The new Specialized Diverge gravel bike launched in May 2020, adopting updated mountain-bike inspired geometry, the Future Shock 2.0 and increased tyre clearances.
I’ve been testing the 2021 Diverge Comp Carbon for the last few months. This is the cheapest bike to feature the adjustable 2.0 version of the Future Shock. With this build, you get a Shimano GRX 810-level groupset, an excellent sensible alloy wheelset and nice finishing kit for £4,000 (a significant increase on the original price of £3,399).
Of the 2021 Diverge range, this is my pick of the bunch – it represents the best balance of performance and value with little beyond the tyres that I’d look to change out of the box.
Note – since publishing this video, the price of the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon has increased to £3,999.
The adoption of the latest-generation version of the Future Shock was the headline news at the launch of the new Diverge.
The Future Shock 2.0 – which actually debuted on the latest Roubaix in 2019 – is an adjustable coil suspension cartridge housed within the fork steerer. It offers 20mm of linear travel, allowing the cockpit to move up and down relative to the frame and fork.
The Future Shock 1.5 – which was featured on the previous-generation bike and is still used on cheaper versions of the bike – has swappable springs (soft, medium and firm), but does not feature the hydraulic damper or adjuster.
I will preface this section by saying that, when the Future Shock first debuted on the Roubaix way back in 2017, I was hugely sceptical that it would actually work.
A typical suspension system sits beneath the head tube, suspending both the rider and bike. The Future Shock suspends the rider alone. I felt like we had already poo-poo’d the whole ‘suspending the rider’ concept with the Girvin Flexstem way-back-when.
Well, fast forward a few years and, after lots of time spent on the last two generations of the Diverge, I have fallen for the Specialized Future Shock. There – I said it.
For such a simple system, it is remarkably effective – on rocky or rough terrain, your weak cyclist’s upper body is jiggled around far less than on an unsuspended bike, improving comfort and control enormously.
The effects of the Future Shock are most noticeable on long days.
Despite doing this last year on the previous-generation bike, I was left very impressed by how much of a difference the system made on a (*humble brag warning*) 282km coast-to-coast epic.
I haven’t indulged in quite as long an adventure on the new bike, but even on three or four hour-long rides, the reduction in upper body fatigue is noticeable.
Though I didn’t find it to be a huge problem on the old bike, the new system bobs less when climbing.
It also deals with bigger hits in a more refined way – it’s not difficult to bottom out the shock (there is only 20mm of suspension travel after all), but there’s now less of a mechanical clunk as the damping circuit ramps up as it reaches the end of its travel.
The whole system runs on a series of roller bearings. There is next to no stiction in the system and it is very active over even the smallest bumps.
If you really focus on it, you can hear what is either the roller bearings or fluid in the damper rushing about the shock on hard impacts. It’s not distracting and is barely audible over the rumble of the tyres, but bears mentioning.
To adjust the Future Shock, you turn an indexed dial (where the top cap would usually sit) through 90 degrees.
I rarely used any of the intermediate settings, feeling they didn’t really affect the ride quality of the system in any meaningful way.
It turns out my assessment was correct – when I contacted Specialized to find out exactly how the Future Shock worked, it confirmed that there are “just two focused settings – open or firm”.
It added that “in development, our test riders generally preferred the system active or firm and really didn’t need or use more settings in the middle effectively”.
So why have the intermediate clicks in the first place? “The idea behind multiple small indents is to retain a premium feel – like a stereo dial – instead of having a large sweep with no haptic feedback”, says Specialized.
To be totally clear, leaving the shock in any of the intermediate ‘clicks’ on the system makes no difference at all – they are just there for feel.
This makes a certain amount of sense but I would be satisfied with a two or three-position setup similar to that seen on most modern rear shocks.
I should stress that I am not alone in my fondness for the Future Shock – senior writer Matthew Loveridge has also fallen for the system on his Roubaix Expert long term test bike.
The carbon version of the new Diverge is available in three different layup options.
At the top-end, you have the S-Works bike, which uses Specialized’s most advanced 11r layup. The Pro, Expert and Comp-level bikes – including the bike I tested here – use a Fact 9r layup. This adds an unspecified amount of weight compared to the top-end bike. The Sport-level bikes get the 8r layup, which is heavier again.
The bike is available in boring old black or a fruity finish that Specialized calls “Gloss Ice Blue/Clay/Cast Umber/Chrome/Wild Ferns”.
Go for the latter – you will never regret buying such a fabulous bike.
The bike’s updated geometry – which follows trends in mountain bike geometry – sees the head angle slackened by roughly 1-degree across most sizes. To compensate for this, the offset of the fork has also increased.
Both of these make for a bike that, for a gravel bike, is truly competent in rough terrain.
You can heedlessly plow through trail chunder, with the Future Shock helping to compensate for overly wayward behaviour.
It is not hard to find the limit of the Future Shock’s mere 20mm of travel but, on bigger hits, it really does take the sting out of impacts.
Though the wheelbase of the bike (1,042mm on my 56cm test bike) is fairly average for a gravel bike, the Diverge is very stable at high speeds off road. Again, the Future Shock helps isolate you from trail chatter, smoothing out the ride, improving control and encouraging you to let go of the brakes and let rip.
My 56cm test bike has a reach figure of 392mm and is fitted with a 90mm stem. This, paired with the cruise-friendly 610mm stack and additional rise offered by the Hover Bars, makes for a fairly regal and upright riding position.
The ever-so-slightly longer reach and short stem and high-ish front-end mean you are less pitched over the bike in steep terrain, making cheeky singletrack diversions a less terrifying experience.
The bike is built around a standard ISO-threaded bottom-bracket shell.
Press-fit bottom brackets can be a perfectly good solution but there’s no denying that, for the home mechanic, a threaded solution is far easier to deal with.
For a gravel bike where you may have to replace bottom brackets more often, this makes sense.
The bike is replete with mounts for three bottle cages, a top-tube snack pack, front and rear pannier racks, and mudguards. The fork also features bosses for triple-bolt Anything-style cages.
The one omission here is the lack of a forward-facing eyelet on the front of the fork crown. This will limit the compatibility of some front racks and will also make it harder to run a dynamo light, which are typically mounted on the fork crown.
That aside, the Diverge is arguably one of the most versatile carbon gravel bikes on the market from a mainstream brand – you really could turn this to almost any task, from fully-loaded touring through to ultra-light gravel racing.
The bike’s huge tyre clearance plays a big part here. With a 700c wheelset, you can run tyres up to 47mm-wide and, if you opt for 650b wheels, you can go all the way up to a 2.1in/54mm-wide tyre.
Let’s not forget that, just a few short years ago, 2.1in tyres were the norm in cross-country racing, so your ability to tackle truly outrageous terrain on the Diverge will be limited only by your imagination and bravery.
I adore the bike’s SWAT down-tube storage chamber. This was first-introduced with the previous-generation Stumpjumper mountain bike and is a firm favourite feature among the BikeRadar test team.
I wish all bikes made use of their voluminous down tubes for this purpose – it’s just so nice not having to remember to stuff a pump and spares into your jersey pocket before a ride.
The included matching baggy fits tightly within the SWAT chamber and stops things from rattling about.
My one gripe is levelled at the bottle cage mounts that are integrated into the door of the SWAT box. The nuts, which slot into a moulding on the underside of the door, are not held captive, which makes fitting a bottle cage exceptionally fiddly.
The bolts are also excessively long and, if you have stuffed the SWAT bag to the limit, this can make closing the door difficult. It could also potentially snag on any clothing stashed in the box.
Twenty seconds with a hacksaw and patch of double-sided tape would solve both of these problems, but it’s an annoying oversight on a £3,399 bike.
This is the first time I have spent an extended period of time on Shimano’s GRX groupset and I can confirm it is truly excellent.
It feels and performs well in all conditions. The larger textured hoods give your hands a really nice supportive platform and the big flat faces on the front of the levers feel excellent when riding in the drops.
Specced with a 11-34t cassette and a 48-31t crankset, the bike has ample range to handle everything from fast road ride smashing through to vertiginous loaded gravel expeditions.
For what it’s worth, I still prefer a 2× setup for gravel riding – being able to dump a chunk of gear-inches at the bottom of a climb and, at the top, shift back into the big ring is still really useful. If you were desperate to do so, you could always convert the bike to 1× down the line.
The Diverge is fitted with Specialized’s Adventure Gear Hover handlebar. This has a distinctive rise from the clamping area to the tops. This gives a comfortable upright position without having to resort to using a super-tall head tube.
I really like the overall shape of these bars.
They’re not outrageously wide, the flare isn’t too aggressive at 12 degrees and they’re roomy enough on the ramps with 70mm of reach to offer ample hand positions – they’re just a nice middle-of-the-road balance between all of the things you like to see in a gravel bar. I also prefer round tops for off-road riding, so that’s nice to see too.
On the other hand, the design of the bars means there is limited space to mount accessories. No matter how much I tightened it down, the 13mm wide band on my Cateye Volt 1700 light kept slipping onto the thinner ‘riser’ section of the bar.
I was also unable to run a stock Garmin out-front mount in line with the centre of the stem as the clamp area was not wide enough. This asymmetry caused me deep and lasting distress every time I looked down at my bars.
The design of the bars would also make fitting aero extensions difficult depending on the design and size of the clamps. This may sound like a ridiculous thing to criticise, but aero extensions are widely used in serious gravel racing.
Careful selection of accessories would make all of this a non-issue, but it’s still annoying to have to even consider it.
Out back, we see Specialized’s nearly universally-liked Power saddle. My all-time favourite saddle is the Pro Stealth SL, which – being charitable – is a faithful replica of the Power, so it’s no surprise that my ol’ rusty dusty got on with it.
The Roval Terra Carbon Seat Post adds a pleasing degree of rear-end squish. I was also delighted to see an external seat clamp on the bike – it’s easy to use and it holds the seatpost tenaciously. All good things in my eyes.
The wheelset is a sensible and stout affair, with 24h DT Swiss G540 rims laced to Specialized own-brand hubs.
The rims have a 24mm internal width, which plumps up the stock 38mm-wide Specialized Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss tyres with a really nice round profile.
The bike does not come set up tubeless as stock, but all that would be required to convert are tubeless valves and sealant because the rims are pre-taped and the tyres are tubeless-compatible. This is a key upgrade I would make as soon as I bought the bike.
The Pathfinder Pro tyres are very fast rolling on tarmac and hard packed trails, but aren’t the best choice for wet conditions. They also take some experimenting with the pressure to get the most out of them.
When running higher pressures, the smooth central section sits proud of the sawtooth outer edges. This gives the tyres a really zippy feel when riding on hard surfaces but, when cornering, there’s a really unnerving squirming sensation as you transition from the central section to the sawtooth outer edges.
In anything approaching mud, let alone off-camber mud, the tyres are… well, I’ll call them thrilling.
None of this will matter if you live somewhere with ‘real’ gravel roads – think properly-graded surfaces with good drainage – but here in the UK, gravel like this is rarely seen, and a swap to a more aggressive tyre will allow you to get the absolute most out of the bike.
On the plus side, their construction feels on the sturdier end of the spectrum and, despite some fairly abusive testing, the sidewalls are showing no appreciable signs of wear.
Specialized Diverge Comp carbon conclusion
The tyres on the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon aren’t a great choice for anything but dry, well-packed surfaces and tarmac but, with an upgrade to a tubeless setup and a gnar-friendly tread that suits your local terrain, you could tackle pretty much anything on this bike.
If you like to accessorise your bike to the hilt, or have already invested in computer mounts, lights etc, you may also find the lack of mounting options on the bars quite limiting.
Barring these two small spec niggles, the effectiveness of the Future Shock, and details like the SWAT box, set the Diverge apart from other gravel bikes.
It’s also a hoot to ride on rough terrain, with a notably composed ride manner at high speeds and on steep trails.
With a few choice component swaps, you could turn the bike to just about any task and it’s unlikely to leave even the most demanding gravelista wanting.
|Price||AUD $6000.00EUR €4499.00GBP £4000.00USD $3900.00|
|Available sizes||49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61|
|Bottom bracket||Shimano GRX|
|Cassette||Shimano Ultegra, 11-34t|
|Cranks||Shimano GRX RX810-2|
|Front derailleur||Shimano GRX RX810, braze-on|
|Handlebar||Specialized Adventure Gear Hover, 103mm drop x 70mm reach x 12º flare|
|Rear derailleur||Shimano GRX RX810|
|Saddle||Specialized Body Geometry Power Sport, hollow Cr-Mo rails|
|Seatpost||Roval Terra Carbon Seat Post, 20mm Offset|
|Stem||Future Stem, Comp, w/integrated computer mount|
|Tyres||Specialized Pathfinder Pro, 2Bliss Ready 700 x 38mm|