Starling Murmur early thoughts: The velvet sledgehammer

It was always going to happen.

I’d been hankering after a Starling for some time, but had been having such a great time riding my Orange Stage 6 for the last few years, that there wasn’t a space for one in my garage.

However, after having just as much fun on my Orange Stage 4, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really need two bikes which felt pretty much the same to ride – namely fast, poppy, (very) responsive under power and needing a firm hand in gnarly terrain.

Those characteristics were largely thanks to the light, stiff chassis. So, having briefly ridden a couple of friends’ Murmurs, I was intrigued to find out how  a single pivot frame with a much softer, more comfortable chassis feel would work for me.

Shortly after that a nice Murmur frame came up for sale in size large, and so here I am with my first steel full suspension bike.

Initial build, with an undersized 200×57 EXT shock looking mighty fine

Fixtures and fittings

I moved most of the parts across from my Orange, so the Murmur is furnished with a Lyrik Ultimate fork, Shimano 11 speed drivetrain and Zee brakes, OneUp dropper post, Hope/DT EX511 wheels and a Nukeproof carbon bar – among other things.

Although the frame had come with an Ohlins TTX22 coil shock, I didn’t have the correct weight spring, so I initially fitted the EXT Storia from my Stage 6 (200×57 rather than the stock 210×55).

 This had the benefit (to me) of slackening the bike quite considerably and providing 145mm travel rather than 140mm. I have to say, the combination of the elegant steel tubes and shiny, beautifully engineered shock looked so good it was almost sexually arousing.

First rides

I expected the Starling to have a softer, more damped ride than I was used to, but the first few runs aboard it had me laughing out loud because of  the way I could lean it over and keep tracking.

Trail conditions were peak spring loam and there was plenty of grip anyway, but the Murmur just tanked over minor bumps, totally unflustered. Composed and planted are the two words I’d pick.

The reach of 485mm on this frame is 25mm longer than my Stage 6, so it’s not surprising that it felt a bit less nimble in the tight rutted turns on my local trails at Rivington. But letting off the brakes on straighter descents felt like I’d switched the trails to easy mode.

You’ve probably read similar things in other reviews, but one way I explained the sensation was that it was like the first time I drove a comfortable, modern car – and suddenly noticed I was doing 50mph in a 30 zone without realising it.

The stock size (210x55mm) Ohlins TTX coil shock was my first major spec change

Early issues (and fixes)

Despite being hugely impressed with the Murmur, I could tell there was room for improvement with the  suspension at both ends.

The fork was set at 170mm because I was still waiting for a 160mm airshaft to arrive, so the compromised geometry made the steering feel a bit awkward.

And the EXT shock had sublime damping with a uniquely sensitive feel, but on the second or third ride I realised the rear tyre was hitting the seat tube – so the 200mm length shock wasn’t going to work.

Fortunately, I snagged a cheap Cane Creek progressive spring for the Ohlins shock and was able to fit that instead. I’d been reluctant to go with the Ohlins as they have such a heavily damped feel, and I thought it might be overkill with a frame that has a very damped ride anyway. And they are a bit hefty as well.

Turns out I was right and wrong on that point. Yes, the TTX shock did give the Murmur an even-more damped feel – smothering the trail to a certain extent. But combined with the extra support from the progressive spring, it was even faster and didn’t take too much away from the ride feel.

Once the TTX was dialled in (an easy job compared to most twin tube shocks), it started to show the Lyrik up as a bit of a weak link. Now dropped to 160mm travel, I added an extra bottomless token (total of two), wound the HSC about halfway on and sped up the rebound the cope with the faster speeds (making one change at a time, obvs).

This did a reasonable job of evening up the front-rear balance and bringing more stability, and therefore ability to go fast.

Getting ahead (angle)

In the last months of owning my Stage 6, I’d slacked the head angle out to a touch under 63deg, so I’d had my reservations about going to the Murmur’s quoted 64.6deg head angle.

Joe at Starling has been kind enough to answer a few queries via email and had reassured me that head angle is only one part of the equation.

He is right in broad terms of course, and the longer reach and wheelbase, combined with the super-damped ride feel, definitely equate to as much stability (more in fact) than I had on the super-slack Orange.

But my jury is still out on whether I’ll need to slacken the front a bit more for steeper trails. I’ve put a single offset bushing in to bring the head angle to about 64deg, but I haven’t ridden enough sustained steep terrain to judge the results properly.

The bit of steep, sketchy riding that I have done didn’t feel entirely comfortable, but that may be down to the longer reach and my body positioning.

Exploring some off-piste trails in wildest Wales

A right reaming

I should also note that I had a frustrating hold-up with the initial build because the seat tube was far too tight to get my chosen 31.6mm seatpost inserted more than about 150mm.

Because of my stumpy legs, I typically have to slam my seatposts – so I was left scratching my head, until a couple of friends who own Murmurs said they had very tight seatposts too. And one had eventually resorted to getting his reamed out.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, I popped the bike over to Paul Hewitt Cycles in Leyland – who reamed it to about 150mm so that I could insert a shim and use a 30.9mm seatpost at full insertion.

A bit of a faff, but it works perfectly – and Joe informed me that there were some issues with these seat tubes which are curved at the bottom.

What’s next?

Despite a lowers service and my tweaking, the fork still feels like a little bit of a weak link. It’s due a damper service, so I’ll see if that improves matters – and if not, I might consider my coil-based options.

However, I’m wary of improving the grip at the expense of progressivity (is that a word?). Would it unbalance the bike? Hmmm.

I’d also be intrigued to try it with the EXT shock re-sized to 210mm and fitted with a progressive spring – but while the white spring looks fine on the Ohlins shock, I don’t think I could bring myself to put it on the beautiful Storia.

Don’t worry, the red pedals are gone now

Round-up

I’ve been riding the Starling for a couple of months now, but I’ll probably ride it for another year or so (maybe two) before I write a full review.

Due to personal circumstances, I’ve only really ridden it on my local trails at Rivington so far. These are on the mellower side, gradient-wise – a mix of rooty singletrack, rocky moorland tracks and the odd twisty rut serpent.

It climbs well enough for what it is. Steady rather than spritely.

On the flat, it pedals well enough (for a heavy enduro bike, really) but it responds surprisingly well to stamping on the pedals.

On technical, rooty singletrack it’s the best bike I’ve ever ridden. And the same could be true on flowy, slightly pedally rocky trails (but I haven’t ridden enough of them yet).

As I mentioned, I’ve hardly ridden any steep stuff, so the jury is out there too. I need to take it to Scotland, the Lakes and maybe even Italy before I can properly judge it.

But it’s off to a flying start so far.

If you’ve found this article interesting or useful, please give us a follow on Instagram or Facebook – icons at top of page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *