With a category seemingly engaging with more riders than any other cycling discipline, it would be foolish for global cycling giant Specialized not to take a long, hard look at their current gravel offering. The Diverge was first released in 2014 when we knew them as ‘adventure bikes’.
Only rivaled by the roaring popularity of e-bikes, as Specialized envisage gravel bikes as their biggest category in the future, a whole new family of the Diverge model has been born.
We’re not talking a few tweaks here and there. The Diverge is completely reworked from the frame up, including a few neat new features. With aluminium and carbon builds ranging from £949 to £8,899, there’s a huge variety in options. Plus a couple of straight-bar variants that’ll be sure to create a stir…
We’ve also received the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon (£3,399) for review, which you can find our thoughts on here.
Specialized Jargon Buster
Before we dive in, if you’re unfamiliar with Specialized’s terminology and hierarchy, let’s make a few things clear. Bikes, plus some accessories like shoes, are ordered from S-Works (highest level) down through Pro, Expert, Comp, and Elite. and to Sport at the budget end. E5 refers to an aluminium frame build, and EVO is the suffix given to the two straight bar bikes in the new range.
Back to the drawing board on geometry
‘Innovate or die’ might sound a bit harsh, but it’s a motto that Specialized have held close for decades. When it came to updating the Diverge, first on the list was a total frame overhaul, producing a series of ‘frankenbikes’ as researchers at Morgan Hill experimented with elements of the original model and sent them out for rider feedback.
The result is a whole new frame altogether, starting with a six millimetre higher bottom bracket than the old Diverge, which although yielded great stability, also gave more pedal strike on rougher ground, especially where smaller 650B tyres were taken into account.
A combination of a slacker headtube, greater fork offset and longer reach help to increase stability over gravel and dirt, teamed up with a slightly longer wheelbase.
Clearance was another major factor in the frame overhaul. To achieve rear tyre clearance for the sort of widths riders are now demanding, frame builders and manufacturers are now faced with a new challenge. In this case, to avoid a dropped or raised chainstay, Specialized have opted for a single piece of narrow solid carbon on the drive side chainstay close to the bottom bracket, offering more space without the compromise of strength or altered aesthetics.
Weighing in under 1000 grams for the S-Works frameset at size 56. This makes the Diverge among the lightest in the category, thanks to the top-end FACT 11r carbon layup. That does come at a price, however, at a sizable £3,499 for the frameset alone. Put into context, you’ll be looking at about an 8kg build for the Diverge S-Works, set up tubeless.
Moving down through the models, you’ll find a 300g difference between this top of the range frame weight and the FACT 8r carbon used at the Base and Sport levels.
Alongside this, Specialized also claim that through their work in the wind tunnel, the new Diverge is more aerodynamic, thanks to the tube shaping than the previous iteration, although don’t put any numbers or much emphasis on this point.
Crucial clearance and rubber
Part of the geometry redesign of the frame focussed on increasing clearance; in my mind one of the most crucial parts of a gravel build, and something you can’t just ‘swap out later’. From the previous Diverge generation at 42 mm maximum tyre width, the new models can now fit 47 mm tyres at 700C. And a whopping 2.1 inches of rubber with 650B wheels. You know it’s good when you get into mountain biking territory, starting to talk inches rather than millimetres for tyre width.
If you’re looking at running a set of mudguards on the new Diverge, a near-must for British winters at least, you’ll be pleased to hear that you can still fit a generous 42 mm tyre, so plenty of room for that grippy tread that you’ll be needing.
Most of the builds are shod with 38mm tyres, either Pathfinder Sport for the lower levels (Base and Sport Carbon) or Pathfinder Pro (tubeless ready) for Comp and above. The Pathfinder is a 700C tyre with a wide and flat central line, flanked by low profile file tread.
The exceptions to this are the two EVO models which are fitted with the new 42 mm Rhombus tyres, featuring much more aggressive tread right across the contact patch and shoulder of the tyre, and the Base and Elite level E5 (aluminium) models, which are both fitted with a 35mm RoadSport tyre. These are almost slick and only really suitable for perfectly dry conditions, of which we’re rarely lucky to find in the UK!
The categorisation for componentry follows the Specialized hierarchy starting with SRAM APEX for the entry level bikes (Base Carbon), through Shimano GRX 600 and 800 series (Carbon Sport), full GRX 800 series (Carbon Comp), GRX Di2 (Carbon Expert), SRAM Force ETAP (Carbon Pro), to SRAM Red AXS (S-Works). For the aluminium models, the Base E5 features Shimano Claris, while you’ll find Shimano GRX 600 series at the Comp and Elite levels.
The straight bar EVO models feature SRAM NX with either Tektro (Comp E5) or Magura (Expert E5) brakes.
Future Shock 2.0
You may be familiar with the Future Shock system, first developed for the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, and adopted in the Diverge line since 2017. Now in its second generation, the system developed to ‘suspend the rider, not the bike’ is more adjustable than ever. Simply by twisting the dial on the top cap of the headset, you can alter the dampening level of the system, even while riding along between more rough and smooth terrain.
Designed to alleviate fatigue in the hands, arms and shoulders, Future Shock isn’t about providing suspension to make everything feel just like the road, but rather to keep you feeling comfortable for longer. When it comes to long distance gravel rides and races, this is (as I’ve found) one of the areas of the body that can tire, especially for former road riders like me that do no upper-body training!
You’ll find this new hydraulic 2.0 version fitted on the carbon models, apart from the Base Carbon model which features Future Shock 1.5, along with the Comp and Sport E5. Both the Base E5 and Elite E5 models do not have the Future Shock system.
SWAT is all about storage. Gravel bikes can take us to some really incredible places; typically more remote than road bikes and often further than on mountain bikes. This means that we need to be more self-sufficient; to carry everything we need to be able to fix a tubeless mare or keep fuelled miles from the nearest resupply, and that means lots of stuff to carry.
Different options work for different riders; rucksacks, top-tube bags, bum bags or seatpost bags; but in the new Diverge there’s another option. Tucked away in the enlarged downtube, the SWAT door is easily released to reveal an internal compartment for storing, well, whatever you like. Already adopted by mountain bike models such as the Enduro, this also helps to keep weight centred and low, closer to the bottom bracket to improve stability. You don’t need any tools to remove the door, it’s a simple click-clack operation.
With two different SWAT pouches to help keep your belongings safe and dry, choose from tools and spares, snacks or an extra layer. One less thing on your back, perhaps?
Dropper post for dropping in
When it gets steep, there’s nothing quite like a dropper for being able to maneuver your body over the bike where you need it, without your saddle getting right in the way. With just 50 mm of travel, the X-Fusion Manic dropper won’t seem like much to mountain bikers familiar with this tech, but it certainly helps in these circumstances.
Vitally, thanks to the sloping top-tube, a dropper seatpost can be fitted to all sizes of frames. A big benefit to smaller riders who usually find it quite limiting with diminutive frame sizes. You’ll find this seatpost on the S-Works model, as well as the two straight bar EVO builds.
Mounts and bags
When it comes to storage on the bike rather than inside it, you’ve got a few options. Thanks to extra bottle cage mounts on the fork legs, top tube and under the downtube you can fit up to six bottles! Choose the Specialized Burra Burra top tube bag fitting onto the bolt mounts (as conventional top tube bags can cause damage to the Future Shock system) and then run your normal bikepacking set up as usual.
There are mounts for a rear rack by the axle and on a seat collar that’s included separately with each bike. At the front, you can run a low rack that attaches at the dropouts and fork legs. You’ll struggle with the type that attaches to the fork crown, as there is no mount there.
You’ll see that Specialized have taken influence from their mountain biking department when it comes to frame protection. A thick and robust rubberised plate is fitted to the downtube by the bottom bracket to protect against flying rocks and stones, while another hefty slice of rubber protects the drive-side chainstay from chain slap.
There are three main wheelsets on offer throughout the range, all with 12 mm thru axles. Starting at the budget end, the Axis Elite Disc wheels are fitted to the Base, Comp and Elite E5 models as well as the Comp E5 EVO.
The Expert E5 EVO, Carbon Sport, Comp and Expert builds benefit from DT Swiss G540 rims (24 mm internal) laced onto Specialized sealed bearing hubs.
At the top end, both the Pro and the S-Works build feature Specialized’s own Roval carbon wheelsets, with the Terra CL at Pro level and Terra CLX at S-Works, both measuring very wide 25mm internal widths.
Straight bar shred sled?
In addition to the standard drop bar range, curiously Specialized are introducing two straight bar models to the Diverge family. It feels to me like a bit of a U-turn on their usual methods and values; wind tunnel testing, fast-rolling tyres, race and speed orientated builds. The only thing the EVO is exuding is ‘fun’!
The EVO’s unique aluminium frames feature a lower stack and greater reach than the standard Diverge geometry. Making the Diverge EVO a more aggressive fit. You’ll find the same tyre clearance here, up to 47 mm or 2.1 inch, depending on wheel size.
Comp and Expert levels come fitted with the previous generation 1.5 Future Shock. The dropper post is the same X-Fusion Manic as fitted to the S-Works with 50mm of travel. The handlebars have a subtle 10mm rise. The lack of sweep however makes me question their suitability for longer days on the bike. Either way, this is certainly a bike I feel like I’d like to play with.
From murdered-out black-on-black to super lary paint jobs. Specialized have stayed true to form when picking from the colour charts for the 11 new models. With 24 different colourways across the range, there’s both subtle and more colourful tones at most build levels.
Of course personal favourites must include the two-tone yellow of the Carbon Sport. The leaf inspired pastels of the Carbon Comp and the oil-slick top end S-Works frameset.
Not just new bikes from Specialized
Specialized have also introduced a few new gravel-specific lines, including tyres, footwear and apparel.
The new Rhombus Pro tyre is fitted on the EVO models, featuring a much more aggressive tread than the Pathfinder. Both along the contact patch and on the shoulder of the tyres. These will be available in 700Cx42 mm.
The Recon range of shoes features models from £90 for the Recon 1.0 up to £340 for the S-Works model. Check out our review of the Recon 3.0 here. These provide the missing link between touring shoes and XC; with generous, grippy rubber tread complimented by a flexible toe box making walking easy while exploring.
Keep your eyes peeled for additions to the RBX ADV apparel range. The is kit designed with long, adventurous days in the saddle in mind. The Deflect jacket included, which packs down into its own pocket, neatly compatible with the downtube SWAT system.
It is easy to overlook the fundamental changes Specialized have made to the Diverge. Ignore the flashy paint jobs, bouncy headsets and in-frame storage for a moment. Beneath the eye candy, Specialized have made the Diverge a whole new breed to its predecessor.
With a focus on lightweight, carbon construction and skinny 38mm rubber, the Diverge still appears to be the racers choice. But a couple of status quo challengers really shake things up across the range. The straight bar EVO models stand out as the antithesis of the gravel racer mould. We’re really looking forward to finding out more about those…
Want to check out our verdict of the upper mid-range Diverge Carbon Comp? Click here.
Last modified: 6th November 2020