Starley JKS R2
Subtle it’s not, but the reaction to Starley’s eye-catching (possibly eye-watering) bike took us by surprise
Sorry mate, I didn’t see you,’ said the guy in the car that had just pulled out of a side road, narrowly avoiding knocking me off my bike. I generally shrug off these all-too-frequent incidents on the morning commute, but on this particular morning I felt the need to engage with the driver. ‘Seriously?’ I said, picking up the Starley JKS R2 and thrusting it towards his now-open car window. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! There are people in space who can probably see me right now.’ I won’t bore you with the rest of the ensuing debate about the driver’s need for an eye test, but my point was that this particular Starley could hardly be considered inconspicuous. When it arrived in the Cyclist office I was certain its neon paintjob was going to seriously divide opinion. I really rather like it, but I admit to being somewhat surprised to discover that so does practically everyone else. No one recoiled in horror at what might be considered ‘fluoro overload’ and the consensus seemed to be that it was a refreshing change from the mass of matt black bikes that currently crowd the market (although I made sure to leave my brightest cycling kit at home whenever I was riding it, aware that I could cause passers-by permanent retinal scarring).
Colour of money
Every Starley bike is painted to order, because every bike is delivered to the Cheshire-based firm in its raw state. ‘We do the final finishing and checking in the UK before the primer coat is applied,’ says Starley’s Jake Smith. ‘It’s our way of being able to quality control each and every frame that comes through the door so that we can be sure nothing is being covered up by the paint.’ Don’t be put off, then, if the neon look is not your preference – the colour of your Starley is entirely your choice. Besides, this particular paint scheme costs an additional £300 on top of the standard frame price of £799, due to the time needed to mask it up and apply multiple coats of paint. There are plenty more than just aesthetic choices to be made by the customer. ‘Every purchase includes two bike fittings,’ says Smith. ‘One initial fit to get frame sizing spot on, and one after the frame is ready to make sure the build is perfect for the customer’s requirements in terms of getting the right crank length, bar width and even allowing them to specify gear ratios and so on.’ Starley also offers a range of wheel options – our test bike came fitted with its top-end 50mm carbon clincher rims with the Chris King hub upgrade – plus other options such as Rotor 3D+ cranks, also fitted to this build.
Light and shade
Starley may be a relatively new company, only in its third year, but its name is steeped in history, pertaining to James and John Kemp Starley, the latter having designed the revolutionary safety bicycle (hence the JKS moniker on its road models). Starley’s road bike portfolio has recently grown to four bikes, with a stainless steel model joining its three monocoque carbon models. The JKS R2 is the more relaxed of the road models, with a slightly taller head tube and, Starley claims, more flex built into the rear stays for additional comfort. Curiously it’s lighter than its racier brother, the JKS R1, making it Starley’s lightest road model with a claimed frame weight of just over 1kg for a medium frame size. Our size large weighed in at a very respectable 7.4kg (16.2lb) complete with pedals. That certainly assists the JKS R2 with having a spritely feel, particularly when accelerating. It gathers speed well and you can flick it through turns with confidence, but something was missing. Initially I couldn’t put my finger on it – it just lacked a bit of the snappiness and punch I’d have liked.
To keep things in perspective, this frame costs a third of the price of many models that appear on these pages, but I still felt that when my efforts demanded a sharp response from the bike, the JKS R2 struggled to deliver. When I assessed the parts individually, they each appeared to be performing their duties well. The front end, with tapered head tube and decent quality fork, seemed to stand firm against lateral forces applied in sprints and hard out-of-the-saddle climbing. I could find no discernable sway in the bottom bracket area from my pedalling inputs, and the rear triangle seemed to support the back end in the same vein, while not being too harsh or uncomfortable on poor road surfaces. As a whole, though, the frame left me feeling a little disconnected.
In my opinion the top tube could do with some extra bulk, or its lay-up altered slightly to help deal with the opposing forces, front to rear, that cause this slightly sluggish sensation. It’s most apparent during powerful seated pedalling, when you’re gripping the bars and levering with your upper body. It’s only really an issue during the times when you want the last ounce of performance, and the R2 is aimed more towards comfort and all-day riding rather than being an out-and-out racer, but it’s still an issue to consider if the Starley is on your wish list.
The only other gripe I had with the JKS R2 is a common one. Its own-brand carbon rims didn’t inspire confidence under braking, wet or dry, with regards to the consistency and smoothness of the braking surface. Despite my attempts to resolve the issue by using alternative pads and varying pad contact angles, what persisted was a pulsating feel that made it hard for me to know when the brake might lock the wheel, and unsettled the bike while trying to scrub off a bit of speed in a turn. This isn’t a problem particular to Starley – it’s something I find time and again, only with the exception of the very best crop of carbon clinchers. I talked to Starley about the issue and, seeming to take our feedback seriously, we’re told the company is already working on a solution.
So the JKS R2 didn’t blow me away, but neither did it overly disappoint. It’s the kind of bike that with a few minor tweaks could easily stand alongside big-name brands but at a fraction of the cost. As Starley seems reactive to constructive feedback, and uses its own moulds for this frame, it has full control and the ability to continually alter its designs. Expect much more to come from this young contender.
In the detail
Staying loyal to its own roots, where possible Starley tries to work with other UK manufacturers and brands to complete its build kits. Each bike is built, including wheels, by its own technicians at the Cheshire HQ. Our test bike came with Chris King hubs but you could opt for British-made Royce hubs, and there are several different wheelsets to choose from, plus handlebars, seatposts, saddles, cranks and other accessories to personalise the look and fit of your Starley bike in every fine detail. Even gear ratios can be specified so that the bike you’re delivered is exactly what you need to head straight out the door on your favourite route.
Starley JKS R2
Rotor 3D+ Chainset with Q-Rings
Starley Meteor Works with Chris King
From $1435 frame and fork. $5660 bike as tested