The Specialized Diverge

The Specialized Diverge

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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  1. jorgensen

    Interesting that classic road bike geometry circa 1970 (or maybe even before) has been rediscovered.
    Hopefully others will rediscover this.

    1. DR

      Same here. My first road bike was a 1972 Peugeot UO8. It had 27 X 1 1/4 tires, long wheelbase and a plush steel ride. I rode it everywhere, on road and off. It’s nice to see that the do anything bike is back.

  2. Mike

    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.

    Can you expound upon this statement any?

    1. Author

      Mike: So the Diverge has a longer wheelbase and lower BB than the Tarmac, and nearly identical trail, though. The Roubaix has the same wheelbase, virtually, as the Diverge, but a higher BB and more trail. I’d honestly prefer the Diverge to the Roubaix for pure road riding. The Crux has a higher BB, almost the same wheelbase and a touch more trail, a bike that, on paper, I’m not the least bit interested in. The Diverge is one of my favorite production bikes on the market, so long as we’re talking about the carbon version. The aluminum version doesn’t share the same geometry; higher BB and slightly different trail and wheelbase. It’s not the same bike, which strikes me as really strange.

    1. James

      Looking at The Specialized web site, the lower end alloy Diverge has quite a bit different geometry-higher BB, less head angle with a constant rake across all sizes.

  3. Full Monte

    A riding friend and I talk about how group rides, over the past couple years, have become less…joyful. It’s about hammering on each other more and more often. Showing off fitness by taking the longest pulls. About pulling away from mates on long climbs. Mad dashes to arbitrary “points” lines. How handlebars affixed with computers read out distance, cadence, watts, mileage, heart rate, speed, average speed — all data points which burden the ride with objectives and expectations, as if we middle-aged office dwellers were 20-something aspiring pros on training rides. How Strava and other competitive timing apps were at first fun, and now, add yet another obligation on the road. More expectations and responsibilities to meet.

    My lawyer riding friend has since stripped his bike of all computers, and even leaves his watch at home. “I’m on the clock all day. The bike is where I’m free.”

    Can I get an amen?

    To my friend I asked, “Why can’t we ride like we’re kids? Who says we have to stick to the 35 mile route? Why can’t, when we see a trail or path off the road, we take it, see where it goes? Explore? I already got a job. I want the bike to stop feeling like one, too.”

    That’s why I got, for lack of a better term, a “gravel bike” last season. And why I like the Diverge described above. Get off the same obligatory routes, go somewhere new, ride like when we were kids! Explore. Wander. Get lost.

    Maybe when big bike companies make bicycles like Diverge, I’m not the only person feeling this way. Maybe lots of us are. That this product is a response to the collective zeitgeist realization that we let ourselves get sidetracked by the numbers, the technology, the competitiveness that even casual road cycling has become. That we want to rediscover what it felt like when we rode our bikes when we were 12 years old.

    1. Dmitriy

      I just get my diverge comp smartweld on 64 cm . two bottles water , debit card and my Nikon. I’m free when I ride.

  4. Paul Feng

    “Bianchi doesn’t count because they’ve never gone a season without having a cyclocross bike that wasn’t called a cyclocross bike.”

    Padrig, thank you for kickstarting my brain this morning by asking it to parse that sentence. This is not a slam. I write for a living, but wouldn’t try to get a sentence with four negatives into my work product. I envy your editorial discretion. Thank you as always for enriching my cycling and my reading lives.

    (BTW, your spam filter would not let my first versions of this comment through, although I am uncertain what exactly triggered its ire.)

  5. Andrew

    This does look like an interesting bike. For this kind of riding though, I’m more comfortable riding a metal frame. I’ve been super happy with my Ti Salsa Warbird, which seems to have fairly similar geometry.

    Full Monte: You have nailed it. On these kinds of bikes, on dirt roads, and lacking “direction”, we can ride like kids again. And it is massively refreshing. (Having said that, we still beat each other up on the gravel roads…)

  6. Author

    Full Monte: Amen.

    Paul: I hadn’t even considered that I’d worked four negatives into that statement. That might be less discretion than hubris. I’m truly glad you enjoyed it. I hope my friends at Bianchi see it for the compliment that it was.

    Patriick: Just as it’s classless to knock someone for riding an inexpensive bike, it’s unkind to the fabric of our community to knock a bike for being more expensive than you’re willing to pay. This isn’t one-percenter stuff. Just try to keep in mind our request that this remain a space for constructive conversation. If all you can do is complain about the price of a product, you’ll find plenty of company over at Bike Rumor.

  7. Willis

    Full Monte – Amen

    As I spend yet another Michigan winter evening pounding out a few miles on the treadmill dreaming of those long summer days when I come home from work and climb aboard my bike…this message post (and some of the comments) really resonate. I truly like the guys at my LBS and they work hard at trying to make their organized rides fun for all…but I find that at the end of the day I’d rather wheel off by myself than hammer to the next traffic sign…I’m all in for more fun.

  8. Quentin

    The idea of a low BB sounds nice. I wonder whether that’s likely to cause problems if I wanted to run my preferred crank length (180mm). Maybe tall guys like me just have to choose whether the crank length or BB height is more important.

    1. Author

      Quentin: Choosing crank length vs. BB drop is how many product managers/engineers go. I’m of the opinion that if you’re not really pedaling through corners, it’s no biggie. And when I’m not on pavement, I’m not pedaling through extreme corners.

    2. Les

      I had 3 rides on my new Diverge Smartweld 64cm with factory 177.5 mm cranks. No issue with the crank length, even offroad.

      I fully subsribe to Padraig’s comments. I love the bike. It simply feels “good”!
      NB: I fit 38mm Challenge tires on it. Needed to deflate to mount the rear wheel. I recommend 35 mm max.

  9. Mike

    Thanks for the reply. I think the diverge looks interesting and honestly your response confirms my question why didn’t specialized just replace the roubaix with the diverge? The tire clearance is better and it has more bb drop. I have a crux and a Tarmac so I’m not slamming specialized it just seems their marketing is creating bikes that become redundant.

  10. Scott G.

    38mm road tires, hmmm sounds like a Rivendell.
    Has the Walnut Creek mind control ray hit Specialized?
    Good bike to try some Compass Barlow Pass tires on,
    38mm light weight slick.

  11. wayno

    I read somewhere that riding gravel is akin to a SS MTB, fun for about an hour, but that’s it.

    back before this was a thing, my racing buddies and I avoided gravel as much as we could. flats, rocks flying up into your grill, fatigue setting in quicker, dirt on bike and rider were all good reasons to stay on the paved stuff. Not to say we didnt ride them at all, its just not as fun. Even with 28’s with lower pressure and road shock soaking frames the transition from the smothest dirt road trail feels so much better when you hit the pavement. These bikes take care of some of those issues but not all of them.

    I get why the kids in Iowa, Kansas or the roadies of the rockies and sierras ride road bikes on gravel, paved options are short sometimes. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where paved roads are not choked full of cars and offer miles of paved options, why seek out gravel? I feel in the minority not jonesing for gravel, to me it has always been something you put up with if needed to escape traffic or get to a better road. In relation to the post, the bike is a good idea for those areas where gravel is prevelent, as an additional bike in the “quiver”? That is what I struggle with.

  12. STS

    Patrick, you rode 38 mm wide Triggers with 60 psi? Off-road? As with everything there is certainly a personal element with regards to the preferred tire pressure but too much is too much. Pressures like these in tires so wide not only give up nearly all comfort tires of that size can provide and limit the traction considerably they also slow you down everywhere except for ultra smooth new pavement or a track. And you give up comfort, traction and speed only to avoid pinch flats? The Triggers are tubeless ready, at least mine are.
    Please try 30 to 35 psi in the front and a maximum of 40 to 45 in the rear tire – which is still ample – when riding on non-paved roads then we’ll talk again.

    Happy Trails! 😉

  13. brian

    I’m really glad to see this bike made. 3 or 4 years ago your only option was custom stuff. I wouldn’t trade mine for anything but its nice to see the options.

    Can we get a long reach carbon fork (I know co-motion makes one) or a road disc fork with clearance for 32s? Maybe 3-4 years from now…

  14. Hoshie99

    How I view it is that it is a smart bike, with smart geometry for versatility, performance and fun. A lot of people are well served by that type of design.

    1. kurti_sc

      I agree with Hoshie’s take. If they can get the geometry right on the alu versions, then more people could benefit from this versatile geometry.

  15. John

    I love this kind of riding, I’m almost glad that this bike exists… almost. Mainly because Spesh has decided they have totally reinvented cycling, when actually dudes have been riding surlys and Salsas (lately Niners, too) like this for years, they’ve just been made from more resilient Steel or Aluminium.

  16. Author

    Mike: I think the Roubaix does what it’s meant to do very well. From the view of the prospective Diverge customer, the Roubaix can easily look redundant, but for the person who typically buys the Roubaix, the Diverge may look a bit extreme.

    Scott G: Yeah, I hear ya, but we’re not sitting bolt upright wearing wool underwear. It’s a different take. Not better, just different.

    Wayno: I’ve always liked taking road bikes on unpaved surfaces. I can’t explain why, but I do. I’m just glad that I’m not alone. Now the single-speed thing? That’s the one that has never made sense to me. A classic case of each to his own, huh? As to the quiver, I could see phasing out a more traditional road bike in favor of having one that’s really versatile.

    STS: Your comment is like some we get here from time to time in that it presumes I haven’t tried other options and have, therefore, gotten the answer wrong. That kind of presumption mystifies me. I chose 60 psi for some very good reasons. Once you read my right up of the Old Caz event, you see that many people flatted. Lots of people flatted. I didn’t want to flat. Also, and I think many proponents of running low tire pressure miss this, as you drop tire pressure rolling resistance increases markedly. I still wanted to be able to do 26 in a group on flat ground without needing to produce 250 watts. I had two other reasons for going with higher pressure, as well. At the sorts of pressure you referred to, many tires get really squishy when I make out-of-the-saddle efforts. That’s not a feeling I like because it messes with my sense of how the bike handles. Also, I’m not worried about having maximum traction; I don’t mind of the tires slide some. As a matter of fact, it’s a skill I value and one that’s pretty hard to work on and this sort of ride is the perfect occasion. Finally, you’re missing one big point: I had never ridden the Triggers before and received the bike the night before the ride. I didn’t have time (or equipment) to set it up for tubeless and I’m absolutely not going to run super-low pressure on a set of tires I’m unfamiliar with at an event where I don’t want to flat. But hey, we can talk again if you still think I’m wrong.

    Brian: The Enve ‘cross fork does exactly what you’re looking for. It’s what is on my Seven Airheart.

    Hoshie99: Word.

    Kurti_sc: I can’t figure why the geo on the aluminum version is so markedly different. Makes no sense.

    John: I think it’s rather presumptuous to accuse Specialized of deciding they reinvented cycling. I don’t see that as what they’re doing at all. In talking to the bike nuts who work there, they were glad that this has become a legitimate category because they are bike fiends and wanted to have a chance to take a stab at their idea of the ideal bike for this riding. And while a Surly might be a more durable bike than the Diverge, the Diverge is a much better handling bike than anything Surly makes, at least relative to my preferences.

    1. brian

      Yeah, all the cx disc forks would work. Most of those will fit a 40, maybe even 45. (and that’s a good thing). But then ya got that hot dog thru a hallway thing going on when you put a 28 in there. Anyway, id just like to see them open up the road disc forks a little so you still weren’t limited to a 28 since I dont think there is the demand for a long-reach caliper carbon fork.

    2. CMac

      Take a closer look at the carbon and Al geo’s. They’re not that different. The Al has just about the exact same geometry as the Roubaix. With the exception of 4mm of bb drop more on the diverge, all of the other numbers are within a mm or two on the 56 and 58 diverge carbon and Al. Someone is just not going to be able to tell the difference between a wheelbase of 1028 and 1029 and a trail difference between 55mm and 56 mm on a size 58 frame. The front centers on both the carbon and Al are 621 mm.. Just sayin.

    3. pMcW

      It looks like the low-end aluminum Diverge models have different geometry from the Comp Smartweld and Carbon Diverge models because they are really just last year’s low-end Secteur disc brake models, re-labeled into the Diverge line. In fact, the geometry appears to match exactly between the 2014 Secteur Sport Disc and the 2015 Diverge Sport A1. And all the disc brake models have dissapeared from the Secteur line.

  17. Sam

    Padraig, any comparison thoughts on the Diverge vs. the Airheart? Considering on of these two bike styles to be my next one – I’m weighing the Titanium durability/travel option of the Airheart to the Carbon advantages of the Diverge – Are there other key differences you can point out that distinguish both the bikes and the ideal riders for each? Thanks!

    1. Author

      Sam: Even though both are all-road bikes or indiscriminating road bikes or whatever we want to call them other than gravel bikes (I really haven’t ridden on much gravel), they are answers to two different questions. They really are. Even if we take the couplers out of the Airheart and compare it to the Diverge, they are still pretty different. Both are comfortable, though I think the Airheart gets the edge there. Being able to travel with a bike that can go anywhere is absolutely invaluable and traveling with a bike in a case is only going to get more expensive. The Diverge is noticeably lighter and is a bit more precise/finicky in handling. I’ve crashed carbon bikes and have yet to break one, so that’s not among my first concerns, though there’s no doubt the ti frame will last longer. The Di2/hydraulic group, something we could have done on the Airheart but chose not to for ease of travel, really is just terrific. I’d be happy to own the Diverge, but I wouldn’t trade my Airheart for it.

  18. Shawnriffhard

    Glad to see this discussion going on. I am in the process of putting a bike like this together. I am using the RS 685 brakes/shifters and 5800 drive train with carbon bars (with Fizik gel pads; anxious to see how they work out), seat post and the Brooks C17 saddle.
    I can’t agree enough about the riding on ice effect of a too-high BB. I had a Chinese carbon disc cross frame that completely weirded me out. I felt like I was riding a horse or how you feel in a pick up after being in a regular car. I could never get adjusted.

    Does anyone have a suggestion on a similar frame to the carbon Diverge (in aluminum or steel)? I’ve been looking at the Pinnacle Arkose 4, Raleigh Tamland/Willard, and Diamondback Haanjo but they don’t seem to offer frames. The Soma Double Cross is the leading contender so far.

  19. BHK

    As others have pointed out the smartweld version has the same geo as the carbon version, but no thru-axle at the rear. The other alu versions have a different geo.

  20. Shawnriffhard

    RE: The Smartweld, looks perfect, but no dice on separate frame set sales. The Genesis CDA 10 is the ideal with space for 42’s, but again no frame sales. Just going to have to keep watching Craiglist and eBay.

  21. BHK

    Well the newly announced Salsa Warbird alu could be an option if you’re in the states, thru-axles for front and rear and allow up to 42 mm tires.

  22. Shawnriffhard

    RE: Salsa, I need rack mounts as I hate the sweaty backpack syndrome. I’m now looking to see what happens this week with the Swobo Scofflaw. They’re supp to have frame sets sales and it looks pretty well suited for my needs.

  23. Marco

    How was the tire clearance with the 38mm Triggers?
    Did you had to deflate the tires to install the wheels?
    Thanks for the write up and I order a Diverge Di2, it should be in by the end of April.

  24. Appendage

    The Specialized SCS hub baffles me, and may be a deal breaker. I thought a major benefit of going from 130mm OLD to 135mm was to improve the drive-side bracing angle. So Specialized, in order to solve a problem that I haven’t heard anyone complain about, scoots the freehub inboard 2.5mm so it’ll match the chain line of a 130mm hub. As a result, the DS flange has also been moved inboard. The system uses a special derailleur hanger. If you want to use a standard wheelset, you have to change derailleur hangers. So if you like to swap wheelsets for different applications, you’re screwed, unless you toss the OEM wheelset, or build your alternate set with Specialized hubs.

    Am I missing something here?

  25. Chris

    Regarding the geometry difference between Carbon and Smartweld Frame vs A1 Aluminum frame, I believe it is beause the A1 Aluminum frame is just last year’s Secteur frame (the Aluminum version of Roubaix) with different specs.

  26. Eric Larson

    Reading through the comments has been interesting to say the least.
    The Diverge or that style of bike is what i am looking for. Presently i have a hard tail 29″ and a bucksaw 2. Since i purchased the Bucksaw, i have been riding the hard tail on paved bike paths. I enjoy switching back and forth between the two. Next summer i plan on going for longer rides 50-100 milers and want something a little bit more efficient than the hard tail for road riding.
    I have never owned a carbon, i am some what concerned about how long a carbon frame will last.
    I hope to ride between 3-4 thousand miles next year. probably 2-3 thousand on the road bike 1000 miles or so on the bucksaw, with that in mind would i be better off with looking at a non carbon framed bike?

  27. Neil Rookwood

    I needed a new bike, getting sick of my fillings getting rattled out, so I took a friends Rubaix for a spin and I liked it.
    Next stop Specialized bike shop where the sales lady and bikefitter’ took one look at my body (68 years and getting less flexible) and they nicely suggested I look at a Diverge. I took a punt and purchased a Carbon X1. I liked the idea of 1 x 11. Such simplicity.
    Wow! I have fallen in love with cycling again. This bike is just soooo comfortable, sitting on 28mm tyres. And it gets up and goes quicker than my old carbon crate. The 1 x 11 is a revelation. I thought the gear spacings would may be too wide , but they are not – The spacings are perfect for me, even if one of my co-riders refers to the cassette low gear as a dinner plate. The Z seat post really does soften the ride on my poor old arse. Plenty of sealed and unsealed road surfaces where I live (East Coast Australia). The bike is so comfortable, very stable and forgiving. My body hardly knows when its done a 80 klms (50miles) ride. When they designed this bike, “twitchy” was obviously banned from its feel on the road. It has impeccable and predictable road manners. Having said that, it is not a boring bike, It will really get up and go when you put the hammer down. The disc brakes – they are magic! Will never go back on that one. One small gripe – the colour is flat dark green (looks like an army jeep of old). Its rubbish. But I guess the upside is no-one will steal it! Apart from the crappy green, its simple and understated elegance attracts many admirers, When you just look at it, many may think you are not getting many “bangs for your buck”, (including me initially). but once you throw your leg over it, that perception quickly changes. Its a beautiful bike. I imagine many mature age cyclists will love this machine.

  28. Mark

    Came across this review after reading the Felt VR series review. Both bikes appear to be targeting the same part of the market. Would love to hear your thoughts on how the bikes compare.
    The DSW Diverge, with geometry identical to that of the carbon Diverge models would be another interesting comparison point.

    1. Author

      I like the Diverge a lot and because it can handle a larger tire than the VR, it’s more appropriate to the kind of mixed-surface riding I do here in Sonoma County. I also really love the handling on that bike, and with the dropper post, descending on that bike bears more in common with MTBs than with road bikes. Keep in mind, the VR isn’t really meant as a mixed-surface road bike. It’s a road bike with adaptability, whereas the Diverge is a design meant for mixed-surface riding. Also, I’ve encountered a number of Diverge owners who are exceedingly frustrated with the lack of wheel options available to them because of the axle standard Specialized selected. That’s the #1 criticism of that bike, and it’s a complaint I hear from every Diverge owner I encounter, which has surprised me.

    1. Author

      They really got the geometry right on that bike. Specialized never gets the credit they deserve for how great their bikes handle.

  29. Ed mosely

    I ride the DSW. I have broken way too many carbon frames. do not want a broken frame Miles from pavement. There are well over 4000 miles on it in 16 months. It is a bit heavy. Good wheels and tires were added. I ride it everywhere. Mostly dirt rural Michigan
    Roads. I have a Trek Madone and Ritchey steel logic for pavement. And Trek Crockett cross bike. I ride the Diverge 3 to 4 times weekly .Generall 3-4 hours. I could care less about m.p.h. . I ride daily. 10k or more yearly. It’s about riding the roads others avoid.

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