There’s something very exciting about getting a new adventure bike out of the box for the first time. With a trail bike, you kind of know what you’re going to get, with most models following a well tried and tested formula of frame, wheels of a certain size and forks and a groupset you’ve probably ridden on before.
But when the package comes from a small British manufacturer, with their own take on adventure mountain biking and by definition, the kind of bike that is needed to tackle it, to totally misquote that famous US philosopher, Forest Gump: “bikes are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.”
So, to say I was impatient to get into the box the Big Bro came in would be a definite understatement. It would actually be closer to the truth to say I had to use all the willpower I could muster to resist cutting the poor thing out of its cardboard shell!
And as it slowly emerged from the various packaging materials draped all over it, the excitement only intensified. The pink paint (they call it Raspberry) grabbed me immediately – this was a bike I wanted to be seen on. Once totally hatched, I could only marvel at its simplicity. It somehow managed to look 100% modern yet, at the same time, like everything mountain bikes were when I started riding, far too many years ago.
OK, you don’t really have to look very hard to see how refined this bike actually is. But more of that further down. Right now, I had me a great-looking, simply- designed bike, some camping kit and bike luggage, food and water, and a heatwave.
It was definitely time to get testing.
Brother, for those that haven’t come across them before, is a small British bike company based in London. The company was founded in 2010 by Will and James Meyer, who are, erm… would you believe it? brothers. Will has the appetite for adventure, James on the other hand just loves to design and build. It’s a great combination that delivers bikes with a desirable pedigree.
There are five frames in their range, covering everything from track, to all-road, to urban, to adventure, with two models being supplied as complete builds if required. The Big Bro is one of these – a full-blooded 27.5+ rigid rig that is definitely the most adventure-capable of the whole range. And it was this build that I was about to disappear into the North Wales heat haze on.
First off, the frame. The Big Bro is crafted in Taiwan from super strong, 4130 double-butted cro-mo tubing and looks both shapely and purposeful. The die-straight front forks are 100mm suspension corrected, so some bounce could be added if needed or desired.
Geometry is pretty stock for the genre, with a 70.5 head angle, 73 seat tube angle and a wheelbase for the Large tested of 1113mm – way shorter than the trail bikes I’m used too.
The adjustment on the long chainstays doesn’t just alter the geometry, it also makes single-speed an option. The alloy 730mm bars are straight and somehow both feel and look wider than they actually are – I can only imagine it’s the contrast with the narrow frame tubing. These combine well with a 70mm stem and an effective top tube of 615mm to feel just slightly stretched – a good climbing position – but still more trail than XC.
The cables are full-length and externally routed – both sensible and par for the course for this type of bike, though it does look a little messy when seen through eyes that are used to the slick clean lines of modern internally-routed frames. Build quality is undeniable – the welds are wonderfully neat and the paint job, superb.
And did I mention that colour?
True to form, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many luggage bosses and mounts on any bike – a tourer’s dream. To date, I’ve tended to keep my bike-packing on the lightweight side, limiting myself to luggage that can be mounted on just about any seat/seatpost, bar and top tube combo, with no need for anything to be properly attached. But here we have options to connect just about any type of pannier, water bottle, mudguard and no doubt a whole load of other things I haven’t even thought of too. If I could have kept the bike longer, I’m sure I’d have started investing in some of this bikepack bling.
The Big Bro rolls sweetly on a pair of Alex MD40 27.5+ rims, laced to Formula hubs that sport conventional quick-release skewers. These are booted with 3.0 WTB Ranger tyres, which, even running tubes, and therefore slightly higher pressures than I’d have liked, I found pretty grippy on just about any surface. The rubber compound grabbed at roots and rock and the extra contact patch provides traction in soft stuff, even though the actual tread is relatively shallow.
Stopping power comes from a 180mm rotor up front and a 160mm at the rear and a pair of cable-operated TRP brakes.
Drive is provided by an SRAM GX 1×11 chainset – definitely one of the touches that makes the Big Bro look modern. It’s also ultra-reliable, even in gloop (not that I could find a lot this summer). They can also supply a direct mount for a front derailleur if you’re that way inclined.
A perch is provided by a WTB Volt Comp – a bonus for me as most of my bikes are shod with a Volt of some sort, so I knew I’d be good for some big distances from the off. There’s no dropper post, or even a quick release.
All in, it tipped the scales at 13.9kg, without pedals, so definitely not a lightweight, not that this makes a massive difference when you then weigh it down with a further 6 or 7 kg of bike-packing gear and water.
Whoo! I’d forgotten just how precise and direct rigid bikes feel. Sure, barely inflated 3.0 tyres are a lot more forgiving than the boots we used to run way back in the 80s. But other than that, the first ride was definitely a trip down memory lane.
The seating/riding position didn’t really need any tinkering – I felt totally at home from the off. I would like a QR on the seat though. There are times on long steep, drops like those found on the Trans Cambrian Wales – when even on an out and out adventure bike, it can be useful to get rid of that fist that keeps punching you up the rear.
The adjustable dropouts potentially offered a choice of ride quality, providing an opportunity to increase wheelbase and stability at the expense of playfulness. In the end, I was happy to stick with it as it came, close to as short as it would go – never finding it particularly unstable, even when fully-loaded at speed. Set like this I found it good fun to flick about on quick packless sorties in the hills above my house.
The Big Bro’s biggest weakness to me was those TRP Spyke brakes, which I really didn’t get on with. They seemed unresponsive to any kind of quick dab, instead of requiring a proper pull, which could then throw your balance completely. And on long drops, they required a colossal amount of strength to keep them biting hard. They were also susceptible to cable run problems when used with bar-mounted luggage.
This could of course be overcome by running longer cables. I can see how cable brakes are more serviceable than hydraulics, which would perhaps make sense on really adventurous tours, but these days hydraulic brakes are just so reliable, I’d definitely be upgrading these for any of the riding I do. Dedicated e-bike brakes would appeal, offering a bit more power to cope with luggage weight.
Handling-wise, once I got used to the fact that the front didn’t give or drop at all on impact, I started to feel pretty comfy on steeper, techy ground, though my elbows and knees certainly put in some big shifts trying to soak everything up.
It steers beautifully, especially on smoother surfaces. It’s definitely quite nimble and the lack of suspension means that geometry stays consistent throughout the corner and the bike stays balanced. Obvious this has limitations among roots and rocks, but in all fairness, it’s not really designed as an Enduro bike.
I did some seriously long days on it and never felt tired or uncomfortable (just hot – not the bike’s fault). The gearing as standard though requires strong legs when climbing laden with luggage, and I’d prefer a 28T sprocket up front to make low- speed winching a little more comfortable.
The seating position is pretty spot-on for going uphill though, and those lengthy chainstays make it very dependable punching up steep ground.
Shifting was crisp and predictable – no surprise with SRAM GX really – and I had no problems with losing the chain. It would, however, have run a lot quieter with some kind of guard on the chainstay. Laden or unladen, it really is a fun bike to ride.
With build quality like this and a design this simple, you wouldn’t expect durability issues and we certainly didn’t have anything major at all. I did notice some rub on the top tube where a frame bag had been draped, so perhaps a few strips of helitape would be useful if you tour or bikepack often. Everything else has been faultless.
Three Things That Could Be Improved
- We’d replace the TRP Spyke cable operated brakes with hydraulic ones immediately – this would transform the ride on descents, especially technical ones.
- A quick release collar on the seatpost would make it that little bit easier to get it out of the way for long descents.
- I’d replace the stock 30T chainring with a 28T to make it better at winching heavy bikepacking gear uphill.
Three Things We Loved
- Secure handling, even when well-loaded.
- Refreshingly simplistic design and good looks.
- So many places to mount luggage.
I quickly fell in love with this bike. It is refreshingly simple in design, stunning to look at and beautifully made. It just seemed to call out ‘ride me’ every time I looked at it. This resulted, at times, with me nipping out for a quick spin that wasn’t planned and that I didn’t really have time for – not that I ever regretted it – and at other times, with me wondering why on earth I’d taken a rigid-framed adventurer out onto trails that my limited skills struggle to do justice to on a trail or AM bike.
But bikes are supposed to put a smile on your face and Big Bro certainly did that for me every ride.
That said, living, riding and working where I do, it’s difficult to see where it would fit in to my small collection of bikes, other than as a dedicated proper bikepacking bike, which to date, I have resisted the temptation to own – mainly because I really don’t get out on enough of these adventures to justify one.
If I did manage to sneak out with the camping kit a bit more or for a bit longer, it would definitely be a serious contender. And I would urge anybody looking for a dedicated bikepacking rig to look at it very closely. At £549 for frame and forks, it would be easy to make a superb, inexpensive build, or if you’re happy with cable brakes, then the build tested is great value.
I think it would also excel as a winter/3-season bike for anybody riding soft, muddy, chopped-up ground – think Wiltshire, Hampshire, South Downs. And then of course, it would double up for summer adventures too – a definite win, win. All in, I really hope Brother don’t want it back too soon.
Big Bro Specifications
- Frame // Double-butted 4130 cro-mo steel. Suspension corrected for 100mm
- Fork // 4130 cro-mo steel with tapered crown, disc only
- Hubs // Front Formula DC91; Rear Formula DC32
- Rims // Alex MD40
- Tyres // WTB Ranger 27.5×3.0
- Crankset // SRAM GX-1000, X-SYNC 30t
- Shifter // SRAM GX, 11-Speed
- Cassette // SRAM GX 11-42
- Brakes // TRP Spyke, 180mm Front & 160mm Rear
- Stem // Promax DA-296 70mm
- Bars // Aluminium MJ 133EN 730mm wide
- Seatpost // Promax SP-2016
- Saddle // WTB Volt Comp
- Size Tested // Large
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Weight // 13.9kg (30.6lb)
|Tested:||by Tom Hutton for 8 Weeks|