Mountain Biking UK

BOUTIQUE TRAIL BIKES

Small companies have often been at the forefront of innovation in the bike industry. With limited batches, rapid production schedules and rider-rich management, they’re able to ‘think outside the box’ more than the bigger brands. So if you stray from the mainstream, you might just get a bike that’s ahead of the curve.

These ‘boutique’ brands offer something different. Not just in the sense that you’re unlikely to see so many of their bikes out on the trails, but also because they tend to be quirkier than equivalent models from the big players. They don’t have to have mass appeal, so can be more experimental in terms of design, aesthetics and the way they ride. Some small brands also offer customisation of the components or even the frame. And while buying from a big brand is usually an impersonal affair, smaller ones often form a community of owners who feel personally connected to the manufacturer.

For this test we got hold of three trail bikes with 140mm of travel and 29in wheels, all costing between five and six grand. For that, we’d expect them to leave little to be desired both uphill and down. Two are from UK brands and constructed from steel, while the third is from the USA and made from carbon fibre. It’s been interesting to see how the two approaches compare on the trail.

We weighed and measured every detail for ourselves, then hit the trails, tweaking the set-up and suspension, and even swapping a few parts, to optimise the ride feel. Once we had the bikes dialled in, we rode them back-to-back on the same test loops in South Wales and the Forest of Dean, featuring steep, technical climbs and gnarly downhills. This shone more light on how each bike performs than months of standalone testing could.

THE LINE-UP

STARLING MURMUR £5,005 (approx)

in Bristol, just up the roadfromthe MBUK office.Whatstarted in 2015 as one man building bikes in his shed has developed into a brand with a strong line-up and loyal following. While elements of their bikes have always impressed, we’ve come away with mixed feelings in the past, because the test bikes they’ve sent us have often been held back by questionable spec choices and other little niggles. This latest revision of the Murmur 29er is made from raw stainless steel

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