Review: The Specialized Edition AWOL Transcontinental Touring Bike

As someone who has everything he needs in a touring bike, I’ll admit that I was a little apprehensive to spend a weekend on the new Specialized Edition AWOL Transcontinental touring bike (due out in late February). Honestly, it just didn’t seem like my kind of rig. I like cantis, the feel of a traditional drivetrain and the look of a 110mm stem.

Now, from what I had seen of the AWOL, it was the exact opposite and that bothered me. A lot. First of which was the riding position. The bars were level, or even higher than the saddle, due to the massive head tube and positive rise, 80mm stem. It looked like a MTB, not a touring or rando bike with its compact geometry.

Next up, a Gates Carbon Belt Drive and an 8 speed Alfine hub – there’s no way that gear range would be wide enough! The bike relied on TRP’s Hylex single speed hydraulic disc brakes. Up until this point, every hydro disc system I’ve ridden on drop bars has felt horrible, especially when compared to my XT and XTR setups on my mountain bikes. Even my SLX on the fatbike felt better…

My opinions aside, the bike still intrigued me and one thing I’ve been trying to work on is separating my somewhat arrogant opinions and being more open minded about product reviews.

When Erik told me that he really wanted to do a ride that was mostly dirt on the AWOL, I figured what the hell? Up to this point, the AWOL has been showed on road, not off-road. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? Maybe some of my opinions would change and I’d have to pull my foot from mouth.

That’s exactly what happened. Check out more below!


First up, let’s look at the insignia on the bike. This is the Transcontinental badge, representing the journey Recep and Erik made from London to Istanbul.


These bikes are limited to 100 worldwide and were actually designed in Zurich.


The disc-specific Roval rims and Fatboy 45c tires provide more than enough confidence at the contact point. Side note: those tires have been out for over a year and I had no idea. I’ll be picking up a few pairs of them when I get home!


My main issue with this bike, from the onset was the carbon belt drive. I just didn’t see the point. For me, this technology is as alien as a ray gun. When it came to dialing it in, I was unable to and had to ask Recep for assistance. That said, after we adjusted it, I had no issues and immediately forgot that I was riding a belt drive bike.


The rocker dropouts and overall tunability of the system allow you to change your gear range quite easily. Still, at only 8 options, I found myself having to really push when we hit anything over 10% on a loaded bike.


I could have easily used a few extra gear inches. Especially on the fire road climbs.


But for an off-the-shelf item, the gear range was more than capable of tackling 90% of the riding we were doing. Personally, if this were my bike, I would spring for a wider range on the hub. Which is easily doable.


Did I mention that Gates is made in the USA?


My favorite detail on the bike is the stock Supernova system.


Front and rear lights are powered by the Supernova hub. I run SON on my bike and found the Supernova to be the ONLY other generator hub to come close to SON’s performance.


Here’s where it gets rad. The Plug is spec’d on the AWOL limited bike. Charge your phone, GPS, whatever with the USB interface. One catch: if you’re charging your phone, you can’t run your lamps… So do so during the day.


The bars and stem of this bike are AWOL-specific. Much like the Salsa Cowbell, they’ve got a slight flair and are a perfect width for touring both on and off-road.


The AWOL bike has a top tube that’s a few centimeters longer than a traditionally-sized bike. This allows the wheelbase to be wider, reduces toe overlap to non-existant with a 45c tire, fenders and actually provides for a very stable ride. Much like a modern MTB, shorter stems help with mid-low trail riding. The best way I can describe the posture, or fit of the rider on this bike is that you’re riding “in” the bike, not “on” the bike.


Here’s where the bike ruffled my feathers… My main issue with hydraulic disc brakes on a bike like this come down to a few key points. The first of which is reliability. If you have an issue with the line or the fluid, and you’re away from a shop, you’re going to be pretty bummed.


Secondly, the contact patch. Disc brakes are incredibly efficient at delivering braking power, but if you don’t have a large enough contact patch to ‘grip’ the ground, you’re going to loose control, especially if the actuation is too touchy. Luckily, the AWOL has a 45c Fatboy tire, so it’s better than a 33c cross tire, but still, I found myself with less control than I have with a canti, even fully loaded.

Now, my experience with the TRP Hydro SS Hylex brakes has been better than with SRAM or even Shimano. The Dura Ace brakes I rode had too much actuation. They were off or on, no in-between and Red’s brakes felt more akin to Avid’s MTB brakes. Which aren’t that great.

Something about the TRPs made the ride (loaded or unloaded) a lot more familiar.

Has this changed my perspective on hydro systems for drop bars? Yes. But only slightly.


Now, for something that I am not only very impressed with but extremely confident in: the AWOL proprietary panniers. Made by Ortlieb, licensed by Specialized, these panniers use a waterproof drysuit zipper and are completely air tight.


The zipper is a pain in the ass the first few uses, but quickly becomes easier to open and close. Ortlieb also makes a silicone-based spray to help this break-in period.


My favorite part of this system is the attachment point. This unique mount allows you to lock on the pannier. It is however, essential that you close the wedge (you can kind of see it here). Essentially, once you slide the pannier onto the notched contact points, you must press down on the tab to ‘lock’ it in. Initially, I had speed wobbles at the front end because I didn’t do this. The bags were swaying back and forth because they weren’t secured.


The low rider rack a modified Tara rack made by Tubus and includes a nifty, integrated Supernova bracket (seen above in the lamp photo) as well as integrated lighting wiring. These nodules are where the panniers lock in place. This system is called QL3, designed by Specialized. They’re incredibly secure, even on rutted fire roads.

I am so stoked on these bags and this rack. Especially since they’re made in Germany!


The rear rack is also Tubus, the Fly Evo, which is where I keep a sleeping bag while traveling. Which brings me to my practice of packing a touring bike. If the geometry of the bike is mid-low trail, it will handle weight loaded up front. The front rack puts the bags low to the ground and even with the addition of a porteur rack and randonneur bag, the bike still handles the same loaded and unloaded on climbs and descents.

You can’t say the same about a rear-loaded bike. Rear-loading causes the back end of the bike to sway side to side when cornering or out of the saddle climbing. Rear panniers also get in the way when you have to push up a steep hill, or push your bike around.


This, for me anyway, is the only way to travel and it’s an exceptional design decision to present, market and sell the AWOL to suggest such a loading principal. Seriously. If you haven’t tried loading backs up front, as low as you can get them, you should give it a try.

So, here’s another point I’d love to make about this bike. When I think of Specialized, I think one thing: performance. I.e. not a touring bike. But what the AWOL team did was a very smart decision: they made the bike performance minded in terms of the technology (components) and made the ride be the most important part.

Maintenance is minimal, even with the hydro disc brakes. The ride is stable, both on and off-road. The geometry, fit and posture of the bike is extremely comfortable when loaded and unloaded, for around the town jaunts.

Criticisms? Well, I feel like it would help if the bike shop that sells the AWOL ask the consumer a series of questions, allowing them to dial in the gear range. Right now, as sold, the lightest gear was barely enough for me to climb steep grades on dirt. That said, maybe the consumer won’t be riding as much dirt? Again, as is, it’s probably fine for 75% of consumers.

I also feel like with all the new technology on this bike, that the wheels should be tubeless! Especially with disc brakes. It’d be nicer to run a lower PSI when loaded on dirt. Also, with thorn protection. All of our flats on this ride were from thorns or road debris.

For the AWOL to be successful, people will have to be told about the longer top tube and shorter stem fit philosophy. The last thing you want to do with this bike is buy your correct size and throw a longer stem on the bike. It’ll alter the handling considerably.

What I will say is, if I didn’t have a touring bike already, and was looking for an off-the-shelf production bike, I would highly consider getting one of the Specialized Edition AWOL Transcontinental bikes. It’s so unlike anything else in my stable and yet, for some reason, I’m ok with that. The positives outweigh any minute critiques and I really think it’s one of the most unique options on the market today.

These bikes are limited to 100 pieces, come with a tin camping mug, fenders, low-rider rack, rear rack, lamps, panniers (basically everything but the porteur, rando bag, post and saddle pictured here) and can be ordered now through your Specialized retailer late February for around $3,200. For more information on the AWOL, stay tuned! For now, head to AWOL’s page at Specialized and follow AWOL on Tumblr.

128 responses to “Review: The Specialized Edition AWOL Transcontinental Touring Bike”

  1. Goog Smells says:

    Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful review! You appear to be the only source of information on these panniers, so I really appreciate any deets that you can share about them.

    Did the panniers feel alright when they weren’t full loaded? In a couple of your photos they look a little saggy/loose. Is there any sort of compression strap system inside, or is just one big pocket? Also, do you know if they also slated for a February release? Thanks!

  2. Johnny says:

    Great post, thanks. I have a frame on order but before that, when trying out the bike, it was difficult to settle on a size. My main bike is a CX with 5″ of drop and a horizontal TT. The AWOL has a ridiculously sloping TT and a tall HT which resulted in an absurdly long seatpost. The bike felt and rode great but when I stood back and looked at it it was hard to accept that the size fit. I haven’t decided if I’ll go with a belt and IGH or traditional. I LOVE the belt and Alfine 8 on my town bike but have trepidation about taking a Di2 Alfine 11 into the backcountry.

    • Johnny says:

      Also, photo 23 shows a port for internal wiring. Does anyone know if the standard Comp framesets will get this feature?

    • schue113 says:

      I would have more trepidation about taking the Alfine 8, they have more problems than the Di2 system. The Di2 system is bomb proof. Shimano really did a good job on making sure that system is an improvement over mechanical. I have seen numerous Alfine 8 systems blow up.

      • John Watson says:

        bomb-proof until the battery dies unexpectedly and you can’t ride. Ask Kyle from GSC and Erik about that one! Or, your firmware needs updating, etc.

  3. Jaap says:

    This is one thorough bike review! Especially for a bike of which only 100 will be available. On the tech side, my experience is that smaller radius discs give a better feel and smaller chance of locking up, maybe that’s what the bike needs. Regarding the beltdrive, if you’re riding for weeks instead of days, the beltdrive wouldn’t need the maintenance a chain needs. So you can travel lighter or bring other stuff. (IMHO)

    • John Watson says:

      Totally. I think Erik abused the shit out of the belt on the Transcontinental and it only just recently snapped. FWIW, bring a spare belt when touring… ;-)

    • Peter Signorini says:

      On many long touring rides I have never needed to carry a spare chain, rarely needed to carry out any major maintenance, just re-lube every 600-1000kms. Belt-drive is a solution looking for a problem IMHO.

      • Jaap says:

        Wow, what kind of lube do you use? am I doing something wrong, I NEED to lube my chain after 2 days of riding.. Which is 300 to 400 kms on road, next to the coast. This means loads of sand and salt. Especially on rainy days my chain sounds horrible after 200 kms.. I usually clean my chain with WD40 and Lube it with Finish-Line Teflon lube. (sorry for the totally off-topic here)

        • John Watson says:

          It’s the salt in the air. I go with t9 lube.

        • Peter Signorini says:

          The only time I have needed to lube the chain as frequently as that was when riding the Oodnadatta Track (extremely dry, dusty desert roads). In normal conditions around my area (Melbourne, Australia) I use Purple Extreme lube and with sparing application it always gives me at least 600kms between re-applications, often much more. For example I last lubed it before a 400km ride I did after Christmas. Not much riding since that ride, but about another 100km, so 500kms, no need to re-apply yet – the chain runs smooth and squeak-free. WD40 is OK to clean the chain, but be very sure it is all dried off before applying the lube. Purple Extreme is MUCH drier on the chain, attract less gunk, and lasts longer, than Finish Line Cross Country – which I was using before I discovered Purple Extreme. I have been practicing a no-clean policy – running with the factory wax then just wiping the chain of any dirt before lubing. As the Purple Extreme keeps the chain so gunk-free this strategy really works very well. It’s more costly per bottle, but each bottle lasts 3-4 times as long as a bottle of Finish Line due to – less use per application; and much greater mileage. Purple Extreme pretty much laughs at rain – never had it wash out.
          Purple Extreme was designed as a rust-protectant for oil-rig machinery in the marine world, so should suit your environment to a ‘T’.

        • Cameron Pack says:

          Use a degreaser instead of a penatrant. Simple green or park tool degreaser is great then lube with some T-9 or RocknRoll or Parafin wax bath.

  4. schue113 says:

    Hey, it is a fancy Disc Trucker with a belt drive! I like the concept of the belt drive but have seen them go bad in similar riding circumstances, albeit it was on a tandem ridden on gravel. The gravel absolutely destroyed the sprocket, cog and belt. Particulate got into the interfaces and abraded everything at an accelerated rate. Team went back to chain drive. As for the road hydraulics, do the TRPs have as many adjustments as the Shimanos? The actuation/modulation problem you were talking about can be adjusted. There is an adjuster that allows you to dial in the the modulation on the new Shimano hydros.

    • John Watson says:

      I’m not at liberty to discuss who’s Dura Ace-equipped hydro bike I rode, but I can say he kept saying the actuation was as good as it would be in the first production run. You can read about the TRP system here:

      • carl bradtmiller says:

        ok, ill bite. “Gee john, whaddya mean a dura-ace hydraulic? there isnt a dura-ace level hydraulic yet, only the r785s.”
        2 questions though – why release a dura-ace level now if its not that good? thats the reason they waited to call is d/a so far.
        and, what accounts for the difference in feel from m785 or m987 mtb brakes, of which you are so fond? the calipers are essentially the same and are cross compatible. you’d think the lever is would be the easy part, its essentially just a pump. maybe some softer hose would help?
        will we see it at nahbs, or in july?

        • John Watson says:

          It was a production prototype. Of course there isn’t one yet. It’s a prototype. ;-)

          The lever is the problem. It’s too much actuation. Think about this: hydro discs have evolved to support a 3″ lever. Then you go and drop a 6″ lever into the mix and you’ve got too much leverage, at a different location.
          A MTB lever squeezes ever so easily with a finger. With a road lever, you use your whole hand. The Dura Ace levers felt just as touchy as my MTB levers, but you had even more lever to squeeze. It was too much, for such a small contact patch.

          I’m sure you get used to it, but it seems like the precision that Shimano is known for becomes too much power on a drop bar bike, especially with a 33c tire, when compared to a 2.75 or 2.25 29’r tire.

          • carl bradtmiller says:

            ok, one more question about the tasty teasing tidbits youre dropping, then ill stop being off topic – if these brakes are coming out as “dura-ace”, does that mean shimano knows something about where the uci stands on road discs in the very short term? point is, heretofore dura ace has been the race ready ROAD group. you cant buy dura-ace cantis for example, because dura-ace is a a road group and cantis are for dirt. even sven rides cx70s, which are essentially ultegra level. so, either theyre changing the ethos of the group, or we will see discs in the peloton sooner than i thought.

          • John Watson says:

            Pretty sure they’re doing a disc or canti / road brake option

          • ezweave says:

            “With a road lever, you use your whole hand.” The best descenders usually use one or two fingers…

          • John Watson says:

            Yeah, I usually use one or two – but you get the point.

          • ezweave says:

            Just giving you shit. I think the larger issue that remains is the nature of road braking… I know in DH MTB we were taught to “pulse” brakes where we had traction on a course, but on a road bike (particularly on long mountain descents) you’re more likely to ride them, potentially boiling fluid, burning pads, etc. I think this is what that chap in Washington encountered with his failed Parabox setup a year or two ago. On a motorized vehicle, you can downshift and use the engine as a brake, but no such option exists on a bike. I think discs work fine for cross, but seriously question their safety, especially if you’re descending on a loaded touring bike. Rim hydraulics make more sense and, cantis (or better yet, moto-vs or mini-vs) work fine on touring rigs (as you point out).

            I wouldn’t call the AWOL a touring concept nor a randonneuring one. It’s something new. A sub-24 bike maybe.

          • John Watson says:

            I totally agree. But that’s a touring bike. ;-) wheelbase is too long for it to be a randonneur IMO.

          • ezweave says:

            Well in Audax/Brevet, you’re kind of on the clock… so yeah. Not good for that at all. Not my cup of tea, but I’m fine with spending eight hours on a slammed stem racing bike, clearly not in their demographic, haha.

  5. chinny says:

    Great review, cheers! It’s good to see specialized pushing the boundaries, I’m sure some people will love the AWOL, and plenty of others will hate it – but at least they are trying to cater to what people want.
    I’m looking at the AWOL comp, but there isn’t a lot of info around on it. I’m glad to hear that the ‘different’ bars and the strange geometry didn’t put you off too much – any more to say about the looong seat post. I’d love to get your impressions on the frame (which I assume is the same as the Comp, using Reynolds tubing), particularly the feel/ride quality and the build quality?

    • John Watson says:

      I was pretty surprised at the construction and overall weight of the bike. Beads were clean, tubing is Reynolds 725 and even though I’m pretty big, it felt stable with the weight. I did note a bit of side-to-side sway at the seat tube cluster, but I experience that on most rigid / hardtail / dirt bikes with a lot of seat post. In the end, I was pretty pleased with it.

    • John Watson says:

      I just lost a long reply to this comment when my browser crashed but here’s the short:
      -tubing is solid, welds are clean and overall weight is rather impressive, even with racks on.
      -I felt a bit of side-to-side sway at the seatube cluster, but at 200lbs, it’s no more than I usually feel on rigid / hardtail / dirt bikes with that much seat post. But for this bike, the extra standover / clearance of the sloping TT is a must-have for an off-roader.
      -At the end of the ride, I was very into this bike and my only qualms at the beginning were regarding the user error of not locking the bags down on the lowrider racks.

      • chinny says:

        Awesome cheers, really helpful.
        If you photos don’t serve as inspiration, then I don’t think anything will.

  6. naisemaj says:

    I’ve been so excited about this whole project, awesome to see a review of the bike. I loaded my crosscheck almost the exact same way and I totally agree, you can hardly feel any difference as long as the bags are balanced. I wish I could spring for this. My theory with tubeless setup has always been to leave it up to the customer, there’s so many people that still swear by tubes, and most people setup their tubeless differently. Not sure I like the alfine and gates drive; I’ve set their HTD belts (more industrial) up at work before and they’re pretty sensitive to the applied tension. Did you notice anything like that?

    • John Watson says:

      But the beauty about tubeless is you can always run tubes. You need tubeless-ready rims and tires to run tubeless though… See my point?

      • naisemaj says:

        Yeah I do, that’s a good point. I definitely agree that it would be a good idea to market the bike with tubeless ready wheels and tires, especially for something with above 32s on it. I guess I had assumed that the rovals were at least tubeless capable, are they not?

  7. ap says:

    pretty rad that they are supplying the bike with such high end add-ons like the generator hub and lights and plug, and tubus racks.

    is the ride more touring bike or all around road bike? Closer to a Long Haul Trucker or a Crosscheck ?

    PS your designed in caption disagrees with the corresponding photo.

    • John Watson says:

      All of Specialized’s bikes say “Designed in Morgan Hill” but there are design offices all over the world. Although, they all have to be signed off on in Morgan Hill.

      Using a long-haul trucker as a reference is the wrong move. It’s very much a touring bike. Long wheelbase, mid trail, lower – stable BB. Everything a cross bike is not.

      If anything, it’s more of a randonneur, than a slow and sluggish tourer. But it can still be fully-loaded.

      • chinny says:

        The specs suggest that the AWOL’s wheelbase is actually longer than the LHT (AWOL Large 1092mm v SLHT 78cm 1067mm or even 1081 for SLHT 60cm), but the AWOL’s BB drop is much less (70 v 78).
        So what is the conclusion after a ride?
        If the SLHT isn’t the right comparison what is?
        Is the AWOL good for a long unload ride (maybe even several days back-to-back) as much as it is good for a overnight loaded ride?
        (sorry for the annoying questions JW!)

        • John Watson says:

          The LHT wheelbase is shorter because the wheels are 26″ – these are 29’r wheels. The bike handled great loaded and unloaded, although I don’t think I can answer your questions because I didn’t ride it several days back to back.

  8. Jayme Frye says:

    Is the porteur rack custom or something off the shelf?

  9. Spencer Olinek says:

    :::checks under couch cushions for $3,200:::

  10. Trevor H says:

    This is an awesome review. I have definitely been looking forward to reading this review, as you are always so vocal against disc brakes. Did you get to take a spin on Erik’s bike? I can only imagine that the hydraulics on his bike feel way different than the TRPs. On the TRPs, how is the hood shape/length compared to the levers on your Woodville? It appears to be much longer in the pictures..

    When people ask me about mine, I just reply that they aren’t for everyone, and I have plenty of rim brake bikes that stop just fine. To me, it’s all about set up, rider preference, and application. If I hadn’t just gotten a Vaya Travel as part of a warranty replacement for my broken La Cruz frame, I’d really consider trying to pick one of these up. Definitely a different geo than the Vaya, would be interested to ride one back to back with my Salsa once it’s built. It’s always more difficult for us tall guys to find them in our size. Which frame size were you on?

      • nevvkid says:

        What height are you, John? I still can’t decide between L and XL. As my stack is around 600 and my
        reach about 400 at a height of 6’2.8″.
        Is E’s bike also XL? Do you know his height?
        My dealer only has one XL bike ins stock – the other sizes can take till march.

        • John Watson says:

          You need XL. Eric rides a L – I’m 6’2″ with a 36″ inseam.

          • nevvkid says:

            Thanks John.
            Today i had the chance to recheck again. And i have to say an XL won’t fit for 6’2.8″ and 35.5″ inseam.
            Ok the standard XL comes incl. a specialized seatpost with 1″ offset.
            E’s bike and the XL you got had zero offset – and E’s bike has a really short stem.
            To bad there is no L to check. And make sure.
            They maybe will get one bike in L till march – everything else is sold out until 2015.
            They told me.
            Not so easy to decide.

          • John Watson says:

            An XL will most def fit you. We’re practically the same size. These bikes are meant to be ridden with short stems!

          • nevvkid says:

            You are right about our height.
            Maybe my arms (26″) are to short :D
            I could barely reach the bar.

            The guy in the shop told me that specialized tells:
            S = 5´2″- 5´8″
            M = 5´8″ – 5´10″
            L = 5´10″ – 6´2″
            XL = 6´2″ – 6´6″

            To bad i am not 6`3″ ;)

            So the big difference might be the seatpost / stem combination.
            I am wondering how the saddle to bar drop will be with the L size.

            XL with the standard stem had a lower saddle then bar.

  11. Doug M. says:

    RE dynohubs: prejudice, meet data: The differences are negligible over < epic distances.

    • John Watson says:

      Supernova isn’t in there though

      • Andrew Blake says:

        This might help. SV-8 / SD-8 : SONdelux, PV-8 / PD-8 : SON28new. Shutter Precision makes Supernova’s hubs. S8 beats the SONdelux, P8 beats the 3N80 and is very close to the SONdelux.

        Of course you don’t get the sweet moisture ingress prevention feature that SON have, but both SP & SON do QR15 axles now, and supernova branded ones have a centrelock option like SON.

  12. darkside says:

    Can’t you use a regular drive train with a chain anyway? Or will it only allow setup using one chainring/belt drive. It would be helpful in the review to reference more of the setup possibilities it has, since I, like most people, look for all the ways I can transform a bike to fit it’s intended use over a long period of time (even if we are all very vain gearheads who just buy one thing this season and sell it the next).

  13. recurrecur says:

    That modified Tubus Tara alone is utterly drool worthy, never mind the whole bike. Why doesn’t every Tubus Tara have those details?

    How was the shifter / hub combination? Is it indexed?

    Thanks for the review and the awesome photo set of the trip.

    • Powell says:

      I would assume it was indexed. If the shifting isn’t dialed in with IGHs, not all of the planetary gears will engage, and you’ll wear out the hub in short fashion. Most reviews of Alfine 8 seem pretty positive. I’d be more curious to hear about Erik’s Alfine 11/Di2 combo.

    • John Watson says:

      Yes indeed indexed!

  14. James says:

    Two quick questions. 1) can you comment on the Supernova “The Plug”. Can that only be used with the Supernova hub or any dynamo? 2) Will Tubus be selling that rack w/ the dedicated light mounts?

  15. Evan Baird says:

    How does the upside down decaleur work?

    • John Watson says:

      The same as the regular orientation. I have to do it that way because my bike’s head tubes are always long.

      • Evan Baird says:

        I have a fix for that. If you want to check one out I’ll send you a sample.

        • John Watson says:

          Yeah? Rad. I’d love to pull that VO off the bike. I keep thinking it’s going to snap in the middle of bumfuck, nowhere. Wanna email me? Johnprolly at gmail

          • Evan Baird says:

            Sure thing. I was running the VO before I got my Tanaka proto. I had to bend it way down to get it to fit, so I was always concerned about that weld snapping off.

        • stephen says:

          what decaleur is this?

  16. Luke Clark says:

    How do you think the bike will handle fully loaded front and back? I’m currently torn between the AWOL and the new Cinelli Hobo to take me across America. Like others, I’m hesitant of the AWOL geometry but I’m tempted by disc brakes as the Hobo is cantilever only. What are your thoughts on the comparison? Thanks

    • John Watson says:

      the Hobo isn’t designed for heavy loads up front FWIW. The AWOL is a touring bike, meant for front and rear loading.

      • Sean Curran says:

        John, what would you recommend for a bike that isnt designed for loads, like a CX bike? I am not talking heavy loads, But I need something to hold me off until I can get a touring bike I actually want. I was originally thinking a swift ozzette on the front, but I’ve never tried front loading. Would it be better to try and get the weight lower on the bike like this? I really don’t like panniers in the rear only, and would just rather a backpack in that case.

        Thanks for the review as well, i really do like the ideas for this bike, I’m not a spec. fan, but I have respect for them really jumping into this and coming out with something very different, rather than tiptoeing around with the other big brands like normal.

      • Luke Clark says:

        Do you mean the Hobo isn’t designed for solely front loaded touring? It comes with front and rear racks as standard so I’d hope it was capable of a little weight up front.

        • John Watson says:

          Capable of a little weight and front-loading are two different things. My cross bike is capable, but it’s not a front-loader. When I talked to them at Eurobike, they said it was meant to have the weight on the rear. The geo sheets I saw, at the time, agreed.

  17. Bradley says:

    John- Great review. I’m wondering what saddle you used on the trip, did it feel alright after a long day? And what saddle did the AWOL guys use on their expedition? How did their hind-ends survive the voyage? Anyhow, it’s great to see Specialized roll-out a stock adventure bike. And even better to see one of their riders rock jeans.

  18. Thom says:

    Nice thorough review. I had an Alfine 8 on a relatively recent bike build- and found that for 95% of the time it was brilliant but for the 5% of the time when you had to shift under load it would baulk the shift. Before the rack and basket the bike was used for xc racing and the hub gears ability to shift at a standstill or multishift was a blessing when a rider in front stumbled or fumbled a derailleur shift.
    I thought your point on front loading was the most informative, thanks.

  19. Tim Clark says:

    Great review! Interesting that you describe the fit as “riding in” the bike. My everyday is a Rawland Drakkar which essentially the same geometry, and that is how I would explain it too. Same set up, flat rack up front and Swift bag, though I be running a frame pack, seat pack in camp mode. The bike keeps me looking foward to the next adventure!

    • tim early says:

      funny, i just sold my drakkar to fund the awol purchase. almost identical bikes i know but the belt option really interested me. we’ll see if i made a good choice.

  20. Not smothered with Specialized logos? Very nice!

  21. Anton Blackie says:

    Interesting review, the bike has plenty of great extra features too. Shame Specialized aren’t taking any to the UK..

  22. Julius says:

    Nice review. Makes me want to replace my touring bike with an AWOL even more. Too bad they don’t sell the frame set here in Germany (any idea if they ever will?)
    Also, just a quick note: I don’t think QL3 was developed by Specialized, but by Ortlieb. I mean, I wasn’t there when they got the idea, but it’s on all most new Ortlieb products, so I guess it’s them who invented it.

  23. Rob says:

    I think its rad, but it reminds me of the Civia Bryant. I don’t think the Bryant sold very well considering Civia isn’t making a bike anything like the Bryant anymore.

  24. Mark G says:

    Great review! I have a few questions about the gearing that you discussed. Do you know about what the gear inches are on the top and bottom end (especially the lowest gear) that comes stock? I see that the front ring is 40t – can I assume that a 40t belt drive is identical to a 40t chain? Taking a quick glance a the site, I didn’t see anything smaller than a 46t CDX 5-hole sprocket. Is the 40t a custom, or am I missing something. Sounds like you would like something smaller than 40t to get closer 20 gear inches that I think is what’s needed on a loaded tour bike.

    • John Watson says:

      Not sure… Didn’t spend enough time on it. It felt great at the high and low – until I hit a fire road that was pretty steep – then I wanted more on a loaded bike.

  25. Tim says:

    What’s the gear lever on this one? Is it just something created by Specialized for the project or is it available off the shelf?

  26. Benoît Lebouvier says:

    Nice review and nice pictures thanks!
    Any idea what is the bar end shifter used to operate the Alfine Hub, it doesnt look like the Jtek one from the profile shot? New shimano product?

  27. Owen Millárd says:

    I’d never really understood your distaste with disk brakes on road/cross bikes and pretty much figured it was merely a case of non-conformity or just being a dedicated user of paul components, but this review (specifically referring to the tire’s contact patch and road grip) really cleared that up.

  28. Harley Raylor says:

    Hi, great review of an awesome bike. My question is about the low-rider Tubus rack on the front. I noticed on E’s tumblr site that he has another front pannier set up that rides higher. From that blog: “Yes, we used Tubus low-riders on The Transcontinental race, a stretch with 99% tarmac and smooth gravel. Placing the panniers higher up when riding a mix of tarmac, gravel, single track and some bush whacking gives you some extra clearance for logs and big stones.” JW, I know you like the low-rider set-up. How concerned are you about a low-rider set up performing in the scenario E describes? Thanks!

  29. Harley Raylor says:

    JM, when you say, “Personally, if this were my bike, I would spring for a wider range on the hub. Which is easily doable”. Does this mean reconfiguring the hub itself? Or buying the 11speed version? Can you actually open up that hub and adjust and get a wider gear range?

    • John Watson says:

      I mean altering the rear hub’s range.

      • Harley Raylor says:

        How do you alter the range? Open up the hub and get to the internals? Or is it done another way? Probably something a bike shop would need to do I assume. Thanks for your responses!

        • John Watson says:

          Yeah. As I said. These things are foreign to me.

        • Wade Schultz says:

          You wouldn’t adjust the “range” by altering the hub’s internals, as they’re set in stone. You alter the gear-inch spread of an internal hub system the same way you would a single speed or fixed-gear drivetrain; adjust the relative size of the front and rear gearing. In John’s case, he could swap for a lower tooth count sprocket (belt-drive chainring) or a higher tooth count cog. On the Alfine a cog swap necessitates the removal and reinstall of a large (annoying) snap ring.

  30. Nice review and nice pictures thanks!

  31. albeant says:

    The AWOL’s geometry chart shows trail to be 64mm (71mm in the small size), about on par with other touring frames designed around rear-biased loading (LHT, Saga…), while bikes designed around front-biased loading typically have much lower trail numbers (Rawland, VO, Soma GR…).

    It sounds like you’re quite happy with the AWOL’s handling with most of the weight up front, but I’m curious about your thoughts on whether low-trail geometry wouldn’t be preferred for such a setup.

    • John Watson says:

      If it’s lower trail, then the bike will ride like a cruiser when it’s not loaded. Even with my own touring rig, I went mid-trail, so the bike rides at least a little zippy.

  32. Clément 'Karibou' Malinski says:

    Hi John,
    First of all, as it’s my first comment on your website, I have to say cheers for the content you provide. Good insight is always needed, and when it comes with proper pictures, it is even better. So again, keep it on !
    So, let’s get down to what brings me here, I just need your point on a question I’ve been asking to myself for days since I first saw your different posts about the awol.
    As I’m maybe thinking of buying one, what would be your racks setup ?
    Would you go with a tubus system like on the transcontinental edition of the awol or would you consider a SOMA rack, like on Erik’s awol in the configuration you photographed in SF ? Both can take panniers, but I don’t know if the SOMA rack can take the awol specific panniers and make them as safe and easy as the tubus system.
    I seriously don’t know what to think of these two options since I’ve never tried any, so I hop you could help in making a decision.

    Greetings from France ;)

    • John Watson says:

      SOMA by default can’t take large panniers and I personally don’t like porteur racks. My touring rig has a small randonneur rack, for my rando bag and it’s got low-riders for large panniers.

      Personally, I’d go Tara lowriders from Tubus and a similar, small rack with a decalleur for a rando bag.

      • Clément 'Karibou' Malinski says:

        I think I read somewhere that SOMA is making a rack that can take pannier as a low-rider. But anyway, in a few words, the setup of the awol transcontinental edition is pretty much what you’d go with.
        Good to know ! Thanks

        • John Watson says:

          Yeah, that rack can take a small pannier, but it’s a pain with the rack being above it. Especially if you’re using an Ortlieb where you have to pull up to get it off.

  33. OrtliebUSA says:

    John-You gave this a really thorough review…as always, and we’re really pleased to hear your thoughts. Our product development team has been working with Specialized in Europe on this project for a while and we’re excited to see how it is received. One point of clarification-the design of the panniers is from Specialized, the technologies are all Ortlieb/Tizip. These were limited production specials made in our facility in Germany. QL3 is our proprietary mounting system and it can be found on several models in the Ortlieb range. Although this Tubus made lowrider is a Specialized exclusive, Tubus is also introducing a rear carrier this year with the QL3 mounting studs built-in. Finally, one reader mentioned the concern regarding front bag height and we would echo the concern. Lower is not better. Cornering with panniers that are too low is a real danger. Trail clearance is of course another issue, but what is most important is that the COG of the load is as close to the center of the wheel as possible to optimize performance in all conditions.

  34. Tim Bateman says:

    i may have missed it but what’s your height and what size bike did you end up on?

  35. JK says:

    What did you think of the rocker drop out? I am contemplating a trip across the US. One of the bikes I am considering is the AWOL Comp with a standard drivetrain. I won’t need the rocker drop’s capability. Not to appear as a retro-grouch, but it looks like something that will creak and create more problems than it will ever solve. I had a Santa Cruz Heckler with an elaborate drop out and it was a royal pain. The other bike in the mix is a Salsa Vaya.

  36. What *is* that front rack setup? Is it a Tubus lowrider combined with some sort of separate porteur rack, or is it all one piece? It’s tough to tell with the bags mounted in all the pics. It looks like a one-piece, but it also looks like a tubus, and I don’t think they make anything like that. Granted, I guess if it’s E’s bike then it could be a one-off.

    • Also, any idea what the fenders are? Couldn’t find anything that looked like those and would fit over 45s.

    • John Watson says:

      It’s all in the post’s copy.

      • I’ve read it this way and that, but I only see specific mention of the Tubus Tara and Fly Evo, plus an additional porteur rack/rando bag mentioned generically. I know that the Transcontinental Edition bike comes with those racks with the custom light mount on the Tara, but you specifically mentioned that the porteur rack isn’t coming with that bike. Not sure I’d want a full porteur rack for touring as opposed to something small just to support a rando bag anyway, but it might be handy for city/commuter use.

  37. Alex Stolberg says:

    Are there any similar front racks on the market? I’m assuming these are only sold as part of the complete bike package. I’m interested in the porteur/ lowrider combo but they seem to be mutually exclusive or custom-level expensive.

  38. Harley Raylor says:

    I’m really into the idea of carrying the weight on the front pannier. The Tubus Tara is rated for 33 lbs. If you are riding with panniers only on the front, what size panniers in Liters would you recommend and is maxing out the weight on that rack advisable? I’m new to touring and can’t decide if I want should get 30 L or 40 L panniers for the front and then strap leftover bulk on the Fly Evo. Thanks!

  39. meximario says:

    Hello, I’m looking for the spec list of the awol transcontinental edition. Does anyone happen to have it?

  40. RONIAL says:

    Hi all, Congratulations, great review. I am thinking about this Specialized AWOL or Trek 720 920 (
    Can you all add any comment about those touring bikes; pros and cons of each?

    • John Watson says:

      One is aluminum and one is steel. I haven’t ridden the Trek, but I’m not sure I’d want to spend long days in the saddle on an aluminum bike.

  41. crixlet says:

    Thanks for the great view, John. I’ve been trying to hunt down a Transcontinental for some time. Do you have any ideas as to where one could look? I’ve tried pretty much everything (LBS, Talked to, nationwide ebay/craigslist alerts).

    Secondly, would it be wise to try to build up a similar bike an AWOL Comp?

  42. Fergun Connell says:

    What a seriosly wicked bike. I know Specialized has really nice tricked-up bikes, but this one takes the cake.

  43. Shane says:

    Hi John
    I’m trying to ascertain what the latest innovation from Rohloff (linked below) might mean for the AWOL TCR’s rightful conversion to Rohloff speed hub.

    Any thoughts on this greatly appreciated.

  44. moe says:

    Hey! It’s an old post I know… but I really dig the tubus tara edition on this bike. I managed to get a pair of the ortlieb panniers and I also have a tubus minimal QL3 on a bike, but to have this QL3 Tara editon in the front would be nuts! Any idea how to get one?

  45. stric says:

    My AWOL Transcontinental was stolen on Jan. 19, 2017. I am still looking for it and offering reward. It was my daily commuter/rider and I rode through all season in Minnesota. I am so bummed out that it’s gone. If you spot one (#42 of 100), please contact me. More details are below:
    Thank you.

  46. Ken Bradford says:

    Hey – I’m looking to purchase one of these – or a 2017 AWOL Expert frameset, anything with the swinging dropouts to accomodate belt drive – new or used, frame only or whole bike or most anything in between, if the price is reasonable. Size XL. Anyone ready to part with one?