Cotic, which means it’s for sale if you ride a C5. It’s better that it stays in the States now, as shipping it back to the UK doesn’t make sense and is expensive. If you’re interested, give Cotic a holler. Tell them you saw the bike here and want it. I’ll include the Wolf Tooth B-Rad but am keeping the bottle cage!