While much of the mountain bike industry has moved production over to the Far East, as we found out during the Bespoke handmade bike show in Bristol, you can still find a bustling array of small UK-owned bike companies these days who are delivering gorgeous handmade frames for those in the market who are specifically looking to support local.
Many of these local framebuilders choose to work with steel tubing, but while there are plenty of boutique road-oriented brands, it’s still not so common to find locally made steel mountain bike frames. And it’s even rarer again to find local framebuilders manufacturing full suspension frames out of steel. One small company based out of Bristol is making steel full suspension frames, and that brand is called Starling Cycles.
You may recall that we featured the Starling Swoop back in April, when we shot it at the Bespoke UK Handmade Bike Show. Two months later, Antony had the pleasure of interviewing Joe McEwan of Starling Cycles, to learn more about McEwan’s background and why he made the decision to build his own mountain bike frames and the reasoning behind the simple single pivot designs.
Well it appears that things have been steadily moving in the right direction for the fledgling UK brand, as McEwan has made the decision to make Starling Cycles his full-time gig, giving up the Aerospace Engineering day job in the process. As part of McEwan’s push for the Starling Cycles brand, he’s just unleashed his second production model, called the Murmur. And ain’t she a beauty!
The Starling Cycles Murmur Specifications:
- Hand built in steel in Bristol, UK
- 145mm rear travel
- Single pivot swingarm w/Enduro dual-row cartridge bearings
- Built for 29″ wheels
- 2.35″ tyre clearance
- Designed for a 140mm travel fork
- 66° head angle
- 74.5° seat angle
- 445mm chainstay length
- 38mm bottom bracket drop
- Reynolds 853/631 and Columbus Life and Zone tubing
- 44mm head tube
- 73mm threaded bottom bracket shell
- 31.6mm seat tube diameter w/integrated seatpost clamp
- Fully customisable head tube angle, down tube. length/reach and seat tube length
- Available as frame only or complete custom build
- Size: Custom
- RRP: Frames from £1500
The Starling Murmur shares a similar single pivot suspension design as the Swoop 27.5in full suspension bike, and like the smaller-wheeled version, is also built from steel tubing. McEwan chooses a combination of Reynolds and Columbus tubing to bring the Murmur to life, with a stubby 44mm diameter head tube up front to accommodate a tapered fork steerer tube. External gussets and braces are used to stiffen key junctions such as the top and downtube interface.
On the underside of the top tube, you’ll find two bottle cage bosses to fit a water bottle inside the main triangle, albeit upside down. Cotic also do this on the Rocket and Flare frames, which also feature steel tubing for the front triangles and a similarly oriented rear shock placement. Also of note is the tidy integrated seat clamp at the top of the seat tube.
Depending on what features you require, McEwan is likely able to accommodate them. On this particular Murmur frame, McEwan has built in stealth dropper post routing, with a clean port down at the base of the seat tube providing the entry/exit point for the dropper cable. That said, it’s the polished bolt-on swingarm bridge in this shot that’s getting us gawking at the computer screen – what a beautiful little detail!
The Murmur is built around a 57mm shock stroke to control the 145mm of rear wheel travel. It’s a simple single pivot design, with a one-piece rear triangle rotating on an oversized main pivot. Despite many brands choosing more complex linkage designs for their full suspension models, the single pivot design still has its merits. Bigger brands including as Scott, Trek, GT, and Orange still rely on single pivot suspension designs, and in the case of this British made trail bike, it’s the simplicity, durability and wet weather resilience of a mono-pivot that sees it applied here on the Murmur.
The Murmur runs a 1/2in diameter main pivot axle, which is rolling on Enduro 16162RS bearings. This is a commonly used bearing size, and it’s been selected as such for ease of replacement in the event of future maintenance requirements. The bearings themselves are what Enduro refers to as “Imperial Rubber Sealed Deep Groove Ball Bearings”, and they feature Grade 10 chromium steel balls to create a tough little nugget of a bearing.
Dropouts out back are spaced for a 142x12mm rear hub, with a simple bolt-up axle bringing each side of the swingarm together. The dropouts themselves are a lovely circular cowled number that offers additional surface area for the seat and chain stays to weld onto. The back end is quite svelte next to the current crop of carbon enduro monsters on the market, though the seat stays in particular appear to be quite slender. One could assume this’ll provide a little more ‘give’ in the back end of the Murmur, though we’d have to swing a leg over one first before making any assumptions there.
All up, it’s certainly a unique looking bike, though opinion on the aesthetics is a little divided in the Singletrack office. But with a long travel Fox 36 fork up front, a slack 66° head angle and a rangy front centre, the Murmur does appear to have many of the right ingredients for a modern enduro bike. It just happens to be steel and handmade in the UK, which we like. A lot.
Oh and while we were peeking at the Starling Cycles website, we came across this interesting machine as well. Called the ‘Beady Little Eye’, it’s listed as a prototype full suspension singlespeed bike with 27.5in wheels. It’s based around the Swoop, but runs a much shorter travel back end with 90mm of travel, and a swingarm that rolls around the bottom bracket as the main pivot. There aren’t too many singlspeed full sussers out there, let alone ones that are made of steel AND in the UK, so this is a special birdy indeed. The Beady Little Eye lists a ‘TBC Release Date’, so we’ll have to wait for more details on that one…