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Specialized S-Works Diverge review

13 Nov 2020

Page 1 of 2Specialized S-Works Diverge review

Verdict:

Fast and responsive over varying terrain, however Future Shock suspension makes a questionable contribution in the face of high-volume tyres

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£9,500
For 
Versatility • Speed • Handling • Tyre clearance
Against 
Suspension and toolbox unnecessary for some

When the original Diverge blazed into the adventure and gravel racer space in 2014, it was a runaway success. Now the 2021 Diverge aims to build on that momentum with some new innovations.

Launched in May, the bike has a similar silhouette to the second generation from 2017, but as Stewart Thompson, Specialized’s category leader for road and gravel, explains, quite a bit has changed since then.

‘This generation has five key new features: the Future Shock 2.0, progressive geometry for increased tyre clearance, internal SWAT storage, more bag mounting points and reduced weight.’

That’s enough to expect significant improvements so, having given high praise to the 2017 Diverge, I was really keen to see what this latest version would deliver over and above the outgoing model.

What struck me first was the extra clearance. The Diverge now accepts up to 47mm tyres on 700c rims and a hefty 2.1in (53mm) on a 650b wheelset – essentially a mountain bike tyre size, something pioneered by the original Open UP.

Another very visible feature is that SWAT storage compartment built into the down tube. This technology, carried over from Specialized’s mountain bikes, allows spares, tools and even a lightweight jacket to be stashed inside the frame.

Buy the Specialized Diverge from Rutland Cycling now

The logic is sound because, as well as freeing up valuable jersey pocket space, it places any extra weight closer to the bottom bracket to lower the bike’s centre of gravity, which could potentially even improve handling.

Yet despite its practicality, I can’t say I’m a fan. Call me old fashioned but to me it detracts from the sleekness of the carbon tubes, and I also suspect it could be subject to wear and tear.

However, any aesthetic grievances are quickly overshadowed by the other updates and completely forgotten when it comes to the riding experience.

 

Rocking the mullet

Elements of Sram’s Eagle mountain bike groupset are creeping into more and more gravel bikes. The resulting Frankenstein groupset has even been given an endearing nickname: the ‘mullet setup.’

That is, an orderly set of Sram road levers up front (the business end of things) paired with Sram’s Eagle MTB rear derailleur and super-wide 10-50t cassette (the party-ready end).

That’s exactly the spec of this Sram Red eTap AXS equipped S-Works Diverge and, I have to admit, I loved its mullet.

I’m a road rider born and bred, yet a 1x setup really appeals to me. The simplicity of use, weight and maintenance advantages are obvious, and I’d argue there are almost no concessions.

With a 10-50t 12-speed cassette there is not only a surreal 500% range (wider than many 2x setups) but the gaps between each sprocket aren’t that big either. Perhaps you’d struggle to find a perfectly efficient cadence on a fast-paced road ride but for even the most competitive gravel riding there is ample gearing for almost any conceivable situation.

Speaking of road riding, the first few miles of every test ride were on tarmac. I was impressed with how like a road bike the Diverge felt.

The frame is rigid and the handling still very responsive, plus with a total weight of 8.3kg it really didn’t feel far removed from an endurance road bike, even with 38mm tyres. It is, however, off-road where the Diverge’s prowess really comes to the fore.

Riding the Diverge on loose gravel, its stability and predictability helped me to maintain control on challenging descents and encouraged me to sprint over tough stretches of trail that I’d normally navigate precariously.

The 20mm of variable suspension offered by the Future Shock 2.0 certainly played a part in that – although after a while I began to wonder about it’s true value.

 

Back to the Future Shock

When I tested the 2017 Diverge I found the then-new Future Shock to be a great addition. It didn’t noticeably detract from the bike’s handling, yet it vastly improved front-end comfort.

The latest version of the Future Shock is a clear step up, being more tunable to allow for on-the-fly adjustment and generally offering a much more refined feel.

Yet as gravel bikes have evolved, I have become a little more skeptical about how much benefit suspension systems offer compared to what can be achieved simply by fitting higher-volume tyres, which most bikes can now accommodate.

Would the Diverge be just as good if tyres were its only means to dampen vibrations and improve comfort and control? This question plagued me, so I put it to Thompson.

‘Tyres are indeed a very effective form of suspension,’ he says. ‘However, any movement in the tyres is also completely undamped, while the FS 2.0 suspension damper controls the movement both in the compression and rebound phases.

‘Also, the range of pressure for optimal grip, rolling resistance and flat protection in tyres is quite a narrow window, maybe only +/- 10-15psi, so there isn’t as much scope to tune the ride feel as it might appear.’

Buy the Specialized Diverge from Rutland Cycling now.

Fair point. For me, though, part of the thrill of all-road riding is that slightly rougher ride quality and pushing my limits on technical terrain.

The Future Shock’s efficiency does, to an extent, detract slightly from that and the sense of connection with the ground beneath the front wheel.

On a broader level, though, the new Diverge is hugely versatile. It will equally suit riders geared towards an all-road riding style that splits tarmac with occasional stretches of gravel as it does those who want to push their limits onto more varied trails and terrains.

Plus, with even more mounting points for bags than before, it’s ideally suited for multi-day bikepacking trips.

This top-tier S-Works version comes with a hefty £9,500 pricetag but the next tier down the range is the Diverge Pro, which is more than £3k cheaper at £6,400. That seems to sacrifice only a very small amount given the sizable saving.

 

Spec

Frame Specialized S-Works Diverge
Groupset Sram Red eTap AXS
Brakes Sram Red eTap AXS
Chainset Sram XX1 Eagle, XX1 Eagle AXS rear derailleur
Cassette Sram XX1 Eagle 10-50t
Bars Easton EC70 AX Carbon
Stem Specialized S-Works Future
Seatpost Specialized X-Fusion Manic Dropper
Saddle Specialized Body Geometry S-Works Power
Wheels Roval Terra CLX, Specialized Pathfinder Pro 38mm tyres
Weight 8.3kg
Contact specialized.com

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

Page 1 of 2Specialized S-Works Diverge review