- Cotic Soul
- £400 frame only
With such a variety of bikes out there these days, you’d imagine that everybody would be able to find something to suit them. But Cy Turner couldn’t. Having gone from XC to DH and got used to lots of travel and short stems, he came back to the riding-uphill fold, wanged an 80mm stem and 100mm fork on his old bike and instantly veered off the trail on the first climb…
What he was after was a cross-country hardtail that he could run a long fork and short stem on, but that would still climb. Fast handling but stable uphill. And steel, just, well…because. He couldn’t find anything to fit the bill, thought of getting something custom built and then decided that if he wanted such a thing then some other people probably did too and put his design into production…
So the first containerload of Cotic Souls should be here at the end of May. Should you be waiting anxiously?
We know what you’re thinking. On-One’s Inbred works with long forks and short stems and it’s steel. And they’re certainly not dissimilar, but there are a couple of subtle differences. They both have long top tubes to accommodate a short stem without scrunching the rider up or putting them too far back. While top tubes on the Inbred are roughly the same length as the Soul (actually a smidge longer), a large Soul isn’t as tall as a large Inbred – the On-Ones are 16/18/20in while Cotics are more like 16/17.5/19in. A 19in Soul is about the same length as a 20in Inbred but obviously has a lower top tube.
The Soul is a steep bike. 71 degrees doesn’t sound like a steep head angle, but these days it’s not so much the angle as the height at which you get the angle that counts. The Soul’s designed so that a 470mm long fork (which is about how long a Fox Vanilla is) running 30mm of sag gives that 71 degree angle. This is actually about the same as the Inbred, but the Soul also has a steeper seat angle, which puts more weight over the front.
Tubing is Reynolds 853, the steel purists’ choice, in the main triangle, with butted chromoly stays. There aren’t any gussets, but Cotic’s FEA computer cleverness says that it doesn’t need them – it’s strong enough as it is. The headtube is ring-reinforced to prevent flaring and the rear end uses a wishbone seatstay arrangement with gallons of mud clearance. There’s a disc mount at the back with a little cross-brace tube to help support it.
The test frame was a prototype, so the (optional) rear brake bosses were rather clunky items – they’ll be smaller and neater on production frames. And a couple of the hose guides weren’t quite in the right place, but again this’ll be sorted on the real thing. The main thing is that the test frame was made of the right stuff and was the right shape, which is really what counts.
If all of this steel, steepness and wishbone stays is making you think of old Bontragers, the colours and stickers will ring a bell too. The base colours are orange or dark grey, with a choice of big panel-style decals – blue, black or grey on the orange frame and red blue, black or grey on the grey frame. The sticker grey is lighter than the frame grey so grey stickers on a grey frame isn’t quite as daft as it sounds. And no, you can’t have red stickers on an orange frame. What are you thinking?
Cotic supply the Soul as a frame only. Well, almost – you get a seat clamp, chainstay protector and anti-cable-scuff stickers, but other than that you’re on your own. So there’s not much point discussing components at much length. For the record (and because it gives a bit of an insight into the sort of bike this is), the test Soul was kitted out with: a Fox Vanilla fork, Middleburn cranks, XT transmission, Hope Mini brakes, Easton bar, stem and seatpost, Fi:zi’k saddle and big Conti tyres, putting it firmly into the “sturdy without being stupidly heavy” camp.
We were expecting great things of the Soul. And happily we weren’t disappointed. We’ve got used to long-forked hardtails being fairly laid-back. Not Choppery, just slightly relaxed and placing the rider rearwards. Not so the Soul. This is very much commanding from the front. Lots of bikes demand that you shift your weight over the bars to corner with any conviction, but the Cotic’s steep seat angle does it for you, making it steer fast with very little effort. It’s not nervous, although it’s worth paying a little attention dropping the front wheel over lips and making allowances for being a bit further forward than you may be used to.
The steep seat angle keeps things nice and steady up the hills too. Despite the fork travel and short stem, there’s little evidence of wag or wobble and the short chainstays make for good traction with, again, minimal weight shift requirement from the rider. It almost feels like cheating…
Cy says that the Soul will take up to a 125mm fork, although there’s a lot of variation in fork lengths for a given travel. It was so sprightly with the 100mm Vanilla though, that we’d be very tempted not to go mad with fork travel. Having something that handles like a short travel bike but with more travel is a splendid thing, certainly more fun that a bike that handles like a long travel bike only with even more travel, if you see what we mean.
The Soul is built for stoutness rather than zinginess, but there’s still a healthy spring in its step to please the steel fans and plenty of seatpost sticking out keeps things comfy. So, lively on the descents, steady on the climbs, stout feeling but comfy too. Can’t be bad. Downsides? Er, no, not really. XC racers will find the front a bit high and even though it’s a good climber it’s not what you’d call climbing-specific as some XC race bikes are. But if you’re after an XC race bike you probably stopped reading at the end of the first paragraph…
We’re trying not to keep mentioning the Inbred, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the Inbred and Soul are operating in pretty similar spaces. Is the Cotic worth the extra £175? Well, you get a nice Salsa seat clamp with it, and a chainstay protector. And a choice of colours without having to get it resprayed. Less visibly, the Cotic’s a bit lighter, feels more nimble and tubing snobs will favour 853 over own-brand chromoly. While it feels odd to describe an outfit the size of On-One as ubiquitous, there do seem to be an awful lot of their bikes out there, so if you seek a little exclusivity then the even smaller Cotic brand is the way to go.
Only you know how big your wallet is and whether you like white bikes or not. When it comes down to it, we’re just delighted that there’s a choice of UK-designed steel hardtails at affordable prices. How good is that?
Whichever way you look at it, this is a lovely bike. Sure, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before, but somehow everything just falls into place and the result is a blast to ride.