Sage Titanium is pushing the envelope with their Barlow adventure bike. At first look, the titanium frame comes across as a competent road bike. Closer inspection reveals there is a whole lot more going on.
There is a discernible push-back against the disposable nature of consumption. It may stem from a societal fatigue caused by ‘fast fashion’ or obsolete iPhones and Fitbits collecting in desk drawers – an expensive display of the FOMO we face in our consumption-driven culture. Minimalism, essential consumption and an appreciation for long-term ownership of a product are the undercurrents directing this sentiment. Look no further than the white-hot market for vintage wrist-watches to see the passion that people have for owning something that has stood the test of time. Similar interest can be found in hand-made kitchen knives and crafted office furniture. The romance of a sharp blade, a trusty instrument of time and a humbly crafted oak desk are in danger of becoming a trope, if only for the conspicuous displays on social media, but the intention behind the consumption resonates. And it isn’t necessarily a comment on spending habits. People are willing to spend the money – but there is more of an expectation for durability and a long useful-life of the product.
The purchasing patterns in the bicycle industry parallel these trends. One bike that has the versatility for a range of experiences is valued over a fleet of lesser machines, all requiring maintenance, storage space and their own sets of accessories, spare parts and specific tools. For the person purchasing their first ‘real’ bike, there is a true value in finding something that accommodates and addresses a wide range of possible ride experiences. For the individual ready to move past the n+1 perspective of bike ownership, there is a place for one bike to rule them all – a dedicated machine capable for fast road rides, touring (with fenders), CX racing, gravel grinding and commuting.
But beyond finding a bike that is versatile, there is the importance of design. The design informs the story the machine will help you write while you ride, but there is also the story behind the design itself. In this commodified world, a bike that stands with personality and a strong design intention is the Sage Titanium Bicycle’s Barlow – a sturdy, reliable titanium bicycle thats essence is American, an intentional direction led by founder David Rosen to escape the overused carbon fiber that hit its peak in the 2010’s. No doubt carbon fiber is fast and light, but it didn’t speak to Rosen’s perception of the experience of adventure on two wheels. By 2011, Rosen was tired of seeing the flurry of carbon fiber that he knew was being sourced from Taiwan and China, he was ready to bring the bicycle into the future with American titanium materials that will lead the way to personal adventures and accomplishments.
Some of David Rosen’s design influences include jet fighter planes and Formula 1 race cars; the Barlow bike encapsulates a similar focus of design, that of built for speed and handling. The brushed 3/2.5 titanium frame has a commanding look that is timeless and easily maintainable. ‘Brewed in Oregon’ emblazoned on the inner chain-stay speaks to the pride in design that Rosen has for the Barlow, and for Oregon, for that matter.
We had a chance to speak with Rosen at SeaOtter. He has a mind for design and becomes animated when describing the innovations he has made for Sage Titanium. From nose to tail, Rosen has gone over the design to give the owner a tailored, future-proof ride at home on both road and trail. From the rear of the bike, the machined titanium drop-outs push the envelope by incorporating a 142 x 12mm thru-axle flat-mount disc setup. On what is ostensibly a road bike, this is truly unique. This wider rear, historically found on mountain bikes, allows a wider spoke triangulation in the wheel and seat/chain stays and tightens up the rear end considerably.
Moving into the center of the bike, the right chain-stay has a machined yoke that is welded into place providing clearance for 40mm tires, while still maintaining a standard road Q-factor (quack-factor – the width from pedal to pedal). The standard practice for ‘adventure bikes’ has been to reduce the maximum allowable front-chain ring size, or to increase the Q-factor of the bottom bracket. In the case of the Barlow, the design of the chain-stay removes this compromise. 40mm tires and standard road Q-factor cranks, here you come.
Looking at the bottom bracket area, Rosen chose to go with a standard English threaded bottom bracket. It’s a testament to the restraint Rosen has exercised in his design philosophy. The historical and racing provenance of the English bottom bracket make it an excellent choice and adds to the versatility and ‘future-proof’ setup exemplified by the Barlow. Looking at the geometry, the bottom bracket is lowered, adding to the stability and control of the bike over rough terrain and on descents.
Extending from the bottom bracket, the Barlow runs a bi-ovalized down tube. Where it meets the bottom bracket, it’s a horizontal oval, and where it meets the head-tube it’s a vertical oval. This feat of manufacturing increases the weld contact-patch where the tubes intersect and ensure strong, bomb-proof welds. In addition, the shape increases the lateral strength of the bike and mutes any side-to-side flex when standing out of the pedals or climbing. On the down-tube, the Barlow features what Rosen is calling the ‘Cable Clip System’, a patented design that features a removable cable stop, perfect for clean, internal run Di2 or external mechanical shifting. Either can be set up without compromising the overall design – no unused cable stops cluttering the downtube, or unsightly wires extending from battery boxes when running Di2 shifting.
Focusing on the front end, the Barlow borrows the 44mm head tube width, a standard of mountain bike frame design. The added width increases the steering precision and front end-stiffness considerably. The oversized tube accommodates a wide range of headset sizes and standards, further evidence for the future-forward nature of the Barlow.
The Barlow we tested came with a mechanical Ultegra groupset and hydro disc, Reynolds ATR wheels and 3T cockpit and seat-post. All performed reliably and were a suitable selection for a wide variety of mixed-use roads and trails. Gearing was set at 11-32 with a road compact and the generous range was an invitation for steep climbs. The ride was smooth, with the properties of titanium muting road noise to a comfortable degree. The handling does not suffer to lack of road feel, though. Steering is crisp and effortless.
Taking the Barlow off-trail is an eye-opening excursion into what is possible on a road bike. The wide rear-end and thru-axle design inspires confidence. Flat-mount discs scrub speed on the most wicked descents, while the lowered bottom bracket provides stability and control.
Specific to the Barlow, Rosen went deep and re-considered the definitions and typical specifications of the modern road bicycle. The effort was worth it with a bike that covers a wide range of builds and setups. No matter the race or tour you’ll be riding, the Barlow will be ready and willing, without compromise.
That determination to design without compromise comes at a price. The Sage Barlow is at the high-end for titanium framesets. But if you look close, and see the refinements found on SAGE bikes, the equation becomes a solid value proposition. There isn’t a comparable offering that encapsulates all that the Barlow provides. And for a bicycle build in the USA with a lifetime warranty, you can add ‘Sage Titanium – Barlow’ to the top of your list, and then tear off and toss out the rest.
SPECIFICATIONS (AS TESTED)
|Bottom Bracket:||Shimano Ultegra|
|Handlebar Tape:||Lizard Skins DSP 2.5MM|
|Tires:||Clement X’Plor MSO 32mm x 700cc|
|Brakes:||Shimano RS685 Disc Hydro|
|Rear Hub:||142x12mm, Reynolds|
|Front Derailleur:||Shimano Ultegra 6800 (M)|
|Rear Derailleur:||Shimano Ultegra 6800 (M)|
|Shift Levers:||Shimano Ultegra ST-6800|
|Cassette:||Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-32T|
|Saddle:||Selle Italia SLR Flow-Back|
|Seat Post:||3T Zero25|
|Handlebars/Stem:||3T Team Stealth|
|Headset:||Chris King i8|
|Wheels:||Reynolds ATR Tubeless|