Specialized Diverge Expert Carbon review£3,000.00

A mostly winning blend of cobble conqueror and cyclocross

BikeRadar score3.5/5

With the Diverge, Specialized has combined the knowhow developed in its cobble-smoothing Roubaix endurance bikes (by using its Zertz elastomer inserts front and rear), with the off-road agility of the respected CruX cyclocross machine, adapting its race-bred geometry into a ride that’s happy on and off-road. The Diverge Expert uses Shimano Ultegra with hydraulic brakes, ands adds some top-grade components into the mix too.

The Diverge closely mirrors the Roubaix in its layout, sharing the same 72.5-degree head and 73-degree seat angles and similar stack, reach and wheelbase figures, which is probably why we felt so at home on tarmac on the Diverge.

Related: Specialized Roubaix SL4 Elite Disc review

This does have much bigger tyres, though, in the shape of the excellent 32mm Roubaix Pros. They have a wide profile and a brilliantly tacky tread on the road, allowing you to lean more into corners. But the Axis wheels, with their 16mm internal rim width, could be a bit wider, as the Roubaix Pros tend to be a little 'light bulb-shaped', and at times you do feel them shift under hard cornering.

Shimano’s r785 hydraulic brakes offer first-rate stopping performance:
Shimano’s r785 hydraulic brakes offer first-rate stopping performance:

Shimano’s R785 hydraulic brakes offer first-rate stopping performance

The bike climbs and descends impressively. The wide-range cassette counters any sluggishness from the fat rubber on the road, and the level of grip makes going down a test of your nerve rather than the bike’s abilities. It’s backed up with Shimano’s excellent 785 hydraulic brakes, so you can be totally confident of stopping safely too.

Divert to the rough stuff and the bike hits another positive stride. Confident, responsive handling and big volume tyres all work in the bike’s favour. The slick-ish tread can’t cope with mud, but then nothing aside from a cyclocross-specific option would. We’re impressed with just how well the bike tracks.

Related: Get started with gravel grinding

If you needed to be convinced of the validity of thru-axles then take the Diverge off road to get a sense of how much better a bike feels when its wheels are so securely anchored to the frame. They require an Allen key to release, and puncture repairs are going to take a little more effort, but that’s a price worth paying.

The drivetrain is excellent on road, mixing Ultegra with FSA’s new hollow carbon crank. This looks very much like the previous generation SL-K, which was impressive.

The diverge is a great all-rounder with a familiar speedy character on road:
The diverge is a great all-rounder with a familiar speedy character on road:

The Diverge is a great all-rounder with a familiar speedy character on road

When the going got rough though, the Diverge’s gears did get a little noisy. Vibrations seemed to have an effect on the front derailleur, creating a bit of chain buzz after a few miles. A quick turn on the inline adjuster cured it. Specialized has got the Diverge’s gearing spot-on: the ultra-low 34-32 bottom is perfect for maintaining traction on steep dirt climbs, and it still has big enough gears with a 50/11 top for speedy roadwork.

Over stony ground the Diverge’s rear end is as plush as a Bentley’s back seat. The CG-R elastomer-infused, leaf-spring seatpost offers suspension-like smoothing. The low-slung shape of the frame also exposes more of the seatpost for even more comfort.

The front, though, can’t quite keep up with the rear’s compliance. It’s a bit like a hardtail mountain bike in reverse – the back’s all smooth moves with the front giving you plenty of feedback. It isn’t harsh or uncontrollable, but it does put you slightly out of balance.

If Specialized could bring the smooth stern’s nature up to the bow, the Diverge would be the most capable all-road bike out there. As it stands it’s a great all-rounder with a familiar speedy character on road and capable of a real turn of speed off it.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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