Review: Specialized AWOL Comp longterm review
The AWOL series of bikes belong to Specialized’s road adventure bike category and are billed as being the most versatile and durable of the dropbar bikes offered. These are qualities that I actively seek out in my own dropbar bikes.
As intended the AWOL Comp has been ridden here, there and pretty much everywhere the past 8 months. When first received and given a coat of looking at it was apparent that it was aimed at being a do it all bike with a spirit of adventure and something of an all road enabler that’s happy on smooth surfaces and rough alike. I have done all kinds of rides on it and it has been a truly great all-rounder wearing different hats well.
My #dirtydropbargoodness requirements are;
- at least 40c tyre capacity with the option to go larger (up to 2.0 inches) with room for muck and debris
- comfortable and relaxed ride position that’s good for long mixed terrain rides
- able to carry a load (everything from the basics of food, water and tools to 8-10kg’s of gear)
- versatility and adaptability needs to be able to venture off the beaten path i.e. both smooth and rough road capable
A bike that meets those requirements is therefore a versatile and dependable companion that’s happy to get off the beaten path. There are multiple all-road bike options these days and my own personal journey has taken me through modified cx bikes (with the largest volume tyres they will take), to lightweight carbon gravel bikes, all the way through to conventional touring bikes.
But it’s in the AWOL I could well have found the one.
At first glance it’s simple and understated. Frame and fork are satin finish with minimal gloss graphics. Branding is subtle and overall the bike is quiet looking and stealthy. With most everything black save the seatpost clamp and top bearing cover for the headset, you need to give the AWOL a closer look to see what is a considered and feature rich frame and fork.
The frame and the fork are steel – slim heat treated and butted. In a world of oversized this and that the AWOL looks slender with narrow gauge tubes used in the main triangle. The seatstays are the lithest of them all – they are super skinny. In contrast the chainstays are deep section. Both are curved this way and that along their length providing plenty of clearance for chainring, cranks, tyres and heels alike.
It may look scrawny but it rides well striking a good balance between being stout enough whilst retaining some of that steel spring in its step.
There is no consideration for a suspension fork, the bike is fully rigid. Quick release axles feature front and rear spaced at 100mm and 135mm respectively. Rear dropouts are vertical and the rear derailleur hanger is replaceable bolt on. Headtube diameter is 1 1/8th and seatpost diameter is 27.2mm, BB shell is 73mm threaded. All standard fare really. Both fork and frame have ports for internal routing of dynamo wiring. Cable and hose routing runs on the underside of the downtube with neat screw in guides. It is setup for full gear outer from shifter to rear derailleur.
I metioned in opening that the AWOL is from Specialized’s adventure bike line. There are 3 dropbar bikes in this category and one fatbike. Out of all the dropbar bikes offered the AWOL’s are the most heavy duty. These bikes are the ones with the most off-road and gear carrying ability. All-rounder bikes.
Of the different models offered the Comp is the most off-road ready and has a decidedly monstercross aesthetic to it. Fat knobbly tyres, 1x drivetrain and no extraneous accessories.
The other AWOL models available offer more gears and extra bits and pieces. Although the purpose differs the frame remains the same, the AWOL is a multitasker.
It’s clear to see both touring and mountain bike influence. The bottom bracket sits low at 70mm below the hub axle line, and the overall wheelbase is long and steady. Chainstays measure up at 450mm and the head tube angle is 72°, fork rake is 50mm. All classic touring numbers for stability and room for a load. This is mixed with a long and sloping toptube combined with short stem that come from the mountain bike school of thought. This is a recipe that works well for a broad spectrum of riding and blurs some boundaries.
Top tube lengths are on the generous size and paired with shorter than typical stems. There is a considered slope to the top tube which is a boon for more challenging terrain.
Off-road? Dropbar bikes are an aquired taste when the going gets rough I find. Overall the AWOL possesses a calm, steady and smooth feel with great stability at speed. It shares some positive touring bike attributes in that it is sturdy and stoical, there is a little less heft than a round the world with the kitchen sink and everything else tourer however which gives a better feel.
In the time that I’ve been riding the AWOL Comp the looks of this bike have been admired and questioned. That’s a good looking bike said one knowledgeable chap/time served bike designer.
Amongst the questions that I have been asked of the bike are –
- OOooh look at the length of that headtube, it’s so long, why is that? Which I have delighted in answering in a Goldilocks and the Three Bears style…all the better to see what lies ahead with!
- Is that a custom build? No it’s not. But i can see why you might think that. The branding is not obvious at all. Also the specification is somewhat leftfield. Bikes like this are non-traditional. What is it? Well it looks like a monstercross bike. Such bikes have long been the preserve of custom builders or made up by enthusiasts tinkering with bits and pieces from different disciplines to make a unique machine that has some real flexibility of use – something that can be ridden all over the place.
The AWOL Comp uses a 1x drivetrain, there is provision for mounting a front derailleur with gear cable guides underneath the downtube and a cable stop build into the kickstand plate. If you wish to fit a front derailleur one day over the rainbow, you can.
It is purposefully built and well appointed for intended use with a host of mounting points for front & rear racks, no less than three waterbottle mounts and a kickstand plate. Even with a sloping top tube there’s plenty or room within the front triangle for a generous frame bag and room above bottles for a below top tube bag. That’s all bases covered then? Could you wish for anything more? Anything cage mounts on the fork legs please.
If you want to fit mudguards you can…racks too. I have fitted mudguards and have used a front rack and panniers. The mudguards went on particularly easily with no need to fabricate extra/extended brackets, custom bend supports or push coin after coin into the swear jar! It’s almost like someone designed this bike with the fitting of mudguards in mind… Holes in the right places and spacing good throughout. Brilliant. Designed right with attention to detail.
The stock tyres on the AWOL Comp measure 1.9 inches. This original equipment rubber has knobs on so the going is good off-road, and their size offers more air volume for increased cushion on the rough stuff, which gives you a little more scope for venturing off the beaten path than <40c tyres.
And being 1.9 inch tyres as standard with clearance this means that you’ve got options. There is room to fit a little bigger if venturing further off-road, or for combining mudguards and cushy 40c tyres for splashing through puddles and riding mixed surfaces. I’ve used larger volume & smaller volume – up to 2.0in with ample clearance and down to 40c with and without mudguards.
There’s clearance fore and aft for tyres up to 2 inches wide (vernier measured). I’ve used Maxxis IKON 2.2’s that measure up a little under 2 inches wide, and Specialized’s RENEGADE 1.95’s that measure a little over 2.0 inches.
The Ground Controls are a fairly light construction weighing in at 580 grams each and are tubeless ready. The wheels are 32 spoke with a good width to the rims that support the tyres well. Unfortunately the rims are not tubeless ready. More the pity. Because of the lightweight nature of the Ground Control tyres and the need to run tubes I erred on the side of caution and ran 40psi when venturing off-road to keep pinch flats at bay. A tubeless setup would be preferable from the get go. There is some real benefits to be had in increased comfort, traction and less risk of puncture.
The design team at Specialized have put a lot of thought into this bike and drawn from years of knowledge of dropbar here, there and everywhere bikes…it shows – the AWOL is a considered and complete package.
Fit & Ride
The first thing that you notice with the AWOL is that it is tall upfront. It looks a little gangly. That’s just the long headtube catching your eye…it does stand out. Giving the whole bike a coat of looking at and you can see that it is long and low.
The AWOL is available in 5 sizes: X-Small to X-Large. I’m 6 ft 1 and a bit inches tall (185.5cm) with a 35 inch inside leg and long ape like arms. I chose the X-Large frame size. AWOL’s run longer toptubes and shorter stems than you may be used to if coming from a road/cx bike fit. The headtube is taller too.
With a tall headtube the handlebar is positioned high from the get go. There is scope to drop the bar height by switching spacers around from below to above the stem or if further drop is required the stem can be flipped and run with negative rise. The tall headtube means that there isn’t an ugly stack of spacers below the stem to get the bars where they need to be for distance and rough stuff dropbar riding. It’s much cleaner and easier on the eye. This high(er) position is great for looking ahead and seeing what is coming your way. This is especially welcome when heading into irregular terrain and pedalling for hours on end. It’s something that quickly becomes second nature and is a good position for rougher roads you can take advantage of this two ways – look around and take in the view or when moving at pace it’s easy and comfortable to look ahead and react to what lies ahead.
If you’re coming from a cyclocross bike, the longer wheelbase, greater drop to the bottom bracket and higher handlebar position will be immediately noticeable. There’s less of a leap if you’re coming from a gravel/randonneur/touring bike. Rolling along the first feeling is that of stability. Moving along and over smooth and not so smooth tracks it’s a comfortable and confident cruiser.
It has a decidedly relaxed fit and offers a comfortable position, good for long rides and hours in the saddle. Long front centre, long chainstays, long wheelbase. Rider centred and heads up. Weight in saddle, little to no drop to handlebars – comfy.
|FORK LENGTH (FULL)||405mm||405mm||405mm||405mm||405mm|
|TOP-TUBE LENGTH (HORIZONTAL)||542mm||555mm||575mm||600mm||625mm|
|BIKE STAND-OVER HEIGHT||755mm||774mm||794mm||821mm||844mm|
|SEAT POST LENGTH||350mm||350mm||350mm||350mm||350mm|
The AWOL Comp is stable and fun. Really? Yes!
On first ride the thing that first stood out was the handlebar position and long front centre. This is a good thing and something that works well for mixed surface riding.
With that long wheelbase, a centered-in-the-bike and heads-up position you are in a good place for the long haul and haulin’ along. There’s a real sense of being in the bike. This makes for a comfortable and confident ride. The geometry and layout means that the AWOL is less of a handful in the rough, less prone to twitchiness than bikes with a shorter wheelbase. It really shines when the speed increases giving a composed and relaxed ride. These are qualities that I appreciate on rough ground, loose downs and big days out.
Going up? Steady and sure. You are carrying more weight in the frame and fork as they have been designed to carry weight, the wheels too. Although they are not especially heavy. And being fit for purpose this matters not anyway.
In standard specification and without pedals the xlarge AWOL Comp weighs in at 11.5kg (25.34lbs) out of the box. That’s pretty respectable considering it’s intended purpose. And not bad for a dropbar bike that’s capable of venturing off the beaten path and is designed to carry a load. The tubeset and the way in which it’s put together manage to strike a good balance that offers a good ride feel with and without a bags.
It’s not a race bike, or is it? We’ll that depends on the race…
What’s it like as a race bike? Horses for courses isn’t it! I’ve already mentioned that the AWOL is capable of carrying a lot of speed on rougher tracks and loose surfaces. It’s stable, calm and composed. I’ve used it for a 100km gravel enduro stage race (bike check here) and a monstercross event and experienced something of a tortoise and hare scenario. It might not skip up inclines or sprint as well as some but the lighter, twitchier bikes can struggle on more challenging and faster sections and are more of a fight to keep on track at tempo. The AWOL is not as easily upset and being less phased simply keeps on trucking. Smooth is fast, oh yes! And being comfortable? That’s nice too. It means you can keep going for longer.
And everyday? We’ll that largely depends on what do you want to do? But yeah it’s got your back. It’s a comfortable ride. Smooth. Fat tyres and slim tubes take the edge of surface irregularities.
And further afield? It’s kitted out with long rides and touring in mind. Furnished with a host of braze-ons and built with load carrying capability. But it’s not overbuilt. It’s not a full blown expedition tourer, it has some life to it. The frame and fork ride well both with and without a load. I’ve used front rack and panniers, a full set of bikepacking bags and most of the time packed simple with a top tube bag and small seat bag.
I’ve ridden with a simple addition of everyday carry of one or two water bottles, a tool keg and top tube bag of snacks all the way to full compliment of bikepacking bags and front rack with panniers.
The AWOL will do both fun and far. It offers everyday practicality too. A willing and able bike however you choose to use it.
This bike can really fly downhill. It’s a confident descender and happy at speed. The low bottom bracket and long wheelbase give surefooted handling when the speed picks up, with a high handlebar position you’re looking ahead and can sweep round corners with authority be that on sketchy surfaces or otherwise.
Handling is well balanced and fairly neutral. Overall there’s a distinct feel of stability but with the long front centre that’s realised through longer top tubes and short stems there is some easy to access responsiveness and a lightness to the steering. The AWOL is not a twitchy handling bike by any means but it does have an ability to hold a line and change lines without upset.
The AWOL works well with a front load. The combination of 72 degree head angle, 50mm offset fork and long top tube with short stem retains a positive steering feel when weight is added up front. It does not have the super sensitive steering of a low trail bike and steering is done by leaning but the short stem gives a quicker steering response that allows correction. This is a quality that’s a little different to a more traditionally setup touring bike and welcome for line changes particularly when riding rougher surfaces.
Thanks to the deep section chainstays the AWOL responds well to pedalling efforts and the length of them works well giving stability climbing and descending alike. It rides relaxed whether you are moving along at speed or at a more leisurely pace taking in the view. The long wheelbase is good in choppy terrain. The AWOL is not as easily upset or on the edge as shorter wheelbase bikes, it has something of an air of calmness. With a rider centered position it’s less affected by fore and aft weight shifts and comfortable for hours in the saddle.
Whilst not a mountainbike it does handle well over rougher ground. It’s surefooted, well mannered and dependable. It’ll do roughstuff and singletrack detours. The greater amplitude and frequency of lumps and bigger bumps on increasingly technical terrain and the steeper off-road descents will limit speed and mean that you have to hold tighter of course.
The drivetrain is a mixture of SRAM and FSA. SRAM take care of shifter, rear derailleur, chain and cassette. FSA is used for the chainset. Everything else comes from Specialized. Wheels and contact points are all workmanlike quality house brand parts. It’s all good stuff and the components have worked well with no cause for complaint. There are a couple of specification oddities.
The phemon saddle I found to be particularly nice to sit on and the layback seatpost held fast.
Gear shifts have been crisp and accurate. The SRAM Rival shifting performance has been flawless with no dropped chain or other issues. I am a fan of a single ring setup. Dispensing with a front derailleur saves weight and simplifies shifting. A wide range cassette paired with the right front ring provides a gear range that comes pretty close to that provided by a road compact double and I do not lament the lack of a front derailleur. It would perhaps be missed on an extended tour in the Alps perhaps but that’s not my regular riding.
The handlebars are compact with shallow drop and are flared 12 degrees. They’re a nice shape, wide and useable cruising or climbing on the tops. Being a compact handlebar it’s easy to switch hand positions from holding onto the brakehoods to the drops. I spend most of my time on the hoods, sometimes switching to the tops when climbing or rolling along and on occasion I’ll get my tuck on in the drops…I’ve found all positions comfortable. They work well on the road and with a slight flare give an extra degree of control with more leverage available when hanging on descending in the drops.
Ah powerful brakes! With the SRAM Rival hydraulic disc brakes it is possible to brake in the hoods and get controlled and consistent stopping force with a fairly relaxed grip. The hoods of the Rival brifters are tall, there’s plenty to hold onto and on occasion brace yourself against. The AWOL Comp runs 160mm rotors front and rear.
Cranks and chainring are from FSA. The Gossamer Pro uses aysmetric bolt spacing which is particular to FSA. The bcd is 110mm on the 4 arm chainset and the chainring is their megatooth narrow wide version. The chainset has spun smoothly on external cup bearings, the chain has not been dropped once and longevity has been good.
For goodtimes with a 1x drivetrain I find that it is a case of gearing low. Wishing for a higher gear? No. I never felt undergeared especially riding off the tarmac. I’ll happily sacrifice top end grunt for an easier climbing spin. With the standard specification 38t front ring it’s possible to spin along on at flat road cruising at 35kph + without use of the two highest cogs on the rear cassette. My local topography features mostly long and steady climbs and steeper 15%+ gradients appear on some routes so I’ll gear appropriately and err on the low side. What you have to ask is – is the ratio right for where and how I ride?
This is my approach as with any drivetrain be that 1x or otherwise. The stock gearing on the AWOL Comp is 38t with 10-42t cassette using the std tyres this gives a low gear of just under 25 inches and a high of almost 104 inches – a wide range of gears.
Lower is possible by changing the front ring but it should be noted that the bcd on the FSA chainset is not a common pattern. It’s not the same as Shimano’s 110 bcd 4 arm cranks. And as such the aftermarket ring options are not present and it’s not a s easy to source different options. I’ve been in touch with FSA’s UK distributor and found at that FSA options are available down to 32t. I’ve fitted a 36t to make the ups easier.
What we loved.
It’s a bike for getting out there and is happy being pointed down where does this go? roads, crossing maps, hauling a load and general haulin’ here, there, everywhere on whatever constitutes a road.
- Versatile. The AWOL has a wide range of use, it’s easily adaptable and works well in a multitude of riding scenarios.
- Comfortable. Good long distance geometry.
- Stability. The AWOL has good high speed manners and can handle a load.
What could be improved?
The overall build is good and fit for purpose. There are however some specification oddities in the wheels, in particular the rims and in the drivetrain, the chainring bcd.
- It would be nice if the rims were tubeless ready.
- It would be good if there were more front chainrings options aftermarket.
The rims are not tubeless ready. The tyres are. Whilst not the end of the world it is is a shame and something of a specification oddity. Being able to run tyres tubeless would make a comfortable and rough road capable bike even more so.
The use of a 1×11 drivetrain is not a negative but not being able to easily source different front chainrings could be. The FSA crankset and chainring is good quality kit but the 4 arm chainset uses a 110mm 4 arm BCD that differs to the Shimano 110mm 4 arm BCD. FSA do produce different size rings for this pattern but not being as common as the more Shimano options are limited. This makes sourcing aftermarket rings difficult as producers are geared up to offer options that work with the Shimano pattern.
There is very much a can do attitude and happy to go anywhere vibe to the AWOL. It’s like a good friend that’s up for anything. Happy to try new things and head into the unknown. Sure there are more spirited, lighter bikes but they most likely have a narrower range of use and are more focused. This bike is a great option for any road ride. It’s a bike that is able to wear many hats.
In the time that I have been riding this bike it’s seen a many different surfaces and conditions and been used for a whole host of applications – used as a daily driver fitted with mudguards and bags pedalling to and fro’ work, with just a waterbottle and tool kit enjoying afterwork explores the long way home on and off-road, gravel track explorer, heading for the horizon with luggage as a longer distance tourer , with a numberboard as a stripped down gravel race bike and monstercrosser.
Good to go here, there and pretty much everywhere. The gear range, strong brakes, fat tyres, comfy position and easy going manners make this a fine bike for exploring on a wide range of surfaces and for long distance/get lost on purpose pedals. I’ve found the AWOL to be both at home on the tarmac with little to no load, simply dressed with just a bag of snacks a couple of water bottles and std fix it if there’s a problem set of tools tucked under the saddle. It’s also a bike that’s happy to explore further afield and being capable of carrying a greater load be that your groceries of enough gear for a long weekend away from home makes it useful outside of one particular focus. It’s very much a versatile all-rounder.
A great all-rounder. If you want a heavier duty dropbar bike that can tackle a wide range of roads and eclectic mix of surfaces and wear many hats well the AWOL comes highly recommended…a super useful and flexible bike.
Specialized Awol Comp Specifications
- Frame // butted and heat-treated Cr-Mo steel
- Fork // butted and heat-treated Cr-Mo steel
- Hubs // Specialized HiLo disc
- Rims // Specialized double wall
- Tyres // Specialized ground Control 2Bliss 29×1.9″
- Chainset // FSA Gossamer Pro
- Rear Mech // SRAM Rival 1, 11-Speed
- Front Mech // N/A
- Shifters // SRAM Rival 1, 1×11
- Cassette // SRAM PG-1175, 10-42t, 11-Speed
- Brakes // SRAM Rival 1 Hydraulic Disc, 160mm Rotors
- Stem // Specialized 3-D forged aluminium
- Bars // Specialized AWOL aluminium 12degree flare
- Bar Tape // Specialized Roubaix
- Seatpost // Specialized aluminium 27.2mm dia.
- Saddle // Specialized Phenom gel
- Size Tested // XLarge
- Sizes available // XSmall, Small, Medium, Large, XLarge
- Weight // XLarge size tested 11.5kg (25.34lbs)
- Price // £1,700
- From // www.specialized.com