Just when we thought we’d pinned down what a gravel bike is, Specialized refers to the new Diverge as an ‘exploration machine’ that combines road and gravel bike features.
There are a number of cheaper Diverges with aluminium and carbon frames, but only the lofty S-Works model tops this Comp. A large part of its cost is borne by the FACT 9r carbon frame, carbon fork and Future Shock suspension, and while the component sheet isn’t extravagant, there’s no corner-cutting either.
The only deviation from the Shimano 105 hydro groupset is a Praxis Works Alba 2D chainset, with 48/32 chainrings and an 11-32 cassette. Although bold-looking, the RS505 hydraulic levers are comfortable in use, and the extra grip the hoods offer is ideal for larger hands.
The Future Shock’s spring cartridge adds 33mm height between the head tube and the stem on its own, but extra spacers can be added if the bar is still too low. When you’re setting your cockpit height, however, bear in mind that the upward curve of the Hover bar adds another 20mm, to create a more upright position that suits the Diverge’s purposes.
First impressions are of incredible smoothness on tarmac and the sort of floaty feeling usually associated with large off-road tyres.
Heading out for a mixture of tarmac, gravel and dirt riding, I inflated the 38mm Trigger Pro tyres to a just-about-firm 50psi. Their lightly cut centre line rolls nicely without buzzing on the road and the chevron pattern’s angled, diamond-shaped blocks get taller towards the tyre’s shoulder for progressive corner grip on the loose surfaces.
There are mounts for mudguards and racks, but without mudguards you can fit 42mm tyres.
Twin thru-axles guarantee braking and steering efficiency, but you’ll need to bring along a 5mm Allen key for roadside repairs, as their snag-free flush heads have no built-in release lever.
Progress is swifter than it feels because you’re isolated from constant surface chatter. Unlike the original Future Shock system, riding out of the saddle doesn’t result in the cockpit bobbing gently on its supporting spring, as the new progressive spring’s travel stiffens the further it’s compressed.
After a few hills I stopped to check the system was actually working, as it’s nearly imperceptible and definitely not intrusive.
Future Shock adds independent cockpit comfort to a rigid bike, so doesn’t alter the handling. Its effect is purely positive, maximising front tyre grip by maintaining better surface contact and allowing you to push harder through corners with confidence.
The rear end’s dropped seatstays allow the carbon CG-R vibration-absorbing seatpost to flex even further, resulting in great seated comfort from the supportive Phenom Comp saddle.
Fine road manners are equalled by the Diverge Comp’s composure on gravel and dirt. It dismisses corrugated surfaces and steep, loose, rocky descents with surprising ease.
With a similar wheelbase to some endurance road bikes, a lower bottom bracket height, relaxed 72.5-degree head angle and those plump tyres, the Diverge Comp’s ride is stable, nimble and extremely chuckable when you’re looking for fun between road sections.
The Axis Elite Disc wheels are built for durability, but even with 38mm rubber, they can roll along at decent road speeds. The gearing is perfectly judged, with the road sweetspot in the middle of the cassette, and a generous range to deal with terrain extremes.
If you’re happy to dial back your max road speed aspirations, and want to mix up your rides, with or without luggage, the Diverge is a rewarding and entertaining way to expand your horizons.