Brother Cycles Big Bro Review: Old Meets New
Even in a world of long and slack full-suspension rigs, the humble, fully rigid MTB still has a place, especially when it comes in a plus-tyred flavour. We took the Brother Cycles Big Bro up and down the steep inclines of Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck. Here’s how it fared…
Based in the UK and manufactured in Taiwan, Brother Cycles is a small brand helmed by siblings Will and James Meyer. The two began their life in the industry by renovating vintage bikes, then progressed to manufacturing road and track frames under their own brand. The Big Bro is their second take on a bikepacking-friendly rigid mountain bike, inheriting extra large clearances over the previous model – as featured in our recent Rider and Rig – to accommodate 27.5 x 3″ tyres.
The Big Bro is available both as a complete bike (reviewed here) and as a frameset. Manufactured in relatively small batches, colours change each year. For 2018, it’s an eye-popping ‘raspberry’ and a more subdued ‘stone’. But about that raspberry. As magnificent as it looks in the flesh, it’s tricky to capture in pictures. In fact, it’s a color that seems to change in hue and intensity with each shift in the cloud cover, which pretty much means almost every other minute in the UK.
Also, note that right now, there’s a generous 30% discount on 2018 Big Bro framesets and complete bikes. This drops the price tag down from £549.00 to £384.30 and £1,799.00 to £1,259.30, respectively. Presumably, it’s to make way for the 2019 model. In any case, it’s definitely worth taking into account as you read the words below.
- Frame/fork: Double butted chromoly
- Angles (XL): 70.5° Headtube, 73° Seattube
- Stack/Reach: 630mm/437mm
- BB Drop/Chainstay: 60mm/445mm (minimum)
- Bottom Bracket: 73mm English
- Hub specs: 100/135mmm, quick release front and rear
- Seatpost: 30.9mm
- Max tyre size: 27.5 x 3″ or 29 x 2.4″
- Price: £1,799/€1,950
Before I begin, I should hold up my hand: I’m a big fan of the humble, fully rigid mountain bike. Perhaps it’s because I was brought up riding this style of bike. Certainly, there’s some nostalgia. Or maybe it’s how affordable such bikes are to maintain, compared to investing in, and servicing, a good quality suspension fork. Then again, it could just be how they ride. With a static geometry, there are never any surprises, and there’s a more direct, connected feeling to the ride, even if it means capping your speed. Similarly, I like the way they strip away the technical gadgetry of the modern mountain bike and bring it back to its essence. Except that this essence now includes voluminous 27.5+ tyres, which transform a rigid setup that, I’ll admit, might otherwise be at risk of rearranging your vertebrae, to one that is expectedly capable on everything but the most technical terrain. You might not be able to keep up with your friends on full suspension rigs, but 3in tyres do a lot for grip and comfort.
The Big Bro features a simple but elegant, double butted Chromoly frame that’s well finished throughout. It designed around the more traditional quick release 135/100mm spacing with a sliding dropout at the back, which is easily adjusted thanks to meaty plates (there are 12x142mm thru-axle compatible ones available too). Whilst there are more moving parts to look out for, the advantage of sliding dropouts is that you can jerry-rig a repair if your derailleur gets damaged, and you can set up the bike as a singlespeed for winter riding. It also means you can play around with the wheelbase length and tweak handling for trail riding or touring.
It’s worth checking the bolts are snug tight and giving them an occasional clean, to make sure they stay free from seizing and the bolt heads don’t round out. I’ve noticed that it’s important to keep the rear wheel position just so, or you’ll risk chain rub in the lowest gear, given the 3in tyre. One more thought: you’ll need to carry another plate as a spare derailleur hanger, which I’d always recommend for a long trip, and some pliers or a small spanner to turn the horizontal bolts that help with micro-adjustments.
Mud clearance is good all round, though it’s a little slender within the blades of the fork. There’s an argument that mid-fat tyres aren’t at their best in slippery, British winter slop, in which case a set of budget 29er wheels – easy to find second hand, even – might be a good option, which will help with potential mucky chain rub too. That’s one benefit of running a bike with ‘old fashioned’ quick release standards. There are plenty of good deals to be scooped up.
As mentioned, the colour looks fabulous, and the decals are tasteful and minimal. Our checklist of eyelets is mostly satisfied: below the downtube, on the fork, and within the frame. Note that the positioning of the triple eyelets doesn’t quite allow the use of a King Cage Manything Cage with a water bottle on the seat stay, which is a shame. And I do miss braze-ons at the top of the unicrown fork, as they permit the use of the excellent Surly 8-Pack Rack. There are rear rack bosses positioned above the brake calipers to avoid clearance issues, though I haven’t yet figured out a suitable rear rack with the right leg length and width, aside presumably from Surly’s offering. Unlike the 8-pack, their Rear Rack isn’t amongst my favourites. Although highly adjustable, it feels needlessly heavy for bikepacking.
The frame is suspension corrected for a 100mm fork. But here’s the rub. Whilst the 44mm headtube accommodates a modern suspension fork, the front wheel has classic 100mm QR hub, which means you’ll likely need to build a completely new one with a thru axle. And, finding 100mm forks is increasingly tricky these days. My take? Leave it as a fully rigid mountain bike and enjoy it as is.
The bike I tested was size XL. As usual, I debated between trying an L and an XL, but decided that the bigger frame would suit the style of riding and bikepacking I intended. The front end would be a little higher and it would make the most of its enormous internal triangle for a big framebag, if I had one. If it was primarily to be used a mountain bike over a bikepacking steed, I’d likely have sized down.
Generally speaking, sizing down results in a more compact, stiff, and quick handling bike. But the Big Bro’s handling feels great just as it is, even in an XL, thanks in part to its ‘old school’ 70.5° head angle and resultant light front end (after all, this a bike tuned for cross country exploration, rather than steep, white-knuckled descents). In the case of the Big Bro, I’d choose a smaller size if I wanted less standover, which is relatively high on this bike. Indeed, it doesn’t have the long and low geometry of some modern mountain bikes, like the Bombtrack Plus 2 I recently tested. Instead, it favours a more generous headtube and a shorter top tube, specced with a slightly longer stem. Comparing it again to the Bombrack, this ends up with a 23mm shorter reach, and a higher standover, to the tune of 35mm. No matter the numbers. This bike rides fantastically. It’s quick to steer, climbs really well, and it’s amply stable, especially when its plus tyres are aired down a touch. My osteopath may not like it, but the Big Bro almost insists that I get out of the saddle and honk! Rigid mountain bikes have a way of doing this.
Bottom bracket drop – which determines the likelyhood of pedal strikes – is 60mm. I’ve not been riding especially rocky terrain and found it worked well for my uses, though note that ground clearance will nudge upwards if you fit a 29er wheelset (max clearance is 2.4″), which is presumably what the frame was originally designed around.
What else is worth pointing out? Rather than the classic 27.2mm seat post diameter we often see on steel bikes, the Big Bro uses a wider 30.9mm diameter. This opens it up to the possibility of a dropper post. Given my thoughts about running a suspension fork on this frame, the idea of a dropper post definitely appeals. But then again, you could just fit a quick release to the seat collar and save a couple of hundred pounds.
Elsewhere, there’s an 11-speed SRAM GXP drivetrain and, as usual, shifting is super crisp. Gearing comes by way of a 30T chainring mated to a 11-42T cassette. This is about as high as I’d want for bikepacking duties, and to be honest, I’d have preferred to see an 11-46T cassette, or a 28T chainring. If you like the idea of a double, the frame is compatible with a 42-28 chainset.
European winters and long tours can be hard on bikes. I’m not personally a big fan of GXP bottom brackets. Still, if and when it wears out, it’s easy to replace it with one of Hope’s sturdier versions, which work with a conversion kit. I’m happy to see TRP’s mechanical Spykes, which I find easier to set up and maintain than Avid BB7s. The initial feel on this set felt a bit wooden, though I’d expect them to improve with a change of brake pads. Swapping them out for a quality set of hydraulic brakes, like Shimano’s SLX or XT offerings, makes good sense if you’re not heading overseas and want to give your hands a break. Mechanical brakes can be hard on fingers, especially cold ones!
The hubs are fully sealed models made by Formula, laced to Alex MD40 rims and shod with 3″ WTB Ranger TCS Tough Fast Rolling Plus tyres. The resulting combo doesn’t make for the lightest wheelset, but it’s a reliable one that’s easy to set up tubeless. Quick release hubs and standards may be regarded a little long in the tooth by some, but it could also be argued that they work well on a bike like this, as you’ll always be able to track a spare down, no matter where you find yourself in the world.
The rest of the finishing kit is all pretty standard. I played my usual trick of swapping out the super straight handlebars for SQ Labs’ excellent 30X16, a 780mm bar with a 45mm rise and 16° backsweep. Incidentally, if the world of super swept back bars is too cray cray for you, this is a great option. I beefed up the grips too, as thin grips on a rigid bike don’t quite cut it for me. As for other contact points, whilst a posterior and its comfort is a personal matter, mine is rarely happier than on a WTB perch.
Given that the Big Bro is a relatively simple, fully rigid bike, a penny short of £1,800 may seem on the expensive side. But let’s not forget that it’s a bike released by a small manufacturer, the parts list is a solid one, and the frameset is a lot classier than most. Comparison-wise, it’s less than the Bombtrack Beyond +, but the spec is a little lower too and it hasn’t got the latter’s modern thru axle standards. Factor in the current 30% discount, however, and it becomes a fantastic deal, one that’s within striking distance of the £1,200 Genesis Longitude. Which, whilst boasting an impressive speclist for the price, sports a considerably more basic frame.
- Frame Double butted chromoly with sliding dropouts
- Fork 4130 Chromoly tapered unicrown fork
- Extras Downtube bottle cage + triple mounts on downtube and fork
- Headset FSA Orbit ITA
- Stem Promax DA-296 70mm
- Handlebar MJ 133EN 730mm
- Shifter/Brake Lever SRAM GX 11sp, TRP ML-800
- Rear Derailleur SRAM GX 1×11
- Brakeset TRP Spyke with 180mm F / 160mm R rotors
- Crankset SRAM GX-1000, X-SYNC 30t
- Bottom Bracket SRAM GXP73
- Seatpost Promax SP-2016
- Saddle WTB Volt Comp
- Cassette 11–42t, 11-speed
- Chain SRAM PC-1110
- Hubs Formula DC91 Disc, 32h, 100mm Formula DC32 Disc, 32h, 135mm
- Rims Alex MD40 Tubeless Ready
- Tyres WTB Ranger Tough 27.5×3.0
- Great handling that will make you smile
- A very capable all terrain bikepacking steed
- Simple but elegant frame with an eye-catching finish
- Easy to adjust mechanical brakes tie in with low-maintenance vibe
- ‘Old fashioned’ hub standards that are easy to find the world over
- Can be set up as a singlespeed if you damage your derailleur
- Non-thru-axle fork/wheel makes converting to suspension complicated
- Relatively expensive at its full price
- No braze-ons positioned at the top of the fork
- Gear range needs a bump for hilly bikepacking
- No XS sizes for folks of a smaller stature
- MSRP £1,700/€1,950 (currently £1,259/€1,365)
- Sizes available S to XL
- Colors available Raspberry and Slate
- Weight 14.2kg / 31 lbs
- Place of Manufacture Taiwan
- Manufacture’s Details Brother Cycles
The Brother Cycles Big Bro is a straightforward, frills-free bike. Yet, every time I rode it, I returned feeling delighted by its handling and how much fun I’d had.
As mentioned above, there are bits and pieces I’d do differently. When it comes to bikepacking, the gear range isn’t quite low enough for my needs (or maybe it’s just my legs), and I’d make adjustments to the cockpit. And with the non-thru-axle front wheel, it’s not a bike I’d be rushing to try with suspension. Perhaps there should be a Royal Decree, in the United Kingdom at least, that all rigid plus are shipped tubeless. Yes, it makes that much difference!
But all things said and done, this bike just works, even if it doesn’t sport the latest and greatest in geometry and standards. It’s bikepacking pared down to it simplest. Excuse the poetic license, but it’s a mountain bike that’s crying out to be ridden along grassy drover’s tracks in Mid Wales, or the historic, stony byways of England’s Lake District. It’s a Rough-Stuff Fellowship tourer, with a plus-sized twist. There are no airs or pretenses; aside, that is, from that lovely, eye-catching finish. It’s just a blast to ride.
Lastly, it’s a bike that encourages me to pull out an Ordnance Survey map and link together the country’s remarkable network of bridleways. This is because it’s equally at home skirting the edge of an unplowed field, hauling miles along a forest road, or picking through a rocky, overgrown two-track. This, I think, is about as much as you can ask for in a simple, rigid, bikepacking steed.
I’ve been embarking regularly on two-wheeled explorations for the last 18 years. Most recently, I explored the Republic of Georgia on dirt roads, rode the Colorado Trail, traversed Bolivia’s Cordillera Real, and followed the Trans Alps. Given my love for mountain biking and backcountry touring, my ideal journey fuses the two, keeping to quiet dirt roads and singletrack where possible.
Weight: 165 lbs