Starling Cycles has been making quite an impact on the UK bike scene right from the get-go. Made from steel with a simple yet effective single pivot rear end offering 145mm of travel paired to 29" wheels, the added value of a Taiwanese-made frame option means the Murmur just became even more of a contender.
Buy now from Starling Cycles
Starling Cycles is the brainchild of aerospace engineer Joe McEwan, who started the British brand with a progressively angled 27.5" wheeled trail bike, the Swoop. As 29ers have become ‘re-accepted’, it was a natural progression for the brand to develop a wagon wheeler to add to the range. Up until recently, Joe has been working two jobs in order to make Starling possible and whilst he’s not the sort of chap to feel sorry for himself, it has clearly been hard work - producing bikes in his garden workshop evenings and weekends and earning a crust elsewhere in the daylight hours.
However, when the Murmur became reality, things started to change - demand increased and the Starling brand gained traction. As with all progression in business, this brings its own problems. Whilst Joe loves the custom end of the frame building, bespoke options can often deter the consumer due to the uncertainty of what they actually want, plus it's hard for him to satisfy demand in a reasonable time.
So, in order to make Starling a real world contender and to enable demand to be satiated, Joe visited Taiwan - the full story can be found in here. Other than the seat tube grade, a couple of minor finishing details and small changes to the seat stay shape, the Taiwanese Murmur is identical to the UK made version. The main differences are a shorter build time and the fact that it’ll come in two, pre-selected geometry options rather than the fully custom route of the Uk made bikes.
Now, I know what you’re thinking - ‘only two sizes’? but Starling reckons both the sizing options they've chosen means the small/medium and large/extra large options will fit 90% of riders. Seat tubes are kept short and relatively straight for low standover and maximum seatpost insertion, seat angle is steep at around 77º, head angle slack at 65º and there's a reach figure on our S/M frame of 450mm. It’ll come with a variety of custom shock options, frame only or full builds but only with a couple of colours to keep production cost down.
The rear axle is Boost width meaning there’s good clearance for tyres up to 2.5" on a 29" rim, a replaceable mech hanger and of course, a threaded BB. The headset cups are external meaning you can fit an angle adjusting headset should you wish too. At 15.4kg with pedals, our test rig isn’t as light as it could be, not helped by the heavy Hope wheels shod in a tyre with a reinforced Maxxis DoubleDown casing fitted at the rear. With a different choice in components, it could weigh in at a more competitive number - we've seen one built to 30lbs with Stans wheels, a Shimano XTR/XT drivetrain and lighter tyres.
At £1,800 for a Murmur Factory frame including Monarch shock, it really is a big brand contender. Joe will continue to offer the custom Murmur at an additional cost, handbuilt by him and his team at their new Bristol-based workshop, should you know what you’re after or want a personalised painting option.
Riding the Murmur
Our small Murmur is only small in size description but in no way is it small in character or in its actual geometry numbers. The slack head angle (65 degrees) and steep seat angle of 76 degrees keep the effective top tube shorter and far more similar to the 450mm reach number. What this means is that the seated position is super-comfy and makes climbing a breeze.
The longer 445mm chainstays further enhance the Murmurs climbing capabilities, preventing the front from lifting on all but the steepest of pinches. The simple single pivot rear end is active, as expected, but grip is more than ample and the bike steams uphill. The Murmur feels incredibly nimble considering its intentions are quite clear, with aggressive angles, 150mm of fork travel and 145mm at the rear, its capabilities extend far beyond a ‘small’ trail bike - all of which becomes immediately clear when you point it downhill.
Upon standing to descend, you’re immediately aware of a feeling centred on the bike. Those longer chainstays have a huge impact on how balanced the bike feels. One issue with making bikes longer at the front is that chainstays haven’t grown accordingly, resulting in a bike that feel unbalanced and leaves you wanting for front-end grip. None of that exists on the Murmur, there’s front end grip by the bucket load and the niner wheels and slack(ish) 65-degree head angle enables you to get hard on the front through the tighter stuff. This is so often the case on longer but well-proportioned bikes - any fears you may have of struggling to negotiate tighter trails are put aside once you realise how easy it is to confidently move and transfer weight from front to back accordingly.
The steel frame offers some improved comfort over their aluminium counterparts and any worries of flex should be quelled - steel is plenty stiff enough and has a far larger fatigue life than any other frame materials. Any noticeable flex from the back end is only apparent when slapping ruts hard and most of the time increases the feeling of traction anyway. Despite those 445mm chainstays, the Murmur encourages you pick up off everything in sight; the more time you spend in the air, the happier the Murmur is. I can honestly say this is one of the most playful and well-balanced bikes I’ve ridden. Sure, I’d personally have it a little longer, which I could have via the Large/Extra Large stock frame option which has a 485mm reach figure.
Show your mettle
The Murmur encourages confidence and within the first ride, I was sending it off things I’d normally reserve for the burlier of enduro rigs. Suffice to say, I quickly found the limits of the Fox 34 mounted up front but then, you could have it with a Lyrik or a Fox 36 should you wish. The point is, the frame is very, very capable - find a lip, dig those heels and pick up, the Murmur will deal with the rest. This is really where it excels - on fast, pumpy, jumpy trails or all day missions. Steeps are dispatched assuredly and rough trails equally as conquerable.
However, that simple single pivot will always have some trade-offs. There is brake-jack where the rear suspension becomes stiff under heavy braking. Whilst that’s not an issue on smoother trails, it can occasionally unsettle the bike if braking hard on rough surfaces. It’s also minimally apparent on rough, steep climbs when you're trying to climb square edges and fighting for grip.
The leverage curve at the rear is quite linear meaning you’ll likely want some sort of volume reducer in the rear shock, even if you’re a smooth and/or lightweight rider, though the short(ish) 57mm stroke will mean there’s a balance between mid to end-stroke support and spiking towards bottom out. That said, the Fox Float DPS shock worked admirably despite the hammering I gave it, only finding any sort of harsh bottom out on the biggest gas-to-flats.
Joe is clear that his intentions are to keep things simple with his bikes, including suspension kinematics, saying: "It enables suspension brands to custom tune my shocks far easier when kinematics are kept simple, especially with the increasingly common use of air shocks"
"My focus has always been to build fun, progressive geometry bikes with the high-end quality and durability offered by such an awesome material as steel".
The Murmur is a testament to Joe’s intentions and whilst its minor trade-offs are worth considering, Starling’s design delivers what so many consumers want - ease of use. For me, the move to Taiwanese manufacturing is just another step towards cementing Starling as a real contender in the bike world, but, if you want one made in a workshop in Bristol, you can have that too.
A self confessed bike geek, Adam has been riding bikes for over two decades and breaking things for nearly as long. With more facial hair than on his head, his appearance is one of a hard paper round! He's friendly, approachable, critical and fair - loves a good stoppie and a turnbar tuesday, real ale and long bikes.