A redesigned frame with space for 42mm tyres, disc brakes, 1x11 Shimano Di2 gearing, Future Shock suspension and a dropper seatpost signal a lot of changes for Specialized's Diverge, but they add up to create one of the best adventure bikes I've ridden. It's a sophisticated ride with buckets of capability for going fast and tackling big journeys over varied and challenging terrain.
The original Diverge was launched back in 2014 at a time when the hype for the gravel and adventure category was still in its infancy. Specialized was one of the first mainstream brands to take aim at this growing trend and really nailed it.
Jo tested the previous Diverge last year and really liked it; replacing it was going to be a tough act.
Specialized looked at the evolution of gravel and adventure bikes and decided to completely chuck out the old and start from scratch with a radical new bike. Not so much evolution as revolution.
Specialized has packed a lot of new technology into the Diverge. The key change is a move from the elastomer Zertz inserts to the Future Shock borrowed from its Roubaix endurance bike, along with the dropped rear stays, wider tyre clearance and, on this range-topping S-Works model, a height adjustable seatpost.
All these changes have combined to create a highly capable bike that is right at home on the road – fast and comfortable – and adept on loose surfaces and technical trails. The handling leans towards surefooted stability, a bonus when travelling along gravel tracks at speed, yet with enough agility to ensure it's still engaging on road rides.
It's a comfortable, long-distance cruising bike on the road, with fantastic poise and cornering ability. Off the smooth stuff and the combination of the big tyres and Future Shock let you attack any rough paths, gravel tracks and technical descents with relish. It's a very accomplished bike and more than most manages to be master of all terrain.
This new Diverge is one of the most sophisticated adventure bikes currently available.
The biggest change from the previous Diverge is the Future Shock. It's a spring housed inside a cartridge sandwiched between the stem and frame. The idea is to isolate the handlebar from all the bumps and vibrations caused when riding over rough potholed roads and washboard fireroads. It works a treat on the Roubaix, and it offers similar ride-smoothing enhancements on the Diverge.
The Diverge is less bouncy over very rough ground or when honking out of the saddle than the Roubaix thanks to a firmer progressive spring inside the Future Shock. That extra progressiveness ensures that it handles big impacts well; it doesn't bottom out harshly, it doesn't dive under braking, and it does all this without upsetting the balance and geometry of the bike. Don't imagine the handlebar will bounce around uncontrollably because it doesn't. It's very well controlled and you forget it's even there after a while.
Is having 20mm of undamped suspension underneath the handlebar just a gimmick or a genuine advantage? I lean towards the latter. Even running 38mm tyres at 30-40psi (depending on terrain), the Future Shock still noticeably smooths harsher impacts and delivers a smoother ride over washboard surfaces. I noticed less wrist and arm fatigue on longer rides over rough terrain.
It's a smart way of adding comfort to an adventure bike without messing up the geometry or looks like the Fox AX or Lauf Grit CX suspension forks do, but it's a nice thing to have rather than a necessity. Jumping on a rigid adventure bike immediately afterwards you really do miss the Future Shock, then within a few miles you adjust to the firmness of a rigid front end once more.
Specialized has also refined the Diverge's geometry, and it's this that ensures the new model is so highly capable. Specialized calls it Open Road Geometry, and what it amounts to is a lower bottom bracket, slacker head tube angle and shorter wheelbase than the old bike. The stack is higher and the reach is now shorter. (Stack and reach are the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube.)
The lower bottom bracket ensures you sit lower on the bike in relation to the handlebar and this contributes to its great road bike manners because it feels akin to an endurance bike. Cyclo-cross-inspired adventure bikes can leave you feeling a bit high and precarious and don't inspire the same relaxed manners as a road-biased setup.
Shortening the wheelbase produces a more lively feel through corners on the road and helps to quicken up responses off-road. The Diverge snakes and darts through tree-lined singletrack and carves around tight turns with ease.
The shorter reach and higher stack places the handlebar in a good position for providing control when manhandling the Diverge through the bends. The higher front end won't be to everyone's taste, and it's exaggerated by the Hover handlebar (more on that below), but it does make the drops much more accessible which serves to increase control in the technical sections.
The low overall weight, 8.5kg for this 56cm model, certainly helps with the rapid pace the bike is capable of. That's the same weight or, in many cases, actually lighter than many carbon-framed disc-equipped endurance bikes with comparatively skinny tyres.
Tyre clearance is another big upgrade on the new Diverge. There's now space for up to 42mm rubber, with the 38mm Specialized Trigger Pro tyres sitting comfortably in the frame and fork with plenty of daylight around them.
You could fit even wider tyres if you swapped the wheels for 650B units. You'd then have the choice of knobbly tyres to make the Diverge even more capable on the dirt, or really fat slicks like WTB Horizons for a configuration some are calling Road Plus. Why would you do that? Because the huge bag of the Horizon means you can run lower pressures for buckets of grip and cushioning; it's the hot set-up if you like to go downhill fast. Alternatively, you could just swap the stock 38mm Trigger tyres for fat 700C slicks if you're riding mainly roads and smooth paths.
The Trigger Pros (you can read a review here) provide a nice blend of road speed and off-road grip. They favour drier trail conditions than mud and gloop, but it's surprising what you can persuade them to crawl up with a bit of careful weight distribution and gentle application of power. There's a growing market for adventure tyres so plenty of choices if you need to tune the Diverge to suit your local trails.
The tyres are fitted to full-carbon fibre Roval CLX 32 wheels. This is Specialized's shallowest and lightest (1,350g claimed) carbon wheelset, normally reserved for lightweight climbing-orientated road bikes, but they are adequately tough for off-road riding while also contributing to the low overall weight. The 20mm internal width works well with wide tyres, Centerlock hubs secure the disc rotors in place and they are also thru-axle compatible.
The wheels are rather extravagant for an adventure bike perhaps, but they're up to the task of taking a hammering on rough ground, swaggering through some very hardcore trails and heavy impacts leaving no marks. The lack of mass noticeably contributes to how effortlessly the Diverge behaves on and off the road.
Another big departure from the previous Diverge on this S-Works bike is the height-adjustable Command Post XCP seatpost. Dropper posts like this are ubiquitous in mountain biking circles where getting the saddle out of the way on steep, technical descents is invaluable. Here, the post provides up to 35mm of drop. You set it anywhere between full extension and fully slammed simply by pressing a small lever mounted to the inside of the handlebar drops and using your body weight to lower the saddle.
On my first few rides I didn't use it. Why? Simply, I forgot about it. Doh! I'm just not in the habit of using it on my adventure rides, though I'm well used to dropper posts on my mountain bike and use it pretty much any time the trail points down.
Once I remembered it was there, I started using it more frequently. It's simple to activate but you do need to remember to deploy it before dropping into a very steep trail because you use your body weight to push the saddle down. It simply provides a little more clearance and is very useful when you're careering down very steep banks as you can get off the back of the bike more freely.
How useful the dropper post would be to you largely depends on whether you plan to chuck the Diverge down very steep tracks on a regular basis. I can't say I ever needed to use it in an event like the Dirty Reiver, but it would have been useful for Grinduro.
Personally, I'd prefer to have the company's bump-absorbing CG-R seatpost to provide a smoother seated ride to match the smoothness from the front end. That or a short travel suspension seatpost. If you want to ride very challenging trails there's no denying the dropper post provides an advantage, but for the 90 per cent of the time I don't use it, a flexible seatpost would be advantageous.
The dropper post is only offered on this range-topping S-Works model, but Specialized sells it aftermarket if you wanted to upgrade.
What's that thing down by the bottom bracket? No, it's not a motor before you ask. It's the Swat Box. Yes, it's a daft name, but it's a rather neat idea so hear me out.
Instead of you having to stuff your pockets or a saddle bag with tools and spare tubes, Specialized has developed a small compartment that uses the empty space in the elbow of the down tube and seat tube to house all your ride essentials.
Inside it you can cram a spare tube, CO2 canister and head, tyre levers, inner tube valve extender, cash and a multi-tool. It's a tight fit – getting the inner tube to fit inside took a couple of attempts at carefully rolling it around the removable core – but once installed, it is quiet and rattle-free. The contents are suitably protected from the elements, and when you need a tool or spare tube, it's easily accessible.
Yes, the looks are divisive and you'll be forever fending off comments about having a motor on your bike, but functionally it's a great idea. And better than a saddlepack precariously Velcro'd to the saddle or worrying about the contents of your pockets being ejected when you hit a bumpy descent. And if you don't like it, you can just remove it; it simply bolts into the frame.
This S-Works model comes with a very nice build, as you'd hope for on an £8,500 bike. It's a 1x11 drivetrain, increasingly popular on off-road bikes of all shapes and persuasions, and in this instance combines Shimano R785 Di2 road levers with an XTR Di2 Shadow+ mountain bike rear mech and XTR 11-40t cassette. Up front is an Easton EC90 SL crankset spinning on a CeramicSpeed 386 EVO bottom bracket.
I've ridden a few road and adventure bikes with a similar mix of components, though the combination of a mountain bike rear mech and road shifters is still unusual. This hybrid system is the only way to get a Shimano 1x11 drivetrain as the company doesn't currently offer a dedicated road-focused 1x groupset. Will it ever?
It works though, and it works really nicely. The chain shifts smoothly across the cassette, and the big gaps at the meaty end of the cassette are no problem for the electronic rear mech. Lever feel is lovely, and you can tune the shift buttons to make use of the redundant ones on the left-hand lever – so you can shift using the left or right lever, or use one for up-shifts, one for down-shifts.
That Shimano XT rear mech has a clutch mechanism which combines with the narrow/wide chainring teeth to eradicate dropped chains when riding over rough terrain. The chain didn't drop off once during my testing. The clutch mechanism can be disengaged to facilitate rear wheel removal.
The carbon fibre Hover handlebar provides a little extra front-end rise with its unique shape. It's a comfortable handlebar, whether you're riding on the tops or using the compact-reach drops. The S-Wrap Sticky gel bar tape is worth a mention too: it's nicely padded and very grippy when riding in the wet or dry.
One really neat detail is the new Di2 junction box that is hidden in the end of the handlebar. It's far neater than the old box strapped to the stem; it looks more elegant and is easier to use if you need to adjust the gears on the move.
An S-Works Phenom saddle with carbon rails is a pleasing shape and reasonably padded, providing no cause for discomfort.
The new Diverge is available in aluminium and carbon fibre options, which has enabled Specialized to offer a wide range of models and price points. The cheapest is the aluminium Diverge E5 at £799, and there are two women-specific options, both aluminium frames.
This S-Works model obviously gets the full carbon fibre treatment, with FACT 11r carbon fibre and a claimed sub-900g frame weight. It's a good looking bike, well proportioned and purposeful, with some nice curves, especially the line on the top tube that draws your eye along its length. It's a shame to see the redundant front mech mount on a bike costing £8,500 though.
All cables and brake hoses are routed inside the frame. As before, the new Diverge is a disc brake only platform, and it's now using the latest flat mount and 12mm thru-axles at both ends, so modern and easy compatibility.
Lastly, there are also mudguard mounts for winterising the Diverge. There are no rack mounts, but you can use Specialized's Rear Rack Seat Collar to add a rack.
All things considered, the new Diverge is a far more capable off-road bike than the old model while being more comfortable on the road. There's a lot of tech packed into this S-Works model but it all comes together to form a very cohesive package. I'd say it's the most forward-thinking and progressive adventure bike currently available, and shifts the category a step further away from the cyclo-cross roots of early generation adventure bikes.
The adventure bike category is awash with choice and the bikes are evolving in a really exciting way. If you're into riding mixed terrain, the evolution of these bikes makes them even more appealing than a few years ago.
There's tough competition though, with the Open Up, 3T Exploro, Mason Bokeh, Kinesis Tripster ATR to name but a few all vying for the title of the best adventure bike. The Diverge is the most feature-rich of the current crop and it's hugely fun and highly capable.
What this S-Works model presents is a money-no-object showcase of the best tech and equipment. Fortunately, the underlying technology is available on the more affordable Diverge bikes. If your budget doesn't extend to this S-Works model, the Diverge Sport costs £2,000 with a carbon frame and Future Shock, while the aluminium Diverge Comp E5 also features the Future Shock in a £1,500 package.
A phenomenally capable, tech-laden adventure bike – but it's mightily expensive
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized S-Works Diverge
Size tested: 56
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Specialized FACT 11r carbon, Open Road Geometry, 12x142mm thru-axle is lightweight and stiff
Future Shock Progressive suspension has 20mm travel, built into the frame softens terrain
Diverge disc, FACT carbon, flat-mount disc, 12x100mm thru-axle offers direct steering
Shimano XTR/R785 Di2 1x11 speed drivetrain with 11-40T wide cassette gives super-fast shifts and simplified 1x gearing
Shimano RS805 disc brakes are powerful and work just as well in adverse weather
Specialized Command Post XCP dropper post offers 35mm travel for extra convenience on descents
Roval CLX 32 Disc carbon wheelset is robust and the ceramic bearings make for rapid rolling
Specialized 38c Trigger Pro 2Bliss tyres are tubeless ready and fast rolling
Sizes: 48cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm, 61cm, 64cm
Colours: Satin Gloss Oil/Gloss Light Silver
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Specialized says: "When the road less traveled is still too crowded, there's the Diverge. It's purpose-built for long, all-day rides over rough roads, and to make sure of it, we designed it with an endurance-focused geometry and clearance for sizable road tires. With Diverge, your rides are only limited by your imagination.
While the fun may begin where the road ends, you still need a bike that'll get you there - one bike that shreds singletrack and crushes through road miles with equal expertise. Sure, some have tried to make their 'cross bikes more "road-capable" (whatever that means), and others have made their road bikes more "adventure-ready," but we created one bike that makes no compromises between the two. The S-Works Diverge redefines the possibilities for adventure on a drop-bar-bike.
With a completely redesigned frame, the new Diverge is more capable than ever. And with the constant goal to best meet your needs, we took your number one request into account''tire clearance. The new frame will comfortably fit up to 700x42mm tires with plenty of room for mud, too. Along with tire clearance, weight was a large factor in the development, and taking some design cues from the development of the Roubaix, we developed a sub 900-gram FACT 11r carbon frame that's one of the lightest in the category. Actually, it's pretty damn light, even if your intent was more Polka Dot Jersey than hunter's plaid flannel.
Next up, we moved away from a traditional 'cross geometry, instead opting for something that hasn't been seen before''Open Road Geometry. We know what you're thinking, 'it's just another marketing term,' but for the Diverge, we truly did develop an entirely new geometry. With a touch less hyperbole, you can think of it as a road version of modern trail bike geometry. It provides playful handling and predictable steering for endless dirt skids and mid-corner drifts. The geo features a bottom bracket that's over a half-centimetre lower than the previous Diverge, a slacked-out head tube angle, short chainstays, and a short wheelbase. These changes make for a bike that's not only fun in the dirt, but also performs well on the road.
And while riding gravel and dirt roads on a road bike may add to the adventure, there's only so much that wider tires with lower pressures can absorb, in terms of bumps. With this in mind, we implemented a new version of our Future Shock into the Diverge design. It not only soaks up bumps with ease, but also adds the benefit of extremely predictable handling. That's because the wheelbase isn't lengthening when you hit a bump, so the front end of the Diverge keeps the same effective head tube angle. In other words, when you dive hard into a turn, you won't be surprised by under steer or sloppy handling. Unlike the original Future Shock, the Diverge's version features a progressive spring that makes this technology more suitable for off-road applications, where stiffer suspension is often needed to soak-up larger bumps and obstacles.
To add to its multifaceted talents, we topped it off with three water bottle mounts, mounts for racks and fenders, and our Road SWAT™ kit that fits a tube, CO2, CO2 head, valve extender, and money clip. So while it's one of the most smile-inducing bikes you'll ever ride, it's equally adept at commuting or even bikepacking.
For the S-Works Diverge, we handpicked the spec for the lightest, most unique build on an adventure bike. We left the shifting and braking up to Shimano, but did so in a non-traditional way. We paired an XTR Di2 derailleur with R785 Di2 shifters and hydraulic-disc brakes. We then added an Easton EC90 SL Carbon crankset, featherweight Roval CLX 32 Disc wheels, and topped it off with our carbon Command Post XCP that features 35mm of travel."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It's a high-quality construction with a stunning finish.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
S-Works FACT 11r carbon fibre frame and fork with 12mm thru-axles and flat mount disc brakes.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The slacker head angle, lower bottom bracket and higher front end of the new Diverge compared with the previous version provide better road handling manners and more agility in the rough.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It's higher than the old bike due to the Future Shock and Hover handlebar, but it's a comfortable stack height for long distance rides, and the drops provide a lower position for more aggressive riding.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Extremely comfortable. Big tyres and the Future Shock provide a very plush ride. The company's CG-R seatpost would amp up the comfort as well instead of the dropper seatpost.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It's taut and direct when sprinting and riding hard.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Extremely positively for an adventure bike.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Relaxed and stable.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling is fantastic and feels comfortable on the road yet agile and easy to manoeuvre off road and in the rough and loose.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The 1x11 Di2 drivetrain is a delight to use, with all the range you need for the steepest climbs, and the hydraulic brakes are firm and powerful. The tyres are great in most conditions but favour drier rather than squidgy trails.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The build level is impressive, and there's nothing I'd really change.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Oh yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Oh yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Oh yes.
Use this box to explain your score
A phenomenal bike. Without question one of the best adventure bikes currently available, but this S-Works model is mightily expensive, better as a showcase of the best equipment currently available. Look to the lower rung Diverge models for a more affordable slice of this latest tech.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.