The Off-Road Road Bike is officially a thing. I’m not sure where we crossed the threshold, but it was sometime between the first running of Paris-Roubaix and … now. I kid. The thing is, road bikes didn’t used to be such delicate instruments that you couldn’t ride them on anything rougher than linoleum. That’s how they evolved, though, and our desire to take drop bars on unpaved surfaces finally woke from its decades-long slumber, and companies have begun to actively think about just how much tire clearance you need, what the gearing ought to be and how this thing ought to handle.
I could make a crack about a category not being a category until Specialized makes a bike for it, and you’d laugh, knowingly. The truth is, I could say that of Specialized, Trek, Giant or Cannondale. Bianchi doesn’t count because they’ve never gone a season without having a cyclocross bike that wasn’t called a cyclocross bike.
Specialized recently announced they would be offering an all-road bike called the Diverge. I think they called it a gravel bike, but I refuse to use that term. Whatevs. It is a purpose-built bike distinctly different from the Roubaix and carries the signature of the big red S’ engineering team.
I got the chance to ride the Diverge when I did the Old Caz Grasshopper recently. One day, one ride, 52 miles. And yes, dropper post.
I’ve ridden hundreds of bikes. In that time, I’ve managed to start picking out some recurring themes. One is that I rarely ever feel right at home on a bike on the very first ride. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s my common experience. However, there are occasions when I climb on a bike and I feel instantly at home on it. I’ve had this happen maybe a dozen times. Maybe.
That experience can be characterized by a surprising faith, an ability to trust the bike because of its predictable nature. With the Diverge, I peg my comfort on two facets of the bike’s geometry. I rode the 58cm frame; it featured 5.5cm of trail, a 102.8cm wheelbase and 74mm of BB drop. It was the long wheelbase (25mm longer than the Tarmac’s) and the low BB (8.5mm lower than the Tarmac’s) that gave me the sense that the bike would do exactly what I wanted when I wanted. I’m a big fan of long wheelbase, low BB bikes. I’ve yet to encounter one that I didn’t think handled well. The Diverge was less a surprise than a confirmation. And just to be clear, this bike is as distinctly different from the Roubaix as it is the Tarmac; it’s even more different than their ‘cross bikes.
There was yet another geo detail that came into play on descents—that dropper post. It featured 25mm of drop and clicked into two positions, low and high. The release was a trigger mounted on the left bar top. I made use of the post on every single dirt descent, and its ability to lower my center of gravity was truly useful.
It’s hard to say just how stiff the carbon frame was, but they balanced torsional stiffness to vertical stiffness in the way you hope for—the bike never called attention to itself and I rolled over plenty of rough stuff, bumps that would have bucked me on a bike that was too stiff.
Though the Diverge is spec’d with a relatively tame tire, I asked the folks at Specialized to put on a pair of 38mm Triggers, which sports a file-like tread and side nobs. I ran them at 60 psi and didn’t flat once. And the fact that they equipped it with a 50×34 crank and 11-32 cassette gave me plenty of gear for Old Caz’ diverse terrain (though I never did use the 50×11).
Yes, this bike retails for a whopping $8500 thanks to Dura-Ace Di2 and hydraulic discs. Too much for some folks; that’s fine. What I found compelling about the Diverge was its ability to take a range of terrain and turn it into a playground. And that’s really what I want to talk about. This bike allowed me to be playful in an organic environment. I needed to be creative on descents and I needed to be efficient on the road and the trick to a great bike is when it disappears beneath you. The Diverge became an expression of my will. Most bikes never quite do that.
These things are in short supply (there’s a fair amount of grumbling at the retail level about how hard these are to get), so this is going to have to serve as my sole review of the bike, but I’d welcome a chance to dig deeper into it.
Making road riding exciting, adventuresome, playful, unpredictable has become increasingly difficult. I’ve always loved coloring outside the lines on road bikes. The Diverge was made precisely for this kind of riding and while I’ve only got one ride on it, I think this bike is proof that nobody does geometry for production road bikes as well as Specialized. This bike is genius.
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