Logan’s Cotic SolarisMax + Choosing a Bike for Oaxaca
In our latest Worthy Builds feature, Logan ruminates on the complexity of selecting the perfect bike for an extended trip in Oaxaca, Mexico, a magical region that offers a bewildering variety of surfaces and terrain. Find his rationale, details on the Cotic SolarisMax that he rebuilt for the occasion, and an overview of his complete bikepacking kit here…
After spending a few weeks in Oaxaca last year, we decided to return for more this winter. I had a milestone birthday and wanted to come back to decompress after a hectic year, meet up with some friends, work on some projects, and check off a few rides, trails, and other things that were left undone the previous year. Having the luxury of knowing exactly what I was getting myself into this time, I was determined to choose the best bike possible and equip it specifically for the Oaxacan front and backcountry. The tool for the job? My Cotic SolarisMax, which was rebuilt with fresh parts and a bikepacking gear list assembled for several bikepacking trips in the region. Find all the details about the decision making process, the bike build, and my full gear kit below.
Picking the Perfect Bike for Oaxaca
I found that choosing which bike—and which components—to bring for a winter layover in Oaxaca was a challenging task, believe it or not. There’s every breed of surface and riding type that a lover of dirt cycling could dream of here, from fast gravel to chunky dirt roads and from relatively smooth goat tracks to all out death-defyingly steep singletrack. It’s all here.
Let me give you a lay of the land to illustrate. The area basecamp, Ciudad de Oaxaca, is a sizable and frenetic city that sits on the southwest edge of the valley at the foot of the remote and rugged Sierra Norte. From there, you can access a multitude of dirt road loops into the foothills or venture out into the surrounding Valley and subranges that make this place special. There are also several big loops you can do that involve a hearty dose of singletrack on the many ridges that cascade down from the mountains. I’d classify most of those as raw, to say the least. The terms loose, steep, and chunky are often tossed around.
Further, if you head into the mountains—be it with a shuttle or by your own power on one of several ultra-steep dirt roads that climb up some 2,000 meters from the valley—you can access a wealth of Indigenous community-managed, purpose-built singletrack, the likes of which have garnered a notable MTB-tourism draw over the last few years. Then there are several “long trails” that descend the Sierra Norte back into the valley that are frighteningly steep. To tackle all of this, one might think they need two bikes.
Our decision to come here last winter was made at the 11th hour after riding the Baja Divide. I had my relatively conservative Nordest Sardinha that was set up with fast Maxxis Ikon tires, an Eagle drivetrain, and a 110mm fork, all suited for touring the sand and dirt roads of Baja. It was kind of a trail-worthy ATB that I wrote about here. Admittedly, I was caught slightly off guard with the terrain in Oaxaca, particularly the steep climbs and chunky singletrack.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sardinha is a trailworthy, versatile bike and it did surprisingly well on Oaxaca’s trails and dirt roads here. And, of course, most mountain bikes and ATBs will be adequate for most of the region’s routes and loops. It all depends on what—and more importantly how—you want to ride. Cass seems to make do with his rigid Jones “Magic Carpet Ride” LWB, but his is an entirely different approach. However, I’m spoiled for choice and have the fortune of being able to try various types of bikes and get granular about what’s best suited for what style of trails and riding. With that, I overthought what bike to bring and how to equip it this time.
I juggled whether to outfit the Nordest with beefier tires, pack up the Pipedream Sirius S5 I was testing at the time, or build up my then newly purchased Cotic SolarisMax frame. After going back and forth, I ultimately decided to build up the SolarisMax with the following kit. Note that I made a few last-minute changes, which I spell out and describe below.
- Frame Cotic SolarisMax, Hubble Purple, Size L
- Fork Rockshox Pike Ultimate, 120mm, 42mm offset
- Wheels Industry Nine Enduro Hydra Carbon, 30mm Internal Width
- Rear Tire Maxxis Rekon EXO, 29 x 2.6″
- Front Tire Maxxis Forecaster EXO, 29 x 2.6″
- Crankset Cane Creek eeWings, 170mm
- Bottom Bracket Cane Creek Hellbender
- Derailleur Shimano XT, 12-speed
- Shifter Shimano XT, 12-speed
- Cassette Garbaruk 12-speed, 10-51-tooth
- Handlebar Stooge Moto Bars, 800mm
- Grips Ergon GA3 grips
- Headset Wolf Tooth, Silver
- Brakes Hope E4 V4
- Rotors Hope 180mm rear, 200mm front
- Saddle Specialized Power Pro with Mirror
- Seatpost Fox Transfer, 200mm
- Dropper lever Paul, Polished Silver
- Pedals Yoshimura Chilao (Pewter)
You might notice a couple discrepancies with the list above and the shiny and new photos of this build. One thing I swapped two days before we left was the handlebar. I really like the Doom bars, but I had some fit issues and I remembered that most of the loops from the city require a little urban adventure navigation out of the hectic rigmarole of the city. It’s pretty amazing how fast you can be on dirt, but not without dodging a few cars in a polite but aggressive dance through traffic first. The 800mm Stooge Moto bars are a little friendlier for getting around review mirrors than the 820mm Doom Bars.
Another thing I changed late in the game were my tires. The Icon/DHF combo was a little mismatched, so I decided to switch to a Rekon in the back for a little more traction. I was speaking to a friend who’s ridden a lot of the more challenging singletrack in Oaxaca, and as he put it, “There’s pretty much zero traction there, so I’m not sure which tire even matters!?” Still, I recall some sketchy slides on the Ikons last year and wanted a little more grip. I also switched to the Forekaster up front to make the combo a little speedier for all the dirt road riding. It’s a tire I’ve never tried before, but I was ultimately pretty happy with this selection. They’re a fast-rolling pair that worked well on the dry and crumbly dirt roads. I sometimes wished for a big MTB combo like a Forekaster/Assegai on the trails, but I think the Rekon/Forekaster was a great middle ground.
I was happy with most of these components, but there were a few standouts. The Garbaruk 12-speed cassette is super nice. Considering its 348-gram weight, it’s a pretty good deal. I also used my trusted Industry Nine Enduro Carbon wheels, which still haven’t needed any new parts! The new Hope Tech4 E4 brakes are also superb, although they’ve had a squeal from time to time that can’t seem to be remedied. I also brought a new Fox Transfer 200mm post, which as I’ve mentioned before, is one of the only droppers I currently trust on a long trip. Lastly, I’m really liking the Specialized Power Pro saddle. It’s ridiculously lightweight and very minimal.
Senderos vs. Caminos de Tierra
I ended up picking the SolarisMax over the Nordest as I wanted something more aggressive to handle the area’s singletrack. The Sardinha’s 67° head tube angle sometimes seemed a little too conservative on the steeper trails, and felt like it was going to fold up on occasion. I could make it work by riding slower and being more cautious, but I knew there was a better option.
One of the reasons I chose the SolarisMax over the Pipedream Sirius S5 is that it’s slightly more bikepacking-friendly and geometrically conservative. The S5 would have been amazing on the steeper trails, and at times I wished I had it, but the Cotic has a much larger frame bag area and more mounts. Plus, the -1° steeper head tube angle is a little more manageable and requires less work while riding dirt roads. The numbers are only minimally different, but the Cotic is a better choice for dirt road riding.
Oaxaca Bikepacking Kit
One thing about both the SolarisMax and the S5 is that they don’t have rack mounts, and I’ve gotten accustomed to using a rack with a long dropper post over the last few years. That led me to give the Tailfin AeroPack a try on this setup, a system that’s gotten plenty of praise here on the site from Cass and Neil. The Aeropack uses an elegantly designed replacement rear axle that has two protruding knobs for the Aeropack to clamp onto. A seatpost strap/clamp mechanism does the rest. No rack mounts are required.
This is no ordinary Tailfin AeroPack, however. It’s a prototype MTB arch that features a smaller and lighter pack size. The new design modifies the handling and robustness of the Aeropack. I really like this system. It’s easy to use, simple, and quick to attach and detach. It’s also as stable as they come. A modified front ‘neck’ that allows for better dropper usage—I can use all 200 millimeters of travel on my dropper post. Additionally, the new Aeropack has a pair of mounts and a two-bolt Mini Cage at the rear for carrying extra water or stove fuel. On that note, the final production version will also have a three-pack of mounts on each strut for additional cargo cages.
Here’s the rest of the bikepacking kit in list format, showing what I packed where.
Revelate Pronghorn Harness
Zpacks FreeTrio (3p) tent and poles
Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt (32°F)
Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow
Montbell Plasma 1000 down jacket
Helinox Chair Zero (strapped to outside using 1 Voile Strap and an Ottolock)
Rogue Panda Bismarck Bottle Bucket
750ml water bottle
Snacks in mesh pockets
Revelate Mountain Feedbag
Nested Snow Peak Ti Mug
Camera Lens (whichever I wasn’t using) or beer to take to camp (lens was moved to hip pack)
Rockgeist Frame Bag (bolt-on/lace-up)
Food (in Sea to Summit dry bag)
750ml water bottle
OneUp EDC Pump (with tool, tire plugger and spare plugs)
Revelate ToolCash roll with zip ties, tire boot, spare brake pads, small Leatherman, more tire plugs, bottle of Stan’s 3oz sealant bottle, spare bolts
Wolf Tooth B-RAD TekLite Roll-Top 0.6L bag with spare tube, tire lever, and small case containing needle and thread, tire patches, rubber cement, super glue
~500ml plastic bottle for Mezcal
Tailfin Small Cage
40oz (1.2L) Klean Kanteen with two Voile straps
Nemo Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad (wide)
Enve Lightweight Stretch Pants
1 spare pair wool socks
1 spare pair smartwool underwear
Search and State Field shirt (button down)
Silca Borsa Eco Case with Anker PowerCore 10k battery, two spare camera batteries, and charging cables
Gore rain jacket
Tailfin Mini Cage
~350ml plastic bottle with stove alcohol
Two Voile Nano Straps
Gore Passion Shorts
Chrome merino T-shirt
PEDAL FURTHER wool socks
Ion Scrub Select shoes
Rockgeist Big Dumpling Hip Pack
Canon R5 Camera
1 lens (either 85mm or 35mm, rotated in feedbag)
Spare SD Card and lens cloth
Now that I Know
I ultimately put in well over a thousand miles in Oaxaca, riding various singletrack day rides, dirt road loops, and several of the established bikepacking routes—including the esteemed San José del Pacifico and Pueblos de los Mancomunados. When scrutinizing a bikepacking packlist, I usually consider things I didn’t use and things I wish I would have brought. The only thing I packed that didn’t see the light of day was my rain jacket. I theoretically could have left it, but that’s never safe, even in the dry season.
In retrospect, I think I’d only change a few items. Instead of bringing reclaimed freezer ziplock bags for leftovers and carryout food, I wished I’d have picked up some of these sealable silicon bags (or something similar). A couple people in our group had them, and I was envious. They seem to make the perfect vessel for takeaway tlayudas, memelas, quesadillas, fruit and avocados, and all the other wonderful foods we picked up along the route. Second, I’d have brought a sturdy water bladder. I have one but forgot it, so I ended up borrowing a normal water bottle to stash in my frame bag to round out the three-liter water capacity. That being said, the final version of the Aeropack will have three-pack mounts, so I’d likely forgo the bladder and bring two cages/bottles to go in that position. Lastly, a much smaller pot would have sufficed as we did zero cooking along the way; a 750ml pot would have been fine for coffee-brewing duty.
As for the bike, there’s not much I’d change. At times, I wish I had the more aggressive Pipedream S5, and there were others when I kind of wanted the more dirt-road friendly Nordest Sardinha with its more conservative all-day riding geometry. I think the Cotic was the Goldilocks choice for this mixed bag of riding, however. While it’s not as beefy as all the bigger enduro bikes you’ll see on some of the trails here, it’s fully capable—and fun, more importantly—on the majority of singletrack descents Oaxaca has to offer. And, with a short-travel 120mm fork, it also doesn’t feel like an overbuilt fish out of water on dirt roads and bikepacking trips.
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