Bicycling (South Africa)
Matt Beers rides the Specialized Diverge, our 2020 Gravel Bike of the Year
With new geometry and features that suit the evolution of gravel riding, the new Specialized Diverge is our gravel bike of the year. It’s a thoroughly modern, versatile machine, with none of the skittishness that has characterised high-performance gravel bikes in the past.
The new geometry makes the Diverge feel more mountain-bikey than road-bikey. In one memorable instance, I was hurtling down a loose forest road at quite a clip when I put myself on the wrong side of the road’s crown, with a sharp corner fast approaching. I needed to get hard on the brakes and move to the inside of the crown, so I could get around the corner without catapulting off the road. Between the speed, the crown, the corner and the gravel, the ingredients for a very bad time were all there; but I was able to get myself through the corner with surprisingly little drama. I scrubbed speed, dipped it into a turn, and got over the crown without breaking a sweat. The Diverge was all the things I’d want it to be in that situation: predictable, accurate and solid.
The Future Shock in the head tube provides significant benefits to both rider comfort and traction. A dial lets you minimise its axial movement on smoother sections of dirt if you want; but after going back and forth with it for a while, I left it in its softest mode most of the time. The movement when riding out of the saddle was minimal – why not make your bike as comfortable as you can?
On the other side of the bike, the rear end compliance is very good. In the saddle, the Terra post offers noticeable give – not as much as Canyon’s leaf-spring post or Trek’s Isospeed decoupler, but not far off, either. And when I was out of the saddle, the frame offered better compliance than all the gravel bikes I’ve tested recently.
Going back to that new geometry: Specialized has made the Diverge longer and slacker. The 56cm model has a 38mm-longer wheelbase and 13mm-longer reach than the previous iteration. Because of the longer reach, Specialized intends riders to use shorter stems, which offsets the way bigger tyres can slow handling – the steering remains lively and sharp.
On tar or cement, the new geometry does dampen the bike’s spark a bit, compared to the previous model and to other gravel bikes with a more road-going bent; but it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to accept because it’s just so good on dirt roads.
Much of that has to do with the extra tyre clearance: up to 47mm on 700c wheels, and 2.1 inches if you opt for 650b. To create that clearance, Specialized didn’t use a fragile dropped-chain-stay design, or increase the chain-stay length; instead, there’s a thin but super-solid beam of carbon on the drive-side chain stay, behind the chain rings.
“We couldn’t quite get the same wizardry out of alloy as we could out of carbon,” says Stewart Thompson, Specialized road and gravel category leader. “To get the same clearance as the carbon models, the aluminium frames need slightly longer stays – 432mm, as opposed to 425mm on the carbon models.”
The frame has SWAT storage on the down tube, and there are plenty of additional mounts: a bento-box mount on the top tube, a mount on each fork leg to fit a water bottle or cargo cage, and a mount under the down tube for an additional bottle or gear. It can also take a front rack, rear rack and fenders.
The Shimano GRX Di2 1x drivetrain offers good range and crisp shifting, and the hydraulic disc brakes offer plenty of stopping power. Most impressive is the weight – the Expert Carbon model comes in at a shade over 9kg.
If you don’t have R90k to throw at a gravel bike, the good news is that Specialized South Africa offers six models in the Diverge range, starting at a very reasonable R33k. Go and try one. Or don’t – because you’ll want one. – Matt Phillips