The Specialized Diverge Is a Gravel Bike for All

Yesterday I hopped on my bike three times: for a sunrise singletrack session, a slow 30-mile spin on asphalt, and a quick trip to the post office. Right now I’m planning a five-day bikepacking trip that’ll happen later this month. For all of these rides, I use the same bike: the Specialized Diverge ($1,200 and up). 

Fast on pavement and smooth on gravel, the third iteration of the Diverge fits all of my needs. The revised Future Shock 2.0, a small suspension system in the headset, levels bumps and rough roads. A slew of mounting points allow a seamless transition from adventure chariot to daily driver. The geometry hits the sweet spot between snappy and stable. After test-riding the 2021 Expert Carbon model ($4,800) for more than a thousand miles, I may never ride skinny road tires again.

Background

The gravel market has exploded in the past five years, with manufacturers racing to keep up. Today most brands sell at least one bike in the emerging category. Gravel grinders, as one of the sport’s fastest growing segments, feed off aspirations of freedom and the allure of adventure, and they appeal to experts and newbies alike. They’ll keep up with roadies on an easy group ride, tackle mixed terrain with aplomb, and perform sufficiently on moderate trails, merging culture and components from the worlds of road riding and mountain biking.

After testing a half dozen competitors, including the Cannondale Topstone, Giant Revolt, Salsa Warbird, and Trek Checkpoint, over the course of the spring and summer, the Diverge is my preferred steed. Here’s why.

What I Like

The newest model of the Diverge, released in May 2020, has a longer reach and slacker front end, giving it a longer wheelbase, with the same responsive handling as previous models. This geometry makes the bike more grounded, providing confidence at high speeds and on challenging terrain. Overall, it’s a big advancement for on-trail performance, without compromising too much on smoother surfaces.

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(Photo: Andy Cochrane)

While some bikes have a learning curve for handling, Specialized made a bike that feels immediately intuitive to ride. This comes from the balanced center of gravity—you’re not too far over the front axle, nor too high or far back. Such positioning gives you added stability on bumpy sections and through loose gravel.

But Specialized’s Future Shock system is what sets the Diverge apart from the competition. This internal spring is positioned above the headtube to allow the handlebars to move in a vertical path, offering 20 millimeters of travel; it absorbs the energy from bobbing up and down over rough roads and preserves forward momentum. I was amazed by how much it damped chatter from rocks, rumble strips, roots, cracks, and bumps on pavement. A smoother ride creates more comfort and provides more contact with the ground, enabling you go faster and corner better. It also reduces fatigue across your body. 

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(Photo: Andy Cochrane)

Lastly, the Diverge is ready to be transformed into an adventure bike. It has options for attachments on the frame and fork. This makes it useful for both weeklong trips and all-day rides. I’ve done a few bikepacking tours with the Diverge and found that the slacker geometry lends stability when loaded with the extra weight. Combined with single-chainring compatibility and clearance for 700x47c or 650bx2.1-inch tires (I currently run WTB Riddler 700×45’s), it checks all the boxes for the long haul. 

What Could Be Improved

For my style of riding (mostly on dirt and typically long enough to run out of snacks), I’d prefer a few tweaks to any future models. I’d love for full two-inch mountain-bike tires to fit on a 700c wheel so I can tackle more serious singletrack without having to swap wheels. (It’s worth noting that the 2021 iteration does have more tire clearance than the previous year’s model, by about five millimeters.)

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(Photo: Andy Cochrane)

The Diverge is also somewhat heavy when compared to top-end carbon competitors. My bike, a large 2021 Expert Carbon model, weighs about 22 pounds with pedals, bottle cages, and a Garmin device. That’s a pound or two more than a few of the bikes listed above when weighed with the same add-ons:

  • Cannondale Topstone Carbon ($2,750 and up): 22 pounds
  • Giant Revolt ($1,850 and up): 18 pounds
  • Pivot Vault ($5,299 and up): 18 pounds
  • Salsa Warbird ($2,599 and up): 22 pounds
  • Santa Cruz Stigmata ($3,499 and up): 18 pounds
  • Trek Checkpoint ($2,899 and up): 19 pounds

As a hobbyist rider, this isn’t a huge deal for me, but it’s worth considering, depending on what type of riding you like to do. Some of the added weight comes from the Future Shock, but in my opinion, it’s more than worth that small penalty.

The Final Verdict

Frankly, I couldn’t be happier with this bike. With nine tiered models to choose from, ranging from $1,150 to $10,000, Specialized provides a buffet that almost anyone can agree to. The slacker geometry, improved Future Shock, and ample dropouts make it a gravel grinder for all types of riders.

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