The latest Specialized Diverge is very impressive to ride. It's a racer that absolutely flies on the gravel, whose quick handling and relatively short wheelbase makes it a flickable bike with loads of feedback when you've got the bit between your teeth. Against the opposition, though, it is a bit weighty and a fair chunk of money given the spec.
- Pros: Quality frame and fork, very responsive handling
- Cons: Pricey considering the spec, quite heavy against some opposition
I suppose what sets the top-end Diverge models apart from a lot of other gravel bikes is the Future Shock suspension that sits between the head tube and the stem. Based on the design developed for its bump-taming Roubaix road bike, the Diverge uses a progressive spring instead to control the damping as it needs the ability to take the harder and larger knocks from off-road riding. It gives about 20mm of travel, and it does actually work.
We're seeing a few brands bringing out gravel suspension forks, and even some bikes designed with rear shocks, but personally I'm not really interested. For me, gravel riding takes me back to when I was a teenager at the beginning of the Nineties, blasting around the local woods on my steel hardtail mountain bike, and it's that 'absorbing the bumps through your elbows and knees' that makes it fun. Spotting the perfect line, bunnyhopping tree roots and potholes, and shifting your body weight around as the tyres scrabble for grip on the tiny pebbles.
The Future Shock takes none of this away from the Diverge, it just takes the edge off the vibration and jarring of your wrists when the surface is really rough or you make a mistake.
Feedback from the front tyre is maintained and you always know exactly what the bike is up to underneath you, with the rear wheel sending just as much information to your rear end as you are getting at the front.
You need it, too, as the Diverge – like the excellent Canyon Grail – has quite aggressive geometry compared to a lot of gravel/adventure bikes, which goads you into pushing just that little bit harder into the corners or on descents.
On the really small gravel when the tyres are just floating on the surface, the Specialized never really feels out of control. Like I said, the feedback is amazing and you can feel exactly how you need to shift your body weight to keep the bike upright and travelling in the right direction, as close to the line you have chosen as possible.
In fact, I think this was when I enjoyed myself the most – you feel like a cycling god holding the bike right on the edge of its grip levels, though in reality it's just as much the Diverge's geometry that is letting you get away with it.
At 10.05kg (22.15) the Diverge is carrying a bit of weight compared to the similarly priced Grail, the CF SL 7.0, and you notice it on the climbs. The 32x34 lowest gear ratio helps out, but I didn't really find myself sprinting out of the saddle as much as I did on the Grail – not only because of the weight, but also the only downside of the Future Shock: it bobs about a bit when you are climbing hard and you can't lock it out.
Overall comfort from the Diverge frame and fork is also good, and as I enjoyed riding it so much I was constantly pushing to go out and do longer rides purely on the gravel. I was out for four to five hours at times and suffered from no real discomfort from any of my contact points.
A lot of gravel riding means tying together disjointed tracks, so the Diverge needs to be good on the road as well. The Sawtooth tyres roll pretty well and the double chainset gives you tarmac-friendly gearing so things are pretty good. The only fly in the ointment is that Future Shock again compressing when you are climbing out of the saddle.
Frame and fork
The Diverge comes in both aluminium and carbon fibre, with this model being the entry-level carbon offering, with its FACT 9r frame. It's available in both a men's and women's version.
It's a quality bit of kit, offering a great balance of stiffness and comfort, ideal for standing up to the rigours of off-road riding.
Specialized has followed the usual route of oversizing those parts of the frame that are likely to see the largest loads from pedalling, steering and braking. A beefy head tube, large diameter down tube and massive seatstays keep the bike planted and flex-free, helped by being held together by the chunky BB386 Pressfit bottom bracket shell. Not everyone's cup of tea but so far so good, with plenty of wet rides under its belt.
From previous use of Praxis bottom brackets I've found them to be pretty much hassle-free, so fingers crossed creaking doesn't become an issue over time.
You'll find full internal cable routing, and three bottle cage mounting points.
Wheel retention is taken care of by 12mm thru-axles front and rear, and as you'd expect the Diverge uses the latest flat mountings for the disc calipers.
Tyre clearance is a decent 42mm for 700C wheels, and 47mm if you go down the 650B route.
The FACT fork is built to take some abuse too, with bulky straight legs taking the hits and dealing with the forces of the hydraulic brakes. Stiffness is excellent and under hard braking I never had any issues with the legs chattering or twisting, helped by the aforementioned thru-axle.
Geometry-wise, as I've already mentioned the Specialized is at the racier end of the spectrum thanks to its Open Road Geometry. What does that mean? This 56cm size has a 73.5° seat angle and a 72.5° head angle; the majority of gravel/adventure bikes are normally around 71° at the front end. It has a relatively short wheelbase for this type and size of bike at just 1,011mm, all of which adds up to the sort of quick-handling, responsive riding style I got from the Diverge.
To take into account the added height of the Future Shock, Specialized has kept the head tube short at just 128mm, which is race bike territory, but with the spacers and shock added you still get a decently high front end for when you're clawing your way up gravel trails.
There are six size options, ranging from a 48cm frame through to 61cm in this men's model.
Now I'm not going to lie, I was pretty shocked to see a £2,100 bike with a Shimano Tiagra groupset and thought it must be a mistake on our extranet, where I get to see all the information about what I'm testing.
But nope. That cash will get you Tiagra gearing as far as the front and rear mechs go, and a set of non-series Tiagra-level 10-speed shifters and hydraulic brake levers.
The crankset is from Praxis, its Alba model that John was impressed with back when he reviewed it.
For my style of riding I'll happily take a double ring setup over a 1x as it just suits me. I spent years as a time triallist, developing a high speed but very narrow cadence range, and I just find the majority of 1x cassettes too gappy.
The Alba has 48/32-tooth chainrings which lowers the gearing a little over a standard compact, paired to the SunRace 11-34 cassette, with shifting across it helped by the long cage rear mech.
For me, the spread of gears was absolutely fine for all of the terrain I encountered, and while the shifters aren't as crisp in use as the actual mechanical Tiagra units, skipping between sprockets and chainrings is dealt with quickly and cleanly.
I've said it plenty of times before, but I'm really not a fan of the shape of these RS405 levers, I just find them too elongated at the hood and they don't lend themselves well to your hand shape like others in Shimano's range.
When it comes to braking power they also seem to lack a little compared with, say, the latest Shimano 105 R7020 models, though whether that comes down to the shape and my hand position or not is difficult to say.
Specialized has gone for 160mm diameter rotors front and rear, which is a good choice for off-road use and they haul you up quickly without too much fuss.
The rest of the finishing kit is Specialized's own brand stuff. The Adventure Gear Hover handlebar is a riser to give you a little bit of extra height, and comes with a 12-degree flare at both ends. This gives you a wider stance and more stability when in the drops and travelling at speed, and also gives a bit of extra clearance for bar bags and the like.
Unlike the more expensive models, you don't get the S-Works CG-R shock-absorbing seatpost on this Diverge, having to make do with a standard 27.2mm diameter alloy model. It's a shame because having that little bit of travel at the front makes the rear feel more harsh than it really is.
Swapping to some sort of flexible post would be on my upgrade list, although the Body Geometry Toupe Sport saddle does a pretty good job of taming the worst of the bumps.
Wheels and tyres
Both the wheels and tyres are out of Specialized's parts bin. The Axis Sport Disc wheels aren't massively heavy and don't hamper the ability of the bike at all. With a 24-spoke build at the front and a slightly beefier 28 at the rear, they are aimed more at faster, unloaded gravel riding than others on the market, but I certainly had no issues with durability after some really hard-hitting gravel rides. Rain, mud and grit haven't seen the bearings start grumbling yet, and they continue to spin with little resistance.
The Sawtooth Sport tyres fitted are 38mm wide and suited more to bigger aggregate gravel as the tread is quite small, so when riding on the smaller sized stones they can be quite skittish.
They work well on hardpacked surfaces like dry mud and chalk, and are great on grass. If things get at all wet, though, away from the gravel you might as well be on slicks for all the bite they'll give you.
On the road they have decent rolling resistance, and pumped hard they grip well while still being comfortable.
This is the one place where the Diverge falls down a bit. I've made references to the Canyon Grail in the review, and the main reason is because to my mind it is by far the best no-nonsense gravel racing bike out there. While the Diverge is pretty close in performance, what you're getting for the money doesn't compare.
The Grail CF SL 7.0 is the entry point into the carbon models with their Hover Cockpit Bars (scoff all you want, it's amazing) and it'll set you back £1,999 plus delivery.
That includes a full Shimano 105 R7020 hydraulic groupset, DT Swiss C 1850 DB wheelset, the excellent Schwalbe G-One Bite tyres and a Fizik Aliante R5 saddle.
That's quite the package, and it has a claimed weight of just 8.8kg which seems about right considering our Shimano Ultegra test model weighed 8.4kg on our scales.
The Vitus Energie CRX might be more cyclo-cross orientated than a gravel machine, but its similar geometry means the racy ride style is quite close to the Diverge but without the bump taming. For its £1,899.99 build you are getting a full SRAM Force groupset and a decent spec list; it's light too.
Overall, I really like the Diverge. It offers a great ride and is really suited to those who want to get out and explore the countryside at speed. It really falls down on price, though, compared to some of the best in the business, and that's its biggest issue. I'd want more bang for my buck!
Clever shock system and an excellent ride but expensive for what you are getting
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized Men's Diverge
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
BOTTOM BRACKET Praxis, PF30
CHAIN KMC X10, 10-Speed
CRANKSET Praxis Alba
SHIFT LEVERS Shimano RS405 Shifters, hydraulic disc, 10-speed
FRONT DERAILLEUR Shimano Tiagra, 10-speed
CASSETTE SunRace, 11-34t, 10-speed
REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano Tiagra, GS cage, 10-speed
SADDLE Body Geometry Toupé Sport, steel rails, 143mm
SEAT BINDER Diverge Collar, Alloy, 31.2mm
TAPE S-Wrap Roubaix w/ sticky gel
SEATPOST Carbon, single-bolt, 27.2mm
HANDLEBARS Specialized Adventure Gear Hover, 12-degree flare
STEM Specialized, 3D-forged alloy, 4-bolt, 6-degree rise
REAR WHEEL Axis Sport Disc
INNER TUBES Presta valve, 48mm
FRONT TIRE Sawtooth Sport, black, 700x38mm
REAR TIRE Sawtooth Sport, black, 700x38mm
FRONT WHEEL Axis Sport Disc
FRONT BRAKE Shimano RS405, hydraulic disc
REAR BRAKE Shimano RS405, hydraulic disc
PEDALS Nylon, 105x78x28mm w/ reflectors
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, "Hop on the dirt path down the street, cruise through town to your favorite café, or go on a proper overnight adventure ride - whatever your plans may be, the Diverge is here to let you do what you want."
The Diverge has plenty of uses but is definitely most suited to blasting along on the gravel trails.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The E5 aluminium models sit below the carbon models. This is the cheapest carbon model – you can also get the Sport for £2,750, Comp (£3,400), Expert (£4,250) and the S-Works (£8,750).
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
An excellent frame and fork throughout. Well made and the finish is brilliant.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
FRAME Specialized FACT 9r carbon, Open Road Geometry, 12x142mm thru-axle, Future Shock Progressive suspension, 20mm of travel, flat-mount disc, BB386
FORK Specialized FACT carbon, flat-mount disc, 12x100mm thru-axle
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The Diverge has more aggressive geometry than the majority of gravel/adventure bikes on the market, which makes it fun to ride fast off-road.
Full geometry details are here.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The reach is pretty much as I'd expect for this size and style of bike, and although the Diverge has a short head tube, taking the Future Shock and everything into consideration it has quite a high front end and taller realistic stack measurements than most.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes. The frame is very comfortable and does a good job of not feeling harsh over rough ground.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The bottom half of the frame has excellent stiffness.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, the Diverge does feel efficient especially when being ridden hard.
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? Lively enough to be entertaining.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Speedy, which makes it great for changing direction rapidly on rough, loose terrain.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Future Shock is pretty impressive but I would upgrade the seatpost to something with some flex in it.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
All the components delivered plenty of stiffness to match the frame.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Having lower gearing than a normal compact makes the Diverge easier to ride uphill when seated.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The groupset works well together as a whole but I've always felt that these shiftfer/brake levers don't perform as well as the mechanical Shimano shifters or its latest hydraulic options.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
Decent own brand wheels that take plenty of use without being overbuilt or exceptionally heavy.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
Wide enough to offer decent purchase on most gravel sizes and still work well on the road.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
A decent batch of kit from Specialized, and I especially liked the flared riser bar.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? No, too pricey at full rrp.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's overpriced for the spec list compared to many of its top rivals.
Use this box to explain your overall score
If the Diverge was £200-£300 cheaper with this spec then its score would be up there with the likes of the carbon Grail. It's a really great bike let down by its component choices for the money.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!