Starley S M1 - first ride review£2,799.00

Race-oriented carbon 29er

BikeRadar score3/5

Despite a history that includes inventing the penny farthing-replacing ‘safety bicycle’, the revived Starley are one of the newest British bike manufacturers we have. They’re confident their UK-centric design (they’re designed and assembled here) will make their carbon 29er the one to beat. 

The racy S M1 Works is Starley’s top end 29er frame. There’s complex shaping and careful carbon fibre layup that’s designed in places to resist flex, and in others to induce it. 

Ride & handling: Racy high-miler

Once we’d ditched the overly long/tall bar and stem combo, we put in over 100 trail miles on the S M1. It’s stiff around the bottom bracket with enough vibration-damping built into the frame to allow long, rough rides in relative comfort. We hustled the S M1 in and out of the trees and down rocky local trails without too much issue, and climbs were competently dispatched. 

We’d really like more clearance around the seatstays, as typically muddy UK winter conditions see the rear quickly clog with dripping filth, leaves, sticks and walkers too depressed by 12 months of constant rain to care any more. 

The rearmost bolt on the back brake is hard to access with a multi-tool thanks to the riser for the big 180mm rear rotor – dropping it to a 160mm (with a 180mm front), would solve the issue – and reduce wheel weight – with little effect on cross-country braking. 

We’d also take Starley’s offer to go up to a 100mm fork, if only to relax the front end and boost its ability to take aggressive lines. Add a flat bar in place of the too-tall riser and we’d be happy campers.

Big brakes front and rear keep the s m1’s racy intentions under control:
Big brakes front and rear keep the s m1’s racy intentions under control:

Big brakes front and rear keep the S M1’s racy intentions under control

Frame & equipment: Up to date and with three SRAM options

Starley opt for the current standards of a big, stiffness-enhancing BB30 press-fit bottom bracket and a tapered head tube. The gear cables are internally routed to smooth the look, with routing under the down tube for the rear brake. 

The caliper itself is mounted between the rear stays, and on this build Starley complement it with a SRAM X0 rear derailleur with X9 shifters, cassette, front mech and 22/39T twin ring cranks, which are all flawless. 

Production bikes come in SRAM X0 (£3,149), X9 (£2,799) or X7 (£2,599) drivetrain-equipped models, with seriously powerful Avid 200mm front and 180mm rear brakes to match. 

All builds share the smooth, precise and reliable 80mm Fox Float 32 29er forks, and roll on slightly flexy Mavic Crossride wheels shod with fast, aggressive 2.25in Schwalbe Nobby Nic and Rocket Ron tyres. You couldn’t ask for a more reliable setup. USE provide the stem and seatpost and Starley spec their own JS Race carbon riser bar.

The Starley S M1 29er is a great first go at a racy big wheeler. Despite our (mostly spec-related) issues it’s an eminently rideable and raceable proposition. It loves ticking off the miles – it’s a good bike already, and has the potential to be a very impressive one.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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