Vernon, New Jersey probably isn’t one of the first places to pop into your mind when you think gravel bikes. Serving as the location for the Specialized 2018 road presentation though, the area’s roads and gravel turned out to be a perfect backdrop – especially for the launch of the new Diverge.

One of the main reasons we were on hand at ‘Specialized Summer Camp,’ the Diverge builds on the success of the Roubaix and Ruby road bikes. And even though they share much of the same DNA, the Diverge turns out to be a completely different beast…

Photo c. Specialized/Alex Quesada

During the presentation, Specialized would point out that the gravel or adventure road category is currently seeing their fastest growth. At the current rate, it also won’t be long until gravel is their biggest category overall. That might come as a surprise, unless you’re already exploring new roads, dirt, or gravel on a bike of your own. A “gravel” bike isn’t required to find your own routes and stray from the busiest stretches of pavement, but it can certainly make the experience more enjoyable.

Like other categories before them, not everyone sees gravel bikes in the same light. One of the biggest sources of disagreement seems to come down to not only the use of suspension, but how it’s implemented. As the second distinct model to make use of the Specialized Future Shock, the Diverge copies the Roubaix/Ruby in suspending the rider’s hands rather than the front wheel. The debate between suspending the rider vs. suspending the bike seems to pop up often, so I asked the Product Manager John Cordoba for the Specialized point of view. According to John, the idea to suspend the rider echoes what they were trying to achieve with the Roubaix – at the end of the day, both bikes are road bikes and they wanted them to be as efficient as possible. In testing, suspending the rider added greatly to the comfort at the front end, but had little effect on the bike’s efficiency. When asked to compare it to one of the flex stems of early mountain biking, John said that the position change of the rider’s hands is less with the Future Shock design, only moving up and down up to 20mm rather than moving through an arced path.

While the Future Shock is the same cartridge on Diverge, there is one crucial difference. Instead of the linear spring found on the Roubaix, the Diverge uses a progressive spring that ramps up dramatically towards the end of the travel. To me, this was a big improvement over the Roubaix’s Future Shock since it eliminates the feeling of bottoming out the system almost completely. It wasn’t until riding the Diverge that I really felt that was an issue on the Roubaix, but the feel of the progressive Future Shock turns out to be a big improvement, at least for my liking.

Future Shock springs from left to right: progressive main spring from Diverge, linear main spring from Roubaix, soft, medium, and firm booster springs

Without the harsh bottom out on big impacts that could happen with the Roubaix, the Future Shock system seems to fade away from your consciousness. It’s still there, and you can watch the system work on the bikes of others, but even on extremely rough terrain it’s easy to forget it’s there (in a good way). The interesting thing about this is that since the Future Shocks use the same design for both bikes, you could easily fit your Roubaix with the progressive spring – and it may be something Specialized is considering for future builds.

After a few solid days of mixed surface riding from smooth pavement to gnarly descents more worthy of a full on mountain bike, there’s no question that the Future Shock helps smooth out the ride at the front of the bike. It doesn’t quite feel like a suspension fork or even something like the Lauf Grit, but there is a noticeable reduction in impacts. Even though the progressive spring is designed to help out on large impacts, the beginning of the stroke is still fairly supple making for a smooth ride on pavement. At one point in the ride, we found ourselves riding the course that Specialized had set up for their XC mountain bikes. It was far more rocky and technical than what most people would consider “gravel bike terrain” but with the right line choice, it showed that the Diverge was surprisingly capable.

In terms of geometry and ride quality, the Diverge isn’t hugely different from a number of quality gravel bikes on the market – which is to say it’s excellent. Without feeling nervous or twitchy, the Diverge rides with a blend of stability and maneuverability which make it feel equally at home in a peloton on the road or  threading single track with the dropper down.

Aside from the Future Shock, the dropper post (which is only found on the S-Works model) seems to be the other source of uncertainty for many. After experiencing the short travel dropper for myself, I would certainly run one on a bike of my own – though maybe not in every circumstance. During the riding in New Jersey, the Command Post XCP with its minuscule 35mm of travel still proved to be an advantage during extremely technical descents. Specialized says the idea is to lower you center of gravity even further when riding tricky sections of trail, and it seems to work – as long as you remember to use it.

Even though it proves to be difficult to get used to the idea of a dropper post on a road bike, once you do, you find yourself using it far more than you would think.  At 395g, the 350mm length, 35mm drop, 27.2mm diameter seatpost does come with a weight penalty so if you’re riding mostly pavement or flat roads, you may want to leave it off. However, even if you do stick more tame surfaces, if you’re riding any sustained downhills the dropper may still be an advantage thanks to the lower COG and possible gains in terms of aerodynamics. Ultimately though, the dropper will appeal to those who aren’t put off by the idea of this being a drop bar mountain bike with skinny tires.

Photo c. Specialized/Alex Quesada

You tend to hear that comparison a lot when it comes to modern gravel bikes with some sort of suspension, and while there are definitely similarities, the new crop of bikes like the Diverge are far more efficient when it comes to the road. That seems to be the case regardless of wheel size, as I rode the Diverge back to back – once with the 700 x 38c Trigger Pro tires and once with WTB Byway tires in 650b x 47mm. Under hard sprinting, the 700c set up did seem marginally more efficient, but the trade off was a slightly smoother ride and more traction on the 650b tire. I will say that the road plus set up seemed to be a bit more bouncy, though I was running higher pressures than I would have liked (42/40psi) to keep from flatting on the very chunky descents. There were a few pedal strikes on the plus bike, but only when riding the XC trails thanks to a number of tall, pointy rocks. I can’t say the ride of the road plus set up made me crave the set up over the stock 700c wheels and tires, but it’s nice to know it’s an option without adversely affecting the handling of the bike.

There were a handful of lower end Diverges around for test riding, but all of my rides were on the S-Works model which meant I also had the SWAT box to play around with. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use the tube, tire lever, or inflator that are stashed inside, but the multi tool did come in handy for quick adjustments. The box is super handy as a way to have a lot of what you need close at hand, but it is limited. For starters, the box is the same as the one for the Roubaix so it was designed around smaller tubes. Because of that, a 700 x 20-28 standard tube is about the biggest you’ll fit inside, but it will still stretch to fit larger tires. It does have be wrapped very tight in order to clear the sides of the box, so a revised SWAT box for the bigger tires could be an improvement. There’s also no chain tool, and limited tools for the SWAT multi-tool, so you don’t have everything you need for a mechanical, but it seems like a good start. I like the fact that everything inside is there until you need it, without any rattles, or bags hanging off the back of your bike, while again helping to keep your COG as low as possible.

Just as you’d expect from an S-Works level build, the $9,000 bike had an impressive parts spec with choice components like the Easton EC90 SL crankset with a 42t chainring, Roval CLX 32 Disc wheels, and a Shimano R785/XTR/Dura Ace mixed Di2 drivetrain. As nice as the S-Works build is, there are a number of Diverge models at far lower prices, and even a carbon Sport model that comes in at $2,100. Features like the SWAT Box and dropper post aren’t included below S-Works level, though they are compatible with all of the carbon frames.

Photo c. Specialized/Alex Quesada

As usual, two days on a new bike is hardly a definitive answer to how something like the Diverge will perform in the long run. But at this point, the new Diverge did not disappoint. It’s close to road bike efficient while easily tackling some seriously technical terrain. There’s a reason this category is growing so quickly – bikes like the Diverge tend to be more fun, especially when you make that first turn off of the pavement.

For more info on the new Specialized Diverge including geometry and actual weights, check out our first post, here

specialized.com

55 COMMENTS

  1. No more “New idea” Specialized bikes for me. Currently stuck with a prior model year Diverge with SCS that I can’t even find wheels for anymore….

    • If you haven’t already looked into it, the NON-SCS derailleur hanger they offer may be a solution for you. It supposedly allows use of “normal” hubs.

        • The non-SCS hanger works with regular 135mm spaced wheels but the regular Specialized thru-axle won’t grab all of the threads since it’s 2.5mm expanded with the new hanger. What does it not work with? I helped a friend that said “it doesn’t work” after going to a very knowledgeable shop and they didn’t fully understand and put end caps on that spaced it to 138mm with a SCS hanger, just bad. I’m sure there’s many more combos of confusion.

        • Specialized makes a non-SCS hanger for the carbon thru frames too, they just don’t do a very good job of letting anyone know about it.

    • If you CAN find them, those Axis 4.0 SCS wheels are incredible for the price. I had a friend buy two pairs for $250 each for his SCS bike. DT Swiss hubs, nice rims and a ~1600 gram weight. They were near identical specs to a Stans Crest at a third of the price. While the SCS appears to have failed as a ‘standard’ it sure works just fine and he has a nice Crux with 105, hydraulic TRPs and 3 wheelsets for just over 2k all in.

  2. Specialized is famous for their own standards…142+ anyone? Remember the 22mm front axle on the old Enduro fork? Amazing. On another note….$9 Grand!!!???? The next level down is $4,000. This seems odd. Why would anyone spend $9,000 on this build???

    • I’m sure you could. It appears to be an increasingly common thing among other brands as well. Why buy a bike spec’d with a bunch of house branded parts when you can do a frame-up build with every exact part you want at the same price?

  3. Only a 1000 views on this post?? My youtube video on the new diverge got over 10k. Blogging is dead now that video is dominating.

  4. has specialized ever seen the Cannondale Headshock that was super popular back in the late 1980’s? This headshock thing is just another way to charge 8k/9k for a bike. So ridiculous – selling old technology.

    • Seems trivial but having the unit above the head tube means that the wheel tracks a consistent and predictable line while standard suspension can allow the wheel to skip and wash easier when cornering hard. Not to mention the whole efficiency thing that the article covers as well as all the literature surrounding the technology itself – not that anyone reads that kind of stuff before commenting anyway.

      • “while standard suspension can allow the wheel to skip and wash easier when cornering hard.”

        The opposite is true. Standard suspension disrupts the chassis and rider less as it functions.

        That said, I think this is a good application for the goal it sets out to achieve, which is to isolate the rider from vibration with minimal system weight.

        • In a flurry of rage I left out how the potential for a momentary loss of engagement is compounded by the fact that front suspension effectively shortens the wheelbase as it moves through its travel and that’s what’s bad for predictabililty.

          • I don’t know what sort of “suspension” @FFM has been riding, but keep it well away from me. Sounds like a review from a mountain bike fork from the 90’s. My suspension was made in the current century and does the opposite.

    • The Headshok was introduced in 1992. The Headshok and the Future Shock have little in common: the Headshok allowed the fork to move (i.e., it was a suspension fork), while the Future Shock uses an unsuspended fork and instead suspends the rider. The Headshok was not a way to charge extra money for a minor gimmick, it was a full-on suspension fork that was as good or better than other forks offered at the time. The Future Shock does look like a cheap and simple way to get some suspension and, yes, charge more money for a bike. But to me it looks like a unique product filling a real need in a way that no other product does. If it really is no good, people won’t buy it and it will disappear.

    • You should also harangue Specialized for following the herd and using round wheels like every other bike company.

  5. A Softride-style suspension stem would be simpler, probably lighter and adjustable with different elastomers. So what if it moves in an arc?

      • “Softride, they were heavy tanks with a spring.”

        Which provided 3″ of travel at a much lighter weight than suspension forks of their day, and won numerous world cup mountain bike races against fork-equipped MTB’s under the great Thomas Frischknecht. That was ~1993. Imagine a 21st century version with say, 25mm travel, made of carbon fiber.

        Specialized’s system is available on bikes down to $2,100, so the claim that it’s “just another way to charge 8k/9k for a bike..” is a little bit of a reach, don’t you think?

        • It’s available at an even lower price point actually – the top alloy model also has the FutureShock and retails for $1800.

      • The Girvin stems offered just a smidge of travel from an elastomer bumper a couple centimeters thick. Elastomers’ spring properties change according to the temperature- think of having a rock-hard, overweight suspension stem in the winter, and one that is very mushy and bottoms out in the summer. This issue can be solved if the springs are easy to change and you have a wide selection of them. The other disadvantage of elastomers is that they break down, i.e., become softer and less springy over time, than coil springs or air. Some people did find the arcing motion of the Girvin Flexstems to be a bit disconcerting, others were OK with it.
        The Softride stems were heavier for sure, but moved in a straight line, had far more travel, and used a coil spring whose performance was the same in all weather. Unfortunately, its parallelogram design developed play.

    • I agree. Hard to see the “value” in that spec and price. I’d be much happier with the Expert or Comp and upgrade wheels and maybe a few other components. It wouldn’t be the 11r frame, but that doesn’t matter to the great many of us.

  6. I wish someone would comment how does it ride on the road in comparison to the previous Diverge cause of the geometry change and all the new 2018 Diverge is generally about 1kg heavier.

  7. I simply like this bike. I used to ride on an MTB rear-wheel/road front-wheel combo (during the V-brake era…). Now, with disc brakes, it is much easier. 😉

    • We were talking about that this morning. I think the Lauf tends to offer a bit more in terms of true off road capability, but the Diverge and Future Shock are far more efficient on the road, flat gravel sections, etc.

  8. I feel there should be more focus on rear end compliance, than front end. We connect to our bikes in 3 locations, and the saddle/seatpost support the largest amount of rider weight. I can relax my arms, and all of a sudden the front end of my bike tracks better and is smoother. But, in order to take the sting out of the back end (literally) a rider has to stand up. So, we are left doing a partial squat while trying to pedal over rough terrain. I love that Specialized has stepped into this realm of suspending the rider, but I feel that they are focused on the wrong spot

    • Good point for discussion. They haven’t fully neglected it here. They still feature a carbon post on several builds, which is meant to help with compliance. It is not as good as the change done on the new Roubaix (with it’s dropped clamp and open tube top), but they keep the seat tube relatively low for each size to maximize exposed seatpost for flex.

      The Spesh bikes do lack a bit in comparison to the Trek Isospeed, IMHO. I am amazed with how smooth my Boone is. It was a bit harsh on the front (essentially the opposite of the new Diverge and Roubaix), but I have corrected that with the Redshift Sports Shockstop stem.

      It would be great to compare this to the upcoming Boone that will gain front Isospeed. Based on my limited test on the new Domane with the FI, it is better than what they had before, but still not as plush as the Future Shock. Ideally, the Boone rear and Future Shock front could be a great Frankenstein.

      I am waiting to see what the new Boone gains (Front Isospeed is known, but I am curious what the max tire size will be… hoping 40c+).

      All these new bikes are great and I welcome the options, but I haven’t seen one that makes me want to ditch my Boone and Shockstop bike, just yet.

      • Curious as to why the Roubaix seat clamp wasn’t carried over. Have you noticed the change in reach as the IsoSpeed goes through its travel? I’m sure it does a great job of taking the edge off, and coupled with a futureshock would be great for suspending the rider. Mountain bikes have suspension dialed IMHO, but that suspension concept does not translate over to road, cx, or gravel. Mountain bikes need to deal with large amplitude impacts, while this new spectrum of suspension in our industry is more focused on high frequency impacts. I think Trek and Specialized, along with other accessory companies like Red Shift and Cirrus Cycles, are on the right track. Suspend the rider, so the bike remains efficient and light.

          • The Boone / Domane system does a great job without the perception that anything is “moving”. I think it works so well because it allows the whole length of the seat tube to flex a small amount, as opposed to a seatpost flexing over a shorter moment.

            I’ve tried the Cirrus Cycles post and it delivered a pretty strange sensation. I felt like the BB & pedals were moving when I know it was just me moving up & down at the saddle. I’ve never tried a Cane Creek Thudbuster ST (approx same travel, but reversed linkage direction). I’m told that’s much better.

    • You are ignoring a few points:

      1) Those original stems were done over 25 years ago. Manufacturing and design technology has improved immensely since then. This new stem is well designed for proper function with great wear over time.

      2) The first suspension stems were a stepping stone in the MTB industry. Suspension was in it’s infancy and people were SUPER skeptical about “losing energy” with bobbing suspension forks. These were offered as an alternative that didn’t suffer from the problems of the early forks.

      3) The MTB industry moved into longer and longer travel designs to match the riders needs of riding real trails.

      4) The Shockstop is intended for rough road to gravel riding. The total amount of absorption and travel is minimal compared to the needs in the MTB world. It is totally appropriate for these purposes.

      Anyone who discounts this new product based on old, irrelevant memories of the bad ol’ days is overlooking something with a real purpose today.

      Here is some additional reading on the topic:
      https://redshiftsports.com/blog/what-makes-the-shockstop-different-from-other-suspension-stems/

      • Not to mention it’s been pointed out SEVERAL times that the bike tested was the price-is-no-object top of the line S-Works model and that the futureshock tech drops all the way down to $1800.

        I know it can be hard to read when you’re tying out an ill-informed opinion but sometimes it’s worth the extra effort.

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