HAS A THOROUGHLY MODERN GRAVEL BIKE ARRIVED?
Like raising a kid or even baking that perfect batch of chocolate chip cookies, we all know that getting anything right takes some time. It takes patience. It takes a few tries. And, that pretty much describes the evolution of the Specialized Diverge.
In the formative years of gravel, like most other brands, Specialized relied on their Crux line of cyclocross bikes to get their feet wet in this still-undefined category. In fact, in 2012 we used a Crux as the basis for our first-ever gravel project bike, and then two years later used one to compete on in Dirty Kanza.
Soon thereafter, Specialized realized that a reworked ’cross bike would not suffice as a true gravel bike. So, typifying their aggressive approach to everything they do, they went to work designing a line of gravel-specific bikes from whence the Diverge was born.
However, very uncharacteristic for the brand, they were quick to admit that the bike suffered from some design shortcomings, thus was born the Diverge 2.0 platform where we find ourselves here with the 2021 Diverge Pro Carbon.
Slathered in a coat of slightly metallic burnt orange paint, the Pro starts with a Fact 9r carbon frame that stands out with a massive downtube, tapered top tube and dropped seatstays. Despite its racy “Pro” name, the frame still sports a full complement of mounts for non-race-like fenders and racks.
We were happy to see that the external Swat box compartment of old (previously in the downtube/seat-tube junction) is now an internal feature with access through a lift-up plate under the downtube water bottle.
Our size-54 frame had a 103.2cm wheelbase with 42.5cm chainstays, a 59.2cm stack and an 38.3cm reach. Of note was the 80mm of bottom bracket drop, which was 5mm fewer compared to the previous model (but still outside the 67–70mm range more commonly found on other gravel bikes).
The Future Shock fork’s suspension duties all take place inside the head tube as opposed to the fork legs. As a result, some care should be given to finding your preferred position, as the stem’s position will always be placed atop the suspension element.
SRAM AXS is the drivetrain spec, and the wireless rear derailleur is what effortlessly moves the chain up and down the massive 12-speed, 10-50 cassette with a 42t chainring up front.
“When it came to the climbs, as much as we may have disliked the visual association that the 50t cassette had with all the soft-pedaling mountain bikers who clog the local climbs, the pizza-pan-sized big gear sure came in handy.”
We were surprised to find the very non-Specialized Easton EC70 AX handlebars spec’d. The carbon bars span 42cm at the hoods and flare to 48.5cm at the drops.
Even though we are proponents of the “suspend the bike, not the rider” theory of suspension, the scant amount of axial travel located under the stem did an admirable job of transforming the bike’s off-road capabilities (without the added weight of a suspension fork). And, sure, the high-volume tires already do a good job of deflecting sharp edges, but the amount of control and speed we were able to sustain over the severe stutter bumps, thanks to the Future Shock, was appreciable.
In terms of maximizing control and speed, despite the longish wheelbase, which aided off-road stability, when it came to pavement cornering, the Pro whipped around corners as if on rails. Although the Future Shock can be adjusted, we kept it open on the road and never noticed any detriment to the bike’s performance; in fact, it was just the opposite.
For some test riders the Diverge was the first bike they’d ridden with SRAM’s 10-50t cassette, and to the rider, they came away with nothing but praise. Although the mashers could spin the gears out on a paved descent, for most, the 42×10 gear was more than enough to propel them close to 40 mph without spinning out.
And when it came to the climbs, as much as we may have disliked the visual association that the 50t cassette had with the soft-pedaling mountain bikers who clog the local climbs, on super-technical and steep slow-speed climbs, the pizza-pan-sized big gear sure came in handy.
Generally speaking, we are of the opinion that, as with flat tires, pedal strikes can be an entirely subjective happenstance. However, when objective stats like the 80mm bottom bracket drop number are there, the frequency of pedal strikes we encountered made sense (70mm of drop is a more common number).
Within the 12-bike Diverge family, only five bikes use the Future Shock fork, and the entry-level version is the $4200 Diverge Comp that runs with a Shimano GRX 2x drivetrain. On the pricier side, the Pro sits one price point below the $10,500 SRAM Red AXS-equipped S-Works model. Interestingly, Specialized also made room for a limited-edition model using Campagnolo’s impressive 1x Ekar gravel group priced at $7000.
As for the Diverge Pro, it was hard not to like the bike. In fact, it was easy to like it—a lot! Between seeing the end of the line for their jaw-droppingly ugly Cob Gobbler suspension seatpost of old, and the arrival of the internal Swat box and Future Shock fork, this latest Diverge platform is one that can stand the test of time.
20mm front suspension