Joe kindly provided me with the bike for a full month of testing, which allowed me to visit many different areas of Scotland and ride a variety of different styles of trail. The majority of the riding was conducted on the rock and root infested terrain of North-Eastern Scotland. For the first three weeks of testing, the trails were uncharacteristically bone dry, with a week of damp riding to round up the test once I was fully comfortable on the bike.
As a leggy 6’2” (188cm) individual, a 490mm reach figure is very comfortable and sits in my preferred range. The slack head angle, low bottom bracket and long rear end don’t conjure images of the bike winding effortlessly through tight switchbacks or having a playful time popping and jibbing around, however throughout my time on the Starling, this notion was often proved incorrect. The poppy single pivot design; combined with the natural ‘spring’ of the narrow diameter steel tubing and the balanced geometry allow the bike to be hopped around the trail with less effort than expected. By no means is this a big wheeled slopestyle bike, but it is more fun on less gnarly tracks than it may seem at first glance and makes less of a fuss of tight sections than you may expect.
What this geometry certainly produces is a bike that is very stable at speed, and the inherent flex of the steel tubing allows the chassis of the bike to conform to the trail. These combine to produce a bike that is happy to hold a line through flat out corners and high-speed rock gardens and delivers a staggering amount of grip and reassurance through off cambers – more so than any other bike I’ve ridden. This resulted in a number of PR’s on Strava sections on my local trails, gaining some time over my personal Santa Cruz Nomad on trails where ultimate traction was required.
In addition, the noise damping of the frame is notable and the bike runs very quietly. The flex is most apparent when pushing the bike hard through tighter corners, especially in cuttie-style maneuvers. The rear end “loads up”, and springs in the opposite direction, giving an interesting pop to the way the Murmur corners. The bike doesn’t particularly suit bike park antics like this, choosing comfort and grip instead of out and out stiffness.
The Fox DPS rear shock was initially supplied with no volume spacers fitted. When combined with the linear single pivot, the bike had to be set up with very little sag to prevent it blowing through its’ travel. Fitting a large volume spacer to the shock helped matters, and I settled on a sag figure of 30%. The basic DPS shock couldn’t keep up with the slightly better performing DVO Beryl fork, providing limited compression control and struggling to deal with the heat on longer descents.
Neither unit was particularly impressive, and the control of the simplistic rear suspension would no doubt be improved with the use of a bigger hitting piggyback style shock such as the Fox Float X2. A bike with geometry offering this much potential to charge hard deserves suspension units to match. Regardless of the limitations of the suspension units, the single pivot performed predictably over the duration of the test. The rear wheel certainly doesn’t get out of the way of trail obstacles as well as a bike with a more rearward axle path, but there is no learning curve required – you can hop on the bike and go without any real adjustment period. This predictability continues over jumps, with a very connected feeling to the rear wheel, allowing you to squash or pop off a lip with ease.
Seated pedalling on the Starling was a comfortable affair, with the steep seat angle and relatively long rear end offering a comfortable and balanced climbing position and the compliant steel tubing helping to eliminate some of the micro-chatter. Unlike some more complex systems, the influence of chain forces on the single pivot of the Murmur is quite noticeable. However, it is not necessarily a negative quality if used smartly.
The chain tension forces when pedaling result in a slight extension of the Starlings’ rear shock, pushing the rear wheel into the ground and raising the BB slightly. The raising of the BB under power is welcome, as the sagged position is exceptionally low. For sections of climbs where traction is limited, this helps to drive the rear tire knobs hard into the soil and generates a lot of mechanical grip, so I was finding myself regularly clearing technical sections of climbs that are usually a struggle for traction.
The downside to this effect of chain forces is when pedalling on rough sections along the flat or on a descent, there is a great amount of feedback through the pedals as the chain forces oppose the wheel trying to get out of the way. On a number of instances early in the test this resulted in the bike hanging up on rougher terrain. I learned to choose my pedaling spots more carefully on the trail to avoid catching pedals or creating too much chain force, instead pumping through the rougher sections to generate the speed.
The single pivot rear end firms up slightly on the brakes, especially noticeable when hard on the brakes over braking bumps, or if trailing the brakes through rough sections. Whilst it’s not an unmanageable amount of brake-jack, the Murmur benefits from choosing braking spots carefully.
The suspension pivot worked loose twice over the duration of testing. The pivot bearings were a little rough, and there was limited Loctite on the pivot bolt – both of which would have increased the likelihood of this occurring. The beauty of the single pivot design was the ease at which the loose item could be identified and rectified.
There are a few points on the Starling that have room for improvement. The integrated top guide present on the frame is a neat touch, however proved to be relatively ineffective as the chain dropped several times over the course of the test. The newer models come with a better performing unit, which should resolve this. The seat tube showed signs of tire rubbing at maximum compression. This wasn’t felt on bottom out, and Joe of Starling responded to say that all new bikes will ship with a Taiwanese-made rear end that resolves the issue. Finally, the non-replaceable mech hanger is a cause for concern in my eyes. While the steel derailleur mount integrated into the frame is no doubt built to last; as rear derailleur prices continue to rise, it would still be good to see a replaceable hanger fitted to reduce the likelihood of their destruction. The Taiwan-built frames will feature a replaceable hanger, as will UK-built models in the near future.