Starling Spur – The Bad and The Ugly – Review
To preface this text, all I want to do is buy, build, and ride the best mountain bikes in the world. Then review them and tell you, my great followers and supporters, how good they are in different situations. Then, sell them off in a competition to cover my costs and give an amazing and perfectly tuned bike to a lucky supporter. After years of watching how paid-for media and reviews work, this was the only way I could think of to give consumers to most honest and open reviews online.
The reality of that dream has been very different and has really pushed me close to the edge of losing my sh… stuff a few times. Every single new bike I have invested in has had a major issue adding 3-9 months of delay to the process. Not ideal if you are trying to run a brand-new and unproven business model, this adds lots of expense and wasted time that could be used to create some positive and informative content. The bikes I chose haven’t been cheap junk either, I’ve made serious investments in the best and most expensive products in the world.
I made this article as short as possible as it’s too depressing to keep having to beat the drum of bad bike bits. I hope there are no more sagas like this in the future and we can just play with nice toys, talk about their performance, tune them up and give them away. I don’t like writing negative things and it pains me to press the publish button every time. I don’t like it when people say I am moaning all the time so I’ve made this as fair as possible with little opinion. So, here you go:
Starling Spur – The Bad and The Ugly – Review
I can’t recall the exact dates now but I ordered the Starling Spur towards the end of last year. The goal was a beautiful, British-built steel-is-real machine. French gearbox driven and damped with Swedish gold. The ultimate bike for longevity through an Alpine Summer specifically spec’d with backup plans in case anything went wrong, surely, AstonMTB can’t have many more unlucky “small batch” warranty issues?
Steel frame? I figured if it broke I can simply find a welder nearby to tack it back together. Ohlins was chosen knowing that there are plenty of service centres in Europe including JaffVTT in Les Gets, five minutes from Morzine where I planned to spend most of the summer test riding this against some other amazing machines. Effigear build their gearboxes only three hours from Morzine in Lyon, at worst, I could drive to their HQ to get it fixed. I thought I had everything covered.
The short version of the following long story: Within five days of use the frame was cracked, the fork needed a ‘small batch’ warranty repair, and the gearbox was broken.
Surely, you couldn’t write it? Yup, AstonMTB’s luck goes from bad to worse. I’m starting to think it’s not luck.
In January, I drove back to the UK to pick up the frame, suspension and gearbox directly from Starling. I had lots of problems with deliveries and things getting lost last year, so collecting at the source would remove any problems.
When I arrived to collect the bike, the gearbox was nowhere to be seen, despite me delaying the trip a few times already. Starling and I both emailed Effigear, again. I was told by Effigear that my gearbox was ready to ship, it just needed the label sticking to the box. I told them to post it to my brothers’ house in France as it was much cheaper and quicker to ship it there and I could pick it up on the way back to Italy. Eventually, the box turned up at the end of March and I had to wait for a friend (Ben from www.mtbbeds.com shout out, yo!) to bring it down to Finale for me.
I like Davide and the Effigear guys. I met them years ago at an event, I reviewed their Cavalerie bike with Effigear drive for PB and it was a really good machine with no problems. This time I really not happy: I feel like I (and Starling) was lied to about it being ready to ship.
In the meantime, I took the brand-new Ohlins suspension to J-Tech. One of the best suspension experts in the UK. I did this to avoid any further potential issues as we had with Fox or DVO this year. J-Tech stripped and checked everything, sized the bushings, moved me up to a firmer shim stack tune front and rear and discovered one small problem – the IFP wasn’t up to correct pressure on the shock – so we eliminated one potential performance problem before we hit the trail.
Now it’s April sometime. We started to piece the bike together. Starling had shipped the drive sprocket separately (which incurred some more customs quids and faff) as they had those in UK stock and it hadn’t been delivered with the gearbox. We checked it for correct fitment and… it didn’t fit. Another email later and we simply had to grind off one of the teeth inside the sprocket so it would fit, Starling had forgotten to do this. Not a big deal, a few minutes with a Dremel, but a job that shouldn’t need to be done after I paid a bill of ca.£4000 for a frame, suspension, and drivetrain.
Then we realised the rear axle was missing. I should have spotted this earlier, but the bubble-wrapped frame was left in the corner while we were waiting for the gearbox. Another email and a few more weeks for the package to battle its way from Brexit, through the pricey Dogana Italiana, and to me.
Build time. Mat the Mechanic got on with the job. But it wasn’t without further issues. The stainless steel swingarm plate didn’t fit well as the bolt holes didn’t line up correctly. Another email and we had to awaken the Dremel again to open the holes slightly to make it fit. Nothing major, but not perfectly consumer-ready.
We fitted the shock next. But the width between the shock mount on the swingarm was a tight fit. Definitely was not a great alignment, but loosening the Dremel’d plate and getting the shock in first solved it.
I don’t think the problems so far are 100% Starling’s fault: if Effigear had delivered the gearboxes on time they could have assembled the frame and double-checked everything, then between us, we would have surely spotted the missing parts if the frame was together and not a pile of parts.
Next, we found it quite difficult to get the rear wheel in and out, needing to pull the swingarm apart with a little force to remove the wheel. Again, small fry, but I think a single-speed setup rear wheel should be much simpler to remove and install than a derailleur setup, not harder.
At this point, we also spotted the swingarm paint wasn’t great and was a bit dusty/gritty. Again, small fry but not ideal for the price tag.
Eventually “The Tractor” came to life. Mat luckily got the first two days to get it warmed up at the bike park while I was testing the Supremes. After this, I packed the Tractor and went to the Alps. On the first day, it felt absolutely fantastic.
Geometry was spot on. The seated climbing angle was great. The spacious cockpit and slack 62º head angle loved the descents. The rear suspension was feeling insane, and with a few more psi in the fork, and a few clicks here and there the balance was perfect. The steel frame was super smooth and beautifully damped, and the grip, oh my god, THE GRIP! The back of this bike did it all on the descents. The heavy main triangle with the low-slung drivetrain weight was super stable. The super-light single-speed rear wheel with no flappy tensioners and no pedal kickback: maybe the quietest and most reactive rear suspension I’ve felt in my life. Tons of midstroke support to drive the bike into berms, pump and carry speed. The semi-high pivot meant the rear wheel moved out of the way of anything, and plenty of anti-rise meant good chassis stability braking in the steeps.
Read all of The Good parts here.
The Spur had elevated itself within a day or two to become one of the best descenders, actually all-around bikes, I have ever ridden. Top Five. Somewhere up there with the G1, custom Supremes and tuned Titan and 329.
Two days later and I had been having the time of my life on this Spur in Verbier and Chamonix. Five days on the bike in total, but in reality three full days of riding. Then the problems started…
The gearbox was quite rough to start with, but bedded in and smoothed out after some riding. After being pedalled for a maximum of 50km over these days riding, the gearbox had then started crunching and miss-selecting. There was also some oil leaking, but at least this meant there was still oil inside the box (you should start worrying when leaks stop!). I emailed Effigear for advice after not being able to find a tech manual on their site. I thought that maybe I just need to adjust the cable tension to fix the shifting, maybe the oil was ready for its first change post-bedding in, or maybe the slow leak was normal on a new gearbox. All of which seemed likely, but then the “just send it back” response reared its ugly head.
I refused this and asked Effi to send me a new or working used one with a return label in the box. They said no, I need to return mine first. I said I could drive over to them, and charge them for fuel, tolls and my time because I didn’t want to lose another week shipping parts back and forth, especially considering my lack of faith after the initial 3month delay.
Their response was that a new one was in the post. Great! It turned up a week later, without a return label. To this day, I’m still waiting for a return label and I still have the original gearbox here… Starling claims the Effi boxes they tested for prototyping had no problems and I believe them. I had one on test years ago with no problems. Personally, I don’t see why there could be such a problem with an established product and no tips or tricks to get it working properly.
At the same time as this, the fork had become really sticky. Very frustrating again for a brand new fork with a >£1500 RRP, that I had spent another £200 in fuel, time, and paying J-Tech for the pre-ride check and tune. J-Tech had done a great pre-ride job but this was a bigger issue. A moaning Instagram post later and Ohlins had slid friction-free into my DM’s. I sent them the serial number and they said this is possibly a 38M.2 fork issue with faulty bushings and it was a ‘small batch issue.’
Now, I do not claim to be a suspension expert. But, the 38 is Ohlins latest product, I had the M.2 version, which already had some changes over the first iteration. I also question the small batch excuse: surely, if it is such a small batch issue, they could email the suppliers who sold the forks with the matching serial numbers. Suppliers could then contact their customers with some kind of advice like this, and it’s just a suggestion, Ohlins can copy and paste if they like:
“Your recently purchased Ohlins 38 fork may have faulty bushings from a manufacturing problem. Please take your fork to any Ohlins specialist for a warranty check before it causes any more damage, affects your precious and limited riding time, or ruins your one-week holiday in Morzine.”
Luckily JaffVTT were up the road in Les Gets so I took it there for a fix -great job but still a one-week turnaround as they were super busy, probably with other rare small batch problems.
So I told Mat the strip the bike. It was only a few days old, but if the fork and gearbox needed replacing we might as well strip the entire thing and double-check everything just to prevent any further issues. Bearing in mind at this point it’s Mid-July, prime bike park season, I’ve got >50k invested in broken bikes and this is my only one left! One Supreme frame with custom links and dropouts I built was riddled with cracks. Another cracked Supreme waiting months for a new frame – which I eventually got a refund for. A G16 hanging up with no suspension after the faulty DVO saga…
When stripping the frame we spotted a decent-sized crack. At this point, and for a 19kg steel truck, I’m not very happy.
I contacted two other Spur owners and turned out they had paint cracks in the same place after only a few days of use, so not my fault this time, phew. Both of those Spur owners have now had the same modification as my frame, repainted and returned under warranty – great job and they are happy.
Joe, the owner of Starling says this is just a small crack on my bike and the others were just paint cracks. To me, this is a pretty big crack knowing how much force I put into the bike and not many laps, I’m also not an [carbon fibre-aerospace] engineer like Joe, but to me, just like there’s no smoke without fire: there are no paint cracks without movement at a weld. Joe also says they tested the prototypes for over two years without issue (I’m sure they did, and one of the few brands I believe actually do as much testing as they claim) and they are still not sure why the production bikes cracked and the protos didn’t. They are confident that the repair will solve any further issues here.Starling agreed to fix my bike under warranty and via the dreaded “just send it back” email. Just sending the mainframe back, from France to UK, through customs both ways with delays and potential import duties both ways, I decided to pack up and drive to the UK – I had nothing more to ride anyway! I also wanted to get the swingarm repainted as this was pretty rough and had dust or dirt under the paint in some places (Starling use a 3rd party paint shop in Bristol).
I dropped the Spur off in early August to speed up the fix as I need to get this competition live before I go bankrupt. The bike took around 4 weeks to be repaired, resprayed and rebuilt. I would have loved to spend more time on this bike but it seemed like the better-than-new bike we have now needed to go to a new home and we need to move on. I rode it enough to get a feel for the machine and how well it performed on the trail.
So there we have it, another AstonMTB saga. Another reason why independent bike reviews don’t exist or struggle to survive. The Spur build cost around £8000, closer to £15000 total review spend with fuel, lift tickets, mechanic, photographer, etc. Plus 9 months total review turnaround time.
This bike isn’t an isolated case as every single bike I’ve had since starting AstonMTB has had a major warranty issue causing 1-9months of delay: Canyon Sender, Norco Shore, Commencal Supreme, Banshee Titan, G16/DVO saga.
I did also ask Starling for a refund multiple times, which I think I should be fully entitled to considering the failure of the frame, drivetrain, and suspension but was refused every time. I don’t know why refunds are so difficult in the bike industry, if this was an iPhone, I’m sure it would be refunded easily. Starling’s stance on refunds is below which is fair, but as the consumer, I would have preferred a refund and to move on.
– For environmental reasons, I strongly believe we should repair broken things and not just replace them. It is stated in our warranty policy, “At Starling, we strongly believe that prolonging the life of a product is the best way to reduce our burden on the planet and help us out of the environmental crisis.”
Starling did nicely help with rebuilding the complete bike and organising shipping to the lucky AstonMTB comp winner, cheers guys!
I’m definitely not trying to throw anybody under the bus here. All the guys at Starling are great, very helpful and are doing a good thing. The gearbox delay and subsequent problems and suspension aren’t their faults.
At the end of the day I spent about £8000 as a real consumer on this bike and it was not perfect. I believe a product of that price should be on point in every way. Relaying a true story to my loyal followers who support me is my only goal. So I’m sorry Starling, you built a damn good bike but it’s not good enough.
If you are a rider who wants to buy a Starling you can definitely end up with a really damn good bike. They have discontinued the Spur due to problems with Effigear. One of their simpler frames should be hassle-free and you will definitely enjoy its on-trail performance.