Carbon vs Aluminium wheels: Which is faster?

Are carbon wheels or aluminium wheels faster?  

We spent a day at the Forest of Dean to do some timed runs to find out.

We picked a 2 minute track with a good mix of smooth and rough, roots and turns.  It wasn't too steep or technical and there was one main line that could be ridden consistently all day. 

The test bike of choice was the Starling Cycles 29” Murmur. We used that for all runs and only the wheels changed. The wheels were picked to be as similar as possible, except for rim material. Most crucially, the tyres, tyre pressure, gearing and brake rotors were brand new and identical on both sets of wheels.

At this point it’s probably worth thanking; Sixth Element, Paligap, Zyro Fisher for supply of parts, as well as Pedal Progression for a lend of the timing poles!  

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 18.15.46.png

Admittedly, it would not stand up as a rigorous scientific test if peer reviewed, but a good test.

And if there’s real difference, it’d show up in the times?

So you’ve probably all watched the video by now and know the results.  Here they are in tabular form for those who like that kind of thing.  

Personally I love a good spreadsheet as all my ex–aerospace colleagues will attest to!

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 18.16.51.png

The first run was slow as I was getting up to speed.  The last run was super fast and seems to be a bit of an anomaly; perhaps I need to work out what happened and my racing might get better!

All the other times were very consistent between 1:55 and 1:58. 

So, I’d argue there’s no quantifiable time difference between wheels.  But there was a difference in feel and it was very apparent during the back to back testing  Smoother/compliant but a little dead with ally wheels.  Stiffer, less grip but more lively with carbon wheels.  

So carbon or ally; I’d happily rider either.  As long as it’s a steel frame!

What does this mean? It means that I'll happily supply carbon or alloy wheels with my frames. I'll make both options available in the near future and you guys can decide what fits your budget and your riding style.

Remember, if you want to order a Starling Frame we're running a lottery now. You can learn more here.

MBUK Starling Murmur 1st ride

"You could think of the Murmur 29'er as an underdog, but the ride makes it a giant killer".

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 12.03.45.png

Mountain Biking UK magazine recently borrowed a 29" Murmur for a razz around the woods and a feature in the magazine.

I felt confident they'd like the bike but, as always, it's pretty nerve wracking handing a bike over for review. 

I needn't have worried though - the bike went down well and the guys seemed to love it. They gave a really lovely description of the sensation of riding the Murmur, saying that: 



"The steel frame feels genuinely compliant and supple, but in a springy rather than soft way ... It’s surprisingly eager under power for a skinny-tubed bike. In the rough, that springiness doesn’t feel uncontrolled like an over-inflated tyre, it’s more like a softly tensioned wheel".

I was also really happy to hear their feedback on the suspension. As you know, I'm all about the single pivot and I really believe that simple to ride, simple to understand suspension makes for a better rider. I was happy to hear them say that:

"The single-pivot suspension is sorted too. That pivot is perfectly placed, in line with the chain – not so low as to make pedalling lazy, not so high that kickback becomes an issue ... In the shoebox-sized rocks of BikePark Wales, the rear end barely put a foot wrong".

Thanks MBUK, that's another great review for the Murmur!

You can read the full review in Issue 344 of MBUK

Or you can read the PDF version here (opens in new window).

We're looking for a new team rider

We’re looking for a UK rider to join Starling Cycles.

We need for someone to help us spread the word about our handmade, steel, British bikes and to help us test and develop what we’ve got planned for the future. If that’s you, we’d love to hear from you!

We’ll be totally honest, we’re not sure exactly who we’re looking for.

We know that want someone that’s handy on a bike, handy on social media and has a decent following. We want someone that gets about a lot on the UK mountain bike scene, is pretty self sufficient and loves beautiful, steel, hand made mountain bikes.

We’d also really like someone that can look good on our bikes in front of the camera and can help test our bikes and give us feedback. Ideally, someone that can ride harder than your average would be good.

You don't need to be the Coastal Crew but you’ll be a dab hand at Instagram and Facebook. You’ll know how to shoot and edit your own photos and videos and you’ll be able to do more than the old ‘bike leaning on a gate’ insta post. If your best mate is a videographer or photographer, it certainly won’t be a bad thing. 

We’re not looking for a World Champion … though attendance at a heap of UK enduro events wouldn’t be a bad thing. If you’re busily racing most weekends at the moment and know loads of people on the race scene, you’ll probably be a good fit. We can’t afford a factory set up, mechanics or pits just yet so someone that’s pretty self sufficient would help.

Worth saying that we don’t necessarily need steel bike geeks, frame builders or engineers (we’ve got enough of them already!). An understanding of why our bikes are special and why they work how they do would be good though.

Most of all you’ll be mad about riding bikes and you'll be happy chatting to people, to potential customers and you’ll be happy representing Starling when you’re out riding and racing. We’ve got a grumpy engineer already - we need you to be a friendly, outgoing, chatty type!

What can we offer ..?

What we’re able to offer in return depends on who you are.

For the right rider, we’re looking to provide a Starling Cycles complete bike for you to ride and to race in 2018. If it goes well, the bike is yours to keep at the end of the year. It’ll be up to you to keep it maintained and running in tip-top condition - but we can help with trade prices on kit.

We’d like this to be a long term thing rather than a quick romance - so ideally you’ll stick with us for a few years to come if it goes well in the first year. 

International riders … don’t despair. We’ll be reaching out to you guys in the future. But for now, we need someone at home in the UK.

If you think you know what we need and you’d like to be considered … why not get in touch?

How do you apply?

First up, read this over on Wideopen (opens in a new window).

Then ... 

  • Email and use the email title 'Starling 2018 rider'
  • Tell us a bit about you - who you are, what you're all about, what makes you tick
  • Let us know what you can do to help Starling Cycles
  • Let us know what your plans are for 2018, where you'll be racing etc
  • Give us something to look at - photos, videos and your social media links are good
  • Feel free to send a rider CV if you have one, but don't sweat it if you don't - an email is fine

Thanks, good luck!

Starling Cycles and Brighter Futures Zambia

This summer I reached max capacity in the Workshop. Thanks to some great reviews in the media and loads of word of mouth recommendations I was hit with a wave of orders and had to (reluctantly) press pause on booking any more frame builds in.

I had a good idea though. I wanted to open my books again and build more frames ... but I didn't want to get out of control. I'm a one-man-band and I have to be careful not to disappoint anyone.

I decided to hold a raffle - people could buy a teeshirt and I'd pick a number of 'winners' that would then get a place on the build list. The winners would get to order a frame straight away, everyone else would get a teeshirt and go on the waiting list for a bit further down the line. We've now picked the winners, frames are in full swing and tee shirts have been sent - great news all round!

The raffle wasn't a money maker for Starling though - I used it to support a great cause called Brighter Futures Zambia. BFZambia is a charity dedicated to helping young people access education where they might otherwise not. We donated all of the profits of the raffle and were able to raise £360. 

Our donation was able to help a young Zambian named Maximillian to complete his education. For years he has had to work hard to earn extra money to help his family find the money to keep him in school, even so, there has often not been enough and Maximillian has had a very disrupted education and so far only reached grade 10. He remains determined to complete his schooling and make a better life for him and his family. Now Starling have fundraised enough to pay Maximillian's fees, equipment, uniform and books for his final two years of school.

Brighter Futures Zambia emailed to say "a massive thank you to Starling and all those of you who contributed for allowing Maximillian to continue to reach his goal of graduating from school."

You can learn more about BFZambia on their website here.

Nailing the Geometry PART 1 | Getting it wrong to get it right

You can throw all the high tech suspension, carbon bits and custom tuning at a mountain bike but if you don’t nail the geometry you’ll never go as fast or have as much fun as you should.

Starling Cycles team rider Peter Lloyd has been a huge force in helping us to experiment with progressive geometry and has spent the last year hammering trails, tweaking angles and reporting back what he’s found.

First - we’re talking about Chain Stay length. Why it matters, what happens when it works and what happens when it doesn’t.

Take it away Peter …



I’m a 20-year-old Enduro racer and mechanical engineering student (partly why this reads with all the charisma of a fruit bat). I’m 1.87m (6ft 2”), 80kg (12.5 stone) and do most of my riding on the steep, tight and technical trails of Innerleithen, Scotland. I previously spent 3 years riding for Whyte Bikes on their G-150 and then G-160s on their Enduro team.

I learned a lot from my first Starling Murmur and then applied that to my second frame which - in time - I’d like to turn into more improvements in the future.

Before I start, I better give Chris Porter at Mojo Suspension/Geometron bikes a shout out for his help during this experiment. No matter how progressive people might think I am being, I’ve realised that I’m actually just coming to the same realisations he did a long time ago.

The trouble with chain stays

Before I had the first Murmur made, my main concern was that chain stays (CS), or rear centres, were too short in relation to front centres. Over the past few years, reach measurements have been growing and head angles slackening, resulting in longer and longer front centres. This is a good thing. At the same time, manufacturers have been trying to keep chain stays short to make bikes easier to manual, while also selling the myth that short CS make tight corners easier. The opposite of this is true.


My first Murmur

My first Starling Murmur frame was built around a 160mm fork and had a 510mm reach (15mm longer than my previous G-160), 64.5 degree head angle, 445mm CS (20mm longer) and 38mm BB drop for a BB height of 335mm. The wheelbase measured in at 1295mm, so very long by most people’s standards.

My initial impressions were that this was the closest a bike has ever come to fitting me.

I felt comfortable in the middle of it, with space to move, rather than restricted by the lack of space. Out on the trail it was very stable, feeling safe and easy to let off the brakes on fast sections of track. It also climbed well, despite the long front centre, due to the additional length in the CS, keeping me centred.


But … corners

However, cornering took me longer to adjust to. I found that it was particularly sensitive to the correct bar height and I really had to force the bike into a turn by imagining slamming my inside hand into the ground. I could still make it corner well, but it did not feel as natural as I’d like. Quick changes of direction from turn to turn were also slower and more forced than I would like.

After some time on the bike I went back to the numbers and looked at what was going on with the bike. I spoke to Chris Porter. I spoke to Joe. I did some thinking, some sketching and some changes to my set up. Between us we worked out that the longer chain stay length had helped bring balance to the bike, but now other changes needed to be made to the steering geometry to help initiate cornering.

It’s all about the chain stays. But also the bottom bracket.

Consider a rider on the bike in the proper ‘attack’ position: stood up on the bike with all their weight through their feet and thus the bottom bracket (BB)- almost none through the hands. The closer the rear wheel is to the BB, the more force that will act upon it. The weight of the rider is constant, so therefore less of the force from the rider’s weight will be acting upon the front wheel, leading to less front wheel grip and the front tyre washing out in corners. If the CS is lengthened, then more force will act upon the ground through the front tyre, so you get more grip and can go around corners faster.

This has been simplified, because in reality the rider does put some force through the handlebar mid corner. When the rider compensates for the short CS by being further over the front wheel, in an unstable position with more weight through their hands, unexpected disturbances or slides can cause the rider to be pushed even further towards the front of the bike, arms potentially buckling under the force. In contrast, if the front wheel can be weighted from the stable ‘attack’ position then any surprises and stalling of the bike can be controlled by heels being dropped and the force acting through the BB.

Finally, on the cornering front, quick changes of direction from turn to turn were slower and more forced than I would like. This can be attributed to the low BB in conjunction with the long wheelbase. Both things add stability to cornering and help the bike ‘lock’ into a turn once leant over but together they made the bike so stable that it was hard to get out of a turn. If the BB was raised then the head angle and wheelbase would provide that stability, while a higher BB would help with direction changes and the small, but unimportant advantage of a bit more pedal clearance.

So ... what does this all mean?

Obviously mountain bike geometry is pretty subjective and is driven by rider preference.

That said, there are certain constants that we want Starling bikes to be built around. Chain stay length is one of those and isn't something that is customisable on the bikes. Joe has gone for 445mm stays which are generally a bit lengthier than you'd see on other bikes.

My findings here seem to agree with Joe - bigger stays make for a more comfortable, easier to ride bike that corners better than you might expect. 

Stay tuned for part 2 ... 


If you have any questions about geometry - or just want to chat about this article ... Why not contact us on facebook?

Starling Cycles in the Dirt100

We're over the moon to see Starling Cycles selected for the Dirt100 - a collection of's 100 best products of 2017.

Dirt's Steve Jones has been a huge fan of the bike since we first met him. He's been massively supportive of Starling, has provided plenty of great feedback and a big part of our success so far.

Being selected for the Dirt100 is a huge boost for what we're doing here in a shed in Bristol. We know our bikes work, we know steel is an incredible material for bicycles, we know our design is fast, fun and simple. Dirt's seal of approval means that you guys don't just have to take our word for it ... 

Dirt selected the Starling Cycles Murmur 29" to feature in the line up. They've said ‘It feels different, its silence a far cry from some of the cable rattling, bottom bracket creaking, overpriced carbon".

The team tested the Murmur back to back and against the clock with several other big guns. "That this, the 145mm Starling Murmur was fastest pretty much blew our minds, leaving us staring at the stopwatch in disbelief. The bike we thought might be the slowest before heading onto the hill was in fact the quickest".

You can read more over on the Starling Cycles page on the Dirt100.

... And don't forget that if you want to order a Starling frame, you can find out what to do here.


Dan takes the win at Welsh Gravity Enduro Series

Starling Cycles team rider Dan Pardesi just took the Masters win at last weekend's Welsh Gravity Enduro. 

Dan is one of 3 riders that will be flying the flag for Starling Cycles in 2017 and is riding on his brand new Murmur 29". Dan built the bike up in Feb this year, raced Afan and then Cwm Carn last weekend as his second race on the team.

Despite the weather being hellish, Dan plugged on through the mud, wind and rain and managed to take the top spot - with only a minute separating him and the overall elite winner Leon Rosser. Dan was actually 8th overall in the race if you look at all of the rider's times side by side - great work lad!

Flat out Phil Camsell was also on track - flying the flag for the Starling team alongside Dan. Unlike old man Dan (masters cat), Phil is competing in the young(er) guns Seniors Category! Phil scored 22nd on the day and 9th in his super competitive field. He was also (as far as we can tell) the fastest Phil at the race, beating all others with the same name. 

Dan rides a Murmur 29" and Phil rides a 27.5" Swoop.