8 things I love about my Specialized AWOL

I’ve been riding this bike for 16 months, and I’ve grown to love it. Let me count the ways …

But first:

What is the Specialized AWOL?

The AWOL is Specialized’s commuter/tourer/adventure/utility bike. It has a steel frame/fork, high drop bars, a short cockpit and mounts for fenders and racks. I use my AWOL for commuting and training on paved and dirt roads.

In Specialized’s Gravel & Adventure category, the AWOL has been replaced by the Sequoia. With the Sequoia you can get a comparable bike to the AWOL, or a nicer one at a higher price point.

Some of these thoughts apply to all touring bikes, but I’m intimate with the AWOL, so here goes:

1. It’s not crazy expensive. I ride the AWOL Comp. It retailed for $2,100. It has a 1x drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes, and it’s badass flat black. The base AWOL went for $1,200. The Sequoia ranges from $1,400 to $3,200.

2. The cockpit is MTB friendly. I’ve put thousands of miles on road bikes, and I’m done with that long/low riding position. The AWOL’s short, tall cockpit feels much like my mountain bikes, which makes it more comfortable and more applicable for mountain bike training.

RipRow + AWOL = great MTB training:

3. Disc brakes. The road world has finally come to accept the truth. Coming from XT and XTR mountain bike brakes, rim brakes were sucking pretty badly. These hydraulic brakes feel good and reliable in all weather including snow/ice. Bonus: I can charge the downhills.

4. It has low gearing. Low enough, anyway.  If I had lower gears I’d atrophy to that level.

5. Fenders! I know this isn’t big news, but full fenders make crappy conditions so un-crappy.

6. It carries stuff. I have an Elite Rear Rack in back and a Pizza Rack in front. What a treat to take that weight out of a pack (and off the tender bits). I’ve carried a bit over 50 pounds. The heavier the bike is laden, the smoother it feels. Like a pickup truck with stuff in the back.

This was a record for me. RipRow grip tape and hardware. At least the ride was all uphill:

My neighbors think I’m crazy, but I’m crazy like a fox:

7) It handles great. When you read about high end road bikes, you learn about their laser-sharp handing. They do indeed feel like Tron light cycles:

But this AWOL, it attacks corners with impunity, and the thing rails in a very quiet and stable way. I live in the mountains, so every ride begins with a steep, curvy descent. In the tight sections I’m the fastest thing on the road — and I take delight in dropping the pro road racers who train on the hill. They have way higher gearing, so I’m relying on corner speed. #itsmyhometrail #exdownhillracer #corneringismyjob

I believe part of the cornering ability of this bike comes from the relatively short front end and long rear end. This places the rider’s weight closer to the middle of the bike than a “performance” bike with shorter chainstays, and, I believe, it helps the bike rail corners. The same principle applies to mountain bikes, but the trends are going in the opposite direction.

8. It’s heavy. As built it’s well over 30 pounds. What? Isn’t that a bad thing? 1) The bike, as stated, is stable and confidence inspiring. If a road bike is analogous to an XC race hardtail, this thing is like an enduro bike. 2) I’m in no hurry when I’m on the road. This is training for mountain biking. When your Stumpy or Enduro is lighter than your road training bike … I think that’s a good thing.

If I was riding with serious road riders, I’d probably want a lighter/snappier bike. Hmm … that would be fun. But the AWOL serves my needs well.


10 replies
  1. JD Dallager says:

    Aaaah….a great lookin’, functional, versatile, sturdy, and “utilitarian” bike at a reasonable price. That’s the quiver-killer we’ve all been wanting!

    Reminds me of what I dreamed of 60 years ago as a young paperboy. But I had a pretty cool Schwinn that had the front suspension spring! Great fun all around. 🙂

  2. Rom says:

    Love it! I’ve got a base AWOL that I’ve upgraded with a mix of 105, XT, Sugino and Thomson bits. I’ve finally got some decent brakes on the way too. Next upgrade is some lighter tubeless wheels so I can pull the tubes out of my 2.1″ Maxxis Ignitors.

    This thing is my mountain bike and off road recon bike. I’ve got an AU$11K Enigma Ti gravel bike that I LOVE, but Oscar the AWOL is here to stay.

  3. colin French says:

    Parts are not interchangeable unless a lot of swapping out of parts take place. Spoecialized 11 speed parts are really expensive and getting a serious breakdown in an isolated place is going to be tough.Biggest downside on what I call a really good bike too.

  4. Reginald P. says:

    I was lucky to be able to get a sparkling white 2016 Elite late that year, online (with Evans Cycles UK) for €1,000.- which was even more reduced to € 900.- (just under $ 1,000.- !) when it had an almost invisible blemish on arrival in the Netherlands. I think it’s the prettiest and most-bicycle-for-your-money versatile of all AWOLs. AND it has been faultless ever since, with all the pros you sport here with your AWOL. I couldn’t think of any real cons or something that even remotely annoys me.

    Gearing wise it’s a lovely Shimano Tiagra with a generic double at the front; a triple would just make choosing the right gear overcomplicated. It has fenders AND mud flaps front & rear which make for splash and mud free riding. The Tubus rack at the back is perfect for panniers and the Pizza Rack up front, besides a load on top, also takes them. The ride is perfect, whether with just me on it or fully loaded, which could include a two or five-year-old in a Yepp attached to the seat tube.

    From heavy traffic city riding to touring, a full speed exercise out in the country or the occasional off-road venture, it feels like an extension to my body and I have never loved a bike like this one. And that says a lot, coming from someone living in a country where there are 25 million bicycles for 17 million inhabitants and bicycle shops on every corner. It’s a pity Specialized doesn’t manufacture it anymore, although there might be affordable alternatives from the likes of Trek, Giant, Kona or Genesis I’d consider.

  5. Spike S says:

    I have had my AWoL since Feb 2020 and I love how comfortable and stable it is. It’s a CroMo frame with Tiagra 9spd triple and TRP Spyre mechanical disks. My background is mainly road riding and I was looking for a touring bike but as I didn’t have a mountain bike I liked the idea of being able to get off-road too. Where I live is a few miles from the trails of the English South Downs the traverse of which is a 100mile ridge route intersected by several river valleys. After a few try outs with different tyre/wheel options I did this route in two days at the height of summer with a 50mmx29in set up. Some photos shared.


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