The long, hot summer of 2018 feels even more distant as the August bank holiday of 2019 fades into memory to be replaced by rain and cooler temperatures. We tested the Brother Kepler Disc last year, and as much as we enjoyed it, the limited tyre clearance meant that we were regularly getting it into situations a little beyond its design remit.
I think Brother Cycles must have been listening to our conversations, because a few months later, it released some teasers of a new bike: more of a do-it-all drop bar thing. Clearance for big volumes, and some of the latest standards that the Kepler didn’t have – all good stuff in our mind.
And so the Mehteh was born. The bike is due to be released later in September, but we got a ride on a pre-production prototype. There are a few very minor tweaks to the final version (like routing for a stealth dropper), but our test version shares the geometry, Reynolds 725 frame and carbon fork, so we feel ready to share our views. More on that later though.
As you’ve probably guessed, the Mehteh is at the rufty-tufty end of the gravel bike spectrum. It has clearance for 700c x 45mm tyres or 650b x 56mm. Ours came fitted with 650b x 2.1in WTB Nanos (sorry for the constant unit confusion – that’s about 53mm). Brother describe it as “a fast and agile drop bar bike, designed to take on the toughest terrain” and “a Kepler on steroids that could take on the toughest gravel tracks yet still be light, responsive and lots of fun to ride”. The company’s aim was to create something that perfectly straddled the line separating road bikes and mountain bikes. It’s a tough target to hit, and there is some real competition out there now in the big-clearance, highly-versatile, drop-bar bike market whether that be from Kona, Bombtrack, Mason, 3T, Open, Santa Cruz, Sven Cycles or many others.
The Mehteh comes out fighting though, with some of the touches that the Kepler doesn’t have – bolt-thru axles front and rear, a carbon fork (with alloy steerer), 44mm head tube (allowing the use of tapered forks) and flat mount disc brakes. Equally, the dropper routing will be popular with some. A real plus-point is the ISO threaded bottom bracket. And, we are a sucker for a steel frame, even though it will never be as light as the equivalent in carbon or alloy.
I won’t dwell on our build too much, as the Mehteh is currently only available to pre-order as a frameset. But, the guys at Brother shipped the Mehteh with a classy build, with Thomson seat post, stem, and bar and a SRAM Rival 1x groupset. If you’d rather run a double, or even triple up front then the Mehteh will cope. I did have some issues with Thomson X2 stem. It’s designed as a road stem, and struggled to generate enough force through its two teeny bar-clamp bolts. Despite risking some serious rounding off of the bolts, the bars tended to slip over rough ground. It’s a set up that I’ve had issues with before, but equally have done many happy miles on as well, so can only assume we were a little unlucky this time. I can think of more off-road suitable stems though.
WTB Nanos are the stalwarts of the gravel world – one of the first all-rounders that found a good balance between rolling resistance and grip/volume. Things have moved on a little now, and we’ve ridden tyres from Teravail, Rene Herse and quite a few of WTB’s more recent offerings that seem to roll a little better with no compromise in grip.
Despite that though, the components were enough of a known entity for us to concentrate on the frameset.
I was really excited to ride the Mehteh. Really excited. It certainly looks the part, and it took real restraint to go and take some photos of the clean bike before hitting the trails. In all honesty, the first ride was underwhelming – mainly through no fault of the frameset, other than it had built my hopes up so high. Those bars slipped, I had some fairly big toe-overlap and generally felt more nervous on the bike than I was expecting to.
Back to the beginning. Round two, and a different stem. There’s a lot to like about the Mehteh. It’s not just a drop-handlebar mountain bike. Even in comparison to the Sven Pathfinder that we tested recently, it is a little twitchier. On very rough terrain, that took some getting used to, but in more standard gravel bike territory, I enjoyed the pinpoint handling. The Mehteh fork is extremely stiff – to the point of initially feeling brutally so. Again, over smoother ground, this wasn’t a problem, but I found it a little fatiguing. Dropping some pressure out of the tyres definitely helped, but the ride remained on the stiff side. It’s hard for that not to sound like a criticism, and in some ways it is. Other similar bikes seemed to have found a slightly better balance.
Yet, the Mehteh remained hugely engaging and entertaining to ride. While on paper there are many similar bikes, its ride is quite unique. The geometry remains pretty true to the road/gravel end of the spectrum, despite the higher volume tyres it is spec’d with. The result is a bike that is deeply engaging, and really quite fun to ride, but needs a little more care and attention than, say, the Bombtrack Hook EXT or Kona Libre DL. It won’t get you out of the trouble that it might get you in to. The relatively low front end encouraged me to get my head down and hammer along the roads and lanes of my local loop, and it was easy to forget that I was riding a bike with tyres that are wider than my original mountain bike’s.
As I got to know the Mehteh, my confidence gradually began to grow. It remained a bit of a handful on mountain bike terrain, but I had to keep reminding myself that it is a gravel bike. I don’t want something that smooths out every rock in the trail… I’ve got flat bars and suspension for that. For everything a little smoother than that, the Mehteh was a pleasure to ride, and that has to be the sign of a good gravel bike.
A few niggles remained – toe overlap was bigger than I’ve had on most bikes recently, particularly one with 650b wheels. It would have been huge with a high volume 700c tyre on there. I like to run my cleats a long way back, which does mean that my toes are more likely to dangle close to the tyre, but my size 9s are hardly clown shoes. That fork is also on the stiffer side. It actually detracted from the frame slightly, as the comfortable rear, and familiar steel snap and pop felt a little dulled by the harsher fork. I do also wonder whether it was an oversight not to include anything cage mounts on the fork. It’s not a deal-breaker for me, but many who would have otherwise used the Mehteh for bikepacking or touring might look elsewhere.
I’m writing this last paragraph after reading through the rest the review. I fear that I’ve been a little harsh on the do-it-all Brother. It is a very good frameset, and builds into a very good bike. I’d happily use one as my gravel bike and not be left wanting for anything else, apart from at the occasional extremes of use. I think it could be even better though, or perhaps better suited for the riding that I enjoy taking gravel bikes on. If you want a bike that is perfect for bombing smooth singletrack, linking it up via lanes and occasionally hitting rougher stuff, then it isn’t far off ideal.
- Frame Tubing: Reynolds 725 heat treated chromoly double-butted main triangle, ED coated
- Fork: 1.5″ – 1.1/8″ tapered steerer carbon/alloy disc fork, mudguard mounts. 15x100mm TA (included)
- Full-length cable housing guides for derailleurs and brakes
- Stealth dropper post routing (not pictured on prototype)
- 3 sets bottle cage mounts on all sizes
- Rear rack and mudguard mounts
- Brake compatibility: Flat mount, 160mm rotor
- Rear Dropouts: 12x142mm TA (included)
- Seat post diameter: 27.2mm
- Seat clamp diameter: 30mm (included)
- Headset: 44mm, SHIS ZS44/28.6 upper, EC44/40 lower (not included)
- Front derailleur clamp diameter: 28.6 mm
- Bottom bracket shell: 68mm bottom bracket, ISO threaded
- Maximum tyre clearance: 700c x 45mm, 650b x 56mm
- Chainring clearance: up to 52-39-30t triple, 50-34t double, 48t single
- Price: £799
Big clearances don’t necessarily make a drop bar mountain bike, and the Mehteh still has head-down fast riding at its heart. It feels a little over-faced on the kind of terrain that it will happily take you in to, but no less fun for that fact. It’s a beautiful looking frameset, and reasonable value given the small numbers that Brother produce. It might not suit everyone’s riding, but those that like it will probably love it.