John’s Starling Murmur 29er

After reviewing the Starling Murmur Factory early last year, I placed a deposit for one myself, springing for the made in the UK front triangle, made in Taiwan rear swingarm model, in a larger size than the demo large I reviewed. Joe and I discussed the bike, I sent in the money needed and waited. A few months later, Joe alerted me that the bike was done and he shipped it to the United States. Little did I know that I wouldn’t see the bike for almost 8 months later.

USPS to eBay

Joe shipped the Murmur via a carrier that transferred it to the USPS once it hit the US. The bike actually made it all the way to Los Angeles and then it went missing. No one knew anything, except for one employee at the local office. I called and said my package was there but it hadn’t been delivered. This employee sounded confused. She said a big cardboard box from the UK arrived with a bicycle frame in it but that it was gone, most likely it went back to the sorting facility in Atlanta. How did she know what was in this mysterious package and how did it make it all the way to LA to then disappear?

After my conversation, I filed a claim with the USPS and gave them the employee’s name and her description of the box. They assured me it would be found. Well,  it was found but not in a USPS facility, it was found on eBay.

Joe from Starling got an email from a US customer saying a Murmur was on eBay. The customer asked about the frame’s history because they were considering buying it. He looked it up and sure enough, it was my frame. We messaged the seller, he said it was his, that he bought it fair and square and that he was selling it to make a profit. Joe and I reasoned with the guy, told him it was stolen, and that he should sell it to us for what he paid for it. He basically told us to get stuffed. What do you do then? Do you call the police? Well, Joe did just that and was also told to get stuffed as well.

We were panicking because someone was going to buy that bike and sure enough, they did. Our only saving grace was that the bike was listed as a medium, when in fact it was an XL. A very long XL. The purchaser contacted Joe about the frame and Joe got the buyer to send me the XL and he’d send him a medium. Sure enough, the frame arrived a few days later… Pheewwwww

Building a Murmur

I can’t even begin to exclaim how happy I am to have this bike but how was I going to build it up? I talked to the guys at Cane Creek during the last Sea Otter Classic and exclaimed how much I love the Helm fork that I reviewed on the Kingdom two years back. They showed me some new stuff they had coming out and I told them about the Starling Murmur. We exchanged contact information and a few months later, some fancy Cane Creek goodies showed up for review. Something similar happened with Hope, who makes my favorite disc brakes I’ve ever used, right there in the UK. Just like my Murmur.

After shooting Kelsey’s Scott in Bend and noting her crazy handlebars, Syncros reached out asking if I’d want to try out their bars on my bike. Those wheels? They were part of a deal I worked out with Chris King to shoot their open house bikes so they had a digital archive of their Open House. I’m only telling you this, so you know that while I paid for the frame and a few other parts, a lot of these balleur parts came from companies for me to test out and review. Full disclosure.

Slowly, I began accumulating parts for the Murmur, meanwhile, it would be months before I got to ride any of them due to the eBay fiasco.

Once the bike arrived, I dropped the front triangle off at Good Color Studio in Santa Barbara to get it painted a color I’ve wanted to do for some time. It’s based on an older Land Cruiser color, RAL 8001 and at this point, I knew we were moving to Santa Fe, so I wanted something Southwestern-inspired for this bike.

Now, I’ve already reviewed the Murmur itself, so if you’re looking for a rundown for how the bike rides, go read that review. In short, I loved the Murmur so much that I bought one. It’s the best riding full-suspension bike I’ve ever thrown a leg over and while I haven’t ridden that many full-suspension steel bikes, I still fell in love with it.

All that said, I’m still not sure what wheels I’ll ride on the bike for the long run. I’ve tried some Stans alloy wheels, those Zipp Moto wheels, but I think I like the ENVE rims more, with a CushCore in the rear so I can ride extra-low pressures. Yes, they are stiff but it works really well with the steel frame that has a lot of flex to it. I can’t really describe the sensation, but the wheels seem to keep the bike planted in a way the Zipp and alloy wheels couldn’t do. Until I figure that out for sure, let’s look at the components that make this such a unique build.

Cane Creek Helm Coil

The Helm is such an exceptional fork and the coil-sprung version of the fork has really surpassed my expectations. Which, to be honest, are partly from laziness. It’s nice to be able to hop on a bike and not really worry about setting sag by pumping air into it each and every time. All I had to do was an initial tune.

Why coil? Well, for a number of reasons. Beginning with the point I make above. Coils are easy to adjust with precision, at not a big weight sacrifice. These coils are light. Not as light as packing a chamber with air, but light enough to rival the Helm Air fork (2080g). The Helm Coil comes in at 2340g by comparison. It doesn’t matter what travel you have either since all Helm forks are adjustable from 130 to 160mm travel. You just need the right one per your wheel size, 29er or 27.5″.

That weight difference might make a weight weenie cringe but with the 55 coil, which fits riders 160-200lbs, I was able to set up the fork to ride great every time. Now, I’m on the higher end of the coil weight limit, so I had to spend a little more time dialing it in but once it was set up correctly, the ride quality of this fork really does feel superior to air forks.

Hitting jumps or drops and the fork just seems to be less jarring and more controlled when landing. There’s no need for pucks to keep it from bottoming out. It just peels away from the landing with ease. There’s less on-the-trail dialing of knobs, it really does feel like a one and done procedure, especially since I usually ride this bike on primitive trails which are rocky, rutted, and loose, versus a bike park which would be smoother, with bigger jumps, and require a different tune.

Describing the feel of a coil fork comes down to the inherent nature of coils, which are progressive, meaning you get better control, more sensitivity to brake ruts, rocks, and other small hits. All you’ve got to do is tweak the typical controls on this fork, high vs low-speed compression, preload, and rebound. In terms of service, you should service coil shocks at the same interval as air, there’s just less work to do since you don’t have to rebuild an air spring in the process.

Now about that spring. I’m at the end of the limit for the spring and while it’s fine if I am riding without a heavy camera pack, on the few photoshoots I’ve done, I did have to swap out the 55 for a 65 spring, since my 30lb camera pack would put me well over the top of the limit. So yeah, maybe it’s a little more involved than putting a few extra PSI into a fork but for me, the feel and control outweigh this slight inconvenience. The procedure is easy enough but the extra spring will cost ya around $40 plus shipping. All Helm Coils ship with a 55, so if you’re over or under its range, be prepared to add on another $40 to the $899.00 price tag.

The Cane Creek Helm Coil comes in both 44mm and 51mm offset and can be purchased at 130mm to 160mm travel intervals. With 44mm offset limited to 140, 150, and 160mm travel options. See more at Cane Creek!

Cane Creek DBcoil IL Shock

Now that coil spring shock! What about that? Well, unlike the Helm Coil, the DBcoil IL shock took some getting used to and a bit more time to set up. The way I describe it is with a smaller coil, you need more precise adjustments. It turns out, the original coil I had installed wasn’t right for my weight, so I went up to the next size, which worked out perfectly. From there, it took some time to adjust high versus low-speed compression and rebound settings. Sag was easy, with this adjustment wheel and it looks amazing, yet even with all my adjustments dialed in, if I hit a big jump and bottom out, on the single-pivot design of the Murmur, the tire will rub the seat tube. It only happened once, and it was a big drop, but it’s something to note. For comparison, I hit the same jump on the review bike last year with an air shock and did not experience the same issue. After working on a few settings and a half-turn of the adjustment ring, I went back and couldn’t create the same bottoming out scenario.

As for disability, the DBcoil IL locks out for climbing, while minimizing pedal bob. It feels amazing exiting berms, and truly makes this bike ride the way it should. It would be nice to try a few other rear shocks over the next few months since single pivots by nature really need to be dialed in to avoid tire-rub on the seat tube.

I’ve been pleased with the DBcoil IL shock, even though it did take a bit of tinkering, more so than a comparable air shock, but I feel like now, the sensation of riding it made it worthwhile. At its price point of $460.00, it’s worth trying one out if you get the chance!

Hope Tech 3 E4 brakes

Wow. These brakes really surpassed anything else I’ve used on the market, all with a finely tunable, made in the UK package. Dubbed the “ultimate enduro brake” I’d argue they’re just the best brake for riding down mountains. Sure, they’ll excel in enduro, but personally, they just feel amazing for extended descents where control is essential. The levers are comfortable and offer adjustment to get them in your preferred positioning, they come in a variety of colors, and are easily serviced (argued point depending on who your mechanic is!). For me, the feel of the brakes are stiff, firm, and reliable.

You won’t have the need to pump them after dormancy or experience any fade due to cold temps either. We moved from Los Angeles during an 80º day to Santa Fe at 7,000′ and 30º. I rode the bike the next morning with no issues. Meanwhile, my other bikes are in dire need of a bleed. Is this anecdotal? For sure, but I can’t help but think it has to do with the brake design. After extended usage over the past few months, I can say that my first impression has remained. They were my favorite when I rode them in my Chameleon review and they still are to this day! The Tech 3 E4 comes in a black hose ($220) or braided hose ($235) version. See more at Hope.

Tech Aside

Product review, tech assessment aside, this bike rides extraordinarily well. It climbs with ease and descends with such grace that it’s easy to get in over your head. A 150/140 29er with a 2.6″ tire is a big bike, and I have wrecked harder on this than any other bike in the past. Since owning it, I’ve taken three big spills, all at top speed. They really rattled me yet every time I got up to gather myself and clean up the yard sale, the bike sits there, unscathed, ready to go again. That’s the nicest thing about steel, you don’t have to worry about it as much as carbon.

The Murmur, this Murmur, is a rare bird and if you ever get your chance to throw a leg around one, get ready to be wowed. Check out more at Starling Cycles. Thanks to the boys at Golden Saddle Cyclery for building this up. GSC is a dealer with a few demos available to ride, so swing by if you’re interested in checking one out. Post-pandemic of course!