A true do it all bike?
I liked the old Diverge. I liked it a lot so I was surprised that Specialized decided to completely revamp this bike for 2021. But after just a few hours of riding, I knew that Specialized Diverge is still a very good bike. Very different than the previous model, but also very good. But is it for you?
Diverge 2020 was a very unique bike. Short chainstay (421 mm) and very low bottom bracket (85 mm drop) combined with very high stack (due to the Future Shock suspension) made this bike feel different than most of the other gravel bikes. But at the same time, it was very fast and very comfortable on any surface. The new Diverge is a completely different bike. It is much longer. The chainstay is only 4 mm longer but the top tube is 12 mm longer (comparing size 56) and this, even though the stack difference is only 3 mm, makes this bike feel much more “proportional”. By this I mean you no longer feel that the FutureShock is making your bike too high at the front but at the same time, it is still 610 mm of the stack (again size 56) – a rather big number when a gravel bike is considered. The wheelbase of a new Diverge is 31 mm longer and when you combine it with still a very big BB drop (80 mm compared to 85 mm of an old Diverge) you get a true champion in the stability game. Did I need extra stability compared to the previous Diverge? Not really, but after riding a new Diverge, I don’t mind the longer wheelbase. Especially because Specialized somehow managed to create a longer bike, that is more nimble, and more fun compared to old, much shorter Diverge. The steering is quite quick but the most engaging part of the bike is the rear. Old Diverge was not that flickable because you were somehow sitting on the rear wheel whereas the weight distribution on the new Diverge is much more even and this allows you to have more fun when riding hard…
You ride hard on this bike because of the FutureShock 2.0 suspension. I still think that this is the best front comfort improving solution currently on the market (but to be honest I did not test the new Cannondale Lefty yet). It is more refined than the FutureShock 1.0 because apart from the spring, it has an additional hydraulic damper that makes everything better, more smooth. FutureShock 2.0 has only 20 mm of travel but this is enough to make things very enjoyable on both fast gravel and forest bumpy roads. The beauty of FutureSkock 2.0 comes from the fact that it is designed to have some SAG when riding so the handlebar is somehow constantly floating without any change of the hoods angle (that can be apparent on a solution like Redshift suspension stem with a soft set of elastomers). What is more, the suspension effect, although most apparent at the handlebar level, makes you somehow ride more confidently in general because you feel that you have better traction, or, to be more precise (because it is not a suspension fork per se), better control because your handlebar is not trying to break your fingers on big bumps. So you ride as hard as you can and enjoy everything more on this bike. OK, almost everything…
The power transfer
Previous Diverge was in my opinion one of the fastest gravel bikes in terms of acceleration and maintaining speed in general (even with not really that sporty position due to the high stack). Unfortunately, I can’t tell the same thing about the new Diverge. Why is that? I think mostly because this bike is much longer (and heavier) and the chainstay is longer so the power delivery is not that instant like on the previous bike. But, and this may be a controversial thing to say, I also think that this can be somehow related to the big change in the bottom bracket area. Gone is the big, meaty press-fit BB. New Diverge has a more traditional, threaded bottom bracket. In terms of everyday usage and maintenance, I really like this change but in terms of the power transfer, I have a feeling that it is not that effective like a proper press-fit BB. I know, that there are bikes like Allied Able that can be very fast with a classic threaded bottom bracket but I have ridden too much of a press-fit carbon gravel bikes to completely rule out the option that there is indeed some benefits of having this kind of bottom bracket on your bike. But don’t get me wrong here. Diverge 2021 is still a fast bike, but it is more like a cruiser than a sprinter so you will be able to ride fast on it, just reaching the desired speed will take a tad longer compared to bikes like Canyon Grail or previous Diverge. In terms of power efficacy, I would say that the new Diverge is in the same ballpark as my new benchmark bike – titanium Enigma Escape, also with a threaded bottom bracket. So, not a sprinting champion, but still a very capable bike.
The rear end comfort
I think that I said enough about the front of this bike to make you fully realize how good in terms of comfort it is. Unfortunately, the rear of the Diverge is still lacking in that department. Specialized did not change the read that much (apart from a slightly longer chainstay) so it would be strange to see noticeably more compliance there. The new Roval Terra carbon seat post does not make any real difference either. But, there is one thing that can make things better. It is an improved tire clearance of the new Diverge. Much improved because now you can easily fit 45-47 700c mm tires on this bike and if you will use a proper (low) air pressure, you will get a nice level of comfort at the rear. Or you can even go with 650b 2,1 inch tires if smaller wheels are your thing (but you have to remember that BB drop is still quite big with 80 mm so pedal strikes on 650b wheels will be a rather frequent thing for you). And finally, if bigger tires will be not enough for you, then you can always use something like Redshift suspension seatpost and then, you will be really floating over the bumps (both front and rear of the bike will make you feel really comfortable no matter the road).
SWAT storage system is something that I have a mixed feeling about. On one hand, it is nice that someone finally decided to use those big, yet hollow down tubes of current carbon gravel bikes for something other than transporting the air. But on the other hand, the practical implications of having additional storage within your bike are not that big, or relevant if I am being honest. First, you can’t put there anything that can create a rattling noise when bouncing off the down tube (although Specialized provides a special bag that can somehow mitigate the problem), and second, the storage area is not that big (it had to be limited so you can easily pull out the things that you put there). So yes, a spare inner tube will fit there nicely, maybe a really small pump and what else?
I also have mixed feelings about the Adventure Gear Hover handlebar. In general, I like it (I had it on my benchmark bike for quite some time) but this handlebar has a 15 mm rise. When you add this to a big stack, you get a high front end. I think, that this bike would be better off with a handlebar without a rise and if I had one, I would change the handlebar to make the position on this bike more sporty. I would do that, especially because, FutureShock 2.0 does limit your possibilities in terms of lowering the handlebar quite significantly. You can’t just remove the spacers because there are no spacers there (due to the FutureShock 2.0 construction). Yes, there is a possibility to change the plastic collar below the FutureShock itself for a shorter one, but the most convenient way for you will be slamming the stem from positive to a negative angle. Combine this with a handlebar without a rise and you can lower front of the bike quite significantly. I certainly would do that, especially now, when I enjoy a quite sporty position on my current benchmark bike.
I don’t have any mixed feelings about the Specialized decision to sell this bike with a 2x Shimano GRX drivetrain. It is a great groupset and 2x is much more suitable for this kind of bike (accelerating and cruising are much more enjoyable when you have more gears to play with).
Would I recommend it?
Specialized Diverge 2021 is a very interesting bike. For me it is a bike that tries to be the jack of all trades and most of the time, it delivers. It is not a hardcore, racy gravel bike like Cervelo Aspero, but at the same time, it is not a fully off-road, MTB gravel bike like for example BMC URS. Yet it can be ridden fast and for sure, it can be taken to even a single track. It can be taken to every place you want and feel confident to go on a gravel bike. So yes, in that regard I think this is a very good bike, and somehow, a great way of showing what a modern gravel bike can be. But, at the same time, you can argue, that the new Diverge lacks a character because of this universality. So it all comes down to your preferences and how bad you want your bike to stand out from the crowd…
To find out more about how this bike performed in my comfort measuring tests just read this gravel bikes field test introductory article.