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The Starling Cycles Murmur (all images courtesy of Starling Cycles)

The Starling Cycles Murmur (all images courtesy of Starling Cycles)

The vast majority of boutique, custom framebuilders use steel as their material of choice. It’s relatively easy to work with and readily available. Most of those builders though, are turning those steel tubes into hardtails. However, Joe McEwan of Starling Cycles is breaking that mold with his bikes. He started Starling with the Swoop, a 155mm travel trail bike with 27.5″ wheels. That bike is currently in its fourth iteration, getting updated along the way with feedback from customers.

A look at the pivot area

A look at the pivot area

Starling recently released a new mountain bike, the Murmur. It’s based on the same, simple, single pivot design of the Swoop frame, just modified to accept 29″ wheels. The Murmur comes with 145mm of rear travel intended to be paired with a 140mm fork. However, swapping the shock for one with a shorter stroke will reduce the rear travel to 125mm. And that’s not the only thing you can change on the Murmur. Since each bike is handbuilt in McEwan’s Bristol, UK, shop, customers can adjust the geometry to suit their particular tastes.

A look at the "stock" geometry; it can be tailored to a customer's wants

A look at the “stock” geometry; it can be tailored to a customer’s wants

Pricing for the frames start at £1850 although Starling does offer complete builds as well. Starling’s bikes are currently not available in North America.

Builder Joe McEwan with his creation

Builder Joe McEwan with his creation

Starling Cycles Murmur-4677

Reynolds 853 tubing; stealth dropper routing

Starling Cycles Murmur-4697

 

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# Comments

  • Joel DH

    That is a truly good looking frame. However, I would never buy a steel bike because of the weight, flex, and corrosion issues. I will admit that steel is a good hardtail choice because of that same flex, and the seeming energy the tubes seem to contain while you are riding. However, I do not think steel is the best or even close to best choice for a full sus rig. I have not tested this bike or ridden it, but I do know steel bikes, having owned one for several years and ridden it regularly on trials. Steel for a hardtial: works just fine. Aluminium for hardtails: works awesome. Carbon fiber for any bike: very good. Steel and full suspension? Probably not. Too heavy, flexy, and susceptible to corrosion. Thanks for this article anyway Aaron, it is interesting to see this option out there. How do you think it will fare in the MTB community? Do you think it will be accepted is a viable option?

    • Aaron Chamberlain

      Eh, the notion that steel is outdated as a building material for bikes is, outdated. If you look at the frame and complete weights of the Starling bikes, they are right on par with aluminum bikes, and even some carbon bikes frankly. A size large complete is just under 30lbs. which isn’t light by any stretch, but totally within the realm of reasonability. For instance, my favorite longterm test bike from this year was a Pivot Mach 429 Trail, which is a full carbon bike. And it weighed OVER 30lbs. For a completely “modern” bike with a nice build. If you went super blingy with the build on this frame I bet you could get it to 26-27lbs. But that’s not how I build my personal bikes.

      As for the flexy-ness issues, that all depends on how it’s built, and what tubes are used. Since I haven’t ridden this bike, I can’t speak to this.

      And finally, corrosion is a non-issue. Unless you’re leaving your bike outside 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for years on end, there’s nothing to worry about. You can treat the inside of the tubes if you want to be on the safe side, of course, but it’s not strictly necessary.

      I think it’s a viable option for people that want something outside the mainstream. There’s certainly a market for these bikes as Joe has quit his “real” job to build bikes full time.

    • Joel DH

      I didn’t say I thought steel was outdated. I think that it works very well as a frame material for hardtails. I don’t think it works on-par with aluminium bikes or carbon full sus bikes. Frame designers try to eliminate as much flex as possible when building a full sus, because the suspension and pedaling can be affected significantly by a flexy frame. Rear triangles wouldn’t work well at all: imagine if you had to design a bike that flexed its tubing significantly (1/6 of an inch or greater) at impacts and pedaling, while trying to make the bike work with suspension and pedal platform? And yes, frame tubing design make a huge difference. Double-butting, tapered, rear-butting, etc all greatly affect the way a steel bike [or any bike] frame behaves. But, after all, its just alotta effort to make steel work when there are easier alloys to work with. For extra clarification, I am not addressing frames made up of a mixture of alloys. I am addressing frames with its predominate alloy as steel.
      Let me clarify something here: I am not saying steel Cannot make a good or great full sus bike. I am not saying it hasn’t been done: obviously, it has. I am just saying why go to all this effort to get a full sus bike that is going to be more expensive than a carbon or aluminium alloy? All that extra effort and design is going to significantly affect final costs, and there are just better options.
      And yes, corrosion can significantly affect steel frames. Pretty much all steel tubes rust, and are several affected by salt. Even the salt that falls off your body in your sweat can get into the welding of a steel frame and corrode it over time. Paint can help with rust, but is pretty ineffective against salt.
      By the way, all metals rust.All. Even gold. But the reason gold, silver, and the like don’t appear to rust is because they can only rust a very small amount. Immediately after becoming a solid, the alloy, lets say gold, is exposed to oxygen. The oxygen interacts with the gold, causing oxidation. Rusting happens so quickly, it leaves a microscopic coating of rust over the gold, protecting it from further corrosion. Steel tubes do not protect themselves by forming this special layer, because it rusts too slowly to allow it to form. So yes, in short:
      1. Steel will be susceptible to rusting and salt build-up without extra care and cost.
      2. No matter how well built, a steel frame well never be as stiff as a same quality aluminium or carbon frame, and will be more expensive to buy and care for.
      So, I stick by my guns. That bike may ride really well, and probably would be a really cool bike to own. However, for all the reasons listed, it can never be as stiff as an aluminum or carbon full sus bike of the same quality. Steel for hardtails: yes, no problems. Steel for full sus: maybe, but probably not.
      Still, the Starling Cycles Murmur looks like a very good ride. I will look for review of it to see whats its really made of. I am not ruling it out yet.

  • Aaron Chamberlain

    You know your shit Joel!

    As to the “why build this bike” question, why not? Some people just want something different. I’ve read some reviews of his original bike, the Swoop, and they’ve been nothing but positive.

    I still disagree with you that corrosion is actually a problem. I’m not disagreeing with whether or not it happens. I know it does. But is it really an issue? No. Go look at any bike rack in Atlanta and it will be full of fixies and singlespeed conversions with steel frames that are 30+ years old. Besides, what’s the average lifespan of a full-suspension mountain bike frame made from carbon or aluminum? 5 years? 7 years? In that amount of time, a steel frame is not going to disintegrate into a pile of rusty dust. Unless you store your bike at the bottom of the ocean.

    • Joel DH

      Valid point about corrosion there. Your logic is sound. And I also have heard good things about the swoop. It is a neat idea. We’ll see if it becomes a more average option for trail riders. Love to test ride it!

    • Joel DH

      Oh yeah, and salt can really hurt a steel frame if it isn’t quickly taken care of. Like salt laid down on a road during winter and getting kicked up into the frame can really corrode the welding joints. But hey, who would leave salt on their $4000 bike anyway?

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