Steel is Real Builder’s Interviews #3
Joe McEwan of Starling Cycles
Interiew by Jamie Edwards / photos by Callum Philpott and Stanton Bikes
Our third builders interview from the Steel is Real Demo is with Joe McEwan of Starling Cycles. Joe hand builds steel single pivot bikes in his workshop in Bristol. The workshop is a shed at the bottom of his garden.
Joe spent a career crunching numbers for the aerospace industry before taking the plunge to making frames full time. He now walks his kids to school, works with his hands, spends his time at home with his family and makes custom bikes for happy riders.
There’s a theme developing here. Like many of the builders we’ve spoken to – building steel frames has given Joe a way to spend more time with his family and a way to order his life in a way he’s more satisfied with.
Obvious first question, who are you?
I’m Joe McEwan of Starling Cycles.
And what is Starling?
<laughing> What is Starling Cycles …? It is a bike company that builds custom sized steel full suspension bikes.
I’m currently making them all in my shed in Bristol. There’s three models. There’s a 29″ Murmur with 145mm travel, a 155m travel 27.5″ bike called the Swoop and a 100mm singlespeed bike called the Beady Little Eye.
Where did you learn to design and build bikes?
I did a course a long time ago with a chap called Dave Yates who is an old UK frame builder and learned to braze. And then that reinforced a course I did at the Bicycle Academy and they taught me good quality brazing techniques.
The design comes from just having an interest in bikes. I’m an aerospace stress engineer so I can design things!
“It makes a nice, lively bike. It makes a bike that has life when you ride it.
It feels good”
That was my next question. What were you doing before this?
I was an aerospace stress engineer. I used to check how strong bits of aircraft were and design bits of aircraft. But specifically I worked in carbon fibre.
So why are you not building carbon fibre bikes?
Because steel is better! It’s a much better material.
In that case, why steel?
Because, it’s tough. It’s good to work with. It makes a nice, lively bike. It makes a bike that has life when you ride it. It feels good. It’s nice to ride.
And what, to you, are the most important things to consider when you’re designing and building a bike?
It’s a balance of lots of things. Geometry, strength, aesthetics, proportions. You’ve got to make something that works well, hangs together and looks good.
Can you describe the feel of your bike?
They feel lively. They’re silent and they’re solid. They damp all the vibrations. They’ve got a bit of spring and a bit of life to them.
You can feel it when you push them into corners and you can feel them spring out. Lively and solid!
“I spend a lot of time in my shed and my family are close. So I’ve gained a lot from it”
How make or break is all this for you?
At the moment if it all went tits up, I’d just be a bit poorer and would have to go back to working in airplanes which would be shit. But, I want to make it work and I want to make it succeed. It’s working well at the moment.
What have you had to give up or sacrifice to get to this stage?
A little bit of money has gone into it to get to this stage now, to pay people and things like that. A lot of time, its a real full time job running your company. It’s every second. It’s not even every waking moment, it’s every waking and sleeping moment running this company and making it happen.
But I’ve not had to sacrifice, I’ve gained. I spend a lot of time in my shed and my family are close. So I’ve gained a lot from it.
“Because they’re fast. And they’re fun and they’re beautiful”
How and where are your bikes made?
My bikes are made in my shed in Bristol. I’ve also got Pi who’s helping me make my swing arms. They’re all steel, they’re all fillet brazed and they’re custom sized. The front triangles can made custom sized to suit different customers.
And what’s next for Starling Cycles?
Ah <laughs>! There’s lots of things coming for Starling in the near future but I’ll keep a bit quiet about it. You’ll find out about it soon.
… and last but not least. Why should someone ride your bike?
Because they’re fast. And they’re fun and they’re beautiful.