Starling Cycles Murmur Factory Edition
Bristol based, Starling Bikes has made a name for itself with its handmade, custom steel framed full suspension bikes over the past few years.
With an order book overflowing thanks in part to a spate of glowing reviews from across the bike media, Joe from Starling, decided to roll the dice and take things up to the next level and get a batch of frames made in Taiwan.
- Reynolds 853 frame
- Made in Taiwan
- 140mm rear travel
- 29″ wheels with room for 2.5″ tyres
- £1850 with Rockshox Debonair shock
Some of you are probably thinking that it goes completely against the ethos and brand image of a small setup trading on its ‘hand made by a bloke in his shed’ image.
I was sat on the fence, and having ridden one of Joe’s earliest bikes, the Swoop, I was keen to head to his new unit to pick up one of the then top secret Factory Murmur bikes to make my own decision.
Single-pivot design, skinny steel tubes and clean flowing lines
Picking up the bike, Joe gave me a good chat through why he has made this move and how he is keeping the bike true to its values. Essentially, when you first look at the factory-made bike you would be hard pressed to tell the difference from the hand built custom bike.
They both use the same single-pivot design, skinny steel tubes and have clean flowing lines. There are a few differences in the finishing that make the bespoke frames a bit more special and of course the Factory frames only come in two sizes, rather than being totally custom. Of course, if you want to go UK-made and full custom, that’s still an option for an added price.
I left Starling HQ with a size medium frame shod with DVO suspension, Sixth Element carbon wheels and finishing kit from Shimano, Burgtec, Maxxis and Middleburn.
The Murmur Factory 29 frames come in three sizes – medium, large and extra large with 450mm, 485mm and 515mm reaches respectively.
Despite mine being the smaller size it’s definitely not small. It has long, 445mm chainstays and a slack, 65 degree head angle. It also had a very low standover height which is great though does mean you can’t fit a water bottle when running a piggy back shock. Joe explained that the smallest size works fine with a non-piggy back shock and a bottle, as do all the other sizes with a piggy back.
Riding the Starling for the first time, it does feel subtly different to other bikes with similar intentions whilst still being familiar enough that you can just get on and ride it.
Simply pedalling along and on straight sections of trail, it just feels like another bike, albeit a well damped one, thanks in part to the excellent DVO suspension and possibly the steel frame. The carbon wheels give a direct feel, but don’t feel harsh in less demanding terrain.
Sticking the high line
When the Starling really takes flight, is when it gets leant over, particularly on wet, rooty and off camber sections of trail where you struggle to hold a line or maintain grip. In these conditions you would expect the rigid carbon hoops to have you skittering about the trail, but with the Murmur Factory you find yourself sticking the high line and cleaning the section without fuss.
Leaning the bike over is when you really feel the qualities of the steel frame and the suppleness of a single-pivot suspension platform. It subtly twists, bends and absorbs energy beautifully, keeping the rubber in the dirt and the rider on whichever line they choose.
The DVO Topaz shock compliments the bike really well as it has so little stiction at the start of its travel, making it very active whilst remaining supportive in the middle of its travel.
As a whole, it really is a bit different to the mainstream, ‘stiffer is best’ theory that we are fed every day. It is just a simple suspension layout, complimented by the slim, steel tubeset, that leads to such a compliant ride.
Whilst the slim, steel-tubed construction helps to give the Murmur such high levels of grip on slower terrain, it can feel a little flexy when the speed gets higher and the trails get more blown out.
That’s not to say it feels bad, it just sends some feedback to the rider as you hit a big, flat-out berm of soar through a big G out. At first, it can be a little unsettling and you have to learn to just trust the bike and charge on through it.
I didn’t encounter this sensation often on my time on the Murmur, but its worth considering. Heavier riders, anyone hitting loads of bike park laps or just big, fast, aggressive guys might like a demo ride first to see if the amount of flex suits their tastes. I definitely found that the Murmur was most at home in wet, muddy, woods amongst the rocks, roots and slop.
The feel of steel
When I compare the Starling Murmur to something like the Nukeproof Mega 290 that I reviewed last month you do start to understand how different two bikes can feel on the same trails.
Both have similar geometry numbers and 29 inch wheels but they could not feel more different. Partly this is due to the high end DVO Diamond/Topaz suspension on the Murmur compared to a basic Yari and Super Deluxe specced on the Mega, but it is the feel of the frames that really comes through.
Both bikes get you to the bottom in a similar time, at least according to my Strava, with the Starling being quicker on the wetter, rootier and steeper sections and the Mega being quicker on the faster, rougher sections where it just charges through. On the Starling you tend to ride with more finesse, using the spring in the frame and suspension to play your way down the trail, where the Mega has a ‘smash through it’ kind of feel.
- Lively, comfortable and composed on rough trails
- Holds grip very well through tight, technical terrain
- Single pivot is simple to setup and easy to maintain
Could do better
- May feel a little too flexy for heavier riders or for big, fast bike park riding
- Some riders may prefer a hand-built, custom geometry Starling versus an Asian made frame.
What do we think?
The Starling Murmur Factory 29 lives up to its hand-built predecessors reputation. It’s a whole lot of lively, steel fun.