Escaping the confines of the tarmac, exploring the road less travelled and seeking that next adventure. Sounds idyllic, right? Well, up until recently the only way of escaping the rat race was to head out on a mountain bike or to try and fit wider tyres to your road bike, neither option ideal for the rider looking to cover great distances in comfort.
Specialized recognised there needed to be a bike to fill this void and created the Diverge for just this purpose. A bike designed for exploring, whether that be fully laden with bags on a week long European jaunt or a weekend blast around the local trails with friends.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on Specialized’s 2018 Diverge Comp, the American company’s mid range offering.
Out of the box
As cyclists we hate to admit it but we’re all a little shallow when it comes to looks. Thankfully, there’s no need to worry with the Specialized Diverge Comp, as out of the box I was greeted by a dazzling gloss dirty white, rocket red and Tarmac black paint scheme.
Dressed with Specialized components, from the riser handlebar to the mountain bike specific Phenom Comp saddle, this was a ride-ready package.
I opted for the 52cm version, which provided enough reach while being small enough to remain agile and responsive on the trails.
Adding double-sided SPD pedals and swapping the Specialized Roubaix Pro tyres out for something a little more rugged on the trails, I was all set to ride.
On the road
A bike packed with technology and rider enhancing features, I was intrigued to see how the Diverge performed on a variety of different terrains.
The plan was to head out on the tarmac, switch onto gravel roads and then tackle some more testing trails in the forest.
Clipping in and as I pushed down on the handlebars I was greeted by Specialized’s innovative Future Shock progressive suspension system. Providing 20 millimetres of travel, unlike a mountain bike front fork setup, Future Shock is designed to be a little more subtle, offering a damping effect on the road, without sapping energy away from the ride. Initially a little strange out of the saddle, I soon began to warm towards the system, as it softened the bumps out on the road.
The endurance geometry was also very impressive. Specialized have spent countless hours developing their Open Road geometry and the time they put into the design has paid off. Feeling balanced on the bike, the geometry, paired with the FACT 9r carbon fibre frame and FACT carbon fork, made for a comfortable ride.
The final piece in the puzzle, when it comes to comfort, can be found in Specialized’s rather unique looking CG-R seatpost. Made from the same FACT carbon fibre that is found on the frame, the Zertz damping, incorporated into the clamp, worked exceptionally well in reducing road buzz, although the spongy nature did mean I occasionally mistook it for a slowly deflating rear tyre!
Handling was impressive too. Although designed for long days in the saddle, the Diverge felt direct and responsive in the corners and the BB386 bottom bracket meant when I wanted to inject a bit more pace on the climbs the bike reacted positively.
On the gravel
Where this bike stands apart from your standard road bike is its off-road capabilities. Although not designed to tackle extreme mountain bike trails, the impressive tyre clearance (claimed by Specialized to fit tyres up to 45mm in width), Shimano RS505 hydraulic disc brakes and flat mount disc forks put the Diverge firmly in between road and cyclocross bike territory.
Even more evident on the gravel, the comfort-enhancing features allowed me to push the bike harder in the corners and really have some fun on it.
More versatile than your standard cyclocross bike, the Diverge has fittings for racks, mudguards and even a third bottle cage, should your ride turn into an adventure.
On the trails
Comfortable and assured on the road, a lot of fun on the gravel. The next test was to push the limits of the Diverge a little further on muddy, fast flowing forest trails.
Although not in its natural habitat, the Diverge performed admirably on the technical sections. The endurance geometry made for steady if a little slow handling on the more tricky sections and this is where a cyclocross bike may be more suitable.
The clearance of the bottom bracket is another area worth considering when heading off-road as unlike mountain bikes, clearance is a little lower.
Heading down steep descents or around off-camber corners, the Axis Elite Disc wheels were impressive. Although not the lightest wheels on the market I was impressed with their durability and stiffness.
Specialized supply the Diverge Comp with a compact 48/32T Praxis Alba 2 crankset and pair it with an 11-32T cassette. This ratio provided all the versatility you could possibly need on the road and gravel, yet heading onto more challenging terrain I found switching between the front chainrings was not ideal. Upgrading to a 1X system at a later date could be a more attractive proposition should you wish to tackle this kind of terrain regularly.
The inclusion of a Specialized Comp Hover handlebar was a welcome one. Offering a wide range of hand positions, I was able to switch between the drops, riser tops and hoods with ease, ideal for long days in the saddle.
Although not an out and out off-road machine, the Diverge is more than capable of holding its own on the trails while rolling smoothly on the road. Ideal for commuting, touring or just escaping the weekend traffic.
Putting in two weeks of hard riding on and off-road on the trails of Epping Forest, fast singletrack of Surrey and rolling hills of Dorset, I was blown away by quite how comfortable, versatile and fun this bike was. From a quick blast round the woods to an all day 100-mile off-road adventure I had not just fallen in love with the Diverge Comp, I had also fallen for the freedom a bike such as this provides.