Bike Review: Sage Powerline Hardtail
Sage was launched in 2011. In that era of mountain bike frame development, David Rosen (founder of Sage) was getting burnt out on the wave of carbon frames that rapidly took the place of traditional steel and aluminum frames. Rosen explains, “All the bikes looked the same, and I was selling my carbon bikes every year just to make sure I had the latest bike on the market. Bikes became disposable with no souls of their own. I wanted to bring back the soul of the bicycle with my take on things.”
Flash-forward to today, and Sage has maintained its mission by making titanium bikes in Beaverton, Oregon. Besides its three mountain bikes, Sage has also developed road, cyclocross, and gravel bike options. The wrecking crew got its hands on Sage’s latest aggressive hardtail known as the Powerline. The Powerline is designed to handle a variety of terrain. Essentially, it is made to handle a blend of cross-country, trail and all-mountain styles of riding. To test the Powerline’s performance and to see how titanium responds compared to other materials, we set off on the dirt!
CATEGORY: Trail hardtail
SUSPENSION: 130mm (front only)
TIRE SIZE: 29″
The Sage Powerline was built to mimic the riding characteristics of a steel frame; however, to save weight and make the frame even stronger, Sage uses 3/2.5 titanium tubing. Riders who frequently ride in wet weather or ride through deep water crossings can rest easy knowing that their frame can resist rust and corrosion better than a frame built from any other metal tubing.
This hardtail has a relatively long wheelbase and a slacked-out, 67.5-degree head tube that contributes to the stability of the bike at higher speeds. The 73.75-degree seat tube angle positions the rider well to transfer power over the pedals. Two notable features are the English-threaded bottom bracket to eliminate any unwanted creaking and an oversized 44mm head tube diameter to allow a wide range of steerer tubes. Thanks to its titanium construction, the Powerline’s lusty sheen can be polished and brought back to its original glory time after time. The remaining amenities include internal routing for a dropper post, clearance for a 29×2.5-inch tire, a patented CCS (Cable Clip System) to keep the aesthetics clean, a 12mm rear thru-axle and Boost rear-hub spacing.
Sage offers the Powerline as a frame only, a frameset or a completely custom full build. If you are the type to build up your frame and pick your components, the frame-only option will run $3100. From there, a rider can choose to go as wild as he or she wants in terms of the level of componentry. The custom build we tested came with a mix of Shimano components, a Fox Factory fork/dropper post, Enve carbon bars/stem combo and the always-reliable alloy Industry Nine wheelset. While this is not the cheapest build, riders should anticipate paying no less than $7000 for a complete Powerline on Sage’s site. The final cost will depend on the options the rider chooses.
The Powerline is designed for 130mm-travel forks. You could step it up with 140mm in the front, but this will inevitably change the geometry and feel. If you want more travel without sacrificing geometry, then look at Sage’s Flowmotion with 150-160mm of travel at the front. Sticking to our usual setup for a front fork, we dialed in the Fox 34 Factory right at 25-percent sag and got to experiment with its abilities on the dirt. We eventually wanted the bike to feel a bit less harsh, so we opted for 30-percent sag, which was a sweet spot for this particular bike.
DOWN AND DIRTY
The Sage is designed for riders who want to spend long days in the saddle, bomb the backcountry, and blur the lines of trail riding and cross-country racing. This hardtail’s design is meant to satisfy riders with what we sometimes like to call “trail-tail geometry.” So, how does this mix of styles translate on the trail?
The Powerline is optimized for descending but stays true to its hardtail roots by offering a lightweight feel and fewer moving parts than a full-suspension bike. Due to the seat tube angle being a tad slacker than most hardtails, the geometry positioned our testers a bit farther back than most hardtail bikes, causing the front end to wander more on steep climbs than we typically expect from a hardtail. Some riders may want to slide the seat a little farther forward on the rails or simply get out of the saddle earlier on steep climbs. Fortunately, traction was never an issue thanks to the ground-hugging 2.6-inch tires. Although the Powerline may not climb as quickly as a cross-country super-bike, it reminds riders of its true passion when the trails point back down.
This is where the magic of titanium impacts life on the trail. It’s such a different feeling; it is similar to that of steel but with less weight, making it easier to adapt the bike to the terrain. The short rear stays make the Powerline snappy and very playful. The 130mm of travel does its job well, but the compliance of the titanium is what really gives the bike its steady feel. Aluminum (and even carbon) can bounce and chatter the rider into an unwanted line. The ride characteristics of titanium eliminate that unwanted sensation. The Powerline is no slouch. It’s fast and well-planted when the speeds pick up and is ideal for finding your groove on your favorite flow trail.
With Sage, you really can go bonkers and make your dream bike a reality. Sage even offers fully custom finishes so riders can express themselves. We could see a rider opting for a carbon wheelset on the build we tested to achieve extra weight savings; however, with alloy wheels, consistently reliable/robust Shimano XT components, carbon Enve bits and Fox Factory suspension, we would not change out the components tested. It is tough to beat the longevity of this component list. The only two recommendations we would make are to cut the bars down to around 770 or 780 millimeters for a tad more responsiveness in steering and to ditch the Maxxis Recon Race in the rear for a burlier tire with more tread.
The Powerline hardtail is a ripper! Nonetheless, Sage’s high-end bikes may not have youngsters convinced until they’ve ridden more bikes on the market. This bike is designed for riders who know the type of riding they want to do and are not afraid to spend the extra money for precision, hand-crafted quality and durability. There was a certain balance and harmony that this bike brought to every ride we ventured out on during testing. We were very impressed with just how versatile the Powerline could be. This truly sets it apart from other hardtails.