As riders look to explore more than the tarseal, bikes are being manufactured with more than one string to their bow.
I’m a fan of these adventure bikes as they pry open the riding possibilities; often, making me forget ‘the numbers’, which I think is the essence of this growing cycling scene. Specialized’s latest take on this trend is the new Diverge, which as the name states should be taken far off the beaten path! Wide tyres, disc brakes and even a future-shock (more on this later) are a few of the notable parts that make up this adventure rig.
As my riding has become more off-road than on-road there’s a burning desire to search for new routes. I’m often scouting topo maps on and offline, trying to connect paths/tracks/gravel roads linking them into one loop.
One area that I’ve been exploring is Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. There’s multiple tracks, railway lines and gravel roads that offer stunning scenery with demanding but exciting riding, I always return home stoked and covered in mud and can’t wait to get back out there. My washing machine is taking a bloody hammering with all the dirt?!
These bikes kick down that ‘adventure’ door as traditional ‘road bikes’ simply wouldn’t cope on tough trail terrain. However don’t let the wider knobbly tyres put you off, as this Diverge is just as capable on the road.
It held its own on the road and you can easily get it up to a swift speed. Yeah, you may lose a few watts with more volume in the tyre but you can’t deny the fun that can be had down that gravel path. That’s what I’m getting at – bikes should be capable of more than one task!
The Future Shock
The big difference on this bike is the Future Shock, which has been incorporated into the front end of the bike. The Future Shock is a form of a small shock unit, where the outer tube is positioned within an oversized fork steerer while the stem attaches to the telescoping inner tube. As weight is applied to the bars, the Future Shock compresses and the entire stem travels downwards in a near-vertical path.
The Future Shock offers 20mm of travel via three springs arranged within the unit to control compression and rebound. There are no adjustments on the Future Shock for pre-load, compression or rebound. The only way to adjust the behaviour of the unit is to swap the upper spring. You can choose between three that come with the bike.
You might have seen the Future Shock used on the new Specialized Roubaix and Ruby. However, the Diverge differs from the units installed in those bikes as it uses a progressive spring which is better suited to the demands of mixed terrain riding.
Comfort was front of mind when Specialized built this second-generation Diverge. The bike was fitted with 32C tyres (however we fitted 38s to better handle gnarly terrain) and Specialized have incorporated the Zertz elastomers on the seat post to help your back when bouncing over rough roads. It’s worth noting the bike can take up to 42mm tyres on a 700c wheelset or 47mm when using a 27.5inch/650b wheelset.
The Diverge Comp we rode was fitted with Shimano’s 105 hydraulic brake/shift levers, flat mount callipers, front derailleur, mid-cage rear derailleur, and 11-32T cassette. Praxis supplied its Alba crankset made from forged alloy with sub-compact chainrings (48/32T) while the remainder of the parts were provided by Specialized; an Axis Elite wheelset with alloy rims, alloy stem and bars, and a Phenom saddle.
There’s no doubt this bike was truly tested from mud trails to smooth tarmac and everything in between during our test period. To be honest, there were multiple occasions where the bike was on my shoulder whilst I was walking through ankle deep mud! I’m not sure how much this says about the geometry but it has definitely led me down some of the craziest routes I’ve done to date.
These adventure rides often start on the road with several hill climbs. The Diverge felt at home in this environment and there was even some snappiness from the frame when stamping on the pedals.
The bike kicked underneath me on the climbs and it didn’t require too much extra power to get the larger tyres turning over.
This is thanks to the frame leaning more towards a road geometry; which means a shorter wheel base and chain stays. This gives you that ‘snappy’ feel as the power goes straight to the rear wheel.
Some manufacturers have tended to swing towards longer wheel bases and chain stays for these adventure bikes – with the idea that this set-up would make the bike more stable in rougher terrain. But, take this off-road and it’s super capable, so I feel Specialized have got the balance of geometry right.
This playful rig allowed me to tackle more challenging terrain and there were often times when I thought the bike wouldn’t cope. These ridiculous routes were filled with terrible terrain consisting of tree roots, mud pits and tedious tracks. More often than not the riding is pointing more towards mountain biking! But, that’s what these bikes are capable of and the Diverge didn’t let me down.
The Diverge Future Shock took out the severe bumps pot-holed, gravel roads. And, when I returned home there was less fatigue around my neck and shoulders. The shock seems subtle but it’s effective and ramps up – like a mountain bike fork.
The bike transitions from road riding into singletrack seamlessly. And, from what I’ve experienced this bike is capable on long endurance road rides too.
However, I do think that the bike could come with a tubeless set up – which means you can run tyres at lower pressures without the risk pinch flats. This is important when riding off-road as you need to drop the tyre pressure for wider tyres and the lower pressure also gives you more grip.
I’ve certainly had a ton of fun with the bike and it’s allowed me to tell many stories of epic weekend adventures. These rides are totally insane but they’re so damn rewarding! The experience of being out in the wilderness with your mates is like nothing else.
Tackling technical terrain makes you focus on the ‘here and now’ rather than the numbers. It’s not about totalling up the averages, metres gained and other ride stats. But, rather wow can you believe we linked that walking track with that access road and then looped back on the tarseal?
The Diverge blurs bike category borders and it’s the ideal rig for exploring our rough and rugged landscapes. To be honest, it isn’t for everyone – so if you like to put down the power at your local criterium than search for another bike. But, if you seek adventure and want to tackle tough terrain than this rig could be your answer.
The Diverge floats between any surface thrown its way incredibly well. It was tough to let this test rig go, so the day before it was due back I embarked on another adventure ride and subsequently returned it in a filthy state (sorry Specialized)! But, that probably sums up what this bike is all about.
Photos: Cameron Mackenzie