The Bike List

2015 Starley JKS Stainless Steel Custom Build £2900

Tested by Nik Cook, tester for The Bike List

This is a review that I've been putting off writing for the simple reason that, once it's up an live, I'll have no reason for not giving this wonderful bike, which I've fallen head over heels in love with, back.

It all started in the early winter when, deciding I needed an early season goal for 2015. To keep me motivated through the winter, I entered the 235 km Tour of Flanders sportive. With it's multiple cobbled climbs and flat pavé sectors I needed a bike that would soak up the punishment, be comfortable and robust enough for winter training and have enough stiffness and zip not to be sluggish on the Bergs. I had a real winter workhorse in my Dolan FXE but I wanted a winter bike with a bit more spirit to it. Something that I could clip an ass-saver to and have some faster paced fun on.

I decided that high end steel would be the way to go and, having already ridden one of their JKSR1 carbon frame a few years ago, I was intrigued by what the Altrincham based brand's take on steel would be like. It seemed to fit the brief perfectly and a few stainless steel frames were already serving as the winter trainer of choice for a number of riders on the Velosure Starley Primal team. Carbon forks added a touch of modernity to a very classic looking frame along with fully lined internal cable routing.

With the frame sorted, it was time to think about the rest of the build. I opted for a functional 11-speed Shimano 105 groupset with 52/36t upfront and a wide 12-28t cassette to hopefully get me up the 20% ramp of the Paterberg.

For my wheelset, I deviated from the standard spec Shimano rs11 wheels and instead opted for Easton EA90 SLX. This upped the build price by £500 but I wanted a wide rimmed, tubeless ready, alloy but still fairly lightweight and lively set of hoops and these seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I'm a complete convert to road tubeless, especially for winter riding and, with pinch flats a real danger on the cobbles, seemed the perfect practical alternative to tubs. For tyres, I opted for 25mm Hutchinson 2 tubeless but also ordered a set of 28 mm Hutchinson Sector tubeless too.

An alloy 120 mm Pro Vibe stem and alloy Starley Ergo bars constituted a robust and reliable, if not especially lightweight, cockpit and I also specced double bar tape and some gel pads on the tops.

Fortunately standard spec was my saddle of choice, a Fizik Arione and this sat atop a Starley Works carbon seat-post.

Tipping the scales at 8.86 kg for my 58 cm frame this wasn't the lightest build but robustness was always the primary concern. With the frame weighing in at only 1.3 kg for a 54 cm (only 200 g heavier than their carbon models), with a weight saving head on, you could easily get a build down to nearer to 7 kg.

When it arrived I realised how habituated I'd become to super profiled, curved and oversized carbon frames. The bare, skinny and round KVA stainless steel tubing was a refreshing delight and it just looked how a bike should. The Tig welding was incredibly neat and you could still see the feint rainbow hue of the brazing. Features such as the etched headtube logo and brazed-on top tube logo were all admired by club-mates and, despite having turned up to Sunday club runs on £12,000 über bikes, this was the one the drew the most envious comments and glances.

Out on the roads and I instantly felt at home on it. It rolled wonderfully on the flat and, seeking out the rough lanes and cobbles of Cheshire, soaked up the punishment and vibrations. Swiss Hill near Alderley Edge was my training staple and, riding countless reps on this roughly cobbled 20% climb, the stainless steel was responsive, lively and yet forgiving. In all honesty it lacked the punch out of corners or explosive kick on a climb compared with a carbon flyer but, for my purposes, it has proved itself to be perfect. On the big ring flat cobbles of Bradford Lane it was superb and, winding up the speed, it skimmed across the unforgiving surface.

Through the winter I sought out the roughest lanes, tracks and by-ways that the Peak District and Cheshire had to offer and the SS didn't miss a beat. The Easton wheels stood up to the abuse too and are still running 100% true without so much as a turn of a spoke key. I heard of some issues with the hubs at low temperatures but, having ridden them well below zero, can report no such issues. At 1400 g for the wheelset they're no heavyweights and gave me exactly the ride quality I wanted. They were lively on climbs but inspired confidence to hit rough surfaces at speed. Set-up was easy using a track pump and Stan's sealant but I did replace the supplied valves for ones with removal cores which was my only minor niggle. If you're not convinced by road tubeless, how about the fact that I got through the whole of the winter and my Flanders ride without a single puncture. This was seriously impressive especially when you consider that I'm 80 kg and was going out of my way to ride on rough roads.

This was also testament to the Hutchinson tyres. I rode the 25 mm Intensives for most of the winter and only upped to the 28 mm big boys just before Flanders. There was plenty of clearance in the frame for the fat tyres but it was very tight to the front mech. A different front mech clamp which would bring the mech forward would solve this but it didn't give me any problems. The 28 mm tyres made the ride even plusher but, what really surprised me, was how well they rolled. On my final big training ride before Flanders, 200 km into the wilds of Cheshire and Wales, I expected them to feel a bit draggy and for a lower than normal average speed but, if anything, I was quicker.

Mechanically the SS was 100% reliable through the winter and save a set of brake pads and tightening cables, didn't have any issues. The 105 groupset really impressed, especially the positive shifting from the front mech, which was a real improvement on previous incarnations. For a winter build, 105 is a no-brainer and, in a blind shift test, I'd challenge even the biggest groupset snob to notice the difference between it and Ultegra.

Onto Flanders and one of the most testing days I've ever had on a bike. The pros may have been basking in spring sunshine on the Sunday but we'd had the full Belgian experience the day before. The first 100 km was ridden at near freezing temperatures, in constant rain and into a headwind. It was full on misery but the SS quietly and efficiently dealt with this first part of the ride. Riders were puncturing continuously and, with hands totally frozen, I reckon a puncture would have been the end of my ride. With the 100 km purgatory from Brugges covered, it was finally time to have some fun on the cobbles. The SS was totally in its element and not only got me up the Paterberg but showed some race form during a final 10 km burn-up with some local riders. More significant though, after 235 km in the saddle, including 100 km grovelling into a headwind and a plethora of pavé, I didn't have even a hint of lower back soreness. Impressive and the final confirmation for me that the JKS SS really was my perfect performance winter bike. Comfort, speed and an ability to gobble cobbles in one beautiful looking and understated package.

Photography by benwinston.co.uk

Size tested: 58 cm Overall weight: 8.86 kg (without pedals)

Frame and Forks

  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL
  • Frame: Tig Welded KVA Stainless Steel
  • Fork: Aerospace grade high tensile T800H carbon fibre forks

Transmission:

  • Chainset: Shimano 105 5800 52/36t
  • Bottom Bracket: Oversized press fit BB30
  • Cassette: Shimano 105 5800 11-speed 12-28t
  • Chain: Shimano 105 5800 11-speed
  • Derailleurs: Shimano 105 5800
  • Shifters: Shimano 105 5800

Wheels:

  • Front: Easton EA90 SLX Tubeless
  • Rear: Easton EA90 SLX Tubeless
  • Tyres: Hutchinson Intensive 2 tubeless 25 mm and Hutchinson Sector tubeless 28 mm

Components:

  • Stem: Pro vibe 7
  • Bars: Starley Ergo
  • Headset: FSA
  • Saddle: Fizik Arione
  • Seatpost: Starley Works
  • Brakes: Shimano 105 5800

For more information go to starleybikes.com

At a glance

Verdict Custom cobble devouring specced stainless steel flyer for riders who want more of a winter thoroughbred than a workhorse.
Value
Performance