N+1 = Big Bro

Mk1 Brother Cycles Big Bro. A well thought-out rigid steel 29er for bikepacking and general trail duties, that supports the kind of old-fashioned standards that I enjoy fiddling with.

I’m really not on board with the way the bike industry is constantly inventing new standards for things under the pretence that the new standard is “better” than what came before.. much of it is a simple exercise in trying to convince the customer that the stuff they bought last year is now obsolete and they must change… because you know.. the new stuff somehow manages to be “10% lighter, and 20% stiffer yet more vertically compliant than ever..”. That old chestnut that has been wheeled out by the marketeers every new product year since pretty much forever. If it were true the modern bicycle would be somewhat unicorn-like in its magical qualities and probably come with a complimentary bag of fairies.

Picture taken after a couple of years of living with the Big Bro. I like it very much, it’s a lively, well-balanced tool for bikepacking and general trail riding.
The Nitto bars are super stiff… combined with the lively ride it means it’s one of those bikes that makes me want to stomp up every climb, out of the saddle.

I get that sometimes light weight is more important than durability, I get that sometimes it’s OK to have to replace bearings every couple of thousand km. But not if you’re me. I also wish folk would question what “better” really means in the context of what they’re going to do with the bike instead of just becoming all weak at the knees and wet at the thought of whatever is the latest brainchild of an industry whose primary motivation these days seems to be to separate the individual from as many ££ as possible as frequently as possible. Which is why I really, really like this rather lovely frame I picked up a few months ago. It supports some old-fashioned standards that mean I can fit parts I already own that I know will survive many thousands of km abuse, and that can be serviced in distant places.

It took me a few months to put it all together…  A mix of old and new parts with my favourite being the rather lovely Nitto nickel-plated cro-mo bullhorn bar.

I know.. another bike.. yeh, whatever… I wanted something a little more nimble than my ECR for adventures with more of a single-track flavour than long-distance dirt road chugging. The ECR is great, it’s like a comfy, long-distance tractor but its touring-oriented geometry  does fall down (literally sometimes..) in twisty stuff. The Big Bro on the other hand is a super trail bike for someone like me that just wants simple and fun. Oh and it has sliding dropouts so I can run it as a single speed.. or fixed if really looking to look a bit silly on the trails round here.. Admittedly there is very little difference between this and a Surly Ogre, except that, in my opinion, this is rather prettier, doesn’t have redundant v-brake bosses to mess with the lines… and with the ££ being what it is.. this is considerably cheaper.

I bought it mainly not because I had an immediate and pressing need, though of course I convinced myself I did, but rather because it’s getting harder and harder to find such frames as manufacturers are forced to keep up with a bandwagon-jumping market and I felt that if I was going to build one I might as well get the frame while I still could… and there was the question of some ££ off the retail price. Always handy. I also just like fiddling with bikes.

I thought I’d best get a few pictures before I start building a nice patina of scrapes, scuffs, and grained in dirt so took it out on the cliffs above Bassett Cove in the Cornish perma-drizzle. It’s got a 1 x 10 drivetrain  – 30T x 36T in this pic which is all that’s necessary for local trails, but it’s setup to take a 42T cassette. Despite all the steel and zero concessions to light weight it’s really not heavy at all and has a lovely, nimble ride.

From Brother Cycles  – I swear there is no relationship going on here… I just like the frames and the geo suits me – it’s got braze-ons for pretty much everything and can take a 29″ x 2.5″ tyre which is great for both running knobbies or a long distance tyre like the 29″ x 2.5″ Surly Extraterrestrial. It doesn’t have clearance to go to a 27.5″ x 3″ setup, which the Ogre does, and I’ve seen that touted around as a negative but I decided I really don’t care for the stuff I’m going to use it for. I’ve become aware over the last few years that 29″ tyres are becoming more widespread around the world, lots of the rental bikes I saw in towns in Peru last year were 29″, whereas 27.5″ really isn’t. Yet.

Anyway, I best get on and take it off on an adventure. I’ll probably still take my ECR back to Peru in June, it’s ace for that sort of stuff, but I’m not sure… and June is a long way off with lots of opportunities for two-wheeled fun in the interim.

My old square-taper Middleburn RS-7s with a new single spider and Wolftooth Components stainless ring. The wheels are the Velocity Blunt 35 rims I built onto old-style XT cup and cone hubs last year for my ECR. I’ve put tens of thousands of rough km on a similar hubs with nothing more than the occasional re-grease of the bearings. I know not everyone likes the faff of adjusting such bearings.. but if you can be bothered they’ll always outlast the cheap cartridges that are the current norm. The hubs also have steel axles and a steel freehub which is reassuring for remote adventures. I’ve seen many broken axles and buggered freehubs from high end hubs like Hope built with weight as a priority rather than toughness.
Yum. They’re not light but oh so nice, and a somewhat nostalgic nod to my early mountain biking days in the ’80s. The thin wall thickness of the steerer clamp means the usual alloy spaces won’t do – too thick-walled so the spacers are chopped from thin-walled titanium tube.
Paul Components brake levers and a single Microshift thumbie make for a lovely, lean cockpit.
Super paint finish and tidy welds.

19 thoughts on “N+1 = Big Bro

  • we were out this morning on tracks along the coast here – and yes thinking of you as it feels so much like Cornwall. Everyone waved and stopped for a chat here – which was wonderful – but put 45 mins on the ride. Great bike my friend – you have an eye.

    • ha, I don’t think you have to be a bike geek. I don’t think I am, others might disagree…. rather I just enjoy thinking about what my bikes need to be….

  • Couldn’t agree more… simplicity is often overlooked with bicycle technology these days. But many folks are new to cycling and “drink the kool-aid”. But it’s true with everything really… from cars, to computers, to the bicycle; people don’t care how it works because when it breaks, they’ll just have someone else work on it or preferably – just buy a new a new one, because “new must be better”.

    Some of the old-timers that I cycle with still ride bikes from the 1950’s and 60’s which are not only drop-dead gorgeous, but they’re light and nimble and have stood the test of time. When they look at carbon-fibre bikes with electronic shifters and hydraulic brakes, they just shake they’re heads and ask; why?

    I think a new type of consumer has arisen over the last 30 years; a consumer hell-bent on trends… a consumer without any thought on practicality, a consumer unable to question what they need.

    I recently stopped to help a guy along the road. He had his bike upturned and was working feverishly at the chainset. The chain had come off the inside chainring and lodged down between the bottom bracket and the crank which in turn had cracked the carbon seat tube at the bottom bracket shell. A very ugly break.

    It was easy enough to get the chain un-lodged, yet I told him that I thought his frame was pretty much ruined. His reply was; “I’ve always had problems shifting gears on this bike. I think I’ll get a compact set.”

    I was dumb-founded. How do you respond?

    • a really great comment, we’re very much on the same page it would seem. The tale of the guy with the chain off, blimey…!

    • just as an aside.. I do think the inability of many to understand or maintain their own bikes is just about the only thing that is keeping many local bike shops afloat. Folk buy everything online and then need help. I do my best to source as much as I can from my local bike shops, I’m lucky to have two really good ones and to have a great relationship with them that is worth so much more than any ££ I could ever possibly save by using the big online discounters..

  • I am looking to build up something similar for small adventures around the Clay Trails and then up onto the Moors, so it was wonderful to find your write-up here. That is an absolutely gorgeous bike and knowing that it has been tested here in Cornwall is particularly helpful.

  • Nice ride

    I did the same with old xt hubs on 15 year old mavic wheels and a mix of parts.

    It was a winter bike and it turned out nice , bomb proof, plus under budget.

    Old 15 year quality parts clean up like they were new and it was still a 3x up front but respectable.

    Lots of gearing for the mountains where I live in Vancouver.

    Will get pics if you want.

    R Fontinato

    • sounds ideal! I have a thing for old parts, nothing exotic but built to last. I have a Salsa Casseroll, just 10 years old but with some of the parts dating back almost 40 years, they work beautifully. It’s also a bit of a finger up to the endless cycle of marketing that says the stuff you bought last year is no longer good enough…

  • I’ve a couple of questions regarding your set up: how are you finding those bars (Nitto b903r?)and the shifter (I presume it’s the microshift 10sp one)? I’m having a hard think about getting the 2018 version of this frame, and I love a neo-retro build, so it’d probably end up looking a lot like yours!

    • hey Tom, sorry for the slow reply, I’ve not been paying attention to my blog recently. The bars are excellent, I’m loving the stiffness of them, makes the whole front end seem super responsive. They are the B903aa – the Fairweather design. I absolutely love them. The shifter is a microshift 10spd yep and it’s pulling on a short cage Shimano Zee rear mech with a wolflink.
      The bike rides superbly, it feels very well balanced with very neutral handling. Makes it terrific fun unloaded for twisty singletrack, and a joy to ride loaded. if the 2018 version is the same I doubt you’ll be disappointed!

  • Beautiful steed Mike. I’ve just ordered a frameset and gonna build it from some existing bits and some new gears yet to be purchased ( last mtb ran as SS)
    I plan to use my square taper cranks… any idea of the axle length you used?

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