If you’re looking for a bike that takes the best parts of road biking and combines them with the best parts of mountain biking, let me introduce you to the Specialized AWOL. Slotting into a style called “adventure bikes” the AWOL combines the touring nature of a steel frame road bike with the handling and tire clearance of a mountain bike. You might hear them called “gravel bikes” or “adventure bikes” or sometimes “endurance bikes” and we can quibble for days over what makes those categories different or the same (something that never happens on the Internet…)
What is worth knowing are a few things: #1 this is not a category invented by Specialized but nonetheless the AWOL raises the bar of what’s possible with two wheels and a crankset. #2 The AWOL, like other adventure/gravel/endurance bikes combines a relaxed geometry with bigger tires to create a more comfortable and stable ride. #3 If you’re looking to try something that’s not about speed and spandex, then you owe it to yourself to check out the AWOL. So let’s break down what makes the AWOL the bike to take you over the mountains and back again.
The AWOL has three main things that make it such a good bike for long trips on unpaved surfaces; it has a relaxed geometry, it’s a steel frame bike and it has great tire clearance. There are numerous other bells and whistles which also help set the AWOL apart, but without these fundamentals they’re just icing on styrofoam.
First up; the relaxed geometry. Now, if you’re anything like me thinking about geometry probably does the opposite of relax you, so let me explain. In broad terms a bike’s “geometry” refers to the angle that the front fork/wheel is at compared to 90°. A more race-inspired road bike like the Allez has a steeper angle (closer to 90°) which does a lot of things but essentially determines your wheelbase length which affects how responsive and reactive the bike is. I’m skipping over a fair amount of the jargon and minutia here to cut to the chase. The AWOL has a more relaxed head tube angle which lengthens the distance between the wheels and as a result the bike ride in a more relaxed fashion and handles more smoothly. When you’re logging lots of miles on unpaved access roads in national parks you want a bike that rides and handles smoothly. This is born out when you look at the specs – the AWOL has a wheelbase of 1072mm on a Medium, while the Allez has a tight 982mm. Further increasing the control you have on the AWOL is the length of the head tube itself – the longer the head tube the more stable the bike is. The AWOL head tube is almost an inch and a half longer than the Allez; creating a ride that is smooth and controlled.
Next up; the steel frame. It might seem counter intuitive in this age of carbon fiber cranksets to talk about a material as old as steel for a bike, but steel offers some real benefits over aluminum and carbon fiber. Steel is a flexible metal with unprecedented fatigue strength. What? You’re not up on your metallurgy terminology? This means that a steel frame can be used and abused for generations and never weaken to the point of breaking. Both aluminum and carbon fiber bikes have fatigue cycles; meaning that in laboratory testing it was possible to ride the bike until it broke. Furthermore, if you do ride your AWOL off a cliff side, steel can be repaired; unlike aluminum frames which cannot (and it can be even be field repaired if you can find someone with welding experience unlike carbon fiber which takes weeks and noxious epoxy.) But the real treat with steel is the quality of the ride. A steel frame bike handles rough and bumpy surfaces much more smoothly than aluminum or carbon fiber which tend to transmit vibrations instead of absorbing them. I could science all over you about why – but this is one fact that can easily be experienced. Head to your local ERIK’S and test out any carbon fiber road bike; then hop on the AWOL and experience the difference steel makes.
Finally, the tire clearance. This might sound like a weird way to wrap things up; but I think a picture will tell the story better than my words ever could.
The AWOL lives up to its (r)adventure bike name and is intended to take you where other bikes simply can’t. You can run tire sizes all the way to mountain bike 29ers for the most radical terrain you can imagine.
There’s no doubt about it; the AWOL is a bike for those days when you just want to get away. So consider this your invitation to take off for parts unknown and rediscover what makes the outdoors so great. Check out the new 2016 AWOL at your local ERIK’S today!