The Bike List

Starley Bikes Revisited

It was a couple of years ago that we reviewed the Starley JKS R1 road bike and, although very impressed by it, we knew how tough it was for a new player to enter the bike business, how many boutique brands had come and gone and that, no matter how good the bikes, that success wasn't guaranteed.

We're pleased to report though that the Altrincham based brand are still going strong, still producing great bikes, have moved to an impressive new showroom and have achieved considerable success on the domestic racing scene.

We took some time to take a tour round their new premises and talk to their marketing Director Nick Fountain about their bikes, bespoke service, the Starley Primal race team, carbon fibre and the future.

Bike List: Can you tell us a bit about the the company, the brand and your philosophy?

Nick Fountain: The brand is named after the two British bike pioneers James and John Kemp Starley. We've tried to preserve this British heritage by making as much of what we do UK based as possible. As with almost all manufacturers, the carbon frames are produced in the Far East but all of our vigorous quality testing on them is done in Warrington.

All of the frames arrive unpainted as we've found that a thousand sins can be hidden with paint but this also gives us our USP of being able to offer customers complete choice in paint, finish and spec.

We launched fairly softly initially, relying mainly on word of mouth and then went more public at the London Bike Show in 2013. In June this year we moved to our new premises in Altrincham, which is sited over four floors. This gives us the space to have more in-house, including a dedicated showroom, fitting studio, briefing rooms, paint-shop and work-shop. Since moving we've been flat out.

Bike List: You've streamlined the range down dropping the mountain bikes and wheelsets, what was the thinking behind this?

Nick Fountain: We just really wanted to focus on what we we're doing best, road and triathlon/TT bikes. Mountain bike technology is just moving so quickly, you really have to be a specialist. We were never 100% happy with the heat dissipation of the carbon clincher wheels but are prototype testing some new carbon tubular and clincher race wheels, which we hope to bring to market later this year. We've still got an onsite wheel builder, so customers can have precisely the wheel they need hand-built to order.

We want to keep our range fairly tight and evolve our existing products rather than continuously replace. The R1 frame you tested is a good example. The team have been riding it so we've improved the cable routing, made it more Di2 compatible and enhanced the stiffness around the bottom bracket. It's a versatile, stiff, proven race ready bike that's still affordable and comes with a 5 year warranty.

Bike List: Talk us through the Starley bike buying experience?

Nick Fountain: We get very few click and buy online purchases and we like that. We'd always prefer the customer to come in or chat to us, have a look at the bikes and decide exactly what they want. A full bike fitting is included in all bike and frame purchases which we do using an onsite jig or via a bike fit form.

They can then spec the groupset, gearing, wheel-set and finishing kit they want and then the real fun starts with the painting and decals.

We've a wide range of standard colours they can pick from or, for a bit more of a spend, they can work with our designers and produce something totally unique. We aim to turn bikes around in 3-4 weeks but it can take a little longer if customers choose the full custom route. They can be as hands on as they want and, if they want to come and watch the mechanic build-up their bike, to learn how it's done, they'd be more than welcome. Once the bike is complete a final fitting process takes place, insuring comfort, this process takes around an hour but really dials in the bike to the user.

Bike List: There's a lot of confusion and disparaging talk about open mould frames, can you cast some light on the topic?

Nick Fountain: Okay, if you're making a jelly and don't add enough gelatine, you won't get a good jelly. Is that down to the mould? It's the same with carbon fibre frames. It's what you do with the carbon fibre in the mould that counts. Different manufacturers can use exactly the same mould, produce frames that look ostensibly the same but, without thorough testing and knowledge of carbon fibre, performance will vary massively. With our UK based quality testing and carbon fibre, we know exactly what's going into our frames right from the start of the process, we're confident of how they'll perform and that's why we offer our warranty. You also have to adapt and evolve the frame within the mould by tweaking the lay-up or by using just the rear or front triangle to produce a more tuned and unique product, we use a mix of open and closed moulds and have some interesting things in development at current.

Bike List: Anything new coming from Starley?

Nick Fountain: We're really excited about our stainless steel SS Frame. If you want a winter workhorse that you can use and abuse but don't want to sacrifice performance, this is the frame for you. You can dent it, store it in a work bike shed without worries but it only weighs in 200 g heavier than our carbon models, its designed with fully lined internal cable routing, using a brazed stainless steel tube, allowing outer cable throughout the frame. When we were coming up with the prototypes, we originally wanted to manufacture in-house but it just became too expensive. So, we get the top end KVA Stainless Steel tubing MS3 from the US, it then goes to the Far East for assembly and we get the raw unfinished frame. We can then quality check and finish it off in-house but lots of customers are opting for the raw look complete with brazing marks. We've managed to keep the price down to £1400, including carbon forks and seat-post, which is brilliant for high quality stainless steel. We also have an in-house metal studio creating the perfect place for prototyping.

Bike List: Tell us about the Starley-Primal Race Team.

Nick Fountain: It's been a great year, especially for the women, with Eileen Roe winning the Matrix Tour Series and taking the National Criterium title. It's been frustrating too being a smaller team as, despite great results, it can be difficult to get noticed by the media. A typical example was the Prudential Ride London Grand Prix where we had two riders in the top eleven, including Eileen in fourth but barely got mentioned in the race commentary or reports. We run the team on a minuscule budget, with plenty of people giving their time for free and are so proud of what we've achieved. We really believe in our @StarleyPrimal hashtag, #peoplesteam and just hope, with the women stepping up to UCI level for 2015, that we can build on our success, attract sponsors and ruffle a few of the bigger brands' feathers all while having great fun.

Keep an eye on thebikelist.co.uk as we'll soon be getting our hands on a special winter trainer Starley Stainless Steel bike to abuse as autumn turns to winter.