Brother Cycles is a small, consumer direct brand that offers a wide range of low priced and interesting steel framesets and bikes. While it’s been producing ‘cross and track frames for a number of years now, it recently sent us through its first foray into fat-tyred territory, the Big Bro.
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The most striking thing about the double butted, 4130 frameset is the colour matched rigid fork up front, a relative rarity in 2016. While your wrists will likely never thank you for shredding sans-squish, the unforgiving and lightning quick handling of a rigid fork is, dare I say it, kind of fun.
Comparing the geometry of the Big Bro to any modern XC bike, the 71 degrees head angle stands out as pretty darn steep. Even the similarly spirited Marin Pinetrail we featured previously boasts a considerably slacker 69 degrees up front.
I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve spent some time on the bike, but I expect this will quicken up the handling over slow, technical sections while making the bike less stable at high-speed or when blasting through rock gardens.
However, the Big Bro is clearly designed as a long distance cruiser rather than a singletrack ripper, so the rigid and upright ride shouldn’t pose any problems when used for its intended purpose — particularly if it’s built around some suitably plump, tubeless rubber.
On that note, although Brother has designed the bike around 29x2.4” tyres, I reckon you could easily fit a 29x2.8” tyre up front and perhaps the same out back with the dropouts slid as far back as possible.
The touring oriented mindset of the bike is also reflected in the number of bosses and braze-ons that adorn the Big Brother — it’s veritably bristling with them, giving the bike a rather cactus-like silhouette. So if you want to run a fully racked up, mudguard equipped mountain bike that’s covered with enough bottles to supply a peloton, then this is the bike for you.
The frameset is a shining example of utilising proven standards, featuring a 73mm threaded bottom bracket shell, a straight 1 ⅛ inch steerer, regular 100/135mm spacing and IS disc tabs — all refreshingly common stuff.
In our minds at least, this makes the Big Bro an ideal candidate for a ‘what random assortment of parts do I have kicking about in my spare bits box’ style build — and if you’re to believe resident hub-magpie Matthew Allen, these are often the best kinds of bike.
Although we like how easy it will be to find a replacement headset, the 1 ⅛" headtube does present a slight disadvantage if you want to upgrade to a front suspension fork — the options for doing this with a straight steerer are extremely limited these days.
Brother has supplied our Big Bro in a bikepacking friendly 1x11 build with a generously spread 11-42 cassette, squishy silicone grips and fast rolling Schwalbe Racing Ralph rubber. There is routing for a front derailleur should you require a wider spread of gears, too.
Curiously, Brother has chosen to spec our test bike with mechanical TRP Spyre brakes. While I understand the rationale for this, mechanical disc brakes are arguably easier to service in the field than their hydraulic counterparts, I'm still on the fence over whether I’d choose them for my own set up.
Either way, this will the first time in many years that I've ridden a mountain bike with cable operated discs, so it will be an interesting experiment.
If you’re a masochist and find the idea of a rigid, singlespeed mountain bike appealing, the Big Bro features sliding rear dropouts that are adjusted via 8mm chain-tug bolts — these may look a bit agricultural compared to some of the more svelte options out there, but will function just as well and I reckon you’d also have a hard time rounding them.
And while some will say it shouldn’t matter (it really does though), the stoney grey-green colour of the Big Bro is rather lovely. Brother is known for producing deliciously toned bicycles and the Big Bro is no exception. Should you be looking for something a bit more sensible, the frameset is also available in ‘stealth black’.
The build is finished off with some fairly standard, though completely functional, Brand X kit and a posh Brooks Cambium saddle — further hinting towards the long distance intentions of the bike.
With cheap flat pedals and tubes in the tyres, our 20” (large) build comes in at 12.37kg
With its low-tech rigid ride, I reckon the Big Bro will make an excellent winter bikepacking rig and I'm looking forward to pottering about on slushy mountains in Wales over the next few months.
The Big Bro is available now as a frameset for £499 in the UK and EU, and £415.83 outside (including the US).