Cotic’s foray into cyclo-cross is, ironically, missing the X-factor. Its excitable frame is really, really let down by dreary steering.
Weight: 10200g Contact: www.cotic.co.uk
The Cotic >X< was born because mountain bike racer Kate Potter (Cotic/Bontrager Race Team) wanted a bike to race during the cyclo-cross season while mountain bike competition was quiet. This bike is the production model of that request. Cotic have a passionate fan-base for their mountain bikes and their steel Roadrat has many commuting devotees, so their new ’cross bike has a lofty reputation to live up to.
The >X< frame wears its mountain bike heritage on its sleeve. If the sloping top tube, wishbone seatstays, 135mm spaced rear end and disc compatibility weren't enough, it further tips more than a wink to its fat-tyred genes with strengthening ‘Hexten’ gussets on the down tube and chainstays. With its skinny steel tubes it looks very svelte and elegant in these days of bulging carbon and swoopy aluminium. It’s like a mid-’90s mountain bike but with the right size wheels, which will please people of a certain age and specific tint of spectacle.
The Cotic FX cromoly frame is custom butted and heat-treated. It has ‘an Ovalform top tube for handling accuracy and compliance’, it says here. The seatstays are straight but the chainstays are gently curved for heel clearance. Being bridgeless they give increased mud clearance as well as leaving plenty of space in there for a 700x42 tyre. Gussets on the outside of the chainstays by the bottom-bracket allow lighter gauge tubes to be used without sacrificing frame integrity.
The >X< is cantilever and disc brake compliant. The disc-mount on the rear has a strengthening strut between the seatstay and chainstay to cope with the extra braking forces. If you do want to ride disked-up, the cantilever mounts are removable to give the frame a clean look.
Twin bottle-cage mounts pierce the down tube for those days when you just want to go epic: a 500ml bottle will fit up top with a 750mm bottle sitting on the lower mount. Or you can just use one if you want a drink when racing, sliding a small bottle in by the head tube and still having plenty of triangle space for shouldering the bike.
The Ovalform top tube is supposed to help shoulder comfort, although I didn't feel much difference from a basic round tube when it was bouncing off the collarbone. A replaceable mech-hanger bolts onto the trademark Cotic cowled dropouts. All cable guides are slotted for ease of cable care, the top tube ones routed along the top to aid in carrying the bike. The front gear-cable stops are mounted on the head tube, and although they were plain on my test model they will be threaded with adjusters in the future.
For the commuterati the fork has eyelets by the dropouts and a hole through the crown for mounting a mudguard, and possibly a much-needed cable-stop (more on that later). At the rear, the frame has eyelets at the dropouts and a single hole underneath the seatstay wishbone. There's a mudguard eye in the middle of the bottom bracket, right between the chainstays, which would be an innovative touch if the hole weren’t perfectly bisected by the front-mech cable as it exits its bottom bracket guide. Ah.
Running gear is Tiagra-based but downgraded to Sora 9-spd for the STIs. Sora shifters are a little different from the usual Shimano units in that instead of the two 'brake' levers handling the gears, one lever blade pulls the cable and a little ‘mouse's ear’ thumb button on the inside of the brake hood releases it a click at a time. It’s like a Campagnolo Ergo shifter, so if you've used Campag it will be all too familiar. If not, it’s not much of a brain-strain to get used to the action of a lever and a separate button.
Unfortunately the mouse ear is too small and impossibly placed to reach with a thumb when you're in the drops. It’s a royal pain in the arse, to be frank, especially if you're one of those that likes to ride the drops for the extra security and braking control it gives when riding a 'cross bike off-road, or if you’re clicking through the gears in a speedy ‘I'm A Roadie God’ tuck.
Shifting is at the clunkier end of Shimano’s smoothness but still within the boundaries of slick. The front shifter requires a couple of throws to shift between rings, which takes time but does mean there's enough wiggle-room to trim the front mech to avoid chain rub. The shape of the lever body is quite thin in the hand and can dig in when piloting the bike over bumpy terrain. This can get rather painful after a while.
The 50/34 chainrings on the 175mm Tiagra cranks are an ultimately useless chainring pairing for a bike of this type. It’s not just Cotic's fault; it's a gearing set-up I've experienced on other 'cross bikes and I’ve hated it then too. The 50-tooth outer is great if you're using the >X< as a commuting vehicle and you're tooling along a long straight flat High Street with a tailwind and green lights all the way, but as soon as you take the bike off-road it gets to be hard work. With even CX pro racers running a 46 or 48T big chainring, it's no surprise that a 50 tooth is going to be a knee cruncher for us mere mortals in the mud.
The gap between the 50 and 34 chainrings is also very annoying – I've said that before as well. It’s fine if you're one of those riders who like to mash a big gear until your legs implode and then dump the chain onto the easiest gear to twiddle up a hill. But if you're a cyclist who likes to maintain some kind of pedalling rhythm, changing between the inner and outer chainrings involves a lot of rear derailleur action to maintain what riders of an experienced persuasion would call a cadence. You're never going to be bored taking the bike off-road, or riding undulating tarmac, as you'll be forever changing between chainrings to maintain forward momentum.
Thanks to this chainset combo the bike’s smallest three cogs on the 11-25 cassette remained resolutely untouched throughout the test, and are still very shiny and new. They’re too harsh for the 50T chainring and give too much chain crossover and gear replication for the inner 34. I'd like to see a less road-based cassette range, as in the big ring I only used the easier half of the block, and in the 34 ring the 25 sprocket at the back isn’t enough when winching up a leafy off-road climb. If you're just going to ride it on the road or on easy tracks you should be fine. If you want to use the bike off-road, changing the front chainrings to something smaller or the rear cassette to an overall toothier cluster would help things enormously.
The disc-ready hubs ran smooth throughout the test, despite me dragging the bike through some big puddles. When they do die the cartridge bearings will be cheap and easy to replace. The Alex R450 rims stood up well to my clumsy handing but did need a bit of a bedding-in tweak after a few sessions. Continental Cyclocross Race 700x35C tyres are pretty speedy for a knobbled tyre on road, with no cornering wander either. They're really well behaved off-road as well, providing more confidence than their meagre knobs would suggest, and only getting out of their depth when things get proper muddy. The shallow tread and open design means that thorn punctures can be a problem, though, and sadly the rear tyre started to show wear after less than a dozen rides. The wheel quick-releases have removable levers, which is a handy security feature if you're locking the bike outside the office.
The Cotic Component branded seatpost, saddle and handlebar are as good as any big name products. The seatpost has a comfortable amount of flex in it and the saddle has raised no issues or boils in my usually quite discerning derriere area. The Cotic handlebar is rangy wide at 44cm centre-to-centre, which gives a good level of control. I felt that the drop was a bit too much, as the stance of the bike is pretty arse-high/nose down as it is, and the drop of the handlebar exacerbates this.
The Tektro CR520 cantilevers, while not in any way glamorous, do a fine job, better even than some brakes with bling. They're simple to fettle and adjust, the V-style pads easy to play with using an Allen-key so that they hit the rim right.
The Cane Creek headset did its job perfectly with no notchiness or gritty noises. Bearings are easily available and easy to replace if needed at the end of a unfair winter. The Shimano chain, meanwhile, comes with a SRAM split-link in there for ease of removal and cleaning, which shows forethought on a bike that's likely to get grubby every time it goes out.
The Cotic Components carbon-fibre fork comes with both disc mounts and cantilever studs as standard. According to Cotic, the carbon fork keeps the front end of the >X< ‘light and lively’. What I noticed most was horrendous brake judder. Initially, I got the most frightening chatter under braking I've ever experienced. I tried the usual tricks of raising the too low straddle-cable, replacing the brake blocks to some of better quality, and toeing them in madly to try and minimise the problem. But it never really went away.
The cause of the problem might be the diameter of the fork legs, which is the same from crown to dropout; less juddery forks are significantly beefier at the crown and taper gently to the drop out. Anyhow, you can fix the brake judder in two ways. You can go to the mountain bike dark side and fit disc brakes. Or you can take advantage of the hole in the top of the fork and fit a fork-mounted brake-hanger instead of a steerer-mounted brake hanger.
Although the fork does lots of lovely swoopy things to spread out from headset width to axle width, the clearance at the top of the fork either side of the tyre isn't the gapiest I've seen. It’s fine if you're just going to use the >X< mainly on road or on gentle dirt, but it becomes an issue if you steer the bike into extremes. I had a frustrating cyclo-cross race where the fork had to be frequently cleared of mud and grass whilst other racers ground past clog-free. (It was so annoying I left the race early and went home.) The rear triangle, on the other hand, has plenty of mud clearance.
As an aesthetic aside: the interlocking 'C's of the Cotic Components logo on the fork looks like a reversed out 'S' in a white oval and had most people confused as to the make of the fork.
My first ride on the Weekday wasn't a success. There was the aforementioned chronic brake-judder, and something was binding in the headset area to make steering rather porridgy. So five miles in I was at the bike shop, with a new straddle-cable fitted to raise the yoke in hope of lessening the judder. The sticky headset issue was tracked down to the steerer-mounted brake hanger sitting unevenly on top of the headset. A shuffle around of the hanger and the spacers solved things.
I began again. Fifteen miles later on top of a hill, a strange clunking noise was attributed to the front-mech slipping down into the chainset. I set it up correctly, did the bolt up tighter and went home.
Heading out the next day, I found that despite the >X< being a little over a centimetre shorter in the top tube than my favoured length for a 'cross bike, the reach to the brake hoods was still quite a stretch. I think that the combination of the width and reach of the bars and the length of the Sora STI bodies were to blame for this. It’s something to bear in mind, or play with to fit.
A bigger issue was the steering, which never felt quite right. It seemed a little lazy and uncertain. Swapping bikes with another rider and riding the same bit of twisty trail back to back brought this slow steering trait into sharp focus. The other bike felt like it was laser-guided, with tight steering taking me right where I wanted it to. In contrast, the Weekday would go where I wanted only after thinking about it for a bit, its ponderous line through corners visible to the rider behind.
Such slow steering is a real, real shame as the back end of the bike wanted to play all the time. The frame has that clichéd classic steel feel, all springy and lively, and the compact frame allowed the bike to be thrown about between the legs with smiley abandon. But your enthusiasm is kept in check by the vague steering, especially when descending off-road where the bike never felt confident up-front. Tracks that the frame wanted to blat down were minced down instead. Every rider that had a go on the >X< came back asking what the problem with the steering was. It just felt a bit off. If this bike were a dog, it would have the body of a cheeky terrier and the head of an old Labrador.
I tried riding it like a mountain bike instead of a road bike, pretending I was on one of Cotic's long-travel hardtails. It helped a bit, although it was a quick way to find the performance limits of a cyclo-cross tyre and rigid carbon fork (and a brake-fluttery one at that).
The >X< Weekday is obviously built to hit that magic Bike2Work £1K price-point, but for £300 more you can get the >X< Sunday, with the same frame and wheels as the Weekday but upgraded to a Shimano 105 10-speed drivetrain with a larger spread 12-27 cassette. You're also treated to a KCNC stem and seatpost. Optional upgrades for both the Weekday and Sunday are a Hope headset fitted for £63, Tektro drop-bar-lever compatible cable disc callipers for £75, and Nutrak 700x28C slick tyres (with tubes) for £20.
Unfortunately I think the Weekday is going to struggle in the crowded £1,000 market. In terms of value and spec, it gets beaten up behind the bike sheds by the Big Boys with their volume-buying clout and economies of scale. What you are paying extra for here is: the steel frame that's adaptable for discs and cantilevers; a certain amount of ‘designed in the UK by a man in a shed’ cachet; and maybe the ‘I'm on a 'cross bike but I'm a mountain biker really’ Cotic sticker on the down tube. Another option is to buy a frame and fork package for £450, giving you the opportunity to build it up with your favourite parts.
I was really looking forward to riding the >X< Weekday, as Cotic’s steel mountain bikes have a reputation as fun and skippy machines. But I was generally a little disappointed. Like many bikes of this ilk, it’s a‘cyclo-cross’ bike that tries to cover all of the race/commute/play bases but ends up compromised in each of them.
For commuting you'll want to swap the tyres, and maybe upgrade to discs for all-weather performance and reliability. For racing you're going to want to change the gearing so you don't get bogged down, and maybe swap the tyres for something chunkier when it gets proper cyclo-cross muddy. Oh, and you’ll want a fork with better clearance and less judder. For general tooling around on- and off-road, which I did a lot of on the >X< as it's something it's particularly good at, I'd change the gearing straightaway: a 46 or 48 to replace the 50-tooth outer ring would make all the difference. I’d also fit a short-reach shallow-drop bar. As well as helping comfort it might make reaching that elusive Sora gear button easier.
Ultimately, I was disappointed with how the bike behaved. It’s like it has a split personality. The rear end is all keen and eager – the Cotic MTB heritage and experience shining through there – while the front end is gently ponderous, which subtly smothers the potential of the bike. It’s not enough to make the bike handle like a tank, just to take the edge off things and make a bike that wants and needs to be sharp into something a little fuzzy. I'd love to try a different fork in there, to see if it tightens up the handling and gives less judder.
Cotic’s foray into cyclo-cross is, ironically, missing the X-factor. Its excitable frame is really, really let down by dreary steering.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Cotic >X< Weekday
Size tested: Black
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Cotic FX custom butted cromoly
Size: 52, 54, 56 (tested), 58.
Colour: Powdercoated Bright Orange or Super Gloss Black
Fork: Cotic Components Carbon
Brakes: Tektro CR520 Cantilever
Stem: Cotic Components 100mm OS
Handle bar: Cotic Components OS 44cm
Shift Levers: Shimano Sora 9spd
Front Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra
Crankset: Shimano Tiagra 34/50 Compact
Bottom Bracket: Shimano
Cassette: Shimano Tiagra 11-25 9spd
Rims: Alex R450
Tires: Continental Cyclocross Race 700x35c
Front Hub: Cotic Components Disc
Rear Hub: Cotic Components Disc
Saddle: Cotic Components
Seatpost: Cotic Components 27.2mm
Seat Clamp: Steel Collar
Extras: Cotic chainstay protector
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Cotic say the >X< is your perfect winter partner-in-grime, zingy, responsive and durable in the way that only the best steel frames are, with involving handling, huge tyre clearance and minimised weight. One of the few cyclo-cross bikes out there with a full disc-brake option and practical mudguard mounting eyes it's a bike that can be commuted on all week and then ridden off-road or raced at the weekends. As a do-it-all bike it does quite well, although steering it towards any one speciality is going to require some changes.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Build was fine, good for the money and certainly no glaring faults.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Size - 56
Seat Tube (centre-top) - 52cm
Top Tube Length - 54.8cm
Head Angle - 71°
Seat Angle - 73°
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
For the size of the frame we thought the top-tube was a little short, but everything else felt fine.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, skinny steel tubes built in a compact frame leaving a lot of seatpost showing added up to a comfy rear, and the flexy carbon fork sucked up the bumps as much as a rigid fork can.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It all felt good, tight enough for the road, absorbent enough for dirt.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Well enough for a 'cross bike, it happily skipped along.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
No problems here.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Delayed responsivity.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
See above. Something up front wasn't right and the handling as a result was a little off.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Being Shimano throughout it all worked with Big S reliability and efficiency, not as slick or as light as the higher rent offerings but still perfectly acceptable. That Sora shift button is a pain and those gear ratios need changing.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
For the mix of applications that this bike could be used for the wheels and tyres were just right. The disc-ready wheels should last a good time and being good old-fashioned spokes and rims can be easily and cheaply replaced and upgraded as things wear out. The Conti tyres performed remarkably well over a variety of terrains, but longevity isn't their forté.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Although it's a personal thing we'd change the bar, and the shifters, which would probably make a big difference to the feel of the bike.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Sort of, yes, mostly, but that steering issue began to get on our nerves as we knew the bike could do so much more.
Would you consider buying the bike? No. Well, I could buy it but I'd have to change too many things to make it worthwhile, and the £1,000 arena has plenty of other likely offerings to peruse. The frame-only deal might be a punt and a considered shed-raid build.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Maybe, with caveats.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
We're not angry, just disappointed.
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun