There may be some neat detailing on Specialized’s steel-framed AWOL Elite, but the first thing you notice about this ultra-versatile riding machine is its ready-fitted racks.
The front rack has a broad ‘delivery bike’ design, with a 15kg weight capacity for boxes or bags. While the steel forks are too wide for conventional panniers themselves, they have bosses for low-rider racks so you can properly pack the front end of the bike up like a yak.
The rear rack is a top-quality Tubus steel unit for conventional panniers that you can pack with anything from your weekly commuting laundry to vital supplies for your ride around the world. The reflective sparkle paint and side-strip tyres underline the AWOL’s urban utility credentials, while the hefty 40mm wide Specialized Trigger Sport tyres on broad 25mm external rims are more than a match for road debris.
Heavy-duty mudguard rods will withstand a few knocks
Wide metal mudguards with truck-sized spray flaps are held in place with stout, hollow rods that can stand a bit of leaning or bike rack bullying without bending or warping. Even the chain is heavy-duty – Specialized has gone for a KMC Eco Proteq chain with double the level of rust protection of its conventional unit.
The AWOL is designed not just to look like a survivor, but to ride like one too. The tall head-tube gives good visibility in town and puts less strain on your back when touring. The short 70mm stem and wide 44cm bar with 12-degree flare give it the lightest steering on test, so weighing the forks down with bags doesn’t turn it into a barge.
In for the long haul
A long rear end and wheelbase mean it’s stable when running on gravel even when bagged up on both ends, while its length also increases the amount of fatigue-reducing flex in the frame.
The AWOL bowls along with pleasant momentum – once you’ve got its bulk up to speed, that is
The Specialized Phenom is one of our favourite seats for distance riding, and the skinny seatpost and tapered seat-tube (29mm at the top, 28mm below), plus the similarly narrow top-tube builds plenty of comfort into the frame. That’s despite the stout down-tube and chunky chainstays that bowl the AWOL along with a pleasantly smooth momentum – once you’ve levered its bulk up to speed, that is.
Spyre disc brakes with 160mm rotors give plenty of stopping power, the double-sided pad actuation adding the best modulation of any cable disc caliper. However, while actual braking power is ample, you notice it less simply because of the sheer weight of the bike.
While the racks add 1.4kg to the overall weight by themselves (800g front and 600g rear), even without them you're still riding a near-13kg beast. While the top end of the gearing spectrum is compromised slightly by the use of a 46-tooth big ring, the regulation 34t inner ring means you’ll be shifting to the fat end of the rear cassette even on shallow slopes and with minimal loads.
Adventure Without Limits – so long as you don’t end up going AWOL…
The neatly sculpted brake post mounts and plug-in dropouts with built-in rack and guard mounts are nice touches, but the fact that the front rack on our test model was misaligned was an irritation every time we looked down at it while grunting our way slowly uphill.