I suppose by now you’re wondering, how does the bike perform? Lets just say Starling should call this bike the “tough”, because when the going gets tough, the tough get going. If you only ride flat, groomed trails then please don’t consider this bike as an option when you come to purchase your next rig. This bike demands the steepest, fastest and chunkiest terrain that you can muster before it begins to make sense. However, give it this demanding terrain, and its ability to carry speed through the rough and the confidence offered by its stability is exceptional – this truly is a downhill bike that can be pedaled back up the hill. Unfortunately, there is a penalty to pay for this, in the form of its weight – 36lbs with its no-nonsense build – and the pedal bob that results due to the reduced anti squat as a bi-product of the idler system.
What that idler system undoubtedly benefits is the rear end – it is remarkably free to move, and hugs the ground in an impressive manner. Roots and rocks beneath the tires disappear, letting you look well ahead and focus on the next turn rather than worrying about picking your way delicately down the trail. Through the pedals comes next to no force thanks to the lack of pedal kickback, even with the ultra fast engaging rear hub.
Seated climbing position was comfortable with the seat slammed forward in the rails, and the relatively slack seat tube angle meant the seat was really out of the way when slammed. The seat angle on this frame was restricted by the machined parts, but production models would have a preferable 77 degree seat angle, which would help the climbing position further. Since the reach of this frame was slightly shorter than I would normally ride (with the length instead coming from the raked-out front end), the climbing position felt very centred between the wheels. The long chainstays help to weight the front wheel when seated, reducing the amount of user-input required to keep the front wheel planted, and generating substantial traction out the back. For a bike with these intentions, the long stays make a great amount of sense.
Riding this beast at a UK enduro race, there were moments of brilliance followed by some of the most fatiguing riding I’ve ever done. When the trail flattens out, pumping doesn’t produce the same speed as on other vessels, and pedaling power is noticeably absorbed by the suspension action instead of creating forward movement. Weaving a bike this slack and stable through tight trees was a fatiguing affair, requiring a great deal of power to pull it from side to side across the trail. On the other hand, when you’re running on fumes and ready to collapse at any moment, the self-righting ability of the bike can really pay dividends, and you can focus that little bit less on keeping it going in a straight line through janky terrain. Grip is admirable in almost every situation, from scrambling up technical climbs to getting hard on the anchors through clusters of off camber rocks and roots. The one struggle that was faced initially was weighting the front wheel sufficiently through flat turns. The slack head angle puts that front wheel way out in front of the bars, and it took a lot of focus to get my body weight pushing down hard through the grips to make the front end hook up. A bit of suspension fettling to get the rear end to sit up a little higher improved this, and by the end of testing I had sufficient confidence in holding it wide open through turns of all types.
There was one section of trail where the merits of the ultra slack head angle really stood out to me. On the steepest track I’ve ridden in a long time, with corners that require long bikes to be nose/endo/euro-turned, the safety that the raked out front end provided was remarkable. Because that fork is at such an angle, you feel like it’s nearly impossible to lean too far over the front – It added a great deal of comfort to an otherwise terrifying trail.
It may not come as a surprise that this bike requires a little bit more input to get properly airborne off of smaller lips, and that the slack front end and long rear end don’t quite lend themselves to a bike that is easy to whip around in the air. Give the Starling proto a lip of decent size and a good entry speed, and nothing weird happens however, with a predictable nature. It prefers a low and fast approach rather than a bmx-like ‘pop’ – this is a race focused machine, but a skilled jumper will still manage to throw it around with a little extra muscle.
As a prototype bike, there were a couple of items of hardware that could have been improved, and Joe suggested prior to testing that the bolts for the cross brace on the rear end could do with some Loctite. But, after the first instance of the cross brace coming loose, there were no repeats of this for the rest of the test. Having to maintain a second chain and set of cogs was about as much effort as you would expect. It’s just an extra step in the clean and re-lube process, but adds no real time. Over the bikes lifetime having to replace these cogs would add slight maintenance costs, but because they always run perfectly aligned, it’s likely the left chain will greatly outlast a geared chain. The extra drag of the second chain was minimal, with the cranks still spinning relatively freely.
The Wolf’s Last Word
If your local trails warrant a downhill bike, but you want to forego the uplift and get up the hill under your own power, then the Starling Staer high pivot would be seriously worth considering as your next rig. This is not a bike that will appeal to the masses, and it certainly won’t help your chances of winning in the pedalier enduro races. But if you seek a stable, bump gobbling machine, and thrive on trucking through the most gnarly terrain, then this is quite the tool for the job.
When asked whether the Staer would ever be made available to the public, Joe said, ”We need to work on a couple of details, but once that’s sorted, I’m happy to build for anyone who’s interested.” So if you want one of these special rigs, then head to Starlingcycles.com and get your request in!