One-Year Review: Specialized AWOL Comp Bicycle

Adventure often means different things to different people, and Specialized’s family of adventure bikes is as diverse as the word itself. Designed to combine versatility and durability, the company’s AWOL line has become extremely popular since its introduction in 2014. Over the past twelve months, Specialized’s AWOL Comp has seen regular duty as my daily commuter, dirt-road and gravel rig, and primary test bed for numerous components and accessories.

At the heart of the matte black Comp is its TIG-welded frame and fork. The frame is constructed from a blend of Reynolds 725 and 520 steel tubing, and a CroMo unicrown fork completes the package. For maximum versatility, Specialized chose custom rocker-style dropouts, making the AWOL compatible with internally geared hubs, single speed setups, and belt drive systems. There’s no shortage of braze-on fittings, either–the bike has mounts for three bottle cages, front and rear racks, fenders, and all the necessary cable guides and stops for a 1x, 2x, or 3x drivetrain.

Specialized AWOL GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Tubus Ortlieb SRAM Selle Anatomica
The AWOL Comp outfitted with front and rear Tubus racks and Ortlieb panniers.

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One-Year Review: Ortlieb Front-Roller Plus Panniers

If you ride long or far enough you’ll eventually want–or need–to carry more than will fit in your jersey pockets or under-seat pack. For commuting and extended exploring, panniers offer convenience, security, and the capacity to carry your essentials and much more. Since 1983, Ortlieb has produced what many consider to be some of the best panniers available. The company offers a staggering array of bags, and I spent the past twelve months testing Ortlieb’s Front-Roller Plus panniers.

Constructed from abrasion-resistant Cordura fabric utilizing high-frequency welding, the Front-Roller Plus panniers ($180 MSRP) feature a 25 litre capacity (per-pair) and weigh a respectable 640 grams (each). The QL2.1 mounting system is compatible with racks up to 16 mm in diameter, and can be adjusted without tools. Niceties include padded (removable) shoulder straps, integrated interior pockets, and 3M™ Scotchlite™ reflectors. Like Ortlieb’s other panniers, the Front-Roller Plus comes with a five-year warranty.

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Updates & Follow-Ups

Campagnolo Drivetrain Conversion
The Campagnolo Centaur Ergopower shifters have broken in nicely. Shifting is even smoother, but the reassuring tactile feedback definitely remains. Maintenance has consisted of occasionally lubing the cables and (derailleur) pivots, and rotating in another KMC X10.93 chain to minimize overall drivetrain wear. I did replace the 46t Real outer chainring with a 48t Specialites T.A. Zephyr ‘ring. The latter shifts quicker, and is a better match for the 13-29t Veloce cassette.

Pacenti SL23 Rims
These wheels are still as true as the day I received them. The White Industries T11 hubs haven’t required any adjustment or lubrication, and the freehub has quieted down slightly (but it’s still louder than, say, a Shimano unit). Brake track wear appears minimal despite testing half-a-dozen different brake pad compounds. I’ve read reports that some people have difficulty mounting tires on the SL23 rims, but switching to thinner rim strip (e.g. Stan’s yellow tape) usually eases installation.

Carradice SQR Saddlebags
Since posting my original review, I’ve put another 600 miles on the SQR Slim saddlebag. With its spacious capacity and easy on/off mounting system, it’s become my favorite bag in the Carradice family. Traversing dirt roads and trails on over-inflated 28mm tires hasn’t loosened the mounting hardware, and the waxed cotton fabric has done a great job of fending off late-afternoon thundershowers. I continue to notice the bag brushing the backs of my thighs, but it’s usually restricted to when I remain in the saddle when stopped.