We’ve been following Joe McEwan’s Starling Cycles since the early days. What started as a part-time business has now become a much bigger prospect with the initially the Swoop 27.5" frame and now this 29er, the Murmur.
Hand made in Bristol, from 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 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.
After a great start with the 27.5" Swoop, we were very keen to get our hands on one of the first bigger wheeled steel frames from Starling. This Murmur has 145mm of rear wheel travel and sits on 29" wheels – comparing very well to a handful of well dialled 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 it. Would a hand made steel-framed bike, from a small builder be a match for the big boys? Quite simply like no other. To say we were surprised and blown away by the ride is an understatement.
‘It feels different, its silence a far cry from some of the cable rattling, bottom bracket creaking, overpriced carbon’
In an industry of such diversity of linkage design and material it’s a big statement. It begins with the material and it ends with the tyres tearing into the dirt. In between there’s a ton of stuff going on, “some of it simple, some of it luck" as Joe puts it. Here’s a snapshot of our test notes:
That this, the 145mm Starling Murmur was fastest pretty much blew our minds, leaving us staring at the stopwatch in disbelief. The bike we thought might be the slowest before heading onto the hill was in fact the quickest. But once into the first corner we kind of knew it was never going to be far off. Leaning into turns the geometry holding the rider in balance and the frame talking back… “yer I’ve got you, push a bit harder there’s loads more grip where that came from."
It also gave us an understanding that sensation and speed should not be confused. That a bike that feels quick is not always going to be quick.
In fact this was emphatically proved to us that over many timed runs the bike that felt the fastest (and cost the most) was in fact the slowest bike. We’ve encountered this before with comparisons of wheel size but not so much on a same wheel size/different frame material. It certainly delivers less fatigue in root and rock sections, the rougher grounds that many consider to be the essence of mountainbiking.
The oh-so-important numbers looked promising be for we started though; Joe had certainly done his homework. With plenty of clearance for 2.35" rubber, sloppy UK conditions have certainly been taken into consideration. The geometry is totally custom so sizing can be spot on for you height, proportions and taste but Joe’s starting point for the figures are the key here. A recommended head angle of 66°, -38mm BB drop, 445mm chainstays and 74.5° effective seat tube angle are spot on and all come together and play a part of the way this machine rides. Our test bike to suit a six-foot rider was designed with a reach measurement of 480mm.
The Murmur 29 is built to order as a frame only (with or without shock) or part of a rolling chasis. As mentioned, you can tweak the geometry if needed and tailor the seat tube length and reach measurements. The steel tubing comes in various blends, some Columbus, some Reynolds 631, some simple mild steel. There’s a laser etched piece and there’s a load of brazing but mostly there’s nothing but smooth lines, a very good build quality and something that is genuinely small-scale artisan. The Starling Murmur as with the Swoop, has had a delicate touch.
STARLING CYCLES MURMUR
- From £2040 (Frame without shock)
Un-confusing, simple, well made, unique, fun to ride, at a great price and fast. It has been totally memorable riding this Starling bike. The Murmur is one of the surprises of the year and one of our favourite bikes of the year. Join the queue…