Starling Cycles is a classic British ‘man in a shed’ operation. Its steel frames are put together by Joe McEwan at the bottom of his garden in Bristol. You could think of the Murmur 29er as an underdog, but the ride makes it a giant killer.
Frame: Reynolds and Columbus steel, 145mm (5.7in) travel
Fork: Fox 34 Float FIT4 Factory, 150mm (5.9in) travel
Shock: Fox Float DPS Factory
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore XT/XTR with Middleburn cranks
Wheelset: Stan’s NoTubes Arch rims on Neo hubs
Tyres: Maxxis Shorty EXO 29 x 2.35in (f) and Minion DHR II EXO 29 x 2.4in (r)
Brakes: Shimano Deore, 180mm rotors
Handlebar: Funn Black Ace, 780mm
Stem: Funn Funnduro, 40mm
Seatpost: Fox Transfer, 150mm dropper
Saddle: SDG Circuit
Weight: 13.8kg (30.4lb) without pedals
Starling Murmur frame and kit
Joe’s a real craftsman – check out the starling-shaped cutouts in the head tube gussetRussell Burton
Crafted from top-quality Reynolds and Columbus tubing, the frame is a beautifully embellished work of art. More importantly, the geometry can be customised to order, with a maximum reach of a whopping 530mm. Only the bottom bracket height and length of the swingarm are fixed. Oh, and there are bottle mounts under the top tube.
Starling can provide custom-built bikes on request, but the frame is what we’re reviewing here. Ours came kitted out with top-end Factory series Fox dampers – although it was a 34 fork up front, not the stiffer 36 – mixed-group Shimano gears and brakes, and Stan’s Arch wheels shod with Maxxis tyres.
Starling Murmur ride impression
Our test bike was Joe’s personal whip. That meant the reach of 490mm was 20-30mm shorter than our 6ft 3in tester, Seb, would have chosen if he was ordering one as a customer, although it’s still longer than many XL production bikes. Seb couldn’t get the low-rise bar high enough for his tastes either. Even so, this thing flies.
The steel frame feels genuinely compliant and supple, but in a springy rather than soft way. This means the Murmur doesn’t have the tautest-feeling ride (when you wrench on the bar, you can feel a little twist) and there is some bob from the suspension too, but it’s surprisingly eager under power for a skinny-tubed bike. At 13.8kg it’s not too heavy, although a steeper seat angle than 75° would make it even better on the climbs.
Expect a well balanced ride with a truly sorted rear endRussell Burton
In the rough, that springiness doesn’t feel uncontrolled like an over-inflated tyre, it’s more like a softly tensioned wheel. This is most noticeable when standing on the outside pedal and leaning the bike hard into flat, rough corners. The super-low 330mm BB height combined with subtle lengthways twist in the frame keeps the rear wheel glued to the ground and the bike feeling amazingly calm as you barrel through rocks.
The single-pivot suspension is sorted too. That pivot is perfectly placed, in line with the chain – not so low as to make pedalling lazy, not so high that kickback becomes an issue. The Murmur may not have quite the same mid-stroke support or off-the-top suppleness as some of the best linkage-driven designs, but thanks to a well-tuned and smoothly-progressive Fox DPS shock, the suspension action is sorted. While the flexy Fox 34 fork regularly got out of its depth, particularly in the shoebox-sized rocks of BikePark Wales, the rear end barely put a foot wrong.
Joe’s got the geometry well balanced too. The 64.5° head angle is slack enough that you can rip along straights and carve up corners, but not so relaxed that it becomes tricky to weight the front wheel in flatter turns. Similarly, the 445mm stays are short enough to make manuals easy but long enough to calm the rough, while providing a great front-to-rear weight balance – another reason why this bike carries great speed through the turns.
Other than fitting a burlier Fox 36 fork to match the suppleness of the rear and specifying a slightly longer reach, there’s little we’d change. And this all comes at an incredible price for a custom frame. The catch? Joe’s order books are full for now, but a little bird tells us he’ll be stepping up production soon.
Starling Murmur early verdict
Beautifully balanced suspension, geometry and stiffness make for a truly rapid ride.