With a total makeover, can the new Specialized Diverge move on from just simply being a gravel bike and become your most unexpected N+1? We took one out for a blast
Without a doubt, probably the most bonkers bike you’ll ever ride and instantly fall in love with. From the front suspension to cow-horn handle bars and even ‘that’ seat post, none of the Specialized Diverge makes any sense until your first ride, when you realise that it’s only limitations are rider capability. Its ability to turn any hardcore bike rider into a laughing, smiling kid again is just infectious.
This bike has no terrain or rider classification and it just an outright fun ride and simply had to be included in our 2018 Editor’s Choice.
The Specialized Diverge Comp is a refocused machine and sidesteps away from the utility ‘do it all’ bike to become more of a dedicated road to rough-road bike, firmly sitting in the gravel/adventure category.
This is because the gravel category is one of the fastest emerging disciplines within the cycling world, coming along in leaps and bounds in America over the last four or so years according to Specialized. And although Specialized says that this category keeps on evolving, the needs for the riders stay the same: comfort, capability, versatility and the ability to give the rider confidence are key attributes that this bike adheres to.
But how does this translate to UK riding?
Specialized Diverge Comp frame
The frame is constructed using Specialized’s own FACT9 carbon, which is a grade or two down from what you find on the range-topping S-Works model, but is still highly regarded and used across the Specialized ranges.
With its off road capabilities and drop handlebars it would be easy to categorise the Diverge as a cyclo-cross bike, but Specialized is keen to stress that that’s where the similarity ends. Rather, the Specialized Diverge steps away from the cyclo-cross style geometry, which typically features a high bottom bracket and shorter wheelbase for agile rides, and instead uses uses ‘open road geometry’, lowering the BB by 10mm and lengthening the wheelbase. Specialized says these geometry changes to the Diverge make it a much more stable and confidence-inspiring ride.
Interestingly Specialized – a pioneer of women’s specific bikes – has decided to keep both the male and female geometries the same. However the women’s version comes in smaller sizes and different colours with short cranks, narrower bars, short stems and a women’s specific saddle.
The spring is progressive, meaning it doesn’t have the same spring rate throughout. It changes from around 150lb to 230lb, meaning it gets stiffer the further into the compression the spring goes, not only helping it from bottoming out on heavier impacts but helping you control the bike better too.
With its dual capabilities, tyre and brake selection are top of the list for the Specialized Diverge Comp. Spesh believes the sweetspot in terms of tyres for mixed terrain riding on the Diverge is 38mm rubber, and dresses the bike accordingly with 38mm Specialized Trigger Pro 2Bliss ready tyres, which have a file tread-like grip pattern. If you’re planning more aggressive off-roading, the bike can take up to 42mm tyres, or trade the 700c Axis Elite Disc wheels for 650b (you will need to change rotors too) and you can go up to 45mm tyres.
Brake wise, it’s really pleasing to see the thru-axle Specialized Diverge Comp equipped with Shimano RS505 hydraulic disc brakes. It makes total sense to give the bike excellent stopping power, which when combined with both wheel and tyre size options, mudguard and rack capabilities, makes for an incredibly versatile bike.
Bar a Praxis Alba 2D crankset with 42/32 chainrings and a KMC X11 EL chain, the rest of the drivetrain is Shimano 105, with an 11speed 11-32t cassette.
The rest of the bike is Specialized finished, with 6061 alloy bar and stem, a CG-R FACT carbon seatpin and Body Geometry Phenom Comp saddle.
The Specialized Diverge Comp is going to be the biggest marmite bike of the year. It’s a totally bonkers bike on paper, and its looks can be described as ‘interesting’ at best. There’s cables flapping out the front, funky cowhorn handlebars and then there’s that seatpost. None of it really makes any sense until you start rolling on it and then the penny drops and you totally fall in love. Kiddy, smiling, laughing love. This bike is like all the best bits of riding a bike as a kid again. It can do anything.
There is a caveat: if you’re not the kind of rider who’s only interested in getting fast miles done, then it’s probably not for you. If, however, you’re the kind who wants to just see where wheels take them then you won’t be disappointed.
My ride started on road, then to gravel, before turning in to a full-blown off-road rocky trail. The Specialized Diverge Comp lapped it all up. The lowered bottom bracket and longer wheelbase make it super stable and even capable of reasonably high step-downs without a hint of heading over the bars. OK so your backside gets bumped about a bit, but the 20mm of front-end travel soaks up all the worst of it for most of your body.
While the off-road stuff had me grinning from ear to ear, the pleasure to link up sections and bridleways quickly via the tarmac did not go unnoticed. It’s by no means rapid on the road, but the file-tread centre of the tyres minimised the sluggish feel you can get from dedicated off-road rubber, and it certainly rolls faster than most mountain bikes.
I found myself just rolling with the wheels, heading off whenever I saw a bridleway sign. I saw more of my local area than in the two years that I’ve lived here.
I did make a slight error in my adventure on autopilot and ended up on a pretty gnarly downhill trail with just my carbon road shoes on – but it made for a good test of the Specialized Diverge Comp’s handling abilities as well as my off-road skills, and I have to confess that there’s nothing the bike couldn’t do.
My talent would run out way before the bike’s would. In fact, it’s the closest I’ve ever come to stopping a ride and calling the team of design engineers and telling them “I get it, I totally get this bike”. I even got the dropper post that the S-Works version comes with. The only thing stopping this bike is the rider!
At £2,600, the Specialized Diverge Comp is at the upper end of the price range next to similarly equipped peers. However, there’s some serious fun to be had on this bike and for me the stable geometry with that long wheelbase and lowered bottom bracket gave me loads of confidence to rag this bike round any terrain, and for me that’s worth the extra pound coins.
A bonkers bike on paper with interesting looks that will have you grinning from ear to ear if you find the right place to ride it, which is pretty much anywhere your wheels want to take you.