Un-confusing, simple, well made, unique, fun to ride and fast. The Starling Murmur is simply one of our favourite bikes of recent years.

We’ve been following Joe McEwan’s Starling Cycles since the early days. The 29” wheel Murmur and 27.5” Swoop custom frames are handmade from steel here in the UK. Starling’s bikes may be a rare sight but for those in the know they really are something special. What started as a part-time business has now become a much bigger prospect.

Using high-quality steel tubing, these frames buck the trend of carbon as the way forward when it comes to performance, low weight and visual appeal. But we are not harking back to the past for the sake of it – yes, early mountainbike frames were steel but very different beasts to what we ride today. The same rules apply to steel as they do to any other mtb frame material be it aluminium or carbon, and that is that the material alone does not make a great bike. And equally, don’t always equate material with performance.

In an industry of such diversity of linkage design and material the Starling makes a big statement

The Murmur has 145mm of rear wheel travel and rolls on 29” wheels – comparing very well to a handful of well-dialled trail bikes of a similar nature. The YT Jeffsy, Specialized Stumpjumper and now the new Orange Stage 5 are all fine examples of how to do a mid travel 29er trail bike. Would a hand made steel-framed bike, from a small builder be a match for the big boys? Quite simply the answer was ‘yes’. To say we were surprised and blown away by the ride is an understatement.

This bike has the capability and composure to mix it up with longer travel bikes, so we put it in the mix in our enduro 29er test - the Dirty Dozen

Late last year Starling surprised us by adding a production ‘Factory’ Murmur model to the range, letting you decide between an ‘off the peg’ frame or a fully custom option. Built in Taiwan from Reynolds 853 tubing these frames are a touch cheaper and will soon be available from Starling here in the UK.

The geometry and the sizing for the custom build are down to you, so the finished frame should be spot on for your height, proportions and taste. Joe’s figures are a recommended starting point though and a head angle of 65°, -38mm BB drop, 445mm chainstays and 76.5° effective seat tube angle are spot on for us. Our test bike to suit a six-foot rider was designed with a reach measurement of 480mm.

PRICE: £1850 (Factory Edition), £2040 (Custom)