- Good carbon frame
- Great handling
- Perfect blend of on road performance and off road capability
- Tyres comprise its off-road competency
Price as reviewed:
If gravel biking were a spectrum, at the one end would live bikes inspired by the road. They’ll often use the same carbon fibre and feature road-inspired geometry but have clearance for wider tyres. At the other end of the spectrum are burly beasts with radical geometry, inspired much more by mountain bikes.
Other than a few consistently radical outliers such as the Chamois Hagger, which has always been much more extreme, we’ve seen gravel bikes steadily move along this spectrum, as a burgeoning new riding form found its feet.
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Whilst the trend might be towards the gnarlier end, I certainly wouldn’t argue that the more mountain-bike-esque the better. If, like myself, you don’t have access to trails from your doorstep then chances are you’re going to have to do some considerable on-road riding to get your off-road fix. For this reason I judge gravel bikes on their merits across a dual discipline. Sure, how does it perform when things get rowdy but also, how was it to pedal 20km on tarmac?
Well, it might well be that, with some minor tweaks, the Specialized Diverge has a found the sweet spot.
Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon: Frame and Geometry
As riders start tackling tougher terrain, they’re asking more of their bikes. The industry has been responding to these demands: a slacker head angle here, wider tyres there.
Not wanting to be left behind the curve, the Specialized Diverge has been made slacker as well as longer. It’s a geometry move that our mountain biking cousins have been espousing for years as it adds greater control and increases stability.
Of course, gravel hasn’t gone that far down the rabbit hole yet, but the Diverge has taken inspiration from the Specialized Epic cross country bike. Its wheelbase has grown and is now 1042mm long and its head angle is a degree slacker, down to 71.75. Two changes that puts it in line with its competitors such as the Cannondale Topstone. It’s also got a greater amount of fork offset, too.
The only change that bucks this trend is Specialized raising the bottom bracket height. The bike now has a bb drop of 80mm over 85 to better accommodate 650b wheels and avoid pedal strikes.
The FACT 9r carbon frame can accommodate a 47mm tyre on a 700c wheel, and a 2.1″ tyre if you change to 650b hoops. It also has Specialized’s SWAT compartment in the down tube, which is only found on the top four models, and I found to be a handy fit and forget for my tubes and C02. It’s also worth mentioning that it can accommodate a dropper post as well as sporting no less than six bottle cage mounts.
The frame isn’t the highest modulus available in the Diverge range, that honour sits with the S-Works model which uses the brand’s 11r carbon, putting it in-line with its top end road models. Of course, adventure riding is a niche that’s typically fond of its steel and metal bikes, and considering the mess that bike bags can make of a carbon frame, if you’re serious about going bike packing then I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily worth it.
This model (and the three above it) feature Specialized’s Future Shock 2.0, a hydraulic damper with 20mm of compression that sits beneath the stem. It first debuted on the Specialized Roubaix, and then the Specialized Creo e-bike and is adjustable, meaning it can be locked out for road riding, although I rarely did this, preferring the added squish on the UK’s roads.
It’s different to Cannondale’s Lefty Oliver fork, which offers 30mm of suspension via an air chamber, which can be tuned to rider weight and also features rebound adjustment. It’s also positioned beneath the bike, like a typical telescopic mountain biking fork, whereas Future Shock sits beneath the handlebars and is designed to maintain a rider’s speed and the bike’s handling. In testing, it’s definitely better suited to choppy roads than out-and-out technical trails.
Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon: Specification
The Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon is the only carbon diverge to come equipped with a double ring setup at the front, with it using a Shimano GRX RX810 groupset with 48/31 crankset.
Whether you need the double will come down to your circumstances. I found it useful for my longer road sections and long draggy hills but there’s no doubting it’s noisier than a 1x setup, even with the clutch rear derailleur.
I found the DT Swiss G540 wheels to be suitable for both on and off road sections and didn’t manage to ding them despite casing roots. They’re tubeless ready, as are the Specialized Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss 38mm tyres, although Specialized doesn’t ship them setup as such.
The slick profiles of the tyres will make them a mixed bag for many riders, and they would be the first thing I’d have swapped out had I not had to ride such tarmac heavy routes. Even on loose gravel paths I almost lost the front end a couple of times. I’d expect those riders whose dirt to road ratio is in greater balance to swap them out quite quickly and they’d certainly not be suitable for the British winter weather.
Because many riders inevitably have to do a degree of tarmac trudging on their gravel bikes, I’ll be talking in equal measure about how the Diverge performed both on and off road.
For starters, the FACT 9r carbon frame was fast. It was an easy pedal that helped offset the 38mm tyres, to the extent that I actually wouldn’t go slimmer than this purely because it’d compromise the off road riding too much. I did stick 30mm tyres (Specialized recommends a minimum of 28s for pure tarmac use) in it for a weekend of road touring.
Laden with bags, the 48/31t crankset rarely felt under geared and provided a comfortable range for spinning the bike up hills. The larger GRX hoods also provided a very comfortable hand position for extended use. The same can be said for the taller upright position and the extra length in the wheelbase made descending a stable joy, especially when gaining velocity due to heavy bags.
The Specialized Diverge will always hold a special place in my heart due to its unfortunate timing. I received this bike in the middle of the UK’s first lockdown, and it allowed me a genuine sense of adventure and exploration at a time when it felt like life was standing still.
Of course, I never went far, but it did open up a whole new world of suburban green space and I discovered some amazing trails right on my doorstep in London. Most of these trails were wide open and fast, and I was impressed by how stable the bike felt off road. I was happy to let the bike accelerate up to speed, and thanks to the GRX brakes being so impressively powerful, I felt in total control.
I did find the bike to be compromised on wet and rooty trails because of its tyre choice and on tighter corners and techy climbs it didn’t feel particularly nimble but for fire road munching and sweeping trails, it was a lot of fun.
For £3600, you’re getting an impressive carbon frame and an excellent groupset but the value is compromised by those tyres. As an offering, it’s comparable with Cannondale’s Topstone Carbon 2, which uses the same groupset.
Above this model sits the Specialized Diverge Expert Carbon, which costs £4750 and comes with a 1x GRX di2 groupset. For those looking to spend a little less, there is a Base Carbon model for £2300, although you do miss out on SWAT. Below that there’s a host of aluminium frames, starting at £999 and extending through to £2000.
What you value in a gravel bike will come down to the type of riding that you have access to. The Specialized Diverge offers a great balance between the on and off road worlds. Its updated geometry adds stability and comfort and its impressive carbon frame is responsive and fast. Its off-road performance is compromised by the tyre choice and we'd certainly swap them out if we were tackling more serious terrain.
Frame : Specialized FACT 9r, SWAT integration with Future Shock
Fork : FACT carbon w/ Future Shock
Handlebars: Specialized Adventure Gear Hover
Stem: Future Stem
Saddle: Specialized Body Geometry Power Sport
Groupset: Shimano GRX RX810, 48-31t
Tyres: Specialized Pathfinder Pro, 2Bliss Ready
Wheels: DT Swiss G540