Diverge_FR-03
Full Review

Specialized Diverge Expert Carbon

Words Cooper Quinn
Photos As Noted
Date Jan 13, 2023
Reading time

Often here at NSMB, we follow a bit of a formula: bikes in for review get a ‘first look’, typically after a pretty limited window of riding. This gets the nuts and bolts out of the way - geometry, components, some limited ride impressions, and that’s about it. Depending on a number of variables some number weeks or months later, there’s a ‘full review’ more focused on riding, what it might be like to own the bicycle in question, any issues that arose, and maybe who the bike is for (or not for).

So it was a bit to my surprise when Pete called and asked when I was going to have the Specialized Diverge Expert Carbon review completed. “What?! Did you miss all my BCBR Gravel Explorer coverage? I’ve written about that thing a ton!”. But of course, editors being who they are, he was right; I haven’t really talked about the actual bike beyond a first look here. The short version is this AXS-equipped carbon fiber super bike has almost nailed the spec, the pricing isn’t obnoxious, and the geometry makes sense. Oh, and it has a little uppy-downy suspension thing between the stem and headtube called the Future Shock 2.0*.

*Old nerds of course will recognize this “Future Shock” nomenclature from previous decades of Specialized mountain bikes, and may even know that is the basis of the FSR platform. The Future Shock Rear, if you will.

Components and Changes

I whinged about the cassette in the first look, but otherwise the components on the Diverge represent generally smart decisions by the product manager. You can see where your dollars go, and aside from the cassette, there’s not a lot you’d really need to upgrade beyond changing parts for personal preference. I swapped out three components during my five or so months with the Diverge: seatpost, handlebars, and cassette.

None of these were necessary; the seatpost and handlebars are purely preference, and if I were a customer I’d likely just use the NX cassette until it wore out, and swap at that time. And I’m still a big fan of the Pathfinder Pro; I’ve got the 38c version on my personal gravel bike/commuter. After riding fifteen hundred or so kilometres on the 42c version they still look quite fresh, and despite my best efforts with sharp rocks and rim strikes I had zero flat tires.

CQ_Diverge_FL-12

I'm a big fan of the Specialized Pathfinder Pro. Photo: Cooper Quinn

Frame and geometry

The Diverge frame is very nice; personally, I’d tweak the geometry a little more to the mountain bike side but considering the bike’s intentions and customers I think everything makes sense. Despite early reservations, I wound up leaving the 100mm stem on and was comfortable across a wide range of terrain, and certainly at speed. When the riding got very technical, or the descents extra steep, I was farther over the front axle and thinking back to the riding position of the Canyon Grizl CF8 Suspension; for most people on most terrain, the Diverge is going to be a solid bike on everything you’re likely to encounter.

I enjoyed having the SWAT box, once I figured out how to pack everything in there so it didn’t rattle. During the race, it served as a home for everything I’d need for a major repair: multitool, tube, pump, Garmin In-Reach Mini, Gorilla Tape, derailleur hangar, PowerLock, and zip ties. This freed up a lot of space in my frame bag for snacks, vest, spare AXS battery, more snacks, Dynaplug, and snacks. I would note this compartment is NOT waterproof – if your bike gets soaked from rain or washing and you don’t remove the bag to dry things, they will rust or rot. Or in my case, smell moldy and bad.

The one real flaw I found here is the derailleur hangar is made of a proprietary blend of soft cheeses. I had to straighten it a couple of times throughout the review period.

The Retro Shock of Future Past

Initially, the Future Shock 2.0 (which I’m going to just call FS2) feels very peculiar; the sensation of how the Diverge moves relative to your body/handlebars is very different than the common layout of suspension between the front axle and headtube. But then as you ride on, the novelty wears off and the FS2 just does its thing, 20mm of travel isolating your hands and upper body from vibration. I certainly wasn’t able to do any back-to-back testing but given how rough and fast some stages of BCBR Gravel were, I was absolutely glad to have it. There are a few negatives: its non-adjustable spring rate is a bit softer than I might have preferred, it’s a bit fiddly to work on and adjust, and it's all very proprietary from tools to replacement parts, but I went in a bit concerned about the FS2, and came out quite pleased with it. I know some Diverge owners have had some issues with the unit loosening up, but I encountered none of this during the review period.

But the question is, do you want an FS2, are you better suited with a suspension fork, or just staying rigid? It depends. Suspension can serve two purposes, comfort and control, and it can't do both equally well. The FS2 adds comfort, limited weight, a bit of complexity, and a bit of control. A suspension fork adds significant weight, cost, and you can tailor it to your personal blend of control vs comfort. A rigid fork is lightweight, lower cost, simple, and well... rigid.

For most of my time on the Diverge, the little FS2 was a good compromise. For the roughest days at BCBR, I would have preferred a suspension fork, but overall the FS2 was enough albeit overwhelmed at times. Reading Specialized's literature, this isn't surprising; the FS2 is really designed for low amplitude bumps (hence the coil spring) and isolating the rider from the road.

Riding the Diverge

I put somewhere north of 1,500km on the Diverge (I really meant to track it… but made a goof in Strava), split between commuting, rides on the Shore, and the gravel race itself. I said in my first look that the Diverge would probably feel more familiar to those coming from a road background than mountain, and I think that’s still true. What surprised me is how well I wound up getting along with the bike, given my very mountain heavy background; the last time I was on a stem this long was probably in 1998. But if you’re building a frame around it, turns out it works!

The frame and geometry give a comfortable ride that’s stable at speed, yet also maneuverable. Lightweight wheels, fast rubber, and a fairly aggressive riding position mean the Diverge likes to go fast. It's not a race bike – Specialized has the Crux for that – but it's one that rewards hard efforts.

BCBR22_Gravel_DSC00806_Stenberg

Grinding away out in BC's wine country with the BCBR Gravel Explorer. The Diverge is comfortable and compliant, and also rewarding to pedal. Photo: Chris Stenberg

Who is the Diverge for?

The Diverge excels in most terrain, and only really comes up short in technical, steep descending. If you’re into underbiking this may not be the machine for you. If you have no desire to push the proverbial gravel limits, the Diverge Expert Carbon is a great, comfortable bike with well thought out spec at a price point that’s well justifiable. There's a reason there was at least two other identical bikes at BCBR. And Specialized has a full catalogue of Diverges; if this particular build is too rich for your blood, or not glitzy enough to impress your coworkers, there are builds for you, too. In true Specialized fashion, there’s even a longer EVO version (albeit with flat bars). Just please don’t ask me about the STR and its ‘tendon’ in the comments.

deniz merdano canyon grzzl gravel cooper 21

If your 'gravel' rides look like this, the Diverge will take you there, but it's out of its element. A real suspension fork and some geometry tweaks made the previously reviewed Canyon Grizl CF8 far more suitable for very technical terrain. Photo: Deniz Merdano

BCBR22_Gravel_DSC09130_Stenberg

The Diverge does well on most other terrain, from tarmac to smooth-ish singletrack. Photo: Chris Stenberg

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Comments

taprider
taprider
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+17 Cooper Quinn Andrew Major danithemechanic myarmisonfire@live.com Andy Eunson imnotdanny Jerry Willows FlipSide momjijimike HughJass Spencer Nelson Todd Hellinga mmayo AlanB vunugu Chad K cornedbeef

A plus about the Future Shock is that it prevents heat set cable routing

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+1 Andy Eunson

I'll upvote that.

Reply

agleck7
Agleck7
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+1 Andrew Major

Where there’s a will there’s a way 😛

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks, 3 days ago
0

You're probably right, and I hate it.

Reply

Jotegir
Lu Kz
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+6 Cooper Quinn bushtrucker momjijimike slimchances57 GB cornedbeef

Specialized is in the top 3 bike companies who are willing to burn absurd engineering cash on making a janky thing nobody actually asked for to solve a problem nobody in the real world really had. None of us will be shocked when the internally routed future shock drops. 

Trek and Cannondale are the others, if you were curious.

Reply

LoamtoHome
Jerry Willows
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+2 momjijimike GB

cheaper and probably just as good to pimp out a 90's XC bike with some Judy's.   But hey...  the hipsters gotta hip.

Reply

velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+1 Cooper Quinn

Scott? Their making-things-complex-but-hidden mojo is very strong.

Reply

andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+2 bushtrucker BadNudes

Having ridden a Norco Threshold around my neighbourhood a bit, I can attest to the fact that some form of cushion from the rough roads is a good thing. I think I had 40 c tires which were ok for the pea gravel highways but the logging roads are brutal on skinny tires. What would you think of popping on 650 wheels with fatter rubber? Like a 2.1 or whatever would fit in a frame and fork? Certainly more simple that any form of suspension but would it be enough to replicate a FS2 or short travel fork?

Reply

Jotegir
Lu Kz
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+2 slimchances57 BadNudes

The Threshold is/was a super stiff bike inherently, meant for fast handling and 'cross racing (a relatively short race time discipline) rather than long days in the saddle. There's certainly a divergence in design philosophy, tube shape, layup, etc between it and the newer breed of gravel and all-road bikes. Ride it back to back with a similar quality endurance road or gravel bike and I think many discerning riders could feel a difference. It's like the Threshold fork is designed to tell you everything that's happening in the road verus one that's meant to mute it.

When I had my Threshold I found myself mostly riding it to green and blue flow trails and wishing it had a dropper post. Oops. 

My next gravel bike is currently in the shop waiting paint. I am going to go for a rigid MTB style bike with drop bars and big, fast rolling 29er tires.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks, 3 days ago
0

Yeah, as much as people (myself included) like to joke about how gravel and 'cross are the same... they really aren't, and the bikes are quite different. Sure you can DO both on one bike, but you're making sacrifices.

Who's building your new bike? And yes, put a dropper on it! It sounds like it'll need it.

Reply

Jotegir
Lu Kz
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+1 BadNudes

I am... It's a stripped MTB hardtail with a generic suspension corrected carbon fork going on. Waiting for it to warm up a bit before paint goes on. Sized down from MTB sizing for gravel (and not overly modern).

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks, 3 days ago
0

Ah, awesome!

Reply

tripsforkidsvancouver
tripsforkidsvancouver
3 weeks ago
0

The Diverge doesn't look like it "diverges" a lot from traditional road or cross bikes other than some off-road adaptations but looks like a great ride. Still a 70-71 head angle depending on frame size. Where you get into "specialty" gravel bikes in last 12 months it seems is when they lengthen the reach and slack-out the head angle to 68-69 degrees. Would like to give something like the Argonaut below a try and hopefully the 68-69 degree head angle will trickle down-market into alloy gravel frames for 2024. I'm really into cyclocross in last 3 years of course probably more than any other North Shore MTBer and would like test the thesis that a 70-72 head angle that most cross bikes come in at is ideal for the lower speed turns. Believe most cross bikes (70-72) are marginally more slack in head angle than road bikes (72-74) on average.

This is the Argonaut (68.5 head angle, short chainstays)

https://www.cyclist.co.uk/news/11019/argonaut-gr3-gravel-bike

Also - the there are two rippers in the Bellingham Cross series who absolutely shred on the Evil Chamois (66.6 degree head angle). They have three lungs but also are amazingly talented MTBers. It sounds like the Chamois is more for underbiking/descending as it is actually hard to weight the front wheel uphill (and also slow speed turns). Perhaps a step too far:

https://www.cxmagazine.com/ridden-reviewed-evil-bikes-chamois-hagar-gravel-bike

The Argonaut above is kinda-in-between traditional cross/gravel head angles and the Chamois!

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks ago
0

Yeah, it seems like a lot of gravel manufacturers are coming around to the geo from my 2019 Bjorn SS, ha! 

And certainly there's always a degree of... with the right amount of fitness and/or skill, the right folks can get away with any bike.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+2 bushtrucker Andy Eunson

Yep - pneumatic suspension in the form of tires is #1 for most bicycles, really. Easily adjustable, too! However, its completely undamped, which is a downside. And yeah - a fair number of folks running high volume 650b tires on 700c bikes - the outside diameter winds up pretty similar. 

Around here, I totally see value in running larger rubber than a lot of "standard" gravel fare; in the summer I run a 45c Riddler, and its great. The Pathfinders go on for winter as a 38c is absolutely the largest volume tire I can fit with my fenders.

Reply

bushtrucker
bushtrucker
3 weeks, 2 days ago
+1 Andrew Major

This. I have a "gravel" bike that can fit 27.5x2.2" out back and a 2.3" up front. Photo below of it setup for some light touring. If I went 700c on that frame it could still take a 45mm tyre but i'd consider that more of an all-road build.

It's kinda sad that gravel riding is seen more as an extension of road riding and that is doing a disservice to the development of these bikes. I mean I don't really know any serious MTB'er running tyres in the 2.0-2.2" range anymore but it's still a great width for steeper bikes (71deg HTA) on smoother surfaces. And there's a plethora of fast XC rubber out there in those widths that would make a ton more sense than the skinny 40c file tread patterned stuff being pushed now.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks, 2 days ago
+1 bushtrucker

The friendly folks over at bikepacking.com have you covered!

https://bikepacking.com/index/drop-bar-mountain-bikes-29er/

Edit addition: That said... I think part of the problem is 'gravel' is a bit of an awful piece of nomenclature, because we lump too many very different types of bikes into it. What you say is true for some gravel bikes - like this Diverge - as well as 'all road' bikes, and probably those that evolved more from a CX past life. But there's a ton of 'gravel' bikes out there that descended from or are built for touring, ATB, and rigid mtb setups as well.

Reply

bushtrucker
bushtrucker
3 weeks, 2 days ago
0

Yeah cheers, all over that one!

I guess I would consider 90% of 'gravel' bikes being sold at the moment (including this Specialized) to be in the "road bikes with slightly wider tyres" category and hence my preference of the word all-road there.

I do like the term ATB — which is slowly gaining traction — because it's leans more towards a MTB style bike which I think is better suited to proper mixed terrain riding/touring anyway. I have a 2014 Karate Monkey MTB that when set up with 29x2.1" tyres is a fantastic 'gravel' bike, among other things. But convincing people to buy up decade-old XC bikes to fill out a new cycling category isn't a great marketing strategy.

Reply

BadNudes
BadNudes
2 weeks, 4 days ago
+2 Cooper Quinn bushtrucker

All my bikes are ATBs! 

ATB 4 LYFe

LoamtoHome
Jerry Willows
3 weeks, 3 days ago
0

I'm not a gravel bike guy, but the bike looks frickin amazing!

"Gravel biking fun,

But watch out for the rear end,

That's where the pain begins!

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks, 3 days ago
+1 Jerry Willows

Y'know, bigger rubber would help with that pain in your rear end. 

But I'd bet you can't fit anything bigger in the rear of that Jake.

Reply

luke_sky
luke_sky
3 weeks, 1 day ago
0

Could you elaborate a bit more on the differences in ride feeling between the Diverge and the Grizl? Looking for a replacement for my Grail AL that is quite similar to the Grizl in Geo terms (but not tire clearance), at least without suspension fork.

Also, I don‘t know about the pricing on your side of the pond but here in Germany this version of the diverge is 6600€ while the Grizl is 5000€ (including the lighter layup SLX frame, a full Force XPLR instead of Rival/GX/NX[what the actual F*] and Reynolds carbon wheels).

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks ago
0

I haven't ridden a Grail, which seems like something to note. But I'm curious about your experience with that handlebar! 

The Grizl is significantly more "adventure" feeling, although I haven't ridden a rigid version. If your terrain/rides involve more rough stuff, single-track, and stupid things, I'd go Grizl. And as a commuter, the bolt on full fenders were great.

If you're on gravel roads, paths, a bit more tarmac, and only occasionally wind up doing something dumb, I'd lean Diverge.

Buuuuuuuut depending on your ride style and terrain Force XPLR gear range may be a factor? I could get away with 10-44, but the 50 or 52t sure is nice. As noted, a suspension fork feels and functions quite differently to the Futureshock.

There's pros and cons to both bikes (and yeah... price!); they're both good in different ways. Does that help? Ask more questions if ya need to!

Reply

luke_sky
luke_sky
3 weeks ago
0

Thanks, this helps a lot (and not at all, but that‘s got nothing to do with your great explanation but with my riding profile). When I commute it usually involves 15km flat tarmac in the morning and 25km back , half of it on easy trails if I can leave some stuff at work. Short rides from home will often involve stupid stuff but longer rides will be a bit more reasonable. With bags for 2- or 3-day trips the tarmac portion is mostly in the 50-80% range to cover ground more easily.

I have the aluminium version of the Grail that has the regular bar which should be fairly close to the Grizl (shorter chainstay, less tire clearance, less mounting options, otherwise very similar). Fortunately a friend currently has a Grizl in delivery so I can hopefully give a direct comparison soon and also confirm if the suspension fork alters the geometry to the rigid version due to longer a2c (should be the case for a lot of gravel bikes).

The 10-44 cassette is pretty much set for me, I run a 10-42 Sram 11 speed at the moment and have all the range I might need.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks ago
0

Yeah, it sounds like the Grizl might be a good fit? That said, if you read some of my Grizl review... my commute is similar. The Diverge would also certainly work, but if you're a biiiiit more mtb, I'd lean Grizl. You can always swap tires to make it more or less good on tarmac!

And yeah, I survived on 10-44 for a while, but now that I've gotten use to the pie plate, I love it. That very much depends on your use case, though. 

I think - but have not verified - that the Grizl geo is the same rigid or suspended (ie, the rigid fork is suspension corrected). I could be wrong though. You should verify that.

Reply

ShawMac
ShawMac
2 weeks, 6 days ago
0

"If your 'gravel biking' looks like this... you should grab a mountain bike and stop trying to justify the dropbars for this"

I have an older Diverge, much lower spec and I love it. I think I would be hard pressed to get larger than 38s on there, but if I went to 650b, maybe more.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
2 weeks, 6 days ago
0

"If your 'gravel biking' looks like this... you should grab a mountain bike and stop trying to justify the dropbars for this"

Agree to disagree, I suppose. The rides you can do on a gravel bike would often completely suck on a mountain bike, even if they incorporate stretches of technical  terrain. I don't need flat bars, lots of suspension and terribly slow tires for 5% of a ride when they're objectively worse for the other 95%.

EDIT: I'd add that for a lot of folks, 38c is plenty, but bigger is more comfortable (if not faster) on tarmac. But most of the time... its not a race!

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