Words and Photos by Whit Yost.
Size Tested: 56cm
While it’s been marketed as a quit-your-day-job-and-go-ride-around-the-Spanish-countryside kind of bike, the Specialized Diverge is actually aimed at someone with much more humble aims. Sure, it’s ready for all-day adventures, but the Diverge really aspires to be more of a Swiss Army knife than a machete.
The name suggests that the Diverge is only designed for fire roads, gravel grinding, and that Amazonian bike-packing trip you’ve been dreaming of taking. And with disc brakes, thru-axles, front and rear Zertz elastomer inserts, and clearance for 35mm tyres, it certainly is.
But here’s the thing about gravel roads: unless you live deep in the wilderness, you have to get to them somehow. Specialized designed the Diverge, realising that the best gravel road bikes are road bikes first and gravel bikes second. They took some of the best features from their performance road (shorter head tube – Tarmac), endurance road (longer wheelbase – Roubaix), and cyclocross (higher bottom bracket – Crux) framesets and combined them to create the Diverge. As a result, the bike feels just as at home on asphalt as it does off it, and you don’t hate the ride out to the rough stuff or count down the miles until you’re done with it.
In fact, the Diverge is a lot of fun to ride. The frame is designed to do everything well, but obviously excels on rougher surfaces. On gravel roads I found myself gently pulling away from my riding companions – not because I was trying to ride away from them, but because the Diverge was just faster on gravel than the road or cyclocross bikes they were riding. For most rides I pumped Specialized’s 30/32mm Roubaix Pro tyres to about 80 psi, and traction was never a problem. At no point did the bike feel as if it might drift out from under me, and I’ve never descended with more confidence – especially on country dirt roads.
On rides well off the beaten path – including footpaths and light singletrack – the Diverge handled everything I rode through (or over). But be warned: while wide, the Roubaix Pro tyre is just a super-wide road tyre. As such, it doesn’t offer enough traction for extended stays on singletrack or loose surfaces.
But on asphalt and gravel, thanks to those super-fat tyres and 51mm of fork rake, the Diverge is an incredibly stable and comfortable bike without sacrificing agility for compliance and clearance. Once I tweaked the position a bit by lowering the stem to give myself a bit more drop, it climbed and sprinted the way I would expect all but the most aggressive road bikes to handle. It’s a bike you can easily spend all day on, or load up with fenders and racks (it’s designed to work seamlessly with Specialized’s Plug and Play fender system) to make an efficient, performance-oriented commuter or bike-camper.
The Diverge’s versatility also makes it the perfect choice for the beginner who wants a road bike, but doesn’t want to feel limited by when and where he can ride it. Or the mountain biker looking to dabble on the road without falling out of touch with his dirty roots. Or the commuter who wants to get to work faster. Or the bike camper who wants to have a little more energy when he gets to his campsite at the end of the day.
We tested the 2015 Diverge Carbon Di2, which at $8,500 was quite an investment for folks looking to jump in at the top of the Diverge line. With Shimano Ultegra Di2 components and ST-R785 electronic/hydraulic STI levers, it’s easy to see why the price was so high. But perhaps realising that $8,500 is a lot to ask people to spend for a bike as unique (albeit useful) as the Diverge, Specialized has lowered the line’s ceiling for 2016.
The $5,500 Diverge Pro is now at the top of the Diverge line, and it keeps everything that was right about the 2015 Diverge Carbon Di2 (FACT 10r carbon frame and fork, Roval Control SL CX carbon thru-axle wheelset, FACT carbon crankset, and Shimano BR-785 hydraulic disc brakes), and jettisons the components that added more bucks than bang (a Di2 drivetrain, those expensive STI levers, and most importantly, a $450 carbon dropper seatpost).
So if you’re looking for a road bike that offers you more options than many of the other road bikes you’re used to, consider the Specialized Diverge. And don’t worry, you won’t need to get lost in the Australian Outback to appreciate all it has to offer.
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