The Fascinating World of Starling Cycles

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While there are many large mountain bike production companies producing a huge number of bikes every year, there are also many smaller manufacturers making incredible pieces, right under our noses. 

Tucked away in the heart of Bristol is the workshop of Starling Cycles, a small mountain biking production company handcrafting some of the most innovative and high-performing bikes the industry has to offer. 

Images from the Starling Cycles workshop in Bristol.
Images from the Starling Cycles workshop in Bristol.

Who Are Starling Cycles?

Starling Cycles is the creation of Joe McEwan- a former aerospace engineer and cycling enthusiast. As an engineer, Joe has always had a great understanding of how things work- how two pieces can be put together, and as a result create something completely unexpected. But how does someone go from a 20 year career in building aircrafts, to creating a handbuilt bike company from the ground up?

The answer is passion and practise.

While many cyclists know the sort of products they want, very few have the accompanying skill set needed to make those products themselves. Lowering brackets or adjusting tube lengths is not a common skill most cyclists have, with the tools and welding knowledge being very specialist, and usually quite expensive. 

Luckily, as an engineer, this knowledge was something that Joe had up his sleeve, with the accompanying tools allowing for the start of what would eventually become Starling Cycles. 

Having begun bike frame making as just a hobby from his shed, Starling Cycles eventually  grew from this humble origin, as more became aware of Joe’s crafting prowess and know- how on how to make the bike frames that cyclists want. His engineering knowledge on how to make the most effective frames, combined with his insider knowledge of the wants and needs of the mountain biking community almost guaranteed his success.

A Wall Showcasing Starling Cycles many designs.
A Wall Showcasing Starling Cycles many designs.

Joe and his team are dedicated and passionate to their craft, with their team being able to walk me step by step through the process of making a Starling Cycles frame. 

How Are Bike Frames Made?

The first step is knowing the frame you’re building, explained Starling Cycles craftsman Jeff, when I went to visit their workshop back in March. Files outlining the parameters of each frame are essential to have down in order for the frames to come out perfect every time, with the next step being to find the appropriate tubes needed to start putting the piece together. 

Next, the tubes are taken to be sawed and sanded, with diagonal cuts and mitred curves added to the pipes in order to make them easier to be welded together, Diagonal cuts allow for angles in the frame to be welded with ease, and the curves allow the tubes to overlap snuggly, creating a sturdy and well-polished frame. After polishing up and adding any additional pieces that may be tricky to add later, it’s on to the fun part. 

The Starling Cycles Workshop.
The Starling Cycles Workshop.

Step 3 in the Starlin Cycles bike frame making process is welding the pieces together. The pieces are put together loosely at first, to allow for adjustments as the process continues, allowing for flexibility whilst also having a better picture of the final product. Jeff explained that measuring tools can be used to check for even levels across the frame, with the looseness of the welding at this stage allowing for these kinks to be ironed out and straightened. 

And with those steps complete, the frame is done! All that is needed to do next is any final touches, and the Starling Cycles frame can be shipped off to its new home.

It wasn’t just the technical side of things we found out, however. We also had the opportunity to sit down with Joe himself, to learn more about the inception of Starling Cycles, as well as get a fascinating insight into the business of Mountain Bike building. 

Watch the full interview below. 

To read the full article, check out our April edition of BIKE Magazine.

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