What does a 100% steel framed dual suspension bike, with a basic single-pivot suspension system, have to offer in today's mountain bike landscape? Plenty. The Starling Murmur 29 isn't a bike for the masses, but those who love the feel of steel will get a lot out of this bike.
The not-so-minor details
Starling Murmur 29
Mountain Bikes Direct
Quiet, calm, composed ride.
Very easy to maintain.
Durable - perfect for the crashers!
Surprisingly good suspension both descending and climbing.
Very stable geometry.
Paint job is dull, and stickers feel cheap. Weighty.
Starling Cycles started life as a one-man outfit in Bristol, UK. But with demand for the bikes growing, and in order to make them accessible at a slightly lower price point, they’ve recently begun production in Taiwan. Thankfully, the UK-made vibe has been maintained – the bike still has that air of beardiness and cups of tea. The brand is now coming into Australia through Mountain Bikes Direct, who sell the Murmur as a frame/shock combo at $3950, or you can get it without a shock if you wish.
The steel stigma.
Steel makes sense for mountain bikes. We often overlook it as a material in the rush to make the lightest, stiffest carbon frame, but that’s a mistake. Mountain bikes get crashed, they take a pounding, and it’s a simple truth that a steel bike will handle this punishment better than just about any other material on the market. But beyond the durability aspect, there’s also ride feel to consider. Where a carbon or alloy bike can be prone to delivering a sharp, sometimes harsh ride, a steel frame tends to hum along, absorbing a lot of the sting of the trail in a very unique and noticeable kind of way.
Yes, steel bikes are going to be heavier than carbon, but is weight really the most important consideration for you? If so, then this simply isn’t your bike.
What’s the geometry recipe here?
Long, but not silly long. Our size medium Murmur had a reach of 450mm, which when paired with a 65-degree head angle puts plenty off bike up in front of you. 445mm stays further boost that stability. Then there’s the low bottom bracket height as well. Add it all up and you’ve got a bike that places you very much ‘in’ the bike, not on it.
Can a single-pivot suspension system deliver the goods?
You better believe it. While the Murmur does not offer the same deliciously progressive rear suspension as a linkage bike can, the performance was a surprise. The low pivot point nails a good balance between anti-squat and pedal feedback, which makes it a stable (if not spritely) climber and quite active on descents. There’s not a huge amount of ramp-up in the suspension, so we’d be sticking with an air shock, rather than a coil. When you do use all of the 145mm of rear travel, the bike doesn’t spike, but takes the hit in its stride, the inherent ‘give’ in the frame absorbing its fair share of the impact. We’d heard mixed reports of the DVO Topaz air shock, but during our albeit brief test it worked well, and was easy to setup.
A home mechanic’s dream.
One set of bearings to maintain, big Allen-key heads on everything, and not an internal cable in sight – this bike is a delight to work on in the back shed. Anyone who has spent weeks off the bike as they impatiently wait for a set of propriety bearings to arrive from the USA, or has been reduced to tears trying to feed a brake line out of a frame port the size of a nostril, will really appreciate this bike’s simplicity.
But why does it have to look so dull?
Was there a special on battleship grey paint? Did someone forget the top coat? Utilitarian needn’t mean boring, and given the price tag on this frame we think it really could be finished off with a bit more attention to detail in terms of paint and decals, to really cement the whole handcrafted vibe this frame carries.
What sets this bike apart?
It’s the ride quality. The stability, grip and confidence of this bike aren’t just a product of the suspension and geometry, but also the tuning of the steel chassis. It’s got the right mix of ‘give’ to deliver and comfort and calmness that is immediately noticeable. Add in the undoubted durability of this frame, and you’ve got some real points of difference that will appeal to a lot of riders out there, particularly those who may have ridden steel bikes in the past.
While we didn’t have a long time on the Murmur, we had a good time, and it’s not a bike that’ll fade from memory quickly.