it would be something of an overstatement to categorise the world's bicycle owners as adventurous, even if heading out onto traffic infested roads might often seem that way. however, it would also be a mistake to assume that everyone who rides a bicycle with a pair of drop bars upfront is overly concerned with speed and light weight.
specialized offer three models in their awol range, beginning with the basic, triple chainset model featuring a front porteur rack and heading towards the scantly accessorised awol comp by way of the bicycle currently under consideration, the awol elite. while the military might understand the acronym awol as absent without ordered leave. specialized have modified this slightly to mean adventure without limits, neatly sidestepping the fact that without is one word.
constructed from specialized's very own proprietary narrow diameter butted cro-mo steel tubing, the awol elite is not anywhere near the lightest bike you or i have ever ridden. and in this particular case, that can be viewed as a good thing. the sloping top tube, double-diamond frame features a taller than usual head tube to offer a more upright riding position, but without emulating that of the old sit-up-and-beg models of yesteryear. the combination of a remarkably short and higher than parallel stem with a wide pair of shallow drop handlebars fits remarkably well with the bicycle's intended purpose in life.
the bar tape is specialized's roubaix variant with 2.5mm gel pads.
a sloping top tube inevitably entails a tallish amount of seatpost shown above the blue anodised seat clamp, very neatly matched with the anodised appearance of the fsa integrated headset. the front forks too, are crafted from steel and sport a mounting point for the trp spyre mechanical disc brakes with 160mm rotors. the latter are firmly affixed to a pair of chunky 700c wheels wearing an impressively wide (42mm) pair of specialized trigger sport 'cross style tyres with reflective beading around the sidewall. both wheels are 32 spokes.
in order that the prospective owner does not engender deluded notions of grandeur, the gear train is drawn from shimano's tiagra groupset. this includes both front and rear derailleurs as well as an 11-34 cassette and the alloy sti levers. the chainset resembles an old school shimano style, but is in fact, an unbranded 46/34 black anodised alloy unit, as are the outboard bottom bracket bearing cups. the cabling is quite pragmatic in form; both gear cables emulate their braking brethren in remaining inside a black outer cable from one end to the other. these are clamped in place via small multi-clips bolted to the underside of the pearlescent white painted and anorexic (by modern standards) downtube.
the frame features three sets of bottle cage bolts, presumably to accommodate the true adventurer. there is a pair on the seat tube, a pair atop the down tube and a pair on the lower underside of the latter. in keeping with specialized's economic and practical specification, the saddle is home branded.
what changes the awol elite from being seen as either an oddly shaped 'cross bike, or a refugee from the world of mountain bikes is the pairing of front and rear racks with black alloy mudguards sporting mudflaps at the rear of both. the inference here is that this is a machine capable of not only transportational duties, but also those of luggage bearing. the front rack provides adequate support for a pair of low-rider panniers as well as a top platform, claimed capable of carrying up to 15kg. in the light of this, the overall weight of the elite rather pales into insignificance.
though i may have inadvertantly cultivated a reputation as a connoisseur of carbon fibre, the delights of steel are still mine to behold. simply lifting the awol elite from the bike shed would signify how extremely unlikely it is that it would ever trouble a set of uci commissaire's digital scales. but to consider this as an adjunct to a weight-weenies' collection would be surely to miss the point altogether?
peruse only for a moment or two, the exploits of those involved in the 'american field studies' of yonder journal and it's easy to see why the bike has need of being built in the manner of a brick outhouse. festooned with its light, yet strong metal mudguards, alloy porteur front rack and slimline rear rack, it's a bicycle that undoubtedly means business, just not in a speedy sort of way. if all the foregoing simply passed you by, a pair of specialized 42mm wide treaded tyres would probably give the game away.
however, even acknowledging the weight, which i'm sure is lessened in the elite's sibling, the comp, there is still enough spring in its step to display a spritely awareness if given a bit of welly now and again. but in essence, this is a bicycle that displays greatest confidence when sat in the saddle, grinding up hills in one of its larger rear sprockets. i seriously doubt anyone in a great hurry ever popped into their local specialized dealer and asked for an awol elite.
in the area given over to brief or extended bouts of adventuring, speed barely enters the conversation, thus the awol elite is perfectly positioned to undertake that for which it was designed. you may already have read the recently published in search of the lost panini of proaig, a supercilious title given to my article on what passes for my own attempts at adventuring. not a patch on that undertaken on a regular basis by messrs. pasley and von hoetzendorf at yonder journal, but sufficient to gather an impression of just how versatile this bicycle really is.
there's always just a sneaking suspicion that bicycles such as the awol elite are those which few will admit to wanting, but in truth, are the very cycles many of us need.
the bar width of 44cm is perhaps a couple of centimetres greater than my usual cockpit, but served to reinforce the sense of stability and solidity. additionally, it left more than enough room for the ortlieb bar bag subsequently fitted to enhance my adventuring. the drop and flare of the bars is superb and if the padded bar tape isn't available for sale separately, then it ought to be. at the other end of the equation, the specialized saddle was perfectly comfortable on more modest length journeys, but not my ultimate favourite on a couple of 100km rides. additionally, very much not in keeping with the build quality of the frame and componentry, the saddle seemed a bit flaky at times in the realm of construction.
overall it appears very much as it did on arrival, but there have been a few odd creaks and groans unrelated to being clamped to the seatpost.
at the risk of coming across as heretical, i seriously wonder why anyone would pay an extra £700 for eleven-speed dura-ace as opposed the remarkable economy of a ten speed shimano tiagra groupset? admittedly, that is being deliberately confrontational and i'm not as naive as the question might suggest. but though the sti levers do not exhibit the build quality of dura-ace, in truth, they never once missed a shift. the front and rear gears performed with admirable smoothness often giving rise to asking myself if the chain had indeed moved across the cassette.
though my macho instinct initially rebelled against the provision of a 34 tooth large sprocket (were specialized trying to tell me something i didn't want to hear?) particularly when matched to a 34 tooth inner chainring, in practice, having adopted the altogether necessary psyche of slow but sure, on islay's occasionally steep, yet short inclines, it was a luxury i was more than happy to take advantage of.
having recently reviewed a specialized cyclocross bike featuring hydraulic discs, the awol's cable-operated disc brakes came as something of a suprise, particularly if considering fully loaded adventure touring. however, in practice, the trp spyre calipers seemed more than equal to the tasks put before them. and in the backwoods of bolivia, a broken cable is probably a darned sight easier to deal with than a total loss of hydraulic fluid. i'm still not a total convert from regular calipers, but even i'd have a hard time defending that position in this case. the modulation was quite admirable, while the brute stopping power came in handy once or twice.
that stopping power benefited muchly from the 42mm tyre width and a tread pattern that dealt firmly with any amount of squish, squash and clumps of heather from which it tried to escape. the fine tread pattern also coped well on less than smooth tarmac. however, after slogging into ten miles of islay headwind, i cannot deny that i'd have been a tad grateful for a pair of 33mm challenge strade bianche road tyres. but then, they'd have been worse than useless in the gloop at the other end of that headwind.
the awol elite was something of a revelation, offering a mode of velocipedinal transport and adventure i doubt i'd have seriously considered had it not arrived at thewashingmachinepost bike shed. from carrying home a 3kg bag of green city jumbo porridge oats across the grass and dunes of uiskentuie strand, to encouraging my desire to reach one of islay's abandoned villages, its versatility was a delight to behold. i'd be the first to admit that my adventure posturing would hardly be preceded by the adjective 'epic', but rest assured, it would scarcely have extended beyond supping outside at debbie's in the rain, if left to my own devices.
it's the very bicycle you would seriously consider even if the bike shed is already groaning under the (lighter)weight of road-going carbon fibre. and if indecision as to the very sort of machinery you ought to be considering as a second bicycle remains uppermost, consider the awol elite to be the correct answer.
tuesday 31 may 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................