What is new?
The Diverge falls into the booming gravel bike category, in which drop bars, and the ability to dominate both road and dirt surfaces are de rigueur. First launched in 2014, the Diverge has seen a makeover for 2018. The most notable changes are greater tyre and mud clearance, removing the Zertz inserts from the fork and seatstay, the addition of a version of the Future Shock suspension specifically adapted for the Diverge, and adjustments in geometry towards what Specialized call their Open Road Geometry.
The tyre clearance has been increased to accommodate 700x42mm tyres, an increase from 35mm tyres on the previous model. The new geometry sees the bottom bracket drop 6.5 millimetres to 265 millimetres, for increased stability on technical terrain. The reach has been decreased from 380 to 373 millimetres, and the stack height has been increased from 565 to 592 millimetres (on a size 54) to put the rider in a more upright position.
The Future Shock is a suspension system in the headset allowing for 20 millimetres of axial travel to soak up bumps. The system on the Diverge makes use of a progressive spring to cope with bigger hits than its counterpart on the more road orientated Roubaix.
In terms of the adventure-ready checklist, the Diverge is compatible with a short travel dropper post, offers three water bottle mounts, mounting for rack and fenders, and mounting for the road SWAT box for storing a tube, CO2 canister and adapter, valve extender and money clip.
The S-Works Diverge I tested comes standard with a 35mm Command Post XCP, and the road SWAT box. Braking is taken care of by Shimano RS805 hydraulic disc brakes, while the drivetrain is a mixture: Shimano R785 Di2 shifters paired with an XTR Di2 rear derailleur, Shimano XTR 11-40t, 11-speed cassette, and an Easton EC90 SL Carbon crank and 42T chainring. Roval CLX 32 Disc carbon wheels are wrapped in 38mm Specialized Trigger Pro tyres.
- FrameS-Works FACT 11r carbon, Open Road Geometry, 12x142mm thru-axle, Future Shock Progressive suspension, 20mm of travel, flat mount disc
- ForkS-Works FACT carbon, flat mount disc, 12x100mm thru-axle
- Front WheelRoval CLX 32 Disc, Win Tunnel Engineered, carbon rim, 32mm depth, Roval AFD Hub, CeramicSpeed bearings, 21h
- Rear WheelRoval CLX 32 Disc, Win Tunnel Engineered, carbon rim, 32mm depth, Roval AFD Hub, CeramicSpeed bearings, 24h
- Inner Tubes700x28/38mm, 48mm Presta valve w/ extender
- Front TyreSpecialized Trigger Pro, 60 TPI, 2Bliss Ready, folding bead, 700x38mm
- Rear TyreSpecialized Trigger Pro, 60 TPI, 2Bliss Ready, folding bead, 700x38mm
- CranksetEaston EC90 SL Carbon
- ChainringEaston direct mount 42T
- Bottom BracketCeramicSpeed 386 EVO
- ShiftersShimano R785 Di2, hydraulic disc
- Rear DerailleurXTR Di2 M9050, 11-speed
- CassetteShimano XTR, 11-speed, 11-40t
- ChainShimano Dura-Ace,11-speed
- Front BrakeShimano RS805, hydraulic disc
- Rear BrakeShimano RS805, hydraulic disc
- HandlebarsS-Works Carbon Hover Drop, 125x75mm
- TapeS-Wrap w/ Sticky gel
- StemS-Works SL, alloy, titanium bolts, 6-degree rise
- SaddleBody Geometry S-Works Phenom, carbon rails, 143mm
- SeatpostCommand Post XCP, 27.2mm, 35mm of travel
- PriceR145 000
On the Gravel
It’s been said before: South Africa is ripe for a gravel bike revolution. Endless kilometres of farm roads with varying surface quality, and a mindset laser focused on endurance and ultra-endurance events. Some might argue that the riding a large majority of South Africans do on their mountain bikes is in fact gravel grinding anyway, so why not use the right tool for the job?
In terms of covering ground on gravel surfaces, the S-Works Diverge is more of a weapon than a tool: It eats choppy surfaces for breakfast. It is always difficult to give a fair assessment of a bike when you ride the top of the range model: and it is no different with the S-Works Diverge. Top notch components and an ultra-light frame combine to make you feel like a hero. In the case of the Diverge, it managed to feel astonishingly light and efficient on the road, but scarily smooth and surefooted on rough terrain.
Our ride took us from Boschendal onto the slopes of Paarl rock via a mixture of gravel and tar roads. As I mentioned earlier, the Diverge flies on the tar. The only limitation comes from the 1x drive train which means you occasionally spin out on descents. As sleek as the 1x system looks and feels, if you are going to be klapping kilometres on tar, 2x might be your friend.
Similarly, on gravel surfaces the Diverge has pace: I had to adjust mentally to the speed at which we were moving along the dirt path next to the road. The Future Shock seemed to soak up impacts on the front, without any weird bobbing, even when out of the saddle and pushing. Similarly, the flex in the seatpost prevents road chatter from reaching your body. I’d have to ride it for longer and on rougher roads, to know for sure, but I imagine the vibration damping does a lot to mitigate fatigue, and it felt noticeably smoother than the 2017 model on gravel.
The only technical terrain we tackled during our ride was an exposed granite slab on the slopes of Paarl rock which we rode down, for a challenge. This is where I noticed a difference in my confidence when compared with a mountain bike. It was harder to commit and trust the grip on the tyres. I would have liked to ride some smooth singletrack with the Diverge: I imagine the efficiency and low weight could result in some quick acceleration out of the corners, and the drop bars and skinny tyres add an interesting challenge to trails that might otherwise feel mundane.
One aspect of the design updates that didn’t suit me was the increased stack height, putting the rider in a more upright position. I like a slammed stem, and an aggressive riding position, especially on open roads. It just happens to be what is comfortable for me. The design and position of the Future Shock means that adjusting the stem height is not much of an option, and I was more upright on the hoods than I would have liked. I suspect I was on the border of 52 and 54 cm size and perhaps going a size down would have worked better.
Retailing at R145 000 you have to be pretty committed to gravel riding to go the S-Works Diverge route, but there are options for your pocket all the way down to the Diverge Comp E5 for R28 000, which are worth looking at.
In the end
The Diverge has the capacity to open up doors you did not know were there, linking tar and gravel seamlessly, with very little compromise on either surface.
In a country with kilometres of untapped potential in the form of dirt roads, and with roads becoming increasingly dangerous and congested for conventional road bikes, the flexibility of a gravel or “adventure” bike is becoming hard to ignore. And disappearing into the distance, in any direction, on any road, is an alluring possibility.