UK brand Cotic is best known for its steel hardtails, but last year it launched the Cotic Hemlock, which was neither steel nor a hardtail. You might think that the last think the world needs is another aluminium full suspension bike, but Cotic has built its reputation on doing things a little differently and the split personality, 105 or 150mm travel Cotic Hemlock was certainly different. Various production issues meant that the Mk1 Hemlock didn’t get out there in any great quantities, but Cotic owner and designer Cy Turner has used the resulting hiatus to revisit the Hemlock’s design, change a bunch of stuff and relaunch it with a bit more fanfare. Hence us popping up to Cotic’s global HQ on the edge of the Peak District to find out more.
The concept behind the Hemlock is versatility. We’ve heard that before, of course, but Cotic has taken the idea a step further than the usual “it’ll work with a bunch of forks, build it light or heavy, your choice”. We’ve also seen plenty of adjustable-travel bikes, usually with a choice of shock mount positions. Generally that kind of works, but there’s always one setting that’s clearly a lot better than the other(s). The Hemlock, though, is available with a choice of two rocker arms to deliver its travel options. The 2009 bike offers a choice of 120 or 150mm travel from a 57mm Fox RP23 shock, the earlier 105/150mm options proving to be a bit hard for a single shock to deal with, especially for heavier riders or those favouring slower damping. Cunningly, changing rockers doesn’t affect geometry once sag is taken into account
Other changes include a 1.5in-ready headtube, which both allows a lower front end on the smaller frame sizes and also means you can fit 1-1/18in, 1.5in or tapered-steerer forks as you wish. It’s fork length that does have an effect on geometry, and the Hemlock is said to be happy with 130-160mm up front. If you want to lay it back a bit more than your chosen fork travel permits, running a conventional, non-integrated headset will do the job.
The back end has seen a host of revisions, mostly with extra stiffness as the goal. The rockers are now pocketed on the outer faces and have a welded strut between them. The chainstay assembly features a sizable cross brace (angled to shed mud). Frame weight is claimed to be an entirely respectable 6.5lb for a medium frame, and as well as the anodised black with laser-etched logos seen here, there’s also a white option with a choice of decals.
We had the opportunity for a couple of short loops on two variations on the Hemlock theme, a “long/long” 150mm rear/160mm front setup (complete with sizable brakes and sticky tyres) and a “short/middling” 120mm rear/140mm front. The two builds were both similar and different at the same time, which is a clever trick. As we mentioned earlier, changing the back end doesn’t change the geometry significantly, but the longer fork eases everything back a bit. The short-travel build was markedly more sprightly on the way up, with a pleasingly taut feel that made out-of-the-saddle efforts reassuringly worthwhile. In long-travel mode we were in standard big bike sit-and-spin territory.
Coming back down, the differences in suspension performance were even more marked. The long-travel bike’s appetite for large rocks came as no surprise, but the substantial differences in feedback made the two builds seem like completely different bikes. In long-travel mode, it’s a classic trail hoover, sucking stuff up at the front and making it disappear – great fun on the right trails, but the kind of ride that some people consider “uninvolving”. The short-travel build is the opposite – you can tell exactly what’s going on under the tyres, you’ll need to work to get the best out of it, but you’re not going to immediately get in over your head. It’s exactly the kind of ride that a hardtail jihadist would appreciate, only way more capable.
Cy himself favours the 120mm back end with a 160mm fork, a configuration that’s rather like a long-forked hardtail only more so, if that makes any sense at all. The fact that the Hemlock works in all of these different ways makes it a unique proposition – if you’re not at all sure what kind of bike you want, there’s a fair chance that you could make a Hemlock into it. One very obvious area of potential win is to replace that occasional-use big bike that so many people seem to have in their sheds 50 weeks of the year, only dragging it out for a fortnight in the Alps. With one of these, you could run it as a lively trail bike for most of the year and then slot in a long fork, bolt on the long rockers and chuck some big tyres before you hit the lifts…
As you might have gathered, our first impressions are very positive. More when the Hemlock’s had the full test treatment, but in the meantime you can find more details at www.cotic.co.uk. Frames are in stock now at £980, or £1,055 if you want both rockers.