NORDEST Britango Review: Down and Backcountry

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The word “downcountry” might repel some readers, given its overuse in recent years. Nevertheless, a bike that climbs like a cross country bike and descends like an enduro bike is promising for riders seeking a multipurpose mountain bike that works for singletrack-heavy bikepacking. The NORDEST Britango promises to do exactly that. Our friend Sven shares his impressions after building and riding one for several months…

In 2017, I tried a plus tire hardtail for the first time. It was also my first time bikepacking on technical singletrack instead of the usual gravel roads. It was a four-day bikepacking trip on Germany’s Rothaarsteig, riding Kona’s Big Honzo DL. I was instantly hooked and knew right away that I’d be building a dedicated bikepacking hardtail of my own before too long.

As my favourite riding consists of fast, rough singletrack trails, taking jumps, and railing berms, my goal was to build a rig that’s as fun on short unloaded trail rides as it is capable for multi-day technical bikepacking. And after two years of thinking it through, I finally decided to try out the NORDEST Cycles Britango. You may not have heard of them, but the small Portugese company was founded by Pedro Jerónimo, who has been building custom titanium bikes since 2010. They offer a small selection of consumer direct bikes, kits, and frames for very competitive prices.

  • NORDEST Britango Review
  • NORDEST Britango Review

The Britango frame has been around for a little while. It ticked almost all the boxes, but its 27.2mm seat tube allows just a very limited selection of dropper posts, which put me off. Last year they fixed this issue and introduced their Britango TR, which sports a 31.6mm seat tube.

  • Frame/fork: 4130 CroMo Steel, Sizes M ML L
  • Angles (L): 66.5° Headtube, 74.5° Seattube (L)
  • BB Drop/Chainstay: 55mm/420mm
  • Bottom Bracket:BSA 73mm threaded
  • Hub specs: 12 x 148 mm TA
  • Seatpost: 31.6mm
  • Max tire size: 27.5 x 3″ and 29 x 2.5″
  • Price: Frame: 579€ (Europe); 478.51€ (elsewhere)*

Technical Details

The CRMO 4130 steel Britango is available as a frame or frameset and comes in three sizes (M, ML, and L) and two colours (black gloss and white gloss). The claimed weight of the frame is 2.89kg (6.37 lbs) in size ML and it costs 579 Euros ($640) or 1143 Euros ($1,260) for the kit, equipped with the Marzocchi Z2, EU shipping included. Shipping to North America is 165 Euros ($180).

Apart from the possibility of internal dropper housing, it has external cable mounting and a threaded bottom bracket. This makes for an easy build and maintenance, but might not be as aesthetically pleasing as internal cable routing. NORDEST also still offers the original Britango XC with a 27.2mm seat tube for riders who don’t plan on mounting a dropper, at 299 Euros ($323), until it’s out of stock.

For those who demand something fancier, the frame is also available in titanium, with a claimed weight of 1.725 kg (3.8 lbs) in size ML and it retails for 1399 Euros ($1,545). The geometry can be customized for another 100 Euros (titanium option only).

The frame is designed for both 29” (up to 2.5”) and 27.5”+ (up to 3”) wheels and a suspension fork with 120-140mm of travel. It has an interesting colour scheme, resembling the Britango vulture it was named after. To me, the fabrication and finish of the frame both look great.

  • Nordest Cycles Britango
  • Nordest Cycles Britango
Nordest Cycles Britango
Three photos above show Nordest’s stock build

It has a very low standover height and thus quite a small main triangle. As for fitting a frame bag, I would be glad to exchange some of that standover clearance for more packing space—something that applies to most trail bikes that aren’t specifically designed with bikepackers in mind. On a similar note, another thing I was disappointed to see was that NORDEST decided to get rid of the bottle mounts on the underside of the downtube. While the older model had three (and they’re still shown in the web shop’s product photos), they don’t exist anymore.

I used Topeak’s Versa Mounts to solve this issue. They worked fine, but when building a dedicated rig, I want all the key requirements to be met without aftermarket solutions, especially as these mounts are still advertised online. As founder Pedro Jeronimo told me, many customers never used these mounts and therefore he decided to get rid of them. This is also valid for the XC version, but they can be included in the Ti frame if requested.

  • NORDEST Britango Review
  • NORDEST Britango Review
  • NORDEST Britango Review

NORDEST Britango Build

My build was carefully chosen to provide a capable yet reliable bike. I wanted this rig to be carbon fiber free, as I don’t want to worry about cracks or the right torque, especially when travelling. As SRAM’s Eagle X01 comes with carbon cranks, I Installed only the derailleur, cassette and chain and combined them with Cane Creek’s eeWing (170mm) as well as SRAM’s oval x-sync 32t chain ring. For the fork, I chose a 130mm Rockshox Pike RCT3 DebonAir and installed two tokens for progression.

At first, I rode this bike with a 50mm stem that I soon swapped out for a 35mm one. Starting out, I was a little concerned that it would make steering too nervous for bikepacking, but I quickly found out that my handlebar bag would counteract that and create a stabilizing effect. For reference, my leg-to-body height ratio is bigger than standard and I run shorter than stock stems on all of my bikes. NORDEST recommends a 60mm stem on their geometry charts.

I chose a 27.5+ build with a 2.8” Maxxis Ardent in the rear and a Minion up front. The frame and fork have plenty of clearance. Sadly, I didn’t have the chance to ride it with 29“ wheels, but I did install a 29“ rear wheel with 35mm internal rim width and a 2.5” Maxxis Minion and tire clearance was sufficient.

Regarding the dropper, I chose Bikeyoke’s Revive 160. In comparison with other options, it’s quite expensive, but it has proven to be very reliable and allows for on-the-trail bleeding using only an allen key. Its 160mm of drop is plenty when unloaded and still enough when sporting a Wolftooth Valais and Ortlieb Seatpack.

Additional components

  • Bar: Spank Oozy Trail 760mm VibroCore
  • Grips: Ergon GA3
  • Stem: Funn Crossfire 35mm
  • Headset: Cane Creek 40 ZS44/28
  • Brakes: Magura MT Trail
  • Saddle: Ergon SM Pro Men
  • Pedals: Shimano Deore XT PD-M8000
  • Wheels: Syntace M40i
  • Bottom bracket: Rotor BSA 30 Steel

Geometry

When comparing possible frames, I noticed that the geometry was really similar to that beloved Big Honzo I first tried, yet a tiny bit slacker. The theory does fit the practice, and straight away it seemed really balanced and appealing to me.

At only 420mm, the chainstays are one of the main ingredients of the Britango’s fun character. This allows for very precise and agile riding, and is a blast to hop over logs, rocks, and push through tight turns. At the same time, the reach (429mm) is long and the 66.5° head tube angle is slack enough to encourage relatively high speeds. At the end of my first day of riding, I found myself chasing guys on enduro bikes and soon noticed that it holds me back much less than expected—compared to my bigger full suspension rig—once I got used to the stiffer rear end. That being said, it’s very comfortable for a hardtail. The combination of a steel frame and plus sized tires works wonders and is playful on my local trails. I’m also a fan of the simplicity and feedback. Furthermore, I consider 130mm of travel more than enough for most terrain and tend to think that many riders, especially beginners, are tricked into thinking they require bigger and beefier bikes than what’s actually necessary.

  • NORDEST Britango Review
  • NORDEST Britango Review

Only on very steep and rough trails was I thinking I’d prefer my bigger full-suspension rig. This is also due to the fact that I chose a build with very little stack, thus a low cockpit. Concerning flex, I didn’t notice it exceeding the more forgiving feel of a steel frame, even when equipped with all my bikepacking gear, but keep in mind that I tested the smallest frame size. A heavier rider with a larger frame might have a different experience.

Yet, due to the relatively steep 74º seat angle, it didn’t feel like my weight was shifted rearwards too much with a fully extended seat. I was able to accomplish technical climbs and the front wheel stayed planted on the ground. The Britango’s 55mm of bottom bracket drop creates the feel of really being in the bike, instead of on top. During my three months of testing this bike, I only experienced three or four pedal strikes. My crank length is 170mm and I’d say my technique prevents pedal strikes in general, as I’ve rarely experienced them on any of the bikes I’ve ridden to date. In other words, a rider who chooses 175mm cranks and picks lines differently might be more prone to them.

NORDEST Britango Review
  • NORDEST Britango Review
  • NORDEST Britango Review
  • NORDEST Britango Review

All of those desirable characteristics hold true when mounting bags and taking it for multi-day bikepacking trips. While bikepacking on the Britango, I found myself plowing through rock gardens faster than anticipated. And every time, the first moment of fright was soon wiped away by amazement of how well this bike took chunky rocks and roots, even when fully loaded. Furthermore, I was able to really work with the trail, pump the terrain, and hop over rough sections. To sum it up, this bike didn’t just encourage me to take it easy and coast down technical trails. Rather, it reminded me to really have fun and enjoy it.

  • NORDEST Britango Review
  • NORDEST Britango Review

All that said, the Britango’s geometry isn’t particularly aggressive, giving me the chance to enjoy less technical cross-country rides without creating that restless feeling I get when grinding miles of modest forest roads on my full-suspension rig. In general, I found the riding position very comfortable and relaxed, even after hours in the saddle. For a ride to a nearby campground down the Danube, I raised my stem by a couple of spacers and mounted triathlon bars. It worked surprisingly well over dozens of miles of straight gravel and paved cycling paths. While this bike isn’t intended for such riding and I wouldn’t recommend it only for this purpose, I can absolutely also see it as a long distance off-road bike. A lot is possible on the Britango, depending on how you build it up. Mount beefy tires, a suspension fork, and a dropper for your weekend single trail shred; swap those for a rigid fork and fast-rolling tires and ride that ultra endurance race you’ve been thinking about.

To be fair, the frame’s versatility is somewhat limited compared to other frames, as there are no additional mounts for racks and such. This isn’t an issue to me, though, as I would look elsewhere if I wanted to create something suitable for more heavy loaded touring. At the end of the day, the core character of this bike is fun, agile, singletrack-focused riding.

NORDEST Britango Review

Pros

  • Great geometry that encourages fast and playful riding without being too aggressive.
  • Impressive versatility that keeps options open.
  • Reasonable price won’t break the bank.
  • Easy maintenance thanks to the external cable routing and threaded bottom bracket.

Cons

  • Not bikepacking specific as there’s no under downtube bottle mounts and small triangle.
  • Frame / kit only so technical knowledge to build a bike is required.
  • External cable routing might bother folks who prefer a cleaner look.
  • Frame (model/size tested): Britango TR (140mm), M
  • Weight (as built): 28.4lbs (12.9kg)
  • Place of manufacture: Taiwan
  • Price (frame): 579€ (Europe); 478.51€ (elsewhere)*
  • Manufacturer’s Details: NordestCycles.com

*Price in Europe with 21% Spanish VAY taxes 579€ (Now on sale at 399€); Outside Europe (US for example) the price is 478.51€ without local VAT taxes (Now on sale at 329.75€).

Wrap up

NORDEST Cycles’ Britango is a remarkable bike that offers a lot of fun for a very competitive price if you don’t mind that it’s offered consumer direct and frame / kit only. NORDEST claims it allows you to ride everything from cross country to enduro, and based on my experience, I have to agree. The geometry is appealing on paper and works out amazingly well in the real world. That being said, there are some complaints that might be a no-go for more particular buyers, such as the small frame triangle or missing under downtube bottle mounts. Also, riders who only want a stable bike that allows comfortable long days on rough terrain and aren’t seeking the thrill of fast singletrack trails might find other bikes more suitable.

If those cons don’t concern you, and you’re looking for a versatile and fun platform, the NORDEST Britango might be just the right choice. Given its versatility, the range of possible configurations is the Britango’s biggest strength, and I consider this a great bike for a broad spectrum of riders and those looking for a do-it-all rig.

Rider’s Background

I discovered my love for mountain biking on British Columbia’s Freeride trails, in 2010. After focussing on downhill riding for a few years, I shifted more towards enduro and trail riding and also enjoyed two seasons of BMX racing. My first proper touring experience was a three-week winter ride through Germany and Austria. Since then, I’ve ridden the Bikepacking Trans Germany, Rothaarsteig, and many shorter trips.
Height: 5’7” (173cm)
Weight: 161 lbs (73kg)
Inseam: 32”

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