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Specialized S-Works Diverge review

13 Nov 2020

Page 2 of 2Specialized S-Works Diverge 2018 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

Specialized S-Works Diverge 2018 review

A real step forward in the gravel sector yet at its heart still very much like a road bike. Not cheap, though

Peter Stuart – February 2019

For: Incredible versatility, sophisticated and intelligent construction and all around fun to ride  
Against: Considerable price tag, dropper post seems superfluous

 

Buy the Specialized S-Works Diverge from Tredz here

The new Specialized S-Works Diverge is an interesting, albeit somewhat confusing, sign of the times. It sits in a space between road bikes and... just about everything else.

With wide 38mm tyres, a suspension unit in the steerer tube and even a dropper seatpost, the S-Works Diverge is an abomination to the road bike purist. Sometimes, though, the rules have to be broken.

When the original Diverge was released in 2014, Specialized saw it as a niche product, to the extent that the US company was reluctant even to export it to the UK and Europe.

However, its popularity in this country surprised everyone, to the point where road category product manager, John Cordoba, now believes, ‘The Diverge will be biggest category in two to three years.’

While the previous iteration of the Diverge fitted squarely into the category of ‘gravel bike’ – wider tyre clearance, disc brakes and slacker geometry – this new version doesn’t.

Instead, it sits closer to what many have termed ‘GravelPlus’. The aim is to go beyond simple gravel tracks or bridleways and be capable of taking on mountain bike trails, which is why the new Diverge is compatible with smaller-diameter 650b wheels.

 

‘There’s a sweet spot in terms of tyre width where the 650b wheel and the 700c will give a similar ride quality,’ says Cordoba. ‘For 700c that is 38mm, while on the 650b it is 45mm, but with the new trend for wide rims the tyre changes shape a lot. On some 650b rims the bike will accept 47mm tyres.’

The new S-Works Diverge even has a dropper post, allowing  the rider to drop the saddle by up to 35mm at the press of a lever to improve control and lower the centre of gravity on steep technical terrain.

Up front, the Future Shock offers a degree of suspension at the handlebars. It has been field tested on Specialized’s Roubaix line and the system has been stiffened for the Diverge, but we’ll return to that later.

It’s a far cry from Specialized’s high end road bikes of just five years ago, when bikes were built for 23mm tyres. The reward is increased versatility, but has the Diverge sacrificed the speed and handling that marks out a great road bike? Time to find out… 

One for the road

When I first saw the new Diverge, I can’t pretend I found it attractive. Its curiously slack geometry, tall front end, strange integrated ‘SWAT’ box at the bottom bracket (not pictured) and enormous cassette and tyres felt like the antithesis of the clean lines of a classic road bike.

It had a job on its hands to impress me, and I was also certain that on my first ride I would be dropped and ridiculed by my ride partners. But no such thing happened.

 

Probably the most revelatory aspect of this test was that the Diverge is, underneath it all, a fast road bike. Even with 38mm tyres, I kept pace on a Sunday ride with keen racers.

In fact, the only part of the ride where I was outdone was in the sprints, where I simply couldn’t find an effective cadence on the 42-11 biggest gear on the 1x groupset.

I’d planned to slim down to a 28mm tyre for road rides, but it wasn’t necessary. Despite its off-road spec, the bike is still fairly light (8.5kg) for a disc road bike and was admirably stiff under acceleration and while climbing.

Of course, the Venge ViAS or S-Works Tarmac are much quicker bikes than the Diverge on the road but, viewing the bike in terms of versatility, the Diverge handles the road just fine.

Comfort is predictably in a different realm to a normal road bike. It consumed the cracked and scarred roads of Surrey without difficulty.

 

In that sense I preferred it even to the Roubaix. While the Roubaix’s Future Shock unit uses a linear spring system, the Diverge uses a progressive spring – creating more resistance as it compresses.

It makes it very hard to bottom out the handlebars and in general it feels more robust than the Roubaix.

Despite its road-worthiness, however, the Diverge’s real playground is on the mud and ruts of unpaved tracks – the ‘upside down’ of road cycling.

I used to view off-road riding as an esoteric pursuit best left to people who wear baggy shorts and say things like ‘gnarly’.

Increasingly in my reviews for Cyclist, bikes such as the Open Up and GT Grade have dragged me off the road and onto gravel tracks. Each time, it endears me more to the idea of bikes that venture beyond the road.

The Diverge takes that to the next level. At the bike’s international launch in New Jersey, USA, I took it on mountain bike trails that I’ve never dreamt to venture onto riding anything resembling a road bike, and the Diverge handled it all with ease. 

 

Playing dirty

Back in the UK, I was inspired to try out the tracks around my usual riding territories, and I found myself jumping onto the saddle far more often than I usually would during the grim winter months.

The Diverge’s knobbly 38mm tyres coped with all surfaces happily, and I never considered switching to wider tyres on a 650b wheel.

The Future Shock front suspension did a good job of absorbing big hits, although adjusting the headset pre-tension with a combination of 2.5mm and 2mm allen keys was frustratingly fiddly. 

The dropper post was fun, and undoubtedly useful whilst out in New Jersey. For the kind of riding I do day to day, though, I’d probably look to swap this out to save weight (and ideally cost too).

The Diverge has stirred in me confusing existential issues. I’m a road rider at heart, but this bike has opened up the trails, gravel roads and tracks that I previously didn’t know existed around my local area.

I may not want to hang this bike on my wall as a work of art, but I don’t believe there’s a cyclist out there, even the most traditional and cynical, who wouldn’t have fun riding the S-Works Diverge.

 

Spec

Groupset Shimano XTR Di2 M9050
Brakes Shimano RS805 hydraulic disc
Chainset Easton EC90 SL Carbon
Cassette Shimano XTR Di2 M9050
Bars S-Works Carbon Hover Drop
Stem S-Works SL alloy
Seatpost Specialized Command Post XCP
Saddle Specialized Phenom Pro
Wheels Roval CLX 32 Disc
Weight 8.50kg
Contact specialized.com

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

Page 2 of 2Specialized S-Works Diverge 2018 review