I’m Getting a SAGE: May/June

May 7, 2021

I turned 62 in January, and have been having what you could call a mid-life crisis…since probably around my 30th! I’m gripped by the notion that, no matter how much I’ve done, where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and/or how great it’s been…it’s not enough, there are places I still must go, sights that need seeing, fun that needs finding, and even greater adventures yet to experience.

With that reference; I’m getting (back) into biking! At least partially Covid-inspired, last Summer I started to go for some short rides on the Giant road bike or one of the Specialized or Cannondale mountain bikes in the garage – and I really enjoyed the exercise and the time alone and outdoors. Now I’m focused on taking some epic bike trips. I want to use biking to get into better shape, but I have some fun-filled, interesting and luxurious adventures in mind which are really the driver.

Biking was big for me as a kid. Until at least when I finished junior high school, my 1960s, Schwinn Stingray 3-speed, with the banana seat and monkey handlebars, was my principal and essential means of transport to just about everything and everywhere. Then I used money I got for my bar-mitzvah to buy a white 1973 Raleigh Grand Prix 10-speed ‘English Racer’ with Simplex derailleur, and spent a lot of days riding around like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer on wheels with my friend Michael Cohen (no relation to that Michael Cohen), who had gotten a somewhat better, canary yellow Fuji Newest (because his Dad was a partner in the ad agency that was representing Fuji). No matter what I did, he was always a little faster, and I have to admit some envy about that Fuji of his, with the fancy Campagnolo derailleur.

Then I used money I got for my bar-mitzvah to buy a white 1973 Raleigh Grand Prix 10-speed ‘English Racer’ with Simplex derailleur, and spent a lot of days riding around like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer on wheels with my friend Michael Cohen (no relation to that Michael Cohen), who had gotten a somewhat better, canary yellow Fuji Newest (because his Dad was a partner in the ad agency that was representing Fuji). No matter what I did, he was always a little faster, and I have to admit some envy about that Fuji of his, with the fancy Campagnolo derailleur.

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The summer I was 15, I went on an American Youth Hostels trip (with about 8 kids and two (older kid) guides), riding from Springfield, Massachusetts to Canada, and then back to Boston and the Cape, with a few days finishing in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. I remember having everything I had with me in my orange panniers, riding just about all day long on most of the days, staying in a lot of pretty grungy hostels, getting so familiar on the bike that I could shampoo while riding in the rain…and feeling a real sense of accomplishment each day and overall. 

The next summer, when I was 16 and my friend Michael Cohen graduated from high school a year ahead of me, we took a train to Boston, got on the ferry to Provincetown, and spent a couple of weeks we still recount regularly, riding and camping, as I had done on the AYH trip, up and down the Cape, and around and around Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

…But then cars, and girlfriends who didn’t share the enthusiasm for biking or camping, and college, and then living in New York City, got in the way…and, regretfully, biking has never really been a big part of my adult life. I’ve enjoyed fun rides on vacations with my wife on vacations in San Francisco, Hawaii, Key West, and Acadia, but I really can’t say I rode much until last Summer – when Covid inspired any outdoor and socially distanced activity, no less one you can do with friends and family.

What has caught my eye, and captured my imagination, are great bike trips. Views and vistas. Feasts and fiestas. I read a 2018 article titled ‘The seven best rides in the world’ in 1843 Magazine, wherein Tom Vanderbilt, self-described as having become a “cycling addict in middle age”, wrote, “Every serious cyclist worth his or her electrolytes carries around an inner list of ‘someday rides’, a dream landscape comprised of ferocious Alpine climbs, harrowing coastal descents and arresting scenery (topped off, of course, with enigmatic locals and restorative local elixirs).” A ride called Col de la Bonette on a section of the Mercantour National Park in France’s southern Alps was Vanderbilt’s first choice, and right here in America, he put winter riding on Mt. Lemmon, and around Saguaro National Park, in Tucson, Arizona; the ‘Six Gaps Ride’, going east-to-west between towns in Vermont, and; the ‘Maui Monster’ 10,000 foot climb – and descent – of the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii. And there are numerous companies, such as Backroads and Trek Travel, who have spectacular group trips running through wondrous places all over the U.S. and World. One outstanding adventure I’ve noticed is Bike Odyssey’s ‘Lionheart’, tracing Richard the Lionheart’s 12th Century odyssey from Venice, north through the Dolomites and Austrian Alps to Vienna, along the Danube into Bavarian Germany, and finally through the vineyard-clad rolling hills of Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire, ending in Aquitaine, France…and staying in European castles and other first-class accommodations, and eating gourmet food the whole way!

I joke around – but not really – that I’m looking to conquer the world’s greatest descents! Miles-long gentle, gliding downhills, with spectacular scenery, and excellent places to stop and eat!

And this time around…I’m going to have the best bike!…I’m going to have the ‘canary yellow Fuji’ that makes me go faster than Michael Cohen – and all my other buddies… I’m getting a custom-fit and custom-built SAGE all-Titanium ‘Barlow ’ gravel bike!   …And to get started with my bike trip planning I’m working on a trip to – you guessed it – the Cape, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

I chose titanium over carbon for comfort and durability. Titanium is a tad more forgiving than carbon, and that translates into some shock absorption and a smoother ride. And I read that titanium’s ‘give’ relative to carbon might mean a couple hundredths of a second for an olympic biker taking-off from the line in the velodrome…but I’m sure that my performance will be more affected by having a more comfortable ride. Also, titanium means less cleaning, less maintenance, and a far longer usable life than the more brittle and fracture-prone carbon  alternative. The titanium frame I’m getting will weigh only about 3.5 pounds!

I chose a ‘gravel’ bike, because it really suits all my purposes. It will be good on the road – and, again, even if I give up a few seconds in a race with a road bike, being way more comfortable on the gravel bike than the road bike, because of the more upright position and the more absorbing frame, will mean better performance for me in the long run both in terms of speed and longevity. And I’ll be able to take the gravel bike on off-road stuff, like rides on rail trails, paths or near the beach, without having to switch from a road bike to a mountain bike to do so. Choosing a gravel bike was like choosing the sporty SUV instead of having to get a sports car and a truck.

I chose SAGE for a bunch of reasons.

In the world of titanium bike frames, SAGE is known for using deep analysis and innovative design techniques to craft a one-of-a-kind experience for each rider. SAGE gives careful consideration to each individual in order to exceed even the most demanding customer. SAGE bikes have won all kinds of awards, including Road Bike of the Year from Road Magazine, Editor’s Choice Award from Road Bike Action, as well as Gear of the Year Award from Men’s Journal. And several of my bike-guru friends immediately recommended SAGE as the best choice for me, including my brother-in-law, who rides a custom-built Seven Axiom SL titanium bike, and is now wanting to trade-up to a SAGE.

Even more critical, for me, was the ability to get my SAGE bike custom-fit and custom-built. When I’ve biked with my wife over the years, I’ve never really felt comfortable on my bike, and had a pretty constant strain in my shoulders and lower back, even if I adjusted the seat or tried to ride in different positions. And there were a lot of times when I felt like my wife was having a much easier time than I was, and that I was having to really push it just to keep up. Everyone and everything told me that a great fit would mean all the difference in my output and staying power. Like getting the perfect suit is about the combination of expert custom tailoring, great design and fabric quality SAGE, based in Beaverton, Oregon, is owned and run by David Rosen, and produces a total of only a few hundred road, gravel and mountain bikes each year – a tiny fraction of the number of mostly Chinese-built bikes mass produced by the dominant bicycle manufacturers, such as Specialized. David is passionate about producing the best titanium bicycles, and personally dedicated to providing each customer with the best possible bike and fit. 

David grew up in New York City, attended Birch Wathen K through 12, and went to Greylock and Brandt Lake sleepaway camps. He started riding a bike at 5, and recalls, “I distinctly remember my first crash. In Central Park. I was on my blue Mongoose BMX bike – which was actually a pretty nice bike, and I was coming down the paved ramp coming off the Reservoir and I didn’t see, and went right over a metal curb and shredded the whole side of my body. As a young teenager, I used to spend hours doing laps around the Park. You could ride on the bridle paths then, and a bike makes it much easier to get around the City. And later on, maybe in my early 20s, I started using the bike to really explore the far reaches of Manhattan, and then Brooklyn, and then out over the George Washington Bridge and up through the Palisades and into Bear Mountain State Park. I got really comfortable on a bike, and always thought I’d love to be in the bike business.”

A career start at Macy’s learning customer service in the shoe department, and then into marketing and management…led to a job in supply chain demand planning with Nike…which led to David’s post-9/11 move to Oregon…and, at age 48, what is now a 19-year marriage to his former Nike travel agent. “I’d decided I was going to pursue a career in some part of the bike business, and got a job in sales and marketing with a division of Fallbrook Technologies that made NuVinci variable transmissions. I bought a titanium bike from a friend of mine who had a company in Oregon and who was importing the frames from China, and I loved the feel of the titanium. But when I bought a second bike, it was terrible. It was constructed all-wrong for me, and it was impossible getting it fixed in the U.S.A. I decided I could do it better. I incorporated in 2012, started to produce bikes in 2013, and moved to using only frames made in the U.S.A. starting in 2014. I contract a forgery in the East Coast to supply our custom-designed frames, and employ a craftsman here in Oregon who builds some of our more bespoke or unusual orders. I have the advantage of a steady domestic supply, that wasn’t interrupted by Covid like it was for many other bike companies, and so I’m not totally dependent on in-house manufacturing that’s so often interrupted for other small companies by labor or supply-chain issues. Yet I still have the capability to build every bike as a one-off. I may source rims in Utah and hubs in Portland and can change parts around based on cost, specs, and availability. But personally controlling the frame design is more than just a romantic idea, it’s critical to making the right bike for each rider. Over the last ten years the percentage of bikers interested in road racing has decreased and the trend has been to larger tires and more comfortable engineering. My original designs are the evolution of years of learning bike geometries and understanding how customizing the structure will perform in each frame for each rider and style of riding.”

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David explained to me that building me the perfect frame and bike was wholly dependent on my providing an accurate ‘fitting’ – and arranged for me to meet with expert fitter, Chad Butts, at his Endurace Werx bike fitting studio in Montrose in western Westchester. Chad’s fitting business is a part of his life’s work as a bike performance trainer and consultant, and high school bike team coach. It turns out that there’s a real art to great bike fitting, and that great bike fitters are a scarce resource. Getting a fitting with Chad is like meeting with Yoda. He’s the Bike-Fit Whisperer.

Chad wired me up to show the relative position and angle, and the pattern of movement, of my feet, ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders, head, elbows, and wrists, and to read my EKG while I pedalled. And he put me on an adjustable test bike, which allowed Chad to experiment with the height and length of each frame component and setting the frame relative to the handlebar, seat and pedal positions while monitoring what each change did to my performance. I gave Chad feedback on how each change felt to me – and Chad either noted the data or told me the pain would go away once I started riding more, or if I could hold my back somewhat straighter and my elbows closer together. He coached me on my ankle position and stroke, and there was an immediate marked improvement in performance visible on the computer screen. It was exciting to see how directly fit and positioning could and would influence output – even for an out-of-shape rider going 5 or 10 minutes at a time for a total of about an hour, and interesting to learn a little about how my body moves and works on a bike. And, quite frankly, I really enjoyed the whole experience. It was a self-centered and self-satisfying exercise, kind of like seeing a psychologist but for a physical purpose, and a reaffirming step in my overall self-indulgence getting myself the best bike.

Later that day, Chad produced a full digital report of my fitting, and had a separate discussion with David to go over the results and his recommendations. Then I had another call with David to design the bike. He started by getting a general sense of my budget, and explained that, without going crazy on the paint job or taking the weight requirement for any component to a ridiculous extreme, I could put the bike I wanted together for just under $10,000. David went on, “Some folks go to town on the artwork for their bikes, and I engage a noted commercial artist to bring customer visions to fruition. The artwork alone on the purple Chris King Launch Bike I made for the 2019 Chris King Builder Show, was $7,500 on top of the cost of the bike.”  I wanted SAGE’s standard brushed silver finish with seracoat rather than paint and chose that for the welds as well (I’ll be able to buff out any scratch), and was fine with choosing components for their functionality and durability and not with weight as the singular criteria…so I pulled the trigger on my new SAGE Barlow…with a purple SAGE logo on the downtube and a canary yellow Bedford & New Canaan Magazine logo painted on the top tube.

Disc brakes are standard. I’m getting SRAM’s wireless electronic drivetrain, which means I can change gears by signaling the derailleur from buttons on the handlebar, and I chose SRAM  in part because the battery for the system is housed on the derailleurs for a very clean aesthetic . The fork will be an Enve All-Road and will be made of carbon and I think we’re going with Enve wheels as well. The tires on my gravel bike will be way less temperamental than those on a road bike, and actually come equipped with a sealant that gets you home despite a hole. And we’ve gone with an Ergon Pro seat, opting here for maximum comfort even if it means a few more ounces.

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I talked with David for a while about riding. His favorite places to go around Oregon. A few of his dream rides. And when I asked who he’d most like to go out with on a ride any afternoon, David quickly said, “Definitely Michael Jordan. I grew up a Knicks fan, but I’ve always admired Jordan’s competitive fire and desire to win. He inspired my business philosophy; my drive to succeed at making the best bike in the world. …And Steve Jobs, due to his unflinching desire to make great products.” Then, after a bit more reflection, David added, “Also: John Tomac – His poster was on my wall as a kid and he’s in the Cycling Hall of Fame for a variety of disciplines; Lance Armstrong – Say what you will about the cheating, doping, bullying, etcetera, I enjoyed watching him race and I cheered him on. I met him once and he was everything I expected him to be and, despite what’s happened, I would still love to ride with him, and; Eddie Merckx – The greatest cyclist of all time. He won everything multiple times over. He was the Michael Jordan of cycling.” And then, after even a bit more thought, David said humbly, “But you know, the reality is that I really enjoy riding with my friends – and I don’t get to do it enough. While it would be nice to ride with famous people, they are still people after all, and the bike is a great equalizer in that regard. I have fun riding with my friends, and I hope to be riding with them for many years to come. It’s those relationships I cherish the most.”

I’m expecting delivery of my new SAGE Barlow around the time this issue of B&NC MAG is delivered. I can hardly wait! I’m trying to start working out, as I’m mindful that losing a few pounds from my waistline will be just as effective as – and a lot cheaper than – cutting pounds from the weight of the bike. I’m committed to riding the bike…a lot. I feel confident in all the choices I’ve made and comfortable knowing that, without having to do much maintenance at all, my SAGE will be ready to ride, every time, until I can ride no longer. 

…And I’ll follow up on the great rides I’ll be taking…


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