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I love getting out and testing new bikes but many fall short of getting me truly excited. I’m often left wondering what I’m going to write in a review that’s different from every other review I’ve written. From the moment I threw my leg over the Specialized Diverge, I knew I was not going to be short of words.
Gravel grinding, adventure riding, whatever you want to call it, it’s nothing new. Bikes have been going off-road for longer than pavement has existed, but there’s never really been the perfect tool for the job when you want to go from pavement, to dirt, to trails and back when connecting some new routes. If you’re reading this site, you’re most likely a seasoned enthusiast and are probably tired of riding the same roads again and again. This is where the Diverge will help inspire you to broaden your horizons.
Note: We have now reviewed the 2018 version of the Specialized Diverge.
Before the ride
There are six models of the Diverge and I had the pleasure of riding the Comp Carbon with a few differences than the stock model (mine had Ultegra Di2 and S-Works crankset). From the moment I stepped over the Diverge I knew this was something wildly different. “Meaty” was the first word that came to mind. The thick top-tube, the chunky Shimano integrated hydraulic brake hoods, the double wrapped bars, and the 32mm tyres installed on what are effectively carbon mountain bike rims gave this bike a rock solid feel before I even turned a pedal.
The frame measurements are modelled after Specialized’s “endurance geometry”. This means a taller headtube to keep you slightly more upright. With the “Zert” vibration dampeners, the chassis strikes a resemblance to the Roubaix, but with many modifications. The compact chainstays keep the wheelbase short and only slightly longer than a road bikes built for competition, so that you get the same feel of immediate acceleration with slightly better handling.
In this day and age any road bike that doesn’t need to be UCI legal would opt for nothing but disc brakes. Add to this the fact that the Diverge is meant to be ridden through gravel and trails where things get dusty, grimy and wet, disc brakes are the right tool for the job. The model I rode was equipped with Shimano 785 hydraulic disc brakes (read our full review here). The Diverge Comp Carbon comes with front and rear through-axels which provides more stiffness and better disc brake alignment.
Ultegra shifting with Specialized compact chainset and crank is as good of a groupset you’d want with a bike built for its off-road purpose. Most would consider Dura-Ace a bit too precious for going off-road and getting a regular kicking and Ultegra performs almost as well and is much less costly to replace.
The front and rear clearance allows up to 35mm tyres and the model I tested was equipped with Roubaix 30/32mm tyres (30mm tread width, 32mm tyre width). That’s quite big and I can’t imagine needing to go any larger, but having the space to install knobbies is a good option if you want to really get off beaten path, or even use it for a cyclocross race.
Of course the term “adventure bike” would all be lip service if the Diverge didn’t have the ability to install pannier racks or fenders so that you can truly explore lesser ridden roads or go touring. These come subtly integrated into the frame so that you have the choice to install all the accessories you need.
After the ride
My biggest day on this bike was a 120km loop around Melbourne’s glorious Dandenong Ranges. I went with my mate who’s a pretty decent climber and I was worried that I’d be a drag to have along. As I said earlier, when you stand over the Diverge it’s quite a strange feeling looking down at drop bars and beefy tyres. It looks like it would ride like a slug from that angle.
But with the tyres pumped up to 80psi, I was relieved and surprised that I wasn’t much slower. No slower than normal anyway. I’d obviously never race on such a bike, but that’s not its purpose. The bike weighed in at 8.2kg (58cm frame with Speedplay pedals). A lighter rider would most likely notice pushing the extra weight and rolling resistance, but for a 85kg guy like me, it was hardly noticeable. Climbing wasn’t nearly as much of a disadvantage as I expected, and the extra weight and tyre width made only a small noticeable difference when rolling on the flats.
I couldn’t help but take small detours on the shoulder and search for side roads off the beaten path. My roots are in mountain biking so I long for this terrain and the Diverge encouraged the uncivilised caveman in me to come out and play.
Besides feeling extremely well grounded on pavement and dirt roads, the most thrilling quality of the Diverge is its ability to descend. The ultra-thick rubber paired with the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes allowed me to throw the bike into corners with speed I’ve never had the confidence to do before. It may have been a false sense of security, but the sturdiness of the bike made me feel like I could use the stopping power of the discs to their fullest, allowing me to get a bit silly on the descents.
In terms of comfort and compliance, the combination of the endurance geometry with the Zertz vibration dampeners, 32mm tyres, thick bar tape, and the CG-R seatpost which has 18mm of vertical dampening (CG stands for “COBL GOBL-R” or “Cobble Gobbler”) took the edge off absolutely everything without the feeling of all your energy being sucked away.
Before I rode the Diverge I had a difficult time understanding exactly what it was for. I take my regular road bike on gravel roads all the time (albeit, hesitantly). After one ride it became the bike I didn’t know I wanted so bad. For me, testing the Diverge was like taking someone else’s Hummer out for a cruise and doing some mischievous off-roading through places I wouldn’t ever take my own vehicle. However, I do ponder where the Diverge sits in the market in terms of mass appeal. For a regular guy like me where my bike budget is limited, this bike either fits into a fourth slot in my list of bike priorities (behind race bike, mountain bike, cyclocross bike). Or to look at it differently, if I were to only own one bike, this would be the one.
So, what didn’t I like? Almost nothing. A couple nit-picky things were that the handlebar drop was quite shallow so that my wrists would hit the top of the bar when I stood out of the saddle and in the drops. Easy enough to change though. Also, the through-axels to accommodate the disc brakes are a bit of a pain if you want to get the wheels off (they require an allen key instead of a simple quick-release lever).
The real question for you as a consumer is: Does the Diverge offer something that a cyclocross bike couldn’t adequately handle? My answer is that it depends on the type of riding you love to do. Cyclocross bikes are built for competition and will often have a more aggressive geometry (i.e. shorter headtube) and longer wheelbase. The Diverge has a slightly longer wheelbase (at 1000mm for a 54cm frame) than the Tarmac (at 978mm), and almost equally shorter wheelbase than their cyclocross bike, the Crux (at 1016mm). The outstanding compliance and vibration dampening of the Diverge is also something that it has over its cyclocross counterparts.
Perhaps the only weakness of the Diverge is where it fits into the market. But if you love a combination of on and off-road riding with some touring thrown in and have no aspirations as cyclocross racer, I’d recommend trying out a Diverge. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find a way to get that fourth bike into your quiver.