Cotic’s new Cascade, built with a Reynolds 853 main frame, is a rugged and versatile adventure bike that’s suited to multi-day off-road epics and equally happy to bomb around the woods or explore the local bridleways. Here are our initial impressions ahead of the full review that we'll publish soon.
Confident. That’s the first word that comes to mind when you ride the Cascade. With a long wheelbase, relaxed head tube angle (69° on the large model I’ve been riding) and a big ol’ tyre upfront, this is probably the most stable and confidence-inspiring adventure/gravel bike I’ve ever ridden.
Even if you’re usually not much good at it, riding no hands is a cinch here. That might or might not be much of a draw for you but the Cascade’s ability to hold a straight line when off-road obstacles are doing their best to disrupt its composure is a huge asset.
I’ve been riding the Cascade on the consistently inconsistent tracks of Salisbury Plain for the past few weeks (so, to let you into a secret – don't tell the others – this First Ride is based on more than one ride). One minute you’re riding on hard-packed, almost smooth gravel, the next you’re faced with a zillion potholes, then you’ll find yourself splashing through a muddy section, and so it goes on.
The Cascade is almost comically cool through all of this stuff and much more besides. You find yourself rolling through holes that would ping some other bikes off course, and if you hit something bigger and/or more jagged than expected, chances are that it’s not going to be too big a deal. Stuff that you’d normally avoid all of a sudden seems less significant. Of course, the chunky (2.4in) tyres help a lot in this respect, but even if you swap them for something more svelte – and I have – the Cascade is a steady customer.
The result is that you sometimes find yourself hanging on to speed just that little bit longer than normal, ditching the ‘just in case’ braking that you might otherwise have done to stay out of trouble. You notice this especially on the descents, as you’d expect, but on bumpy, rooty and rock-strewn flat sections too.
Weighing in at 12.62kg (with a large-sized frame, remember), the Cascade that I’ve been riding isn’t going to win many sprints from a standing start, but that’s clearly not what this bike is all about. What it actually is all about is a little harder to narrow down because this is a pretty versatile model.
First, if you want to jump on board and rag around the local tracks and trails for a couple of hours, the Cascade is certainly up for that. Don’t think all that stability means this bike is dull. Not at all, it just means you can tackle trickier stuff without scaring yourself witless (I said ‘witless’).
You get some gravel bikes that have a roadie DNA – such as the super-fast and lightweight Wilier Rave SLR that I reviewed recently – and some that have their roots in mountain biking. The Cotic Cascade is among the latter. It doesn't come with a pair of baggy shorts, but perhaps it should.
There are loads of bikes that are quicker off the mark and out of tight turns, but the Cascade is a whole lot of fun over a variety of terrains. You don’t get mountain bike handling here, of course, but the Cascade is a long, long way from being a road bike with a false moustache.
For a start, you get space for massive tyres – up to 2.4in at the rear and 2.6in at the front on 29in wheels, or 2.8in rear and 3.0in front on 27.5in/650b wheels. You might not want that kind of width if you’re riding firm, dusty gravel, but how many of us are doing that all of the time in the UK? Clue: none of us.
The ability to fit chunky, knobbly tyres means you’re much more likely to stay rubber-side down and in control on the bridleways and through the woods, even in muddy conditions – and we've all encountered plenty of those recently. My review bike was fitted with 29in Hunt Trail Wide wheels – featuring 6069 T6 aluminium rims with an internal width of 30mm – and tubeless WTB Ranger 2.4in tyres.
29 x 2.4in tyres are a whole lot of rubber but these roll reasonably quickly and provide good traction in most conditions, the close-spaced centre knobs only getting clogged in really claggy mud.
One other feature that tells you where Cotic is coming from here is the seat tube which is built to take a 31.6mm diameter dropper post with internal routing. Our review bike came fitted with a Bike Yoke Divine dropper post (although it's not standard on what is otherwise Cotic's Bronze level build).
This means that rather than nervously tiptoeing down technical off-road descents, you can lower your centre of gravity and plough through faster and more confidently. Do you need a dropper post on a gravel bike? 'Need' would be strong but the scarier the descent, the more of a fan you’ll become.
Oh, and the other component that tells you all about the Cascade’s MTB heritage is the Cotic Alpaca fork. What’s so mountain bikey about a rigid steel fork? It’s the fact that the fork is 483mm long that’s relevant here. Cotic has designed the Cascade around such a long fork so that you can swap to something like a RockShox SID SL Ultimate – with 100mm of travel – without messing up the geometry.
Like I said, there are plenty of bikes out there with snappier acceleration than the Cascade, but as well as being able to turn its hand to blasting around the woods it is at least as well suited to taking you long distances in comfort and carrying loads.
Try to tot up the number of bosses on this bike and you’ll likely lose count. They’re everywhere, so you can fit racks, mudguards, bottle cages (lots of them), top tube bags, frame packs… you name it. An athlete that Cotic supports in Innsbruck, Austria, has even taken skis and a paraglider to use as alternative ways to get down mountains, but that’s another story.
The Cascade’s confident handling is a real advantage when you have it loaded up too, and the 438mm chainstays mean it’s unlikely that you’ll clip a heel if you fit traditional style panniers at the rear.
With a 613mm effective top tube (on the large-sized model) and a 126mm head tube, the Cascade’s geometry might sound like that of a low and stretched wannabe racer, but it’s far from that. No, with a 633mm stack and a 432mm reach, plus a short stem (Cotic advises 60-70mm) with a slight rise, the handlebars are positioned higher and closer to the saddle than you might imagine.
Get down on the drops of Cotic’s Valley flared handlebar and you can find yourself an efficient enough ride position but it’s in no way extreme. Ride with your hands on the tops or the hoods and the position is pretty relaxed.
This is the sort of setup that most people could handle for long stints without the need to be cracked back into shape by a chiropractor at the end of it. That’s going to be especially welcome if you’re riding for a couple of days – or longer – when niggling aches can really take the fun out of it.
Our review bike was built up with a Microshift Advent X 10-speed shifter, rear derailleur and 11-48T cassette with a 36T Raceface chainring and Easton EA 90 cranks. With the 2.4in tyres fitted, this gives a gear range of 21.0in to 95.8in. That low gear should get you up most off-road climbs. If you wanted even lower gearing for shifting heavy loads, the Microshift Advent X rear derailleur isn’t designed to take a sprocket larger than 48T but you could go for a smaller chainring.
Microshift’s method of shifting takes a bit of getting used to – you have two levers behind the brake lever, one for upshifts and the other for downshifts – but it functions well enough, especially considering its low price.
Shimano’s mechanical disc brakes are another obvious concession to price. Only one pad moves when you brake and only one pad retracts when you stop braking, meaning that rotor rub can be an issue – especially if you like the brakes to engage early in the lever stroke. Yes, hydraulic brakes are better all-round, but they’ll cost more, so you pays your money and you takes your choice.
Speaking of price, you’re looking at £849 for the Cascade frame with Cotic’s steel Alpaca fork.
Complete bikes start at £2,099. This is for Cotic’s Bronze build with Microshift shifting and mechanical (cable operated) disc brakes (but, as mentioned above, no dropper seatpost).
A Gold build, with Shimano GRX/Easton components, is priced at £2,699.
Silver builds, featuring SRAM Apex 1 components, will be available later in the year.
Cotic is also offering rolling chassis kits for people wanting to move parts over from older bikes.
This is just our First Ride review – our initial findings. Look out for our full review of the Cotic Cascade on road.cc soon.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.