A bike that is pitched to perform across disciplines is going to have to make performance sacrifices somewhere. Sages Barlow makes those sacrifices in all the right places, for a genuinely fun and capable ride
Some toe overlap
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Named after the treacherous road the Pioneers took over the Cascade Mountains on the final leg of the Oregon Trail, the Sage Barlow is pitched as the one bike to rule them all in the now highly competitive best gravel bike space. Finding a middle ground between the Oregon-based titanium bike brand's Skyline all-road bike and its Storm King monster-cross bike is the Sage Barlow.
Founded in 2011 by David Rosen, Sage only works in titanium with frames built (or rather 'brewed') in Beaverton, Oregon. Rosen was jaded by the disposability of carbon bikes, and the constant cycle of upgrading every product cycle to take advantage of the latest and greatest technology.
Even with carbon bikes being sculpted and contorted to shave grams and drag wherever possible, Titanium is still king when it comes to frames for its ride quality and durability.
So does this classy titanium frame live up to its quiver-killing tagline, or will it end up pigeonholed into its niche?
Design and geometry
There is something about the silhouette of a titanium bike that just works. Maybe it's the brushed-metallic finish or the skinny, mostly round tubing but it simply looks fantastic. The chainstays and seatstays bend and swoop like a falcon looking for prey and the welds could not be any cleaner.
Made with 3/2.5 titanium, the Barlow sees what Sage called a bi-ovalised downtube. The slightly ovalised shape creates a larger welding surface area than a traditional round tube and is said to better resist twisting, too. Sage says the vertical oval at the head tube junction, combined with the 44mm wide headtube, helps maintain steering precision under load. In contrast, the horizontal oval shapes at the bottom bracket prevent the frame from swaying back and forth during watt heavy efforts.
At the front, the stout headtube plays double duty, not only for its stiffness but also takes advantage of press-in headset cups, allowing steerer tubes 1⅛-inch straight to 1⅛–1½-inch tapered and everything in between.
Sage utilises a chainstay yoke at the back, rather than the heavily dropped chainstays common on gravel bikes. The solid yoke on the drive-side chainstay increases stiffness, can clear tyres of up to 40mm and a 53/39T double crankset at the same time.
The BB is an English threaded T47 unit, meaning the Barlow can take advantage of an oversized shell and accommodate up to a 30mm crank spindle. Plus, it's threaded, so creaks can be solved with a dab of grease, and you don't need to own a bearing press.
It features Sage's nifty Cable Clip system, making it universally compatible with mechanical and electronic drivetrains. A single port on the downtube and a removable cable stop allows you to wrangle wires into the frame and cables on the outside for easy maintenance.
The frame also has mounts for a top tube bag, and a rear rack or full-coverage fender.
Geometry and spec
Our test sample was a size 54 frame, which meant the effective top tube was 550mm long, with a stack of 565mm, and reach of 383mm. With a head tube angle of 72.5-degrees, 71mm bb drop 425mm chainstays and 1,003mm wheelbase, it's definitely on the racier side of gravel bikes.
You can customise pretty much every aspect of the Barlow through the Sage website- everything from the spec to whether you'd like vinyl decals or a cerakote ceramic logo. One of the only bits of carbon attached to this bike is the Enve All-Road Gravel fork. The cockpit comes in the form of Zipp's Service Course SL bar and stem, and is finished in Lizard Skins DPS bar tape.
SRAM provides the shifting and the stopping with its Force AXS groupset. I opted for a double chainring at the front with the 48/35T chainrings, paired to a 10-33T cassette.
The rolling stock comes from a fellow Oregon-based brand with the Astral Wanderlust carbon clinchers. With an asymmetric rim profile and 23mm internal rim width, they support the 35mm Panaracer Gravel King Slicks beautifully. The Astral Stage One hubs are made by White Industries and have been flawless through our test period. Plus, they make a pretty great sound.
The saddle is a Sage Beccus, eerily similar to the Specialized Power, and is held up by a particularly awesome titanium seat post. This particular build tips the scales at 8.8kg without pedals or bottle cages.
Ride, handling and performance
It has been a few years since I'd swung a leg over a titanium bike, having spent the past few years mostly pedalling plastic-fantastic frames. As with any other frame material, titanium can be tuned to flex or be really stiff, either way it will still adequately damp vibration. Even over the roughest of rough roads, the material always has a springy ride quality and communicates what's happening beneath without leaving you feeling as though you've spent hours on the business end of a jackhammer.
The Barlow exemplifies this springiness on corrugated dirt roads and broken concrete alike, keeping you sitting pretty for hours on end.
With the 35m Panaracer slicks, I've taken the Barlow on high-octane cafe rides and some big gravel outings, and it genuinely has not missed a beat. It's not a laser-guided crit machine but I had no trouble closing gaps and chasing down sprints.
The gravel slicks were a bit limiting as to what the Barlow could handle, so I subbed in a set of 40c Maxxis Ramblers — which were a tight fit — and went fire-road bashing to see what this thing can do in Nerang State Forest here on Australia's Gold Coast. These service roads are probably best suited to a hardtail MTB, and I did find the limits of the Oregonian bike’s capabilities.
The Barlow comes into its own on less-extreme off-road segments where speed and precise handling are the name of the game. Riding in the drops, it doesn't take much convincing to make the bike jump forward or dive into a corner, and there is no mushy vagueness at either end. But, when the surface becomes variable, the bike stays on course without inducing brown-bike-pants moments.
With the short front-centre length, I did experience a bit of toe overlap. It wasn't a major issue in the size 54 frame, I expect it would get worse in the smaller sizes.
Weighing in at 8.8kg, it is not quite a feathery bike. I think carbon has moved the goalposts a bit when we talk about bike weight because it's simply so freaking light. To be frank, if you're looking at a titanium bike, weight is probably not your first consideration, and titanium will be heavier than composite 98 per cent of the time. It's far from a heavy ride, and the bit of extra weight helps to keep the bike from getting bounced off line when things get spicy.
Sage says the Barlow is one bike to rule them, and I would mostly agree with this statement. It's neither a hardtail MTB nor a super light crit crusher but the person looking for a quiver killer is probably looking for something in between. Could you race an office park crit on the Barlow? Wang some deep dish wheels in there with some 25c tyres, pedal for your life, and you'll be laughing - it's so damn good. Will you survive if you go on an adventure better suited to a mountain bike? I sure did, and with a big smile on my face.
A bike that is good at everything is going to have to make some sacrifices along the way, but I think Sage has toed the line well here, and I would happily choose the Barlow as my only bike.
The 40c tyre clearance is a little on the small side, and the toe overlap isn't great, but overall there really isn't much to complain about with this bike. The Barlow is anything but cheap, however, priced at $3,700 (frameset) it's cheaper than a Moots Routt RSL ($5,853) or a boutique carbon frame such as the Allied Allroad ($4,535), but costs more than a Lynsky Pro GR ($2,950). Should this build tip your fancy, it will cost you $9,070.
Tech Specs: Sage Barlow Titanium gravel bike
- RRP: $9,070 / $3,700 (frameset)
- Material: Titanium
- Size: 54cm
- Weight: 8,8kg (54cm, actual without pedals)
- Groupset: SRAM Force AXS, 10-33T cassette
- Crankset: SRAM Force AXS, 48/35T chainring
- Wheels: Astral Wanderlust carbon clinchers
- Tyres: Panaracer Gravel King Slicks, 35mm
- Brakes: SRAM Force AXS, 160mm rotors front/rear
- Bar/stem: Zipp Service Course SL bar and stem
- Seatpost: Sage Titanium
- Saddle: Sage Beccus
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Based on the Gold Coast of Australia, Colin has written tech content for cycling publication for a decade. With hundreds of buyer's guides, reviews and how-tos published in Bike Radar, Cyclingnews, Bike Perfect and Cycling Weekly, as well as in numerous publications dedicated to his other passion, skiing.
Colin was a key contributor to Cyclingnews between 2019 and 2021, during which time he helped build the site's tech coverage from the ground up. Nowadays he works full-time as the news and content editor of Flow MTB magazine.