was in the prime of life, making bank as a production analyst for Nike's apparel division. An avowed bike nerd and avid rider, Rosen could (and did) buy any bike he wanted. He was "that guy" - the one who showed up at group rides sporting the latest carbon superbike before the print had dried on its stellar magazine reviews. Rosen's fantastic plastic addiction, however, fizzled out abruptly during a trip to Frostbike in 2011.
"I remember I was sitting with my friend Rob when I announced that I felt like titanium is due for a comeback. He looked at me like, 'What are you talking about?' I told him that I was totally sick of carbon.
"I was on the carbon craze like everybody else. I'd show up at a group ride and it seemed like everyone was on the same bike. They had no personality. Hey, carbon bikes are great. There's no question about it. My S-Works Tarmacs were amazing. One day, though, my mountain bike fell over onto my Tarmac 3, and the handlebar hit the top tube. It didn't hit that hard, but it sounded like shattering glass. I had to replace the frame."
That was the turning point for Rosen. As luck would have it, he was invited to race for a friend who had
begun to import inexpensive titanium bikes from China. Team members were free to design their own geometry, so he went wild. He loved the feel and the look of titanium, but the clincher was being able to experience his own geometry. The team vaporized along with his friend's business venture a short time afterward, but that brief introduction set Rosen's life on a new course.Sage Titanium Bicycles
Armed with his experience with sourcing high-end products in Asia, and knowledge gleaned from his stint on the team, Rosen launched Sage Titanium Bicycles in 2012. He'll be the first to tell you that he's never picked up a welding torch in his life, but on the plus side, he knows a hell of a lot about bikes. He's one of cycling's super-nerds who grew up during the purple parts era poring over magazine reviews and can probably quote, from memory, the details of every pro bike check ever published.
Also to his credit, Rosen is a stickler for details and doesn't stray very far from what he knows best. Sage's modest range of cyclocross, road, and mountain bikes are all rigid frames. If you get the geometry, alloys, tube diameters and wall-thickness right, and your manufacturing quality is up to snuff, it's hard to mess that up.
Like everybody else at the time, Rosen sourced his first frames from a reputable Chinese manufacturer, anticipating he'd be offering a truly high-end product at a price that would lure up-scale customers away from the carbon monopolies of Trek, Specialized and Cervelo, while undercutting the (justifiably) stratospheric asking prices of established custom titanium marquis like Seven, Merlin and Moots. Predictably, the first production run was everything he had hoped for.
Rosen believed he had done his homework. He'd hired quality control experts to monitor production, and spent plenty of time with his Chinese factory to
ensure that his designs were being executed as he intended. Elated with the fit and finish of his first Sage titanium frames, Rosen placed a second order and threw himself into his start-up business.
Chinese manufacturing relationships, however, are often like watching a fireworks show, only in reverse. Instead of a gradual buildup, followed by dazzling perfection, they begin with the grand finale - beautiful products, handshakes, on-time delivery and anticipation of good things to come - followed by a series of gradual let-downs in quality and fulfillment. Veterans will tell you that you almost have to live in the factories while your bikes are being manufactured to stem the tide. After the second and third shipments arrived, Rosen's dream began to unravel.
"The first frames that came in were fine," says Rosen. "But then they started getting progressively worse. The second batch, the water bottle bosses were in the wrong place. Later, they changed to swaged-tapered chainstays which started cracking before we even sold them. So, after 2013, I was like, 'No,no no. I need to change this!''
But Rosen's issues were larger than shepherding his Chinese supplier back up to speed. His first year in the bicycle business indicated that he may have missed the mark entirely. His customers, it turned out, were very much like him. They were educated, bicycle savvy types with discretionary income who were more interested in quality and performance than searching for the best deal they could wrangle for their next bike purchase. After some soul searching, he moved all of his production home.
"Customers liked the idea of this retro titanium thing that I was doing," he explained. "And I was trying to push it out a little further than I could if I were a custom builder. I figured that if Moots was up there, and if I came down to here, I could be a cheaper alternative to Moots. But, you pay cheap, you get cheap. What I realized next, was that customers who were interested in my bikes were already prepared to pay for a Moots, so why not offer that level of quality? In 2014, I moved my production to the United States and decided that we're just going premium and we'd make Sage a premium experience. Really, that's always been the bike I wanted to ride anyway. It's Dura-Ace, it's XTR..."
Rosen's come-to-Jesus moment put Sage Titanium Bicycles on the straight and narrow path. He prefers to withhold the names of his US frame makers, divulging only that one is in Tennessee and the other is a lesser known, highly respected builder in Portland, Oregon, where Rosen is based. Sage's modest range includes one model in four genres: Road, Gravel, Cyclocross and Mountain. Prices range from $2,900 USD for a frame only, to upwards of $12,000 if you want to go crazy with custom features and components.
Customers can choose from Rosen's ready-made geometry, or customize their frame numbers for an extra charge. Sage's website has a "bike builder" function that walks you through a range of component and color selections so you can fool around as long as you need to personalize both your bike and its final price. If you want advice, Rosen will be happy to walk you through the process. He's ridden and raced everything he sells.
Being a Portlandian, Rosen is an avowed cyclocross racer, where his PDXCX has earned high praise. Rosen's love affair with riding and racing, however, began on a mountain bike. Those were the years when he fell in love with titanium and was indoctrinated into the customization mentality - when the seeds were sewn that sprouted between cracks in his corporate sidewalk and blossomed into this custom bicycle business. I was surprised to discover then, that Rosen dragged his feet for a long time before he designed his first mountain bike.
"I've been mountain biking forever. My first mountain bike had to be good, right out of the gate," says Rosen. But, is it cross country? Is it all mountain? Who's going to ride it? Where is it going to be ridden? There are so many niches now. I kept thinking about it for two years, but I was at a loss - until I booked my first trip to Whistler. I think I was riding 'Lord of the Squirrels' when I realized that this was it. This is what the Flow Motion is made for. It's super fun to ride downhill and it can climb whatever you want."
I looked forward to riding the Flow Motion. It had been years since the last time I'd thrown a leg over a hardtail and a lot has changed since then - influenced by the likes of Chromag and the slack-geometry uprising presently raging in the UK. Rosen said that he stopped short of the Pole's rider-forward geometry because he was aiming at more balanced performance - a bike with excellent technical descending skills that was lighter and more nimble at the controls over a wider range of speed and intensity. That's also why he chose 27.5-inch wheels.
"A pure race bike," he says, "has to be built for narrow, very specific purpose. The Flow Motion is made for fun - you can hop on and do anything with it, and it really loves to go downhill."
Eyeing up its construction, my medium-sized frame was up there with the better titanium bikes I've seen. Welds were near-perfect, double-pass beads where they were in plain sight, while down by the bottom bracket area, the joints were less attractive, but still, well-executed. (Titanium must be welded in an oxygen-free environment, at strictly controlled heat ranges, so welders often join the parts first with a smaller, carefully controlled weld and then pass over that a second time to reinforce the joint with additional metal in a smoother, more attractive pattern.)
The only internal cable routes to the dropper post.
Look closer and you'll pick out nice details like no chainstay bridge for extra tire and mud clearance, plenty of insertion room for long-stroke dropper posts, a sturdy X-12 rear axle system with a break-away derailleur hanger bolt, and a beautifully machined head tube that can accept either straight or tapered steerer tubes. The absence of rear suspension means you can stow two full-sized bottles inside the frame, and the fact that this bike is made from brushed, 3/2.5 alloy titanium means it will never rust, and that you can restore its finish to new with a fine Scotch Brite pad at home.
Rosen set me up with a shop demo, outfitted with his lower end, Shimano XT build. That was fine in my book - can't argue with perfect shifts and reliable brakes. The 150mm Fox 36 fork ensured that I could plow through anything, and it rolled on Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR tires. I checked the price on Sage's bike builder and it came out to $7,738 - steep, but not unexpected for a quality US-made titanium build. Riding It
The simplicity of the Flow Motion became apparent setting up the bike. Check the air pressure in the tires, turn the damping clickers to my favorite settings, and pressurize the fork to 20-percent sag. Boom! Let's ride.
I was anticipating a harsh ride, but that never materialized. The combination of Stan's low-profile rims and low-pressure Maxxis 2.5" WT tires helped take the edge off the terrain, but I'll attribute the rest to the bike's balanced feel in the cockpit. On paper, the 74-degree seat tube angle almost seems slack by today's trend, but without rear suspension, it feels more like a suspension bike with a 75 or even a 76-degree seat angle, especially while climbing. Where I'm going here, is that being more centered between the wheels seems to mute a lot of pounding that I once associated with riding hardtails.
Adapting to its rigid rear end took all of about ten minutes, which meant that I could enjoy the Flow Motion's finer attributes on my first outing. Armed with a 44-millimeter fork offset, steering is light and absolutely precise feeling. Like most slack-ish front ends and almost every hardtail I've liked, the Sage corners best when you pressurize the bottom bracket and lean into the front wheel a little. When it drifts, you'll hardly notice it, because the bike stays composed.
Assume the hardtail hover (butt about an inch or two over the saddle) and the Flow Motion glides over the kind of rooted and rocky chatter that you'd expect on the more aggressive end of the blue-line trail rating. You'll have to work harder, though, to keep up with the dual-suspension crowd on anything that resembles a black. That said, I never balked at a steep drop or dicey descent aboard the Sage. It's quite forgiving and solid feeling under saddle.
I had the most fun, however, when I was popping off of rock slabs, and punching little jumps and natural features that my long-travel trail bikes would have completely ignored. If you want smooth fast and
A little busy downstairs, but it's simple.
flowy, the Sage will happily comply, but given the slightest ramp, all it takes is a little down-force on the tail-end and it will take flight. Same with bermed corners. Compress the bike in at the apex and it will almost set up for the next turn automatically. First Impressions