The How and Why of Building Full Suspension Mountain Bikes Out of Steel

Joe McEwan is the founder of Starling Cycles, a brand that builds high performance, steel full suspension mountain bikes in the UK.

Joe McEwan is a career aerospace engineer and carbon composites expert who founded Starling Cycles in 2014. The brand’s bikes are developed, engineered and handmade for the demands of UK trails, and the bikes have been well received among both the media and athletes.

Find out why Joe thinks carbon fiber is almost the McDonalds of bikes, and also:

  • What first piqued your interest in building steel bikes? Have you tried building bikes with other materials?
  • Can the average rider feel a difference between a steel frame and say carbon fiber or aluminum? Do fat tires and suspension limit the effect when it comes to mountain bikes?
  • How does tube shape and bracing affect ride feel?
  • Why do you use Reynolds over tube stock from other suppliers?
  • How is the tubing sized in terms of lengths?
  • What is the cost of raw tubing?
  • How do you go about making a steel tube stiffer in one direction than the other?  
  • Are there any design considerations that are unique to steel full-suspension frames?
  • Why are most steel FS frames single-pivot? 
  • What are some design considerations around the headtube junction? How do you make that area stiff enough to hold a slack fork while keeping the bike’s weight low?
  • Why do larger bike sizes need a brace between the top tube and seat tube?
  • What can you do to dial in BB stiffness when building with steel?
  • Has the recent shipping dilemma affected your frame business? How about components? 
  • What are you hearing from owners and fans of the gearbox driven Starling Spur? 
  • Are there advantages to a gearbox over an external drivetrain that go beyond broken derailleurs? 
  • What are your thoughts on the rising popularity of mixed-wheel bikes?
  • What’s next for Starling Cycles? Are there any steel e-bikes in the future? 

View photos and learn more about the bikes mentioned in this episode at

This episode is sponsored by Jamis Bikes. Singletracks is psyched that Jamis Bikes has come on as a sponsor of the podcast and is also a supporter of the website.

Jamis has been designing and building quality bikes since 1979, and they were among the first to produce mountain bikes beginning in 1982. 

The brand has brought the world some iconic and award-winning mountain bikes over the past 40 or so years, and The Dragon has been the soul of the brand for decades. Introduced in 1993, the Dragon hardtail delivers the feel that only comes with high quality steel, and it’s done so for nearly 30 years running.

The newer Jamis Portal and Hardline full suspension bikes feature the innovative and race-proven 3VO suspension platform, built into both carbon and aluminum frame options.
You can check out this year’s all-new Dragon and 3VO bikes, along with the entire lineup of Jamis high performance mountain bikes at