Just before the Covid-19 lockdown began in Spain this past March, I was fortunate enough to spend two days in Girona, riding the new Specialized Diverge. Naturally, Girona is known for its incredible road riding, but make no mistake it has some pretty great dirt roads too. Where we stayed the only way out was up. Once we were out we could ride an endless stretch of farm roads that are a mix of loamy single track; access roads; tight, rocky passages around the edges of farmland; and tough sections of tree-covered ascents full of shadowy roots that if you take your eye off of them for one second they will pitch you sideways, ending with a dirt nap. There’s a ton of climbing in Girona that, along with the climate and overall vibe, makes it ideal for the numerous pro riders who call this ancient Catalan city home during the racing season—while many live here year-round.
After traveling by plane from Oregon to Barcelona via Amsterdam and taking the 90-minute shuttle to Girona, I met up with the rest of the bunch about halfway through their Day 1 ride. I figured it would be the best way to conquer any jet lag and get in some quality time with a new product. I rode the previous Diverge model only once on a short ride, and enjoyed it, but I clearly didn’t put enough miles on it to truly appreciate its design and performance. Of course, I have ridden countless other gravel bikes and my day-to-day ride is a four-year-old cyclocross machine that’s been tweaked and updated to sorta-maybe-kinda be like a gravel bike—but the Diverge is something completely next level compared to that one.
The first couple of miles, we rode on nicely packed dirt with pockets of gravel and ruts. Over some rollers and on access-road descents with nice wide turns, the bike felt incredibly grounded and stable. Geometry is slightly slack, so you feel front-and-center and in command of the cockpit and the front end in general. My bike had the Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss tires in a 38c, which has a smooth-ish patch down the middle, some small knobs around that and a larger strip of bigger tread at the edge. I love the design and it really is the perfect all-around tire. It has plenty of grip in soft stuff and doesn’t hold you back when you need to punch it out of a steep section. Don’t assume that the lack of “traditional” tread pattern means lack of grip; that’s simply not true.
FUTURE SHOCK 2.0
While some may “poo-poo” or snub their nose at the idea of suspension elements on a gravel bike, I like the choice that Specialized has integrated: the suspension stem known as Future Shock 2.0. You’d be surprised at how effective it really is. We had plenty of rocky sections that were soaked up nicely with the turn of a dial. Turn the dial full counter-clockwise and it is in full effect, but also know there’s a decent amount of cushion in between. When I reached a flatter, smoother surface I simply turned it clockwise the whole way to lessen the suspension. It’s not a full lockout but the minimal compression is satisfactory for when out of the saddle and climbing.
WHAT? A DROPPER POST?
While the dropper post has been around for years in the mountain bike world, it’s interesting to see that it’s just now (for the most part) making itself more known in gravel. I can go either way on its relevance in gravel. For riding in Girona, where you have the extremes of climbing matched by tricky descents, the X-Fusion Manic dropper post was a useful tool. But if you mostly ride fire roads with mild descents, it’s probably not necessary. Of course, if you are all over the board riding all types of terrain, it wouldn’t hurt to have one, because it operates like a normal post (of course) and with the flick of a lever on the inner left drop of the handlebar, you lower the saddle to keep things in line and add an additional sense of stability when descending. It’s not sexy, it’s utilitarian—and that’s okay.
GEARING & BRAKING
My bike had the SRAM RED eTap group with a 42-tooth chainring and Eagle 10–50 (“pie plate”) on the back. It’s truly the perfect combination; even if you don’t think you’ll use the monster 50, it’s nice to know it’s there! Consider it a real sweet bailout gear. In Girona I used it a couple times on the Day 2 ride when toward the end I was cracking hard. It saved me and got me through the consistent cussing in my mind on what seemed like an eternity riding back up to the hotel. You can’t argue with SRAM’s stuff. Lever ergonomics are comfortable on the hoods or in the drops, while reach is perfect for any type of hand—even short, pudgy ones like mine (but yet I can still palm a basketball—go figure). Braking was truly a test in Girona, and all was well—no frantic grabs or sliding. SRAM’s hydraulic system is effortless and strong with 160mm discs on front and back. It’s interesting, when something works so well and seamlessly with the entire setup of the bike, there’s not too much to ramble on about. When it does what you expect it to do over and over through all types of conditions and terrain it simply comes down to a feeling of satisfaction, nothing more, nothing less.
OH YEAH, THE FRAME/FORK
Here’s what’s different from the 2019 Diverge. Specialized highlights four things:
1. It’s longer and slacker (yeah that word again). Basically, the designers took some characteristics from the Specialized Epic mountain bike frame and applied it to the 2020 Diverge. So, a slacker head tube, a longer reach and a shorter cockpit. You are up and over the bike a bit more, which allows you more control and stability; and you can run a shorter stem if need be without compromising ride quality or comfort.
2. The fork has more offset than before. In a nutshell, this too adds to the stability, especially at speed on an “in-over-your-head-maybe” rutty descent or just simply on the road and bombing turns. It’s subtle but makes a big difference.
3. The bottom bracket has been raised by 6mm. That’s significant and can make a world of difference when navigating awkward rock gardens. But don’t worry, that raised bottom bracket won’t compromise any stability, especially since it’s ultra-stout and stiff down there at all the connection points.
4. The 425mm-long chain stays have closed up the rear triangle a little bit. You definitely feel this change. The bike reacts and accelerates quickly right from the moment you really step on it. That’s handy when standing on climbs of course, but also in straight-line acceleration in the saddle and on the drops.
THE BIKE AS A WHOLE
At the S-Works level you’re getting the best-of-the-best that Specialized has to offer. Specialized does carbon really well. I look back to my first real mountain bike (that I still have), which was/is an S-Works Epic carbon with titanium lugs and all. It’s a 1991 or 1992 model and it still holds up. Granted, the technology and construction have changed since then, but Specialized has been doing it a long time and as the years go by the company continues to tweak and refine and elevate. Each tube has a reason for the shape and connection point. The Diverge top tube starts out wide at the head tube and narrows down to the seat tube and clamp. The big down tube serves a couple of purposes—it helps with stiffness obviously and it allows for SWAT. Open the door (literally) and you can house all sorts of cool shit like tools, nutrition or a jacket. On a normal loop? Scrap the saddle bag, you won’t need it. Going longer, like real long? Store a bunch of stuff in there and load up, because the Diverge has a bunch of mounting points suitable for all kinds of bags if you desire. Personally, I thought SWAT was a gimmick, but I’m a believer now—damnit, I hate when that happens!
SO ONLY TWO DAYS, HUH?
It was an adventurous and quick two days before the Spain lockdown, but we hit all types of dirt and asphalt. It was the perfect proving ground for a bike that ticks all the gravel boxes (oh, so cliché). Yeah, you can easily drone on about lateral stiffness and how compliant this-or-that is and how fast the bike was and break down the minutiae like bolt weight or stack height, but ultimately all that matters is how you feel on the bike in terrain that’s ever-changing like dirt/gravel/soil…whatever you want to call it. And when you come back from your ride are you smiling and somewhat fresh? Yeah? That’s what matters.
Recently I had the Diverge shipped to me in Portland, Oregon, for more adventures. Since getting it I have ridden multiple times in sloppy mud-dirt and recently did a flat 40-miler with more asphalt than dirt. I wanted to see how a full-tilt gravel bike with wide tires felt and reacted on a mostly road surface. I’m still running the Pathfinder Pro 38c tires and this bike didn’t hesitate at all in that area, and the geometry is perfect for road riding too. The Diverge is in that perfect zone of being comfortable without being too slack (that word is back). I can easily see swapping out tires for a 28c on rolling country roads without a problem. Either way, my point is that I could see this bike becoming my only bike. Not just the S-Works line, but the Pro or Expert (or others in the lineup) if your wallet doesn’t allow for the S-Works price tag. That might not work for all people. I get it: you race, you ride fondos…but it’s not far-fetched by any stretch.
So, I will continue riding this bike daily as it has become my daily rider (for now). Dirt, asphalt, night rides, in the rain, the mud, you name it. Portland, and Oregon in general, like Girona, Spain, is a great proving ground for gravel bikes. Go long, go short. Rough or smooth. Wet or dry. My guess is that the Diverge will be all right. $10,000; 17.6 lbs/8.0kg (56cm); specialized.com
From issue 95. Buy it here.