The Barlow is a beautiful specimen of the titanium genre. The Gravel specific offering from Sage Titanium, the genre-defying dropbar bike is designed for the road enthusiast looking to break away from traffic. Built around a made in the USA titanium chassis, the geometry pulls from both road and cyclocross influences, resulting in do-it-all, one bike versatility. With frame clearance for up to 40mm tires, fender and rack mounts, it’s capable of transforming into whatever the user wants or needs it to be.
When team Bermstyle received an invite to come out and ride Cycle Oregon’s Gravel weekend, some ideas began forming. Sure, I could attend and do the ride on my 29″ MTB hardtail or saddle up on my cross bike. Instead, I reached out to Dave at Sage Titanium to take him up on his offer to see what the Barlow was all about and do the ride on a dedicated gravel machine.
Getting to know the Barlow
When I arrived to pick up the Barlow from the gents at the West End Bikes in downtown Portland, there wasn’t much I needed to do to set up the Barlow to ride. I’m generally not very picky, (at least not initially with new bikes) and at 5’10” fit an off the shelf 56cm just fine. A small tweak to set the saddle height and seat angle was all I did before my first ride. The individual that rode it last was running a 70mm stem in the low setting, and while the riding position was ok, I like to spend time in the drops, and generally start by setting up my bars level with the height of the saddle. A lot of riders seem to optimize their riding position for being on the hoods, which is just weird to me. No biggie, I just flipped the stem, making the position a bit more upright and better for a big day adventuring on gravel roads.
The next day I rode the Barlow on my daily grind to the office. My personal bike is a Kona Rove, a Titanium cross bike, which at first glance is very similar to the Sage. However, cross and gravel geo differs – cross bikes are created with geometry optimized for going all out for about an hour, and are purpose-built bikes designed for this application.
The first thing I noticed was the increased stability over my cross bike.
Cross vs Gravel
Geometry varies brand to brand, and in the Gravel genre, it seems there is even more that varies. Looking at the Sage and comparing it to my cross bike, the most significant differences I noticed on the bike were the head tube angle (71º on the Rove vs 72.5º on the Barlow), chainstay length (435mm on the Rove vs 425mm on the Barlow) and BB drop. (65 on the Rove vs 71mm on the Barlow)
Going from the ride to looking at the numbers is always interesting. The most noticeable difference I found while riding was the bottom bracket height made for a lower center of mass, which made the Barlow more stable, a better descender and easier to corner.
The Barlow also felt significantly better on rougher surfaces than my cross bike. Part of that was certainly the wheels, tires and air pressure. My personal bike currently has bombproof and overbuilt wheels as I ride it in all conditions. They’re heavy and ride like bricks in comparison to the FSA Afterburner WideR wheels and 700c x 36 Donnelly gravel tires. The Donnellys rolled faster than I expected on pavement while feeling plush with 30-35 psi in the tires. I’ve been riding the same FSA Afterburner WideR wheels on my XC 29er, and it was a pleasure to find them here. Although my other test set of Afterburners had some hiccups and warranty issues initially, they’ve been reliable wheels that come in at an affordable price point. They worked extremely well with the 36c gravel tires mounted up, and ran perfectly the entire time.
The Barlow was set up with a full Ultregra group with traditional cable actuated shifting and hydraulic discs. I have to say it, after running cable disc brakes on my personal bike, the Shimano hydraulic brakes were a true pleasure to ride with. (so much so I may need to revisit the brakes on my personal bike) In fact, the only thing I’d change would have been the saddle and bottle cages.
I took every opportunity available on daily rides to mix it up on gravel roads, grass, pavement and single track, but it wasn’t until our weekend at Cycle Oregon’s Gravel where I got the full experience. After a full day on the Barlow, I got to really see the benefits of a gravel specific adventurer.
Cycle Oregon: Gravel
When the weekend arrived, we loaded up and headed to Dufir, Oregon to see what things were all about. To make sure I had enough space for a camera and other gear, I loaded up a frame bag for a bit of extra on bike storage and we hit the gravel roads of eastern Oregon.
After a few miles of pavement, we turned off and started up the natural surface roads, and the reason we were here. I can see why Cycle Oregon chose this route; the roads were all nicely graded. It made for a rather nice ride, and as they were so mellow, we enjoyed cruising at a social pace getting caught up on life, stopping now and again to shoot some photos and enjoy the views.
The nice thing about riding gravel was the nearly complete lack of cars and trucks. Each time we encountered a vehicle it was practically an event. For the day’s ride I elected to wear the lastest cross country shorts from Showers Pass, paired with a merino tech tee, as opposed to a Castelli road kit. Being that the event was a Fondo-style affair, I went with comfort over speed, and enjoyed seeing a new part of Oregon.
Compared to the gravel roads of the East Bay area — well, there’s no comparison really. These roads were smooth as butter in comparison. There was one section of the route where the surface turned sandy with some ruts, and as a mountain biker, it was certainly the highlight of my day, as I got to open it up on the Barlow to see how it handled more adverse terrain. (it was more than up to the challenge)
The Barlow was everything you’d expect from a bike designed for its purpose. Comfortable on an all-day pedal, responsive in turns or when cranking up hills out of the saddle, and reassuring while pounding down the rough roads.
Ti is an amazing material — it features all the positive aspects of a steel bike — durability, compliance, and ride quality but is lighter. Even better, it doesn’t rust, and beat up paint jobs are a thing of the past thanks to the brushed finish. It also makes a ton of sense and is possibly the ideal material for a bike designed to do it all. With the rack mounts, you could easily bolt additional bags or racks on, and unlike a carbon bike, you’re not going to constantly worry about scratches, chips or cracks, or having to unload it in a few years. And let’s not even start talking about how bad carbon bikes are for the environment…
The Barlow is not for everyone. It isn’t the bike we’d recommend for someone just starting out in road, cross or gravel – there are plenty of worthy options at lower price points that would serve that purpose. Instead, it’s the bike for the rider that is ready to upgrade, and maybe even consolidate a road, touring and cross bike into one drool-worthy option.
But as someone that’s owned a number of titanium frames — I’m on frame numbero three — a bike like the Sage is something you look at as the last frame you need to buy. Its do-it-all geometry means you could easily eliminate a road bike, cross bike, and touring bike from the garage, and with two sets of wheel/tire setups, it instantly transforms into the bike of the day.
The Sage Barlow is offered as a frame or a complete bike, with the frame starting at $3800. Learn more about Barlow at SageTitanium.com