Starling Murmur Factory 29 – Trail Bike Review

Starling Murmur Factory 29 – Trail Bike

Steel is great stuff to make hardtails out of because frame builders can take advantage of the material’s relative flexibility compared to aluminium. That means the back end has some give in it to improve comfort. Steel comes in regular round tubing, too, it’s readily available, relatively affordable and pretty simple to cut and join, using either welding or brazing. All of which makes it a firm favorite for small bike brands like Starling.

So steel works for hardtails, but does it make sense for full-suspension bikes, where you don’t need that natural compliance? Starling sent us the Murmur to find out. Starling Cycles is Joe McEwan, and the company HQ is based at the bottom of his garden, where Joe has spent the last fi ve years hand-welding frames. That’s a slow process for one man, so this year Starling is expanding, sub-contracting construction to the Far East and creating this Factory version of the hand-built Murmur, and consequently dropping the price by some £500 (the shed-made Murmur costs £190 more but doesn’t come with a shock, while the Factory does).

The Murmur Factory frame is made from top-end Reynolds 853 tubing, TIG-welded in Taiwan, and delivers 140mm travel through its single-pivot design bolted to your choice of metric shock. Up front, Starling recommends you spec a 150mm fork — the bike we tried came with a DVO Beryl. This steel chassis then rolls on 29er wheels, and has enough clearance for 2.5in tyres, Starling says. It comes in just two sizes, many, many colors, and costs £1,850 for frame and RockShox Deluxe RT3 Debonair shock.

That’s not cheap, especially given it’s not made in the UK, although we should point out you can still get a Bristol-built frame if you’re prepared to wait. Clapping eyes on the Murmur Factory for the first time, there’s no doubt about what it’s made from, with skinny straight tubes, X-shaped bracing on the rear triangle and none of the seamless sculpting we’re accustomed to from hydroformed alloy or moulded carbon. It’s all very steampunk, thanks to those long, copper-pipe thin seatstays and external cable routing.

Is it handsome? I’m not so sure, but who am I to judge, nor do I care as long as it rides well. Even when you can’t see the bike, because you’re on it, it’s hard to escape the ferrous frame matter. It’s a heavy bike — not a pig to climb by any stretch, but you can feel the extra weight of the Murmur whenever you steer a course uphill. The Murmur saves itself with a great riding position though, which works both uphill and downhill.

The superlong chainstays mean you’re never in danger of looping out on a steep climb, and when descending it makes for one hell of a stable platform on steep techie sections — the bike seems to stay composed and in control where others might pinball in all directions, tracking the ground when the trail is doing everything it can to throw you off. The Murmur’s geometry is hard to fault, with a relaxed head angle and a low bottom bracket helping you push for grip on loose corners. And in the era of e-bikes, where we’ve learnt just how beneficial weight can be in helping suspension perform well, perhaps it’s no surprise the Murmur works best on descents.

The Murmur is fast and sure-footed, no doubt about it, and would work well as an enduro race bike, provided you’re fit enough to haul its hefty weight up hills all day. As a trail bike though, it’s too heavy to really enjoy riding for hours on end, and flatter, contouring trails really don’t play to the bike’s strengths. Starling also needs to increase its size range, with a bigger option for riders over 6ft.

Does steel work in a full suspension application then? I think the material choice is immaterial; you can build compliance or stiffness into any bike, so as usual it comes down to whether that bike is good to ride. The Murmur is good, although I’d really love it if it was a couple of pounds lighter.

Conclusion

Great poise and confidence on fast and rough trails. Weighty, and expensive at £1,850 for frame and shock.

  • Frame: Reynolds 853 steel, TIG-welded, 140mm
  • Shock: DVO Topaz T3Air
  • Fork: DVO Beryl fork, 150mm
  • Wheels: Hope Pro 4 hubs, Sixth Element carbon rims, Maxxis Minion DHF and High Roller II 29×2.3in tyres
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XT cassette, r-mech, shifter, Middleburn RS8 cranks, spider and TT ring
  • Brakes: Shimano SLX, 180mm
  • Components: Burgtec Ally RideWide bar, Burgtec Enduro 2 stem, Fox Transfer Factory 150mm seatpost
  • Weight: 14.55kg (32.08lb)

Rating 9.0/10

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