JUST BEFORE THE COVID-19 LOCKDOWN IN SPAIN, 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 in order to get to the endless stretch of farm roads that are a mix of loamy single-track, access roads, tight, rocky passages around the edges of farm land, 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 which, along with the climate and overall vibe, makes it ideal for the numerous pro riders who call the ancient city home during the season (and many year round).
After getting off the plane (Portland to Amsterdam to Barcelona) and making the 1.5 hour shuttle to Girona, I met up with the rest of the bunch about halfway through the Day One 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 only rode the previous model once on a short ride and enjoyed it, but 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 bike 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 had nicely packed dirt with pockets of gravel and ruts. We had rollers and some access road descents with nice wide turns and the bike felt incredibly grounded and stable. Geometry is slightly slack so you feel front-and-center and in command of the cockpit and front end in general. My bike had the Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss 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. 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. A simple “+” and “-” with a range in the middle located on the stem and simple to use whether in a sticky situation or not. Turn it all the way left to the full “+” sign and it is in full effect, but also know there’s plenty of cushion in between the two. When I reached a flatter, smoother surface I simply dialed it all the way back to the “-” character. The ride also had a decent amount of asphalt, so dialing it back (full minus, but not a full lock out) made it perfect for getting out of the saddle and climbing without any compression.
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 as 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 e-Tap group with a 42t on the front 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 Two 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
So what’s different from the 2019 model? Specialized highlights four things:
1. It’s longer and slacker (yeah that word again). Basically they took some characteristics from the Specialized Epic mountain bike frame and applied it to the 2020 Diverge. So a more slack 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 beefy and stiff down there at all the connection points.
4. 425mm chain stays have closed up the rear triangle a little bit. You definitely feel this change. This 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 has changed since then, but they’ve been doing it a long time and and as the years go by they continue 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 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, jacket, etc, etc. 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!
I think Roval wheels are sort of a secret weapon. We all know the “usual suspects” (you know the names) and in many cases Roval comes up late in some dorky wheel conversation as more like “Oh yeah, and Roval…” Not necessarily an afterthought, but I suspect people don’t have them on the front-burner because the aforementioned “usual suspects” and the lack of awareness about Roval. They’ve been around for a while though, and the no-nonsense Terra CLX model can accommodate anything from 28-47c tires, so you can go full “gnar” if you like! They performed without issue in a mix of terrain and the width of the wheel combined with the Pathfinder Pro tire added to the overall stability of the bike. If you buy them on their own they’ll knock you back around $2,500+/- (U.S.) for a set.
SO ONLY TWO DAYS, HUH?
It was an adventurous and quick two days before the Spain shutdown, but we hit all types of dirt and asphalt. It was the perfect proving ground for a bike that ticks all 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 breakdown 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/grave/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.
This bike just felt good to ride and while I had to leave it in Spain, I just recently had it shipped to me in Portland, Oregon for more adventures. Recently, I did a flat 40-miler with more asphalt than dirt. I wanted to see how a stout gravel bike with wide tires felt and reacted on a mostly-road surface. I’m still running the Pathfinder Pro 38c tire 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 (the word is back). I can easily see swapping out tires for a 28c and rolling country roads without a problem. Either way, my point is that I could see this bike becoming your only bike. Not just the S-Works line, but the Pro or Expert (or other 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, etc., 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 also a great proving ground for gravel bikes. Go long, go short. Rough or smooth. Boggy or dry. My guess is that the Diverge will be alright.
OTHER FUN FACTS & TRYOUTS
• There’s a hell of a lot of clearance on the Diverge. Picture this: you can run up to 47mm on a 700c tire or if you dig 650b you can go to 2.1.
• SWAT is cool because it keeps things dry and you don’t have to mess with a bag under the saddle.
• The frame is under 1,000 grams (56cm).
• On Day 2 we used the Rhombus Pro 2Bliss Ready in a 42mm. It’s a far more aggressive tire than the Pathfinder Pro and suitable for all types of nasty conditions and really came in handy in the thicker patches of dirt and occasional mud and muck.
• I also rode the new (official launch is June 2) S-Works Power Saddle with Mirror Technology. It’s an update to the current saddle and while it looks small it packs a serious amount of comfort into (and onto) its small framework. I’m very much a traditionalist when it comes to saddles in terms of size and length and width, but I must say this new one is really great. I’ll need more miles on it to conclude, though.
DIVERGE PRICES (U.S.)
• S-Works Carbon w/eTap — $10,000
• Pro Carbon w/eTap — $6,700
• Expert Carbon — $4,800
• Comp Carbon — $3,800
• Sport Carbon — $2,900
• Carbon — $2,500
• E5 Comp — $2,100
• E5 Elite — $1,600
• E5 — $1,100
• E5 Comp EVO — $1,600
• E5 Expert EVO — $2,600
• S-Works Frameset — $4,200
We’ll do a deep dive on both the S-Works Diverge and the Power Saddle With Mirror Technology in issue 95 of Peloton.