PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Starling Murmur Trail
Words by Alicia Leggett; photography by Tom Richards
The Starling Murmur was the bike we were all curious about as we headed up to Pemberton to test all these bikes. We spend plenty of time covering the newest carbon ultra-linkage machines and speculating about the latest changes and trends, but it's easy to forget about the simple things, and that's where the Starling comes in. The Starling Murmur is a beautifully designed, steel, single-pivot bike with elegant tubing, a coil shock, and endless attention to detail.
With 29" wheels front and rear, a 64.6-degree head tube angle with a 160mm fork, 445mm chainstays, and a 485mm reach on the size L test bike, the Murmur is, by the numbers, a true aggressive trail bike. What the numbers don't show is the craftsmanship and care that went into the bike's creation.
Starling Murmur Details
• Travel: 140mm rear / 160mm fork
• Steel frame (geo chart
• Wheel size: 29"
• Head Angle: 64.6°
• Seat Tube Angle: 76.6°
• Reach: 485mm (L)
• Chainstay length: 445mm
• Sizes: M, L (tested), XL, XXL
• Weight: 34.06 lb / 15.45 kg
• Price: £2,162 (frame and Ohlins TTX coil shock) - note that pricing has changed since we filmed the video
• Starling Cycles
Starling is a small British outfit that began in 2015 when founder Joe McEwan began welding bikes in his garden shed. Now, the Murmur front triangle is still hand-welded from Reynolds 853 tubing in the UK, and it's paired with a chromoly rear triangle made in Taiwan by ORA.
While it's available as a frame for £1,880 or with an Ohlins TTX coil shock for £2,162, Starling offers a variety of parts so customers can spec their Murmurs with components from Ohlins, EXT, RockShox, Magura, Shimano, Hope, Middleburn, and others. While there isn't a full range of brands for each part, it's safe to say that just about anyone could build a bike to suit their fancy using the parts available. Starling also offers custom frame and swingarm colors.
Our test bike came fitted with an SLX drivetrain, Magura M7 brakes, Ohlins suspension, and a set of gorgeous Middleburn cranks. While the 'enduro' version typically comes with a 160mm fork and the 'trail' version with a 140mm one, ours arrived with 150mm up front, so our test bike sits in the middle of the two Murmur options and has slightly steeper numbers than the ones listed above. It also arrived with an 11-speed cassette, but Starling's bike builder tool online does offer a 12-speed SLX drivetrain.
Starling bills the Murmur as both a versatile trail option and the enduro racer's choice, depending on how the bike is built up. Each bike is made to order, so some tweaks are possible, such as a non-boost rear end for a bike that typically comes with boost spacing. Also, custom bikes are central to what Starling does, so Starling will build up a fully custom bike for those who want specific sizing or geometry.
Just looking at the bike, it's clear that Starling doesn't skimp on the details. Now, onward to see how it rides.Climbing
The Starling Murmur is a trail bike, but it's a different type of trail bike than most others we tested. The coil-sprung single-pivot suspension was less efficient than some of the more complex designs, and between the length of the bike and the single-pivot design, the bike definitely didn't feel snappy on the climbs. Whether or not that's a true negative just depends on what we're looking for.
I feel that if you're trying to race to the top on the Murmur, you're doing it wrong. The Murmur is a calm climber, without much bob, and it excels where traction is hard to come by. The extremely supple Ohlins shock keeps the bike glued to the ground, and the stability on the descents also translates to easy tracking uphill and around corners.
We tested the large frame, which had a 485mm reach, and I found it to be quite long, especially on the climbs, and that was exacerbated by the flat handlebar. I had to slam the seat as far forward as possible to avoid back pain, and even so, it took some forward and backward movement to feel like I could be over both the front and back of the bike when I needed to be. I'll concede that the bike was a little large for me, as I'm toward the bottom of the large size range. However, sizing down probably would have brought worse problems, as the medium bike has a 450mm reach, which likely would have felt far too short for me. At 5'10" (178cm), I'm in range for both the medium and the large sizes, according to Starling's size chart, but am caught right in the middle.
Mike Kazimer also thought that a higher rise handlebar would have been more appropriate, but at 5'11" (180cm) he got along better with the fit of the Murmur - he didn't feel too stretched out during seated pedaling.Descending
The Murmur surprised me on the descents. Immediately, when I pointed it downhill, it felt notably stable, predictable, and trustworthy. I expected it to be nice and ride well, sure, but most bikes do that nowadays. What I didn't expect was just how easy it was to hold tough lines, find traction, and point straight downhill. Its generally comfortable ride made it inviting to loosen up the braking fingers and let it pick up all the straight-line speed it wanted. I would not go so far as to call it a playful bike, but it had more hop to it than I expected, with the 445mm chainstays lending themselves to a more balanced feel than the numbers would suggest.
As for the steel, I didn't notice any overt flex, but I did feel that the bike had a gentler feel than the other bikes on test, and between the length and the frame material, the bike felt pleasantly surfy as it tracked through corners. Speaking of tracking neatly, the bike had the reassuring tendency to ride exactly where I wanted it, holding a line cleanly and keeping traction where most bikes would want to skitter sideways.
The bike, as a whole, was more versatile than I expected. Still, there were times when it wasn't quite a magic carpet. When the trail turned undulating and there were short choppy climbs, it didn't have the snappy feel that would make me want to power through sprints. As quite a long and slack bike, it also isn't the perfect tool for those rides that are all about quick and nimble maneuverability.
When descending, I didn't remotely mind the bike's length. As I mentioned in the climbing section, the long reach was a drawback for me on the climbs, but I enjoyed the stability on the descents, and the length didn't actually seem to hurt the bike's all-around ability. At a very reasonable 34 pounds with svelte tubes and a thoughtful spec, it also didn't feel like the tank that its capability and frame material would suggest. Instead, it proved itself to be a solid choice for all-around trail riding, a realistic option for those who want a 140mm bike that can double as an enduro machine, and a truly enjoyable bike to ride.