I got on my bike three times yesterday: for a singletrack session at sunrise, a slow 30-mile spin on asphalt, and a short trip to the post office. Right now I’m planning a five day bikepacking trip that will happen later this month. I use the same bike for all of these rides: the Specialized Diverge ($ 1,200 and up).
Fast on the sidewalk and slick on gravel, the third iteration of the Diverge meets all of my needs. The revised Future Shock 2.0, a small suspension system in the headset, compensates for bumps and uneven roads. A number of attachment points allow a seamless transition from adventure car to everyday driver. The geometry hits the sweet spot between snappy and stable. After testing the 2021 Expert Carbon model ($ 4,800) more than a thousand miles, I may never ride thin road tires again.
The gravel market has exploded in the past five years and manufacturers want to keep up. Today, most brands sell at least one bike in the emerging category. As one of the fastest growing segments of sport, gravel grinders feed on the pursuit of freedom and the charm of adventure and appeal to experts and newbies alike. You will keep up with the roadies on a simple group ride, cope with mixed terrain with serenity, and perform well on moderate trails by combining culture and components from the world of road riding and mountain biking.
After testing half a dozen competitors over the course of the spring and summer, including Cannondale Topstone, Giant Revolt, Salsa Warbird, and Trek Checkpoint, the Diverge is my horse of choice. Here’s why.
What I like
The latest model of the Diverge, which was released in May 2020, has a longer range and a looser front end, giving it a longer wheelbase with the same responsiveness as the previous models. This geometry makes the bike more grounded and provides confidence at high speeds and in difficult terrain. Overall, this is a big step up in performance on the trail without compromising too much on smoother surfaces.
(Photo: Andy Cochrane)
While some bikes have a learning curve for handling, Specialized has created a bike that is immediately intuitive to the touch. This comes from the balanced center of gravity – you are neither too far above the front axle, too high or too far back. Such positioning gives you additional stability on bumpy sections and through loose gravel.
However, Specialized’s Future Shock system sets the Diverge apart from the competition. This inner spring is located above the head tube to allow the handlebars to move in a vertical path and provide 20 millimeters of travel. It absorbs the energy of moving up and down on rough roads and maintains forward momentum. I was amazed how much it dampened the chatter of stones, streaked debris, roots, cracks, and bumps on the sidewalk. A quieter ride creates more comfort and provides more ground contact so you can go faster and corner better. It also reduces fatigue throughout the body.
(Photo: Andy Cochrane)
Finally the Diverge is ready to transform into an adventure bike. It has options for attachments to the frame and fork. This makes it useful for both week-long trips and full-day trips. I’ve done a couple of bikepacking tours with the Diverge and found that the loose geometry adds stability when loaded with the extra weight. Combined with single chainring compatibility and spacing for 700x47c or 650bx2.1 inch tires (I’m currently using WTB Riddler 700×45) it checks all boxes for the long run.
What could be improved
For my driving style (mostly on dirt and usually long enough to run out of snacks) I would prefer a few improvements to future models. I would love if full 2-inch mountain bike tires 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 has about five millimeters more tire clearance than the previous year’s model.)
(Photo: Andy Cochrane)
The Diverge is also a little heavy 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 some of the motorcycles listed above when weighed with the same add-ons:
As a hobby rider, this is not a big deal to me, but it is worth considering depending on what type of riding you enjoy doing. Some of the extra weight comes from the Future Shock, but in my opinion it’s more than worth that little penalty.
The final verdict
To be honest, I couldn’t be happier with this bike. With nine tiered models ranging from $ 1,150 to $ 10,000, Specialized has a buffet that almost anyone can agree to. The loose geometry, the improved Future Shock and the numerous dropouts make it a gravel grinder for all types of riders.
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Main photo: Andy Cochrane
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