The new Specialized Diverge gravel bike is here, almost exactly 30 years after the first of its ‘forebears’ was released. How has the geometry changed in all those years and can the Diverge be both the perfect getaway vehicle and Haribo transporter? During our first ride review, we flogged it across the gravel tracks around Girona!
It’s been roughly 14 years since the first Dirty Kanza gravel race in Kansas. A diminutive number of 34 gravel fanatics showed up at the start line to ride their bikes through the punishing Flint Hills. Since then, the number of participants has ballooned to 3,400 and the gravel boom continues to grow. But is gravel really a brand new genre of riding? Of course not! It’s been more than 30 years ago since the Specialized RockCombo 1989 first saw the light of day. A steel frame, 40 mm wide 26″ tires and a drop bar marked the birth of the first ATB (All Terrain Bike). Sound familiar? The concept seems all the more relevant in 2020 and while the name might have changed, we’re still riding similar knobbly-tired, drop bar machines. One thing should be obvious. Whether it’s called gravel or ATB, the name and definition of a category should be irrelevant because in reality, now, like then, it’s all about the joy of riding a bike with a grin on your face!
But who are “we”? Before developing a bike, designers have to figure out who they are building it for and where it will be used. What kind of gravel bike should it be? What does gravel mean exactly? Who rides gravel and where do they ride? Question upon question that in the end, according to Specialized themselves, played a subordinate role in the development of the new Diverge. Instead, the American brand took a slightly different stance. Why do we actually ride bikes? What spurs us on? For Specialized, the answer was obvious. It’s in our nature to investigate, explore and discover new things. We want to get away from the mechanisation of cars, away from overstimulating cities and instead launch ourselves into adventure! We want to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life! Specialized’s answer is two wheels attached to what they see as the ultimate getaway vehicle – the brand new Specialized Diverge!
What’s new on the Specialized Diverge 2021?
Specialized have subscribed to the notion that a certain degree of suspension and comfort result in more speed overall. What use is a bike that is stiff and aerodynamic if you can’t ride in the drops for more than 10 minutes? The adjustable Future Shock 2.0 system allows you to tailor comfort during your ride, letting you cover even rough terrain at high speeds. Unfortunately, the adjustable damping is only available on the top-end models. The Future Shock 2.0 system is claimed to be more efficient than a suspension fork, which would affect handling and be slower. Instead, it’s not the wheels that are suspended, but the rider themselves on top of the bike.
The new Specialized Diverge now has clearances for tires up to 700 x 47C (700 x 42C with mudguards) or 650 x 54B, yet still maintains 6 mm of space on either side of the tire to clear mud and dirt. To make enough space for the tire, the drive side chainstay section by the tire is a solid construction rather than hollow tubing. Even with the short 425 mm chainstays, this means they aren’t dropped as on many competitors’ bikes.
The top-end Diverge models are also furnished with the practical SWAT Box in the down tube that allows you to stow smaller essentials like a jacket, spare tube, mini-tool, CO2 cartridge or even several bags of Haribo, ensuring you always have them along for the ride. The SWAT Box opening is located under the bottle cage and can be accessed while riding with a bit of practice. In terms of weight distribution, the low centre of gravity makes a lot more sense than traditional saddle bags.
The fork, top tube and underside of the down tube are furnished with more than enough mounting points. A seat stay bridge can also be fitted to be able to mount mudguards. The new carbon seatpost, available with 0 or 20 mm offset is based on the Pavé seatpost from the Specialized Roubaix (click for review) and should help balance out the comfort generated at the front of the bike.
Specialized Diverge models and builds
The Diverge is available in six carbon, three aluminium and two further aluminium models with geometry modified to suit flat bars. That covers a range of users, just like the variety of 1x, 2x, mechanical and electronic drivetrain options does. That wide array of options makes a lot of sense to cater to diverse needs. However, the trend for 1x drivetrains is obvious. The Diverge Base with a FACT 8r carbon frame, Future Shock 1.5 (without adjustable damping), SRAM Apex brakes and a mechanical 1×11 Apex drivetrain marks the entry into the carbon range. The Diverge Comp gets the higher-end FACT 9r frame, Future Shock 2.0 (with adjustable damping), a mechanical 2×11 Shimano GRX drivetrain and a SWAT box. The top of the line S-Works Diverge triumphs with a FACT 11r carbon frame, SRAM RED eTap AXS 1×12 drivetrain, carbon wheelset and adjustable dropper post. It is also available as a frameset only option.
The Diverge EVO takes a different approach with flat bars and modified geometry to suit. It’s supposed to blur the boundaries of gravel bikes just that bit more, able to master most of the technical challenges you’re likely to face on the trails. To do this, the reach has been lengthened, the head angle is slacker and the bottom bracket has been lowered. That’s supposed to better integrate the rider with the bike, allowing you to master downhills that you would previously have walked. Fun guaranteed then!
Our test bike, the Specialized S-Works Diverge 2021, came with the following kit:
Groupset SRAM RED eTap AXS, 1 x 12, 42 t
Cassette SRAM XG-1295 Eagle, 10–50 t
Brakes SRAM RED Hydro, 160/160 mm
Wheelset Roval Terra CLX, 25 mm inner width, 32 mm depth
Tires Specialized Pathfinder Pro 700 x 38C
Seatpost X-Fusion Manic Dropper Post, 50 mm travel
Bars Easton EC70 AX Carbon, 420 mm
Stem S-Works Future stem, 90 mm
Weight 8.31 kg in size 56
Price € 9,999
Availability available now at your Specialized dealer
Overview of the six carbon versions
|Apex 1 x 11
|GRX 2 x 11
|GRX 2 x 11
|GRX Di2 1 x 11
|Force eTap AXS 1 x 12
|RED eTap AXS 1 x 12
|Inner rim width
|Alu 21 mm
|Alu 24 mm
|Alu 24 mm
|Alu 24 mm
|Carbon 25 mm
|Carbon 25 mm
|Future Shock version
Geometry of the Specialized Diverge 2021
Compared to its predecessor, the geometry is more progressive. The reach has grown by 13 mm (size 56), increasing the wheelbase by 38 mm. Toe overlap should be a thing of the past as a result. The fork offset has been increased by 5 mm and the stem is short, meaning the length of the cockpit stays the same. The bottom bracket has been raised by 6 mm to improve ground clearance.
*Frame sizes 44 and 64 are only available for the entry-level models Diverge Base and Diverge Sport with 8r carbon frames. The Comp, Expert, Pro and S-Works models are available in size from 49 to 61.
You can see how the geometry has changed from the ‘first’ model in 1989 all the way to today. For a time period of more than 30 years, the differences are pretty negligible!
Geometry 2021 vs. 2018 vs. 1989 (size 56)
|Seat tube angle
Specialized S-Works Diverge first ride review
Shortly before the COVID-19 crisis took hold, we had the chance to rag the Specialized Diverge along the gravel tracks in and around Girona. At first glance, the new Diverge looks almost like its predecessor, despite all its technological advancements. It’s a high-tech understatement and its engineers have done a lot of development work that isn’t immediately obvious. You’ll be searching fruitlessly for dropped seat stays or exotic tubesets. Instead, the brand new Diverge makes an impression with its technical refinement and quality paint job. At this point, we just want to reassure you that the finish of the bike is even brighter and more lustrous than it looks on your screen. Who said that getaway vehicles have to be unobtrusive if you shake off the pursuit within the first few seconds anyway? That’s exactly what the Diverge can do. It’s light footed and quick to react when accelerating and gets willingly up to speed. As long as you have enough power in your legs, you’ll easily shake off any annoying pursuers aboard the Diverge.
The bike is very efficient on the flats and the Future Shock 2.0 system works very well, allowing you to stay in the drops for extended periods even on bumpy gravel tracks. The 700 x 38C Specialized Pathfinder tires roll fast on the road and work as good all-rounders on compacted ground. If you want to ride the Diverge on and off the road, this is the right tire for you. That said, it’s not just the flats where the high efficiency of the Diverge shines. It also climbs willingly and quickly, without robbing you of energy. Despite the 42 t chainring, the low weight and the massive 10–50 t, 500% range cassette makes even the steepest slopes manageable.
Leave the asphalt and compacted ground behind in favour of trails and the fun really begins – for you and the bike! Straight line stability has definitely benefited from the long wheelbase and increased reach, allowing the bike to shine with its calm ride. It masterfully covers technically challenging terrain while delivering a confidence inspiring ride. To compensate, if you have to avoid bigger obstacles, you’ll need a bit more input at the bars, while the rear seems to lag behind slightly. On a scale from playful and agile to decidedly stable, the Diverge definitely finds itself moving towards the stable end of the spectrum. Nonetheless, steering input is transmitted directly, meaning that the Diverge can always be moved around easily regardless of its length.
The Future Shock 2.0 system works very well and increases comfort enormously. The damping on the top-end models can be adjusted quickly with a dial that sits in the traditional place of a headset cap. That lets you adjust the comfort up front to suit the current terrain you are on. With a dropper post, the rear is inevitably a little less comfortable than the front. However, if you can forgo it and are happy to have the carbon seatpost instead, you’ll enjoy a much more balanced level of comfort. Here, the various models on offer give you enough choice to choose your dream build. Specialized’s approach to suspend the rider on the bike rather than the wheels themselves makes a lot of sense in terms of comfort. However, the damping only helps improve traction to a limited degree. We still see the potential for future developments in this area. Happy days! You’ll still have something to keep you occupied for the future Specialized! 😉
As the trails get rougher and thick roots are accompanied by large rocks, quite a few gravel bikes would start to reach their limits. That’s not the case with the dropper post equipped Diverge! It offers an unbelievable amount of trust and security on the downhills on all terrain and makes it easy for the rider to step outside their comfort zone. Even the Pathfinder tire reacts very predictably when it starts to lose grip. We were also able to ride the Specialized Diverge with the 700 x 47C Tracer – it will be a good choice for all those who want to ride the Diverge primarily on gravel and looser ground. This tire is just as suited to the rapid retreat into the wilderness as it is to more aggressive trail fun. If you want to tear up your home trails aboard the Diverge, you should make sure to keep enough pressure on your front wheel. The long reach requires you to ride the bike actively and comparatively aggressively. The damping of the Future Shock 2.0 system should also be increased to avoid bottoming out the bars regularly on bigger hits.
Specialized S-Works Diverge summary
The Specialized S-Works Diverge doesn’t just shine thanks to its great looks but also due to its incredible all-round handling. It’s a guarantee for good times with an extra dose of security thrown in, making it suited to a wide range of riders. The Diverge is equipped with plenty of mounting points, accelerates quickly and rides well on the trails. The adjustable Future Shock 2.0 suspension is a decidedly useful development! If you want a bike to escape everyday stress on whichever paths you choose, be they road, gravel or trails, then the brand new Diverge is your perfect getaway vehicle!
- great visual design
- adjustable Future Shock 2.0
- all-round performance
- secure ride on technically demanding terrain
- plenty of mounting points
- no toe overlap on smaller sizes
- adjustable Future Shock 2.0 only available on top-end models
You can find more information about the Specialized Diverge at specialized.com
Do you want to know more about how other gravel bikes perform? You can find our big gravel group test here and an overview of all the bikes we’ve tested here.
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Words: Philipp Schwab, Benjamin Topf Photos: Benjamin Topf, Etienne Schoeman, Jojo Harper