Early summer is a special time of year. The sun stays up late into the day and the nights are temperate enough to sleep out in the open. It’s just before Colorado’s monsoon season arrives with its daily afternoon thunderstorms. This is bikepacking primetime. These are the days I like to ride my bike into work on Friday morning, then at 5 o’clock pedal straight into the foothills with a sleeping bag, a fishing rod, and not much else. For this, the Specialized AWOL has been my perfect companion.
The AWOL is constructed using Cr-Mo steel, which is compliant and comfortable for all-day adventures. With the included racks and fenders, it’s not light by any means, but I wouldn’t expect that from this type of bike. The geometry features a tall head tube, low bottom bracket, and long wheelbase, making the bike both comfortable and super stable on fast gravel and single track descents, even when loaded up with bags and gear.
It’s rugged and built for abuse, and once it’s under you, you forget all about it, which is what you really want from a bike that’s intended to be ridden for hundred mile stretches, days at a time.
The Shimano Tiagra drivetrain, though not flashy like its higher-end brethren, is crisp and reliable. The triple chainrings up front are a necessity more than a luxury, providing ample gearing to haul the bike, fully loaded, up any climb.
The disc brakes are equally useful for bringing you to a stop on the way back down.
The AWOL features TRP’s Hy/Rd brake calipers, a hydraulic and mechanical hybrid. The standard cable pull levers actuate a hydraulic piston in the caliper. Though they don’t quite have the same feel as a fully hydraulic brake system, with compressionless housing they’re close and plenty powerful. For the decreased price and increased simplicity, it’s a fine choice.
My favorite feature, however, is the included dynamo front hub.
Not only does it power the included lights (these are more for visibility, for any real night riding you’ll want some actual higher power lights), but it also powers a Supernova The Plug attached to the steerer. This nifty device provides a USB port on top of the stem for all your charging needs: your phone, GPS, lights, or anything else that will plug into a standard USB. This is invaluable for those ultralong adventures that take you far away from civilization. Exactly where I like to be.
AWOL means “absent without leave,” and its name captures the very feeling the bike elicits. For a couple nights I can pedal deep into the wilderness and escape the city. Work is forgotten, and all the responsibilities and stresses of everyday life are put on hold. Whatever adventure I’m seeking, the AWOL can handle it: mountain passes, gravel roads, or singletrack. It’s a bike built to take you far away.
Bruce is a writer who loves getting his bikes dirty, trying new tech, and riding tough trails that make him suffer for hours at a time.