Helen has been getting off the beaten track to explore the tracks and byways of the countryside local to her
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Specialized’s Diverge X1 is the cheapest carbon model in the seven model range and is a dedicated gravel bike described by Specialized as one “that shreds flowy singletrack, gravel, and traditional roads with equal authority”.
It’s also available in three aluminium models and three other higher-specced carbon models, topping out at the S-Works Diverge SRAM eTap AXS.
It features what Specialized calls its Open Road Geometry, which is designed for road and dirt/gravel riding. Compared to previous models, the bottom bracket is lower, the head tube is slacker, the wheelbase is shorter and the carbon layup has been tweaked to improve comfort.
There’s plenty of tyre clearance too, up to a claimed 700c × 42mm or 650b × 47mm, and it has hydraulic disc brakes that should give powerful, reliable braking – even more important when tackling off-road terrain.
I ride the smallest frame, which is 48cm.Simon Bromley
The Diverge also comes fitted with Specialized’s Future Shock system and features a progressive spring to offer stiffer suspension than the road version of the shock – as found on the Roubaix – to better handle rough roads and bumps.
The tech is built into the fork steerer and, unlike conventional mountain bike suspension, it doesn’t shorten the bike’s wheelbase as the suspension compresses.
The Diverge is a unisex bike and sizes in the X1 range from 48cm to 61cm. I’m 5ft 2in and chose the smallest available frame at 48cm.
Specialized Diverge X1 update three
I recently took the bike out on a longer, more technical gravel ride, and while the bike performed well it reminded me of two things: my mountain bike skills are a little rusty and the importance of fuelling correctly for a ride.
It’s been a while since I ventured out on a mountain bike and headed to a trail centre, preferring the smooth, undulating tarmac of my local roads, but heading into the woods and up the steep, rocky climbs local to me made me realise that I’m in need of a little practice.
Gravel riding is really bridging the gap between the two disciplines and although I’m not taking on anything too technical, and certainly nothing the bike can’t handle, feeling more confident when tackling off-camber roots, spanning out from tree trunks across bridleways, and rockier descents would certainly improve my ride enjoyment.
I think this is something I need to overcome more mentally than physically, but it’s really practice above all else that will improve things here.
Fortunately, the bike was there to help me up and over the trickier parts and gave me confidence where I lacked skill.
I barely spent any time on trafficked roads, but it was a bit blowy at the top.Neil Cousins
For example, the 1x gearing’s ability to quickly shift down the gears for me to tackle a steep climb is superb and the height of the bar tops made me feel more in control on rough downhills.
Plus, the tyres with their wide, grippy tread provide plenty of traction on both the ups and downs, and, as I’ve mentioned before, they zip along surprisingly well on the road, too.
Heading back down a fun, fast grass track and into the woods again.Neil Cousins
It was also a ride that reminded me about fuelling correctly. Riding off-road tracks can be more strenuous than riding on the road, so although the route wasn’t much longer than one of my average road rides, the effort required on my part certainly was.
So, don’t forget to take some food with you to avoid bonking like I did part way up a steep, grassy, windy climb and then having to head home via a farm shop, which was thankfully open, to buy tea and rocky road! Although, it was a good excuse to eat cake.
A sweet reminder to make sure I plan for the fuel I need to complete a ride.Neil Cousins
I’m still loving this bike. It’s really comfortable and with the 650b wheels it feels even more at home in the wilds of Wiltshire.
I haven’t experienced any pedal strikes either, which one commenter mentioned might be an issue once I swapped to smaller wheels.
Specialized Diverge X1 update two
The Diverge now set up with 650b wheels and tyres.Helen Cousins / Immediate Media
As I mentioned in my last update, one of the changes I’ve made to the bike has been to switch to 650b wheels, which was also a good opportunity to fit some different tyres
Riding a small frame makes smaller 650b wheels an appealing option, with their claimed improvements in traction and comfort associated with being able to run larger volume tyres – due to there being more space in the forks and between the seat and chainstays – as well as lower tyres pressures, all without affecting the geometry and overall handling of the bike.
Despite the potential for increased rolling resistance caused by the larger width tyres on surfaces such as tarmac, I’ve not found that to be the case, or at least not noticed any difference, and the WTB Venture 650 x 47 tyres that I’ve fitted have been much swifter on the road than I expected.
More dry, quiet, and in places rocky paths lead to a very dusty rather than muddy bike this time.
This switch has also been timely with the dryer weather and the gravelly paths I’ve been riding recently.
Along with the Futureshock up front, the wheel/tyre combo has certainly helped to take out a lot of the sting from my arms and wrists while riding along back roads and the canal path – a very undulating, gravelly and in some places rocky surface. And it’s been nice to see the bike covered in dust rather than mud, too.
Chain off woes
I did have one unfortunate incident, though, when I may have accidentally back pedalled on a badly managed uphill gear change causing my chain to drop off.
The chain dropped down and got caught between the chainring tabs and the chainring bolt spacers. They’re like mini ramps and caused the chain to get jammed behind and wedged against the bottom bracket area.
The chain got caught behind the chainring.
Retrieving the chain required a good five minutes of careful but forceful wrangling, pulling, wiggling and encouragement of the chain back onto the chainring, with some pretty messy results.
The problem seems to be the size of the chainring bolt spacers, which are quite long, so I’d suggest fitting some shorter ones if possible. In the meantime, here’s hoping that the chain stays in place on future rides and I get better at changing gear!
The size of the chainring bolt spacers caused me a bit of a headache.
I don’t have any immediate plans to make any more changes right now, just to get out on the bike more, especially because we’re able to get outside as much as we like to exercise and there are even some takeaway cafe stops (and maybe pub gardens, soon) that probably need exploring!
Specialized Diverge X1 update one
Unfortunately with the stormy weather back in Jan/Feb and now the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve not been able to get out as much as I’d have liked on the Diverge. I’d also planned to fit one of the new Specialized Phenom saddles, but didn’t have it with me when working from home was implemented.
However, I did take the bike to Leigh Woods in Bristol for a short spin before the lockdown and, staying off the singletrack, found the tyres performed fine on the wider, dryer paths.
Dry, quiet tracks and roads.
I’ve also been taking the bike out as part of my once a day exercise and have enjoyed some dry tracks on the surrounding, quiet countryside where I live.
With the rules of social distancing in place, the Diverge has really allowed me to get off the beaten track and away from other people. The tracks and gravel roads near my home in Wiltshire are so quiet that you barely see anyone until you get back on to the tarmac.
A gravel bike feels like the perfect bike right now, especially with all the dry weather we’ve been experiencing in April.
Since my initial report, I’ve been in touch with SRAM about the trouble I was experiencing with the shifter getting stuck. SRAM’s road tech team suggested it could be because I’d wound in the shift lever reach, causing the lever to not shift properly being so close to the bars.
SRAM very helpfully sent some instructions on what to do, and all it needed was the smallest of adjustments to move the shifter lever away from the brake lever a little bit, about 0.5mm to 1mm, and the problem has been solved, which is great news.
I’ve adjusted the reach on my levers and they’re now working as they should.Simon Bromley
With the shifter now sorted, I’ve been really loving the 1x shifting, especially on undulating, rooty tracks where it allows me to make much quicker shifting decisions up and down.
Every time I jump on the bike I’m loving it, it’s such a comfortable fit and a lot of fun to ride, and not feeling restricted on where I can navigate is a real bonus.
Freshly fitted 650b wheels and tubeless tyres.
I have just switched the bike to 650b wheels, which has also meant a change to WTB Venture 650 x 47 tyres that should be more appropriate for UK riding conditions.
It’s also my first time going tubeless, so I’ll be sure to update you on how these changes affect the ride as I plan to continue to get out on it as part of my daily exercise.
The original story continues below.
Specialized Diverge X1 specification and details
A Praxis Alba 1× 40t cassette.Simon Bromley
The frame uses Specialized’s FACT 9r carbon, has 12 × 142mm thru-axles, a BB386 bottom bracket, and features Specialized’s Open Road Geometry as mentioned above.
Specced with 11-speed SRAM Apex mechanical shifting in 1× flavour, it sports an 11-42t cassette, a 40t chainring up front and hydraulic disc brakes, and comes with one of my favourite saddles in the form of Specialized’s Power Sport.
A USP of the Diverge is that Future Shock, and here its progressive suspension setup has 20mm travel – other springs are supplied should you wish to alter this, I’ve fitted the Blue soft spring.
The Future Shock aids comfort at the front of the bike.Simon Bromley
The levers are SRAM Apex 1× HRD and the tops are higher than you’d find on a road bike for that extra comfort and grip on rough roads.
The Specialized Adventure Gear Hover riser bars add extra stack for a high front-end and have 103mm of drop, which is a little shallower than typical road bars, again to make things easier when dropping down off-road.
The tyres are 38mm Pathfinder Sports and have a slick line running along the centre of the tread, handy for riding on road sections, while the wider shoulder blocks are designed for harder packed gravel.
There’s clearance for up to 700 × 42mm or 650b × 47mm.Simon Bromley
The bike has 700c wheels, which are Axis Sport Discs here, and the bike will accept up to 700c × 42mm or 650b × 47mm. There are bosses too for fitting mudguards.
The colour is described as Satin Carbon/Black Reflective/Dusty Lilac Camo, so while most of the bike is black there’s some nice lilac detail on the chainstays and inside the fork.
Without pedals, my 48cm bike weighs 9.2kg on our scales.
SRAM’s Apex hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors.Simon Bromley
The chainstays are fairly short and the bottom bracket is quite low.Simon Bromley
With its Open Road Geometry, my 48cm bike has fairly short chainstays at 419mm, a lowish bottom bracket at 265mm high and a slackish front end at 70.8 degrees.
The bike’s wheelbase is pretty standard for a road bike, if a little shorter for a gravel bike, so the handling is pretty familiar. The tall front end of 569mm, accompanied by that riser bar, should add to stability, while the reach measures 360mm.
Most of my cycling is on road and on a road bike, but where I live there’s plenty of opportunity to get off the road and explore the local byways and gravel tracks.
Not living too far from Salisbury Plain means that there are plenty of quiet tracks and woods to explore too, and places I just wouldn’t attempt to ride on my road bike.
I’d like to get off my familiar routes and try some unpaved paths.Simon Bromley
Having the option to head off of the main tarmac and on to these often traffic-free roads opens up new possibilities. This will especially be the case in the summer when after work I’d like to fit in an hour ride a couple of times a week.
During the grimmer months of the year the confidence this bike should bring will hopefully encourage me to get out in some less than friendly weather too, and rather than just ride my tried and tested routes, a gravel bike should give me more options to explore.
I’m also interested to see if having a bike more suitable for tricky terrain will help improve my road bike handling skills because, on the face of it, the bike might look like a road bike, but its geometry and kit is designed to put me in a more commanding upright position to better deal with non-tarmacked roads.
Specialized Diverge X1 initial setup
Specialized’s popular Power saddle comes stock.Simon Bromley
The bike came with 700c wheels – but can be set up 650b – and I put just 30psi in the 38mm tyres in a bid to provide more grip off road, anticipating that they might not be quite the right tread for current UK conditions, and a fast tyre on the roads.
Seatpost adjustment came next and, despite only needing 650mm of the long single-bolt carbon seatpost, the interrupted seat tube didn’t require the post to be cut down, which was one less job.
I fitted an out-front mount for my Garmin and a front light for daytime visibility.Simon Bromley
The bike came without pedals so I called in a pair of Shimano XT M8100 Series clipless MTB pedals, which workshop manager Will kindly fitted.
After that there was very little setup required because the bike fitted like a glove, other than to add accessories: an out-front mount for my Garmin and a front light, a bottle cage and a Fabric tool keg.
Specialized Diverge X1 ride impressions
I’ve not had the bike long, so have only headed out on it for one ride so far, but it was a lot of fun.
The first thing to mention is how comfortable I felt on the bike as soon as I got on it. It’s unusual for me to instantly feel right on a bike and I often have to play around adjusting reach, saddle, bars etc. but I felt confident on it as soon as I set off.
This is the first bike I’ve ridden with a 1× setup.Simon Bromley
A quick practice with the gears was needed, though, to get familiar with the SRAM DoubleTap 1× gearing, but it’s pretty straightforward, although it’s still going to take me a little while to get used to.
I rode out towards a regular climb of mine, to the Westbury White Horse, knowing that there was a track alongside it that takes you up to the Imber Range road. I’ve ridden this once before on an old hardtail mountain bike of mine, but on a much lighter, more nimble bike it was definitely more enjoyable.
The 38mm Pathfinder Sport tyres offer plenty of cushion but not much grip on mud.Simon Bromley
However, this particular climb did expose the tyres’ unsuitability for UK winter conditions. It’s been a pretty wet winter so far and the limestone and grass track was muddy in parts, not exceptionally so, but I was unable to get traction for some of the climb, and had to get off and walk in places. Persevering, I continued to pedal up, but near the top bailed again as the rear wheel span and I began to make my way sideways.
Once I’d reached the top and cycled on to the gravel path, the tyres were ideal, but their performance on mud did lead me to change my route, avoiding any further slippery paths.
The position I had on the bike felt assured when riding on rough ground and the Future Shock helped too.Simon Bromley
On the gravelly tracks the bike whizzed along and, compared to riding them on my road bike, I felt much more confident and not alarmed by the ruts, potholes and rocks.
I ride 30mm tyres on my road bike, but that extra 8mm really made a difference. But so did my position on the bike and the extra cushion from the bike’s Future Shock suspension.
The bike isn’t as quick on the road as my road bike, of course, but it was no slouch. I think playing around with my tyre pressure could change things here, though.
I still need to get used to the gearing and DoubleTap shifting.Simon Bromley
The gearing could do with some extra spinny ones for steeper climbs and my legs struggled on a few familiar uphills that I’m not unusually bothered by on my road bike, but this could be due to the weight of the bike and the lower pressure tyres.
Despite this, I did get on well with the 1× setup. I’ve not ridden 1× on the road before and enjoyed the simplicity of it.
However, the shifting from SRAM’s Apex wasn’t as smooth as I’d like, with the gears not always engaging crisply and missing shifts. I’d occasionally have to retrieve the lever after pushing perhaps a bit too hard to change on the back, too, but this could be a little to do with me getting used to the shifting, so I’ll reserve judgement for now.
The saddle was comfortable, which wasn’t a surprise because I use a Power on all my other bikes, and the Shimano pedals worked a treat and clipping in and out was simple, even under pressure.
Specialized Diverge X1 upgrades
I’m planning to try out 650b wheels in the future.Simon Bromley
One of the first changes I’d like to make to the bike is to swap the 700c wheels with a set of 650b wheels. With the bike being 650b compatible I’m interested to see how smaller wheels with bigger tyres affect the handling and whether they will improve anything, especially as I ride such a small frame.
This will also be a good time for me to look at changing the tyres for something more suitable for the varied conditions of the UK’s inclement climate and varied terrain.
I’m also considering changing the chainring to help me up those climbs.
Another potential change would be switching to tubeless. I’ve not ridden a bike set up tubeless before and it’s something the BikeRadar team are big fans of, in general.
Later in the year, and depending on where I’m riding and who I’m riding with, I might add mudguards.
BikeRadar‘s 2020 long-term test bikes
At the start of the year, every member of the BikeRadar team selects a long-term test bike to ride over the course of the following 12 months. Some choose a bike from their favoured discipline and ride it hard for a year, others opt for a bike that takes them outside of their comfort zone.
Our long-term test gives us the opportunity to truly get to grips with these machines, so we can tell you how they perform through different seasons and on ever-changing terrain.
We also use them as test beds for the latest kit, chopping and changing parts to see what really makes the difference – and help you decide which upgrades are worth spending your money on.