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Brother Cycles Big Bro long term review

2018 / Steel frame / Manufacturer: Brother Cycles / Sram GX 1x11 / TRP Spyke

Why did I choose Big Bro

When I bought this bike in 2018, I was planning to do some big bikepacking trips, some on very technical terrain, but I didn't want a mountain bike with suspensions, thinking that it could be easier to fit bags on a rigid frame and fork. I had read that "plus" tires at low pressure were very capable in rough terrain and that they were able to compensate for the lack of suspension, so the tire clearance was paramount for me, as wide as possible.

In any case, if one day I wanted to put a suspension, the frame's geometry is suspension corrected for a100mm fork.

I was sure I wanted a steel frame, the material has high plasticity and elasticity which makes it reliable. Basically its flexibility makes it strong and resilient. The bike needed to have as many mounts as possible ! To put bags, bottle cages and all kinds of cages everywhere.

Finally, I was undecided between the reputed Surly Ogre and Brother Cycles' Big Bro.

What tipped the scale ?

Brother Cycles is a small(ish) manufacturer based in England, so I though it would be cool to support their project and, since I live in Belgium, save on shipping fees too.

Big Bro on Big Balloons

Big Bro comes with 3 inches WTB Ranger which I've setup tubeless. And they are fantastic! I find them surprisingly light for the volume. It feels like flying on gravel roads or not-too-technical tracks. With very low pressure (I have put them as low as 1 BAR) they can successfully handle relatively technical ground.

Plus tires have their limitations when it comes to serious terrain though. The cushion given by the 3 inches tires is just enough to survive. Also, depending on the difficulty of the terrain you may need you lower the tire pressure to gain shock absorption and control, which can be a bit of an bummer when you then need to ride on tarmac for a few kilometer... Be ready to spend some time re-inflating those big balloons with a little hand pump... In those cases a bicycle equipped with a suspension is better, because you can always lock them if you find yourself on pavement.

To wrap up, big volume tires for bikepacking is a good thing as long as you don't get onto serious mountain bike trails, that's my opinion.

The benefits ?

They are extremely comfortable for off-road paths and not-too-technical single track; in those conditions, they save you the need for suspensions and they offer many more possibilities for attaching bags to the frame and fork. Not to mention that suspensions are expensive and heavy.

Surly Moloko handlebar

Big Bro came with flat straight bars that put my wrists in a funny angle, very uncomfortable. So I changed them for the Surly Moloko bars which have a 34° sweep angle that works perfectly for me, they put my hands in a natural position. The bars are 73,5 cms wide which gives great control on rough terrain. In the central area, they offer two to three possible hand positions and support for devices like a GPS, a phone holder, a feed bag, etc. The horns allow for a semi-aero position.

Refinements and developments

Since 2018, Big Bro's newer generations have been improved significantly. Let's go through some of the upgrades:

The brakes

The 2018 model has cable pulled disc brakes TRP Spyke, which I like a lot except for one detail: when the bike is ridden off-road for a long time, the vibrations make the barrel adjuster on the caliper slowly unscrew itself, therefore reducing tension on the cable. This is a design problem, some people put Loctite to hold it in place. Another technique is to completely screw the barrel adjuster and set the position of the pads from the pistons themselves. They can be adjusted with a 3mm hexagonal key, each piston independently.

The 2020 model comes with Sram Level T Hydro.Hydraulic disc brakes are superior in power and modulation (control). They have a self adjusting pad position and the oil sealed system is low maintenance. Hydraulic brakes have become more and more reliable and many long distant tourers preffer them even in remote areas.

The wheel axels

The 2018 model came with quick release axles. At the time I bought the bike, I though it was a good idea, from the compatibility point of view, I could have more options in the case of a wheel replacement. But with time, I've learned that disc brakes produce huge torque forces between the fork and the wheel, pushing the wheel out of the drop-outs. It's unlikely, but possible. I had my quick release brake open on a descent. Fortunately, I felt it right away and I was able to stop immediately.

The 2020 model has through axels which will hold the wheel safely in place no matter the torque forces. Through also the puts the wheel into the same position every time you put it out and back on.

The drivetrain

The 2018 model has 1x11 speeds with a 11-42 cassette, which is fine when the bike is no too loaded. As soon as the bike is heavy the range feels short.

They solved this on the 2020 model by adding one sprocket, so now it comes with 1x12 speeds and a 11-50 cassette.

The wheel size

BigBro 2018 was built on plus 27.5x3inch tires, this tire width gives unmatchable cushionning and comfort. It's as close as you can get to a MTB without using suspensions.

On 2020 the wheels and tires have been replaced by 29x2.25inch.

What's the difference ? The bigger diameter of the 29ers rolls better, which is good for gaining speed and riding long distances. On the other hand, the narrower width (from 3 to 2.25 inches) is less capable on very technical single tracks. In my opinion, the new 2020 setup is aiming for long distance rides on gravel and fire roads.

A few months ago I sold the bike to a good friend but he's always cool let me play with it, like for this trip to the Belgian High Fens in the snow ! check out the blog post here. Thanks Peter for lending me the bike :)

Do you like bikepacking bikes ? check this super cool Thorn Nomad !


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