The Starling Murmur Enduro: A Soulful and Highly Capable Steel Mountain Bike

Starling Murmur mountain bike review: There is an undefinable kindship in the way properly-placed steel tubes can interact with human meat that makes for an amazing experience on the trail.

Check out the 2021 Singletracks Mid-Travel Mashup reviews on Singletracks and video reviews on our YouTube channel.

In a conversation about naming bikes a friend once said, “I only name the steel ones. Carbon bikes don’t have a soul. I don’t connect with them in the same way.” As a longtime steel bike lover, I get what my buddy was getting at. There is an undefinable kinship in the way properly-placed steel tubes can interact with human meat that makes for an amazing experience on the trail.

With the shock flipped around, there is space for a regular-size water bottle on size medium to XXL frames.

The Starling Murmur Enduro brings that soulful-steel feel in a 29″ wheeled package with 140mm of rear travel and a 160mm fork. The same single-pivot frame can be paired with a 140mm fork, adding adaptability to the Murmur platform. To quickly compare it with the other bikes in our Mid-Travel Mashup, the Murmur is a more of an enduro race-ready bike that punches a bit above its travel numbers.

Test pilot profile height: 175cm (5’9″) weight: 65kg (145lb) testing zone: Bellingham, Washington

Frame facts

With the 160mm fork, this medium frame has a comfortable 64.6° headtube angle. The 76.6° seat tube angle helps move the rider into a comfortable seated position across the average 450mm reach. A solid 35mm bottom bracket drop and 445mm-long chainstays give the Murmur a balanced and planted posture.

The bike’s front triangle is made of Reynolds 853 heat-treated steel tubing in the UK, while the rear end is made of heat-treated Chromoly in Taiwan. Apart from the dropper cable in the seat tube, all of the hose and cable routing is external, ready for quick service, as are the external BB cups.

The Murmur Enduro’s single pivot leaves ample space for crud passage on rainy rides, and the sturdy bearings should stand up through a long and damp season without issue. The rear triangle looks like a modern art installation with its mix of angular bolstering bits and smooth, oval tubing. Functionally, you can feel some additional flex in the steel in hard compressions and chatter segments of trail, but the movement is slight enough that I haven’t managed to buzz the tire against the frame.

I was curious how a decidedly linear single-pivot bike would interact with the linear character of a coil shock, and this one has shown some impressive advantages of the pairing. While you have to work to get this bike to “pop,” the smooth suspension provides a massive amount of traction and control on the rocks. The expected harsh bottom outs never came, and with enough compression, the back of the bike feels well supported. The Murmur could be a cool frame to try a progressive coil on from Sprindex or similar brands, to see how it feels with a little additional return.

Build spec

Some of the parts on this bike are mine, and others came with it, so I won’t be reviewing the build. However, those components do affect the way it performs, so I’ll share some of the important ones here.

An Öhlins coil fork up front is added to the matching coil-cush at the rear axle for maximum traction all around. I threw on a set of my favorite gravity tires, mounted to the Hunt Enduro Wide wheels that were recently reviewed. Those circles were powered by a Shimano SLX 11-speed drivetrain and Middleburn crank, slowed by a set of Magura Trail brakes that were a little underpowered for my liking.

Starling offers a wide range of component build options for their bikes, and you can also purchase the frame alone in stock or custom colors.

Pedaling proficiency

I made sure to test the UK bike in the mud and was impressed with its performance.

I didn’t get a chance to weigh the Murmur, but I can say that it’s on par with all the other 140mm metal bikes I’ve had the privilege of pedaling. The weight isn’t noticeable while riding, which seems like the important piece. I even hiked up some mountains with this bike on my back and its heft felt just fine resting against my upper shoulders. While pedaling uphill it feels like a lot of gravity machines; poised for the party but willing to do the laundry first.

I’ve made liberal use of the shock’s compression switch with this bike to support the rear end while pedaling. It reduces the rear-axle movement on long and sustained climbs while leaving it free to absorb bumps and maintain grip over rougher terrain. Like most single-pivot platforms, the rear suspension is highly dependent on and sensitive to the tune and setup of the shock. That sensitivity means you can dial the squish to the precise spot you want it, and it also means you will need to dial it in. I would love to test this bike with a progressive spring that would add some oomph to its return. Not because it needs it, but because it’s an adaptable platform that would be fin to experiment with.

On steeper grunting climbs the Murmur does its part to accompany you to the top, though it’s not a spry ascent-snapper. Like a lot of modern rides, it’s a gravity bike that can climb to the peak without whining. While it’s a ways off from the near-XC climbing prowess of the Specialized Stumpjumper in this Mashup, it’s equally distant from the more cumbersome enduro race bikes with longer travel I typically test. The Murmur sits in a sweet spot, with a lot of return on investment when it comes to climbing.

Gravity goodness

Starlings naturally collect themselves into ethereal flying nets of unpredictable beauty, aloft across the sky. Humans call their collective space and movement a murmur, as it floats with grace in an ineffable and seemingly patternless form. Coming back to the ground, its ineffability can be related to the feel of objects like this steel bike frame. There’s something special in there that can’t be summed up. Something worth giving a name.

With geometry similar to that of other mid-travel offerings, the Murmur stands out with its overall comfort and poise while descending. The first ride on this bike felt familiar, with an easy handling character and smooth-footedness on rocky trails that inspire fun riding. I carried it to the top of a mountain on the second ride and was as comfortable bouncing across the trail-less crest into the valley below as I would be on my personal bike. When we hit the actual trail below I stayed pinned to my friend’s tail because there were loads of larger rocks to hop and double, and he knew the trail well. When we reached the end my buddy said that he was impressed that I could keep up on a new and unknown bike. I’d attribute a lot of that to the cozy nature of the Murmur, as it’s certainly not true with some bikes.

That smooth comfort equates to higher speeds, which is why I feel this could be an enduro race bike for someone as much as a sweet mid-travel adventure ride. If you’re looking for a do-it-all ride, and your “all” doesn’t include winning climb times, the Murmur is worth a long look. The mix of coil-sprung suspension and forgiving steel tubes allows it to remain planted and ready where a lot of bikes in this travel range become overwhelmed. That plantedness does reduce its boisterousness a bit, but if going fast is what’s important to you then it’s a worthwhile trade. You can still get the Murmur off the ground and pop from here to there, as long as you’re willing to work a little harder for those rabbit moves. The suspension will eventually succumb to its measurements on rough enough tracks, but it takes a lot to get there, and once it’s overwhelmed the bike still feels largely manageable.

Some true single-pivots like this one can suffer a deep squat under heavy braking or a significant amount of feedback on the suspension while pedaling, due to the fact that there are fewer pivot and linkage variables at the engineer’s disposal to adjust those characteristics. Starling engineer, Joe McEwan, has done a fantastic job to give this bike all of the pedaling and braking support it needs with a linkage design that’s optimized for the wet conditions he lives in. The rear end will squat just enough under heavy braking, say before a compression or turn, and the rear end seems to remain fully active throughout those brake forces. Surprisingly, the Murmur offers a similar amount of braking traction to some far more complex linkage systems I’ve tested, allowing the pilot to focus on speed.

Finally, jumping with this bike feels as comfortable as riding it fast and composed. It’s not the jibbing type, bounding from one root to the next, but it is fun to ride through the local jump line. That cool demeanor requires some fitness and body-English from the rider, and with the right energy given, this bike will return the aerial love.

In closing

Folks who want something different, who already love steel frames, or who are searching for a race-able mid travel platform to hang all of their favorite parts on will be stoke on the Murmur Enduro. Frames can be built within twelve weeks of purchase, costing £1,880 for the frame alone and an additional £195 and up with a selected shock. I have an affinity for steel, and this frame only solidified that connection.

Party laps

  • Ample rear wheel support from a clean design
  • Feels lighter and more nimble than expected
  • Capable of whatever fun you want to throw it at

Pros and cons of the Starling Murmur Enduro

Dirt naps

  • Upside down water bottle is a little tricky
  • Steel needs to be cared for to prevent rust
  • Better paired with an air fork