From Coil Back to Air: John’s Pumpkin Spice Starling Murmur 29er

Since moving to Santa Fe, I’ve ridden my mountain bikes almost exclusively, which is a stark contrast to how much time I would spend on my drop bar bikes in Los Angeles. It’s not that there isn’t gravel in our area, it’s just that mountain biking is so accessible, so remote, and so sheltered from the wind and the sun, it’s a no-brainer.

Another major difference is whereas I’d drive to the trailhead in LA, I find myself riding to the trails here 99.9% of the time, even on my Starling Cycles Murmur, which is a really big bike to pedal across town, up the foothills, and into the mountains.

These miles spent on my full suspension had me spending a lot of time adjusting the coil system this bike was built on. Some days, I’d pedal with only a hip bag, while others, I’d lug a heavy camera bag around. This 10+ pound differential made it somewhat awkward to adjust the coil shocks as I found myself smack dab in the middle of the two coil weight zones. While the ride quality of the coil system is undeniably noticeable, it felt like I needed something less finicky.

So, when Fox reached out, asking if I wanted to try out their new fork and rear shock, I jumped on the opportunity. Little did I know I’d gravitate back towards air after vibing so hard on the coil shocks’ ride quality…

Now, I am by no means a suspension expert. I won’t even attempt to explain in any capacity with charts or graphs but I spend a lot of time riding and can attest to how this bike in particular and my ride experience benefitted from the swap back to air suspension.

What’s That Bike?

The Starling Cycles Murmur is a strange bird in the world of full-suspension mountain bikes. If I ever have an on-the-trail encounter with a stranger, particularly seasoned mountain bikers, they ask if it’s a “vintage” bike. From time to time, I’d encounter someone who was genuinely intrigued by the Murmer and were stoked to see one in person. Yet, a majority of people are confused by this bike. Perplexed at its frame material, simple – maybe outdated – suspension design, and gumwall tires. The Murmur in its current build throws a lot of curveballs to mountain bikers.

Yet, say what you will about single pivot designs, they get the job done, and with the inherent properties of steel, you don’t have to circumvent stiffness with suspension patents or complex linkage designs. There is a downfall to it, however.

With the coil shock, I found myself bottoming out the rear tire on the seat tube from time to time when hitting bigger drops or flying down and out of an arroyo. Perhaps this was the main motivator for me trying an air shock out on this bike. I hated the feeling of the rear tire rubbing the seat tube, even after swapping to the next coil size and adjusting accordingly. I found myself wasting time and energy dialing this in when I could just be riding.

The Murmur loses some of the aesthetic appeal by dropping the coil shock but it gained a few notches on the balleur-meter with that Rootbeer Float 36. This really is a dream bike for me.

New Fox Goodies

The Fox 36 fork lineup got some big updates for 2021, most notably in the fork lowers and damper design. These new lowers have little bleeder buttons that aid in purging atmospheric pressure. Normally, this wouldn’t be something I’d need but living at 7,000′ and pedaling up to 12,500′ can build a lot of pressure. I was having issues getting the fork to soak up the extent of its travel. It wasn’t until I remembered what those bleeder buttons were for. Duh.

Built-up atmospheric pressure can cause a steep decline in air forks’ adju stment. These bleeder ports allow you to purge excess air from the fork lowers with a simple push of the button. Once I did that, I noticed a difference in the fork’s sensitivity and rebound adjustment.

Another update for 2021 with the 36 fork is the adoption of the Grip2 damper with WC technology. This is a feature for the fine-tuning suspension geeks who love to dial in their ride even more than just standard rebound and air pressure. Adjusting high-speed compression comes in handy when barreling down rocky fall-line trails. To be honest, I’m not much of a suspension wizard and usually err on setting the fork up until it feels right.

For a single pivot suspension system, a lot is riding on the rear shock. The Float X2 took a bit for me to set up correctly but thanks to the handy PDF Fox links on their site, I was able to get this shock’s performance adjusted for my riding style. Coming from the coil, where you couldn’t lock out the shock all the way, resulting in pedal-bob going up long singletrack climbs, being able to lock the shock out almost entirely made climbing the Murmur and riding the pavement to the trails all the more enjoyable.

Even though it’s a big-ass bike, with a 150mm travel fork and 140mm travel rear shock, rolling on 29×2.6″ wheels, the Murmur gained a bit of practicality when it came to pedaling across town, up the foothills before settling into a long climb up.

The benefits of the X2 obviously didn’t stop at climbing comfort. Opening the shock up gave the Murmer a super smoother and controlled ride feel. This combined with the smooth quality of the Murmur frame makes for a very dreamy and unique ride. The X2 just added to it with easy adjustment, no matter how much weight I was carrying.

It’s a very festive build, just in time for pumpkin spice season!

Riding this bike has really ruined me for the foreseeable future when it comes to modern, carbon mountain bikes. I’d challenge any product designer from any of the bigger companies to throw your leg around a Starling Murmer and tell me it’s not an enchanting ride experience. The way the bike sits right now is perfect and the ride quality is the best yet. For being such a kooky-looking steed, it sure gets the job done.

Thanks to Kyle Klain for documenting the Murmur on all our summer romps on the trails and to Fox for sending these products out for a proper thrashing.