Longtermer: Gary's Cotic >X< first look
Mid-term report/review of Cotic >X< now online.
Last year we had the Genesis Croix de Fer in for review and it was safe to say that everyone here loved it. And I have to confess, we were finished with reviewing it long before I got round to sending it back! It quickly became my go to bike for commuting, riding in crap weather, and making long boring training loops into hilariously fun jaunts across Somerset and Gloucestershire.
So when we talked about doing some longtermers it was almost fate that it was at the same time that Cotic started selling its >X< cyclocross bike. On paper it looked similar to the Genesis in that it was slacker than a normal crossbike, made from steel and disc ready! But it also seemed a bit more special with an arguably fancier tubeset, nice tube profiles and the compact, sloping geometry looked interesting. It looked to be lighter too and the carbon fork was promising.
When the Cotic >X< turned up it didn’t disappoint. The finish was the usual Cotic standard and the lurid orange paint looking great against the iconic Cotic wrap graphics. Flicking the tubeset gives a great ring almost like flicking a wine glass rather than a steel pipe! Cotic claimed that making the >X< from Reynolds 853 (like Kate Potter’s prototype) in a decent weight and getting it through CEN would have resulted in a frame potentially retailing at £800+. Not being viable Cotic elected to design their own heat-treated and double-butted tubeset called FX. Cotic claim that you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference between the bike as it is and if it had been made from 853 and you’d be a few hundred quid better off in the process - quite a claim!
The Cotic components carbon fork looks great and it’s a pleasant surprise to see one as an option on this sort of bike. It was originally offered by default but since the fork was claimed to be a weak point for the bike in the road.cc review, it’s now offered with a steel fork with the carbon being an option.
The build I’ve gone with is a slight evolution of the “Sunday” build offered by Cotic but with a few choice bits to customise it to my taste and work around a few of the grumbles by road.cc. Hopefully the build will evolve a bit over the time it’s with me and we’ll get a good look at exactly where these new disc-braked, slack crossers are going, or see whether they’re just a fad.
The groupset is Shimano’s dependable and reasonably priced 105 - for those of a non roadie persuasion think SLX for road bikes. So far there’s not much to report. It works, you press levers, gears change. Shifts are direct but the levers have a soft, light action to them - ergonomically I’m not 100% in love with the STIs but that’s more a Shimano vs my hand-shape thing I think. The group does show up its pure roadie roots though as the compact ratio crankset really is a touch wide for pure cyclocross at 34/50. And the rear mech is a little too softly sprung leading to an excessive amount of chain slap in the rough stuff. But Shimano have just released a couple of cross-specific groups in the form of CX50 and CX70 so watch this space!
The wheels are Cotic’s own cartridge bearing hubs laced with some rather plain looking silver spokes onto Alex R450 rims. With skewers they came in at a rather portly 2200g and the rear wheel was a little out of true from the box. But for £135, or £160 with rim tape, tubes and tyres, you can’t complain too much. On the plus side they roll well once up to speed and the freehub has a nice tick to it. And despite knocking the front ever-so-slightly out of true as well, it has to be said I’ve been pretty rotten to them finding every rooty chute and rugged rock garden I can find; considering what I’ve subjected them to already, they’re holding up well. A quick session in the wheel jig should see them right and hopefully they’ll carry on reliably. I’m planning a bit of wheel upgrade later in the year but with nothing really available off the peg it’s a case of build your own, particularly as the >X< is spaced for an MTB hub as well.
Cotic did make it a stipulation that I had to run the >X< with discs if I was to have the frame so that there would be at least one out there in the press running them - discs were my plan all along so that was fine by me! Tektro’s Lyras are startlingly light as far as cable discs go and on weight alone they’re an attractive proposition to the heavy but adequate Shimano M545s and the heavy but exceptional Avid BB7s. But my cynical side assumed the Lyras were either going to be high maintenance and/or gutless as a trade off for this light weight.
Well they have proven a little tricky to setup needing an adjustment every ride for the first few rides, and usually a tweak if you remove a wheel. They’re also difficult to get the cable pull right, either pulling back against the bars or rubbing on the rotors. And before the pads had properly bedded in they were very juddery and gutless. But fear not, I do seem to have settled on a sweet spot now with no rotor rub, great power and no squishing off the bars. I’ve done a good 200km without adjustment too. The catch? A rather loud ‘honk’ under light to medium braking, even in the dry! It thankfully ceases with a proper hard grab of the lever but it’s quite annoying. If I can solve the honking I think I can more than forgive the Lyras their slightly fussy setup routine and just enjoy light-weight, decent-powered, cable-disc braking. I’ve only had one slightly moist ride but braking performance was wonderfully unaffected and at least the honking can’t get worse than it already is! To be fair, Tech Editor Scott Cornish has got a set of Lyras in for a stand-alone review and he's managed to get his to work just as well but without the honking so I need to have another play.
The rest of the build is made up of FSA’s SL-K stem and seatpost for comfort and weight saving. The 90mm stem is a little unconventionally short but it seems to work with the slack angles, and coupled with PRO’s excellent Vibe 7S bars in 44cm width, it’s a solid and chuckable front end. The PRO Vibe 7S bars are the extra shallow drop compact design and feel really good in the hands; they’re my favorite new bars in fact! Coupled with some PRO silicon bar tape, which is really nice and fat if you like that sort of thing, it’s a good place to put your hands. PRO also supply the saddle with their Turnix Ti model. No bottom complaints despite its thin profile, it’s a keen price for a high-end saddle and tips the scales at a smidge over 200g.
The final build tips the scales at a pretty reasonable 23lb 7oz with some M520 spds - reasonable considering the Genesis Croix De Fer and Marin Toscana are around 25lb 7oz that is, and reasonable considering there's easily around a 1lb to be shaved off with a far from bank-breaking wheelset. And if you shopped around, my >X< build could be had for only a few hundred more than those bikes.
Taking the Cotic >X< out for its shakedown ride, the first thing I noticed is just how lovely the frame feels underneath you. I’m going to do my best to dodge every steel cliche under the sun here, so just put it this way, they all apply! With the 35c nobblies growling on the tarmac the >X< literally hums and sings to the road noise beneath you...
It carries its speed really well, even riding it with the 35c tyres in a local Audax it kept pace with the road bikes well enough while my legs lasted. And when it came to descending it was stable, keen to hold its line and just seemed to keep picking up speed. Despite accidentally locking the rear in a very sharp, loose, hairpin road descent, the back stepped out in the skid, the front straightened up with a release of the brake and with a quick flutter of the heart I was off again at full speed - impeccable handling manners in a crisis you could say!
Climbing is reasonable given the build, the frame seems stiff enough despite its lovely, compliant ride. But unless you’re offroad, the weight still makes itself known, and by the end of that Audax I wished I’d stuck some road tyres on come the final climb in that Audax. I’ll get some slicks on at some point as I think the >X< will make for an honest enough road bike for those that can’t/won’t run a dedicated road bike alongside it - it certainly feels like the frame is willing enough with each pedal stroke to really shift.
Turn it off the beaten track and dip into the trails and the >X< rewards further. Like the Croix de Fer it doesn’t just allow you to go off road, it’s oddly fun and sadistic about it too - yes you take a battering but you constantly find yourself wondering “what’s down there?” and “I wonder if I can ride it down that?” - not always with success but that's half the fun. The combination of the geometry, the supple steel frame and the decent braking power mean you often end up going on proper mountain bike trails just for the fun of it.
It'll even go round pump tracks!
So what about that fork? It was a contentious point in the road.cc review but it seems it does work better with discs (not that I’ve put cantis on but I’ve got no complaints about it with discs on) and with no brake hanger to worry about I’ve not experienced some of the more concerning negatives of that review.
Yes the handling is a little slower on easier terrain at lower speeds but you’ll only notice this if you’ve come from a mostly road or traditional cross background - if you’re used to slack MTBs the Cotic >X< will still feel pretty quick up front. I’ve had a play on some pretty technical descents and it was great on the straighter, rockier and fast-twisting stuff. On the slower off-camber, switchbacked tech it was a bit more of a handful and a bit wandery - but let’s not forget that these were reasonably techy trails by MTB standards! And it was still a bit greasy still for the Continetal CX Race tyres which are really a summer/path tyre. Blatting round the typical Bristol wooded, rooty and rocky singletrack is great fun overall.
There is a bit of fore and aft flex in the tips of the fork but you’ll likely find the limits of most cross tyres before it becomes an issue. It can feel a touch squirrely under the hardest of braking but again, this is more apparent on roads and good surfaces and under the kind of braking you do to bed disc pads in. Offroad you’ll probably be pinging about, clinging on for dear life, with a stupid grin on your face and be way too distracted to notice.
I think my only real grumble is that despite its slack geometry, it’s quite compact overall and getting down into the smaller sizes (in this case 54cm) does result in quite a bit of toe overlap with my size 44 shoes. I do run my cleats quite far back which exaggerates this a bit but I think I’d be getting it if they were all the way forward. It's not too big an issue but it means the playfulness that comes from it being so compact gets abrubtly cancelled out when weaving a tight turn between trees and you get your feet wrong buzzing the front wheel in the process.
There’s no denying that that the >X< is one of a new breed and it’s not going to make sense or be the right bike for everyone. Call it X-CX or Monstercross or whatever you like, it can be argued that these bikes are flawed and compromised in almost every type of riding and you’d be technically right. But there’s no denying that my monthly mileage has gone up since the >X< arrived and it's a genuine giggle to ride. And while it may be no substitute for a road bike, an MTB or even a classic cross bike in their own disciplines, these bikes let you string together fantastic rides taking in everything imaginable in one session.
What the >X< brings to this slowly growing table of MTB-derived crossbikes is a touch of style and sophistication to what is currently a rather workhorse type of bike - its steel ride is every bit as special as its stablemate the Cotic Soul, and the second you sit on it you can’t help but reel off all those steel clichés to yourself. It’s fun to ride, it looks nice and when you open the garage door and decide what and where you’re going to ride, you can’t help grab the >X<. Mainly because it doesn’t make you chose where you’re going to ride but also because you’re guaranteed to come back grinning each time.