FIRST RIDE: SPECIALIZED DIVERGE PRO

A thoroughly modern gravel bike if there ever was one

For anyone who thinks there’s been little forward progress in either bike design and pricing, all you would have to do is look back to our July 2015 issue where the gravel bikes we featured all had disc brakes – and quick release skewers! In that same issue we also featured a test on Specialized’s $8500  entry into the world of gravel with their new Diverge  Di2 (below).

DIVERGE 2015

Given that as late as 2014 we had relied on a model from the Crux  cyclocross line to compete on at Dirty Kanza, the arrival of a gravel specific bike was a welcomed addition. The most memorable features of the bike were the front and rear use of the brand’s own Zertz elastomer inserts in the fork and the hideous looking suspension seatpost, and tire clearance that got tight when we upped the rubber to a whopping 33mm tread. In short, we opined that the bike still had too much of a road/dirt hybrid personality to be taken as a serious gravel mount.

DIVERGE 2018

It wasn’t until the June 2018 issue that we got another crack at a S-Works Diverge that weighed 18.75 pounds and sold for $9000. Key features were the addition of Specialized’s own Future Shock front suspension (borrowed from the Roubaix), another dropper post (!!)  and an external Swat box for carrying all your needed supplies for outback scrambling.

DIVERGE 2021

Fast forward six years and we’re now a handful or rev’s down the line with the $7500 Diverge Pro. In a word, wow – what a difference six years of continued R&D has has brought.

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.

Our size 54 frame had a 103.2 cm wheelbase with 42.5 cm chainstays, a 59.2 cm stack and an 11.6 cm headtube. Of note was the 80mm of bottom bracket drop which was 5mm to the better compared to the previous model (but still outside the more commonly found 67-70mm found on other gravel bikes).

 

The Future Shock fork’s suspension duties all take place inside the headtube as opposed to the fork legs. As a result, some care should be given to your preferred position as the stem’s position will always be placed atop the suspension element

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.

 

ON THE DIRT

 

ON THE ROAD

 

 

For some test riders the Diverge was the first bike they’d ridden with SRAM’s 10-50t cassette and to a 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 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.

We were happy to see that the external Swat box compartment of old (previously in the downtube/seattube junction) is now an internal feature with access through a lift-up plate under the downtube water bottle. The latched door is closes firmly and is easy to use.  While a big glazed donut might be tough to fit inside the frame, a couple of carnitas tacos wrapped tight would be a cinch.

 

The carbon Roval Terra hoops use DT Swiss hubs and are mounted with 38mm Specialized Pathfinder Pro tires that have a smooth center ridge. Despite the race-like “Pro” name, the Diverge is festooned with a full range of fender, rack and bag mounts.

We were surprised to find the very non-Specialized, quasi-flared Easton EC-70 AX handlebars spec’d. The carbon bars span 42cm at the hoods and flare to 48.5cm at the drops. While not as egregiously flared as others gravel bars on the market, the Easton AX bars offer the perfect middle ground option.

Despite the 1x drivetrain, the Pro has mounts for a front derailleur as well as a nifty hard mounted rubber chainguard protector.

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 added tire clearance, optimized gravel gearing and the internal Swat box, this latest Diverge platform is one that can stand the test of time.

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