A plush and adjustable ride; excellent handling; lots of tire clearance; integrated storage
Price; no axle levers to get the wheels off
20mm of suspension front and back makes for a plush but not sluggish gravel bike. I enjoyed racing the 2020 Diverge Pro last year. This new model gets damping-adjustable suspension, some geometry tweaks, and integrated storage. All good things, in my view. I love the low BB for a planted feel, and the short trail for nimble handling. Some gravel bikes feel stable but kinda stubborn about line changes; this Diverge is eager to dance, and still comfy to ride all day.
Specialized completely overhauled the Diverge for 2021 with progressive geometry, a hydraulic-damped Future Shock, hidden storage, and more tire clearance. This new iteration improved on what was already one of the best gravel bikes out there.
Future Shock 2.0, and a cleaner flexing seatpost
The Diverge has a 20mm suspension system underneath the stem, cushioning the ride at the handlebars without adding much weight. The old bike had an undamped spring; you could select one of three spring weights to tune it. This 2.0 system now has hydraulic damping for compression and rebound, both of which are tunable simultaneously with a 7-click knob on top of the steerer.
The Future Shock is the most controversial piece on the bike. Some say it’s unnecessary or ineffective or gimmicky. I say it feels a little weird initially on pavement, but feels great when riding at speed on the dirt. Being able to quickly flick it from firm to soft is a big improvement. I got in the habit of riding it with a firm setting on the pavement, and a soft setting on gravel and trail.
You can adjust stack height by 30mm.
On the other end of the bike and the other end of the controversy spectrum, virtually no one will argue with a carbon seatpost that has a bit of flex for a gravel bike. The new Terra post has about the same amount of movement — 20mm — as the Future Shock 2.0, but this is delivered through flexing backwards.
The old bike used Specialized’s CGR post, the cobra-looking thing with an elastomer tucked in the bend. Both posts flex the same amount; the new post just looks a whole lot better and weights about 50g less (~200g total).
Progressive geo, but with an agile front end
The old Diverge was somewhat like a road bike with a crazy-low bottom bracket; the wheelbase was tight, the handling was quick, and the frame sat low (85mm BB drop). This new one gets longer and a touch higher (80mm BB), but the handling stays nice and quick thanks to a relatively short trail figure of 57mm (for a 56cm bike).
Trail is the difference between the front wheel’s tire-patch center and the bike’s steerer column. The more trail, the more ‘stable’ a bike can feel. Making a bike more slack at the head tube is the primary way to increase trail, but fork rake and even tire size play into this number. For context, road bikes usually have less than 60mm of trail. On the far opposite end of the drop-bar spectrum, the MTB-inspired Evil Chamois Hagar has 93mm of trail. A Giant Revolt I rode over the winter has 71mm of trail. It holds its line pretty stubbornly, especially in fast corners.
Bike handling is a matter of preference, of course. My bias is nimble, so I really like how the Diverge feels.
I also really like the low bottom bracket. To me, this helps the bike feel planted when taking corners. Also, it’s just easier to put a foot down at stoplights or whatever. The downside is that you can occasionally clip a pedal.
Another cool thing about the new frame is that tire clearance went way up to make room for a (claimed) 47mm tire with plenty of mud clearance. This is done in part through lengthening the chainstays a touch, but mostly a section of solid carbon fiber on the drive-side chainstay, right where it gets pinched between the tire and the chainring.
Hidden storage in the down tube
A panel on the down tube underneath a bottle cage snaps off to reveal a little storage area. The bike comes with a bag containing a tube, lever, CO2, and inflator. It has room for another bag — or you can just tuck your own small bag or compact jacket or whatever in there.
It’s a cool feature. I have only ridden the bike for a couple of weeks, so I cannot attest to the long-term durability of the seal. But in the short term, I have used it for storage and appreciated how it cleans up the look of the bike.
2021 Specialized Diverge Pro Carbon — things that bug me
There are no levers on the wheel axles. To remove a wheel, you have to dig a 6mm hex tool out to use to remove the wheels. What’s wrong with just having the lever on the wheel? This, to me, is going in the opposite direction of the smart integrated storage.
In Specialized’s defense, gravel category lead Stewart Thompson said more of their customers prefer the bikes without the levers for the looks and weight savings. And they have the data, so I won’t argue with that. But for me, I like being able to get a wheel off without tools.
Another minor nit — and one that isn’t unique to the Diverge — is how the flared bars tilt the shifter hoods to a narrower stance than you’d have on a straight drop bar. The Easton EC70 bars are comfortable and well-made; I have no issue with the design. It’s just that a 42cm bar ends up being 40cm when you ride on the hoods, which I do often. So I’d like to see a wider bar put on to end up with a normal width at the hoods.
How does it ride?
Gravel bikes run the gamut, from rigid aluminum rigs that feel like stiff road bikes to the full-suspension Niner MCR, which has full-on suspension front and rear. I feel like the Diverge hits the Goldilocks spot of enough cush to take the edge off without making a major sacrifice in terms of weight or complexity.
I like the quick handling. I raced the old Diverge in Roll Massif’s 12-hour mountain bike race Sunrise to Sunset last year on a tame course, as well as a handful of actual gravel races. The only time it bugged me was on long paved, rolling stretches where I was out of the saddle often and wished for a lockout. The Future Shock 2.0 all but accomplishes that with the adjustable damper.
Specialized Diverge Pro Carbon parts package
The 2021 Specialized Diverge family runs the gamut from $1,100 to the $10,000 S-Works edition. This is the second-tier bike, with a 12-speed SRAM eTap Force/Eagle drivetrain, Roval Terra CL wheels and seatpost, and an Easton EC70 AX carbon bar.
The 42t ring pairs to a massive 10-50t Eagle cassette, offering Jeep-like low gearing for crawling up the steeps.
The Roval Terra CL wheels have a generous 25mm internal width, which plumps the 38mm Pathfinder Pro tubeless tires up to 40mm. I took the bike on a few chunky trails that have flatted tires like the Schwalbe G Ones, and the tires didn’t flinch. That said, the Pathfinder Pros are a bit on the heavy side, having a fair amount of rubber and sturdy sidewalls.
I had good luck with the Rovals on my Diverge last year. No amount of riding and racing knocked them out of true; it took me backing a vehicle up into a steel post with the bike on a rear rack to do that. Even then, I was able to true the wheel that got smacked and continued racing it for the rest of the year.
The bike comes with the Specialized Power saddle. Often house-brand saddles are pretty meh; the Power is one of the best saddles in the world, in my opinion.
Full line of Specialized Diverge models compared to the competition
Specialized bikes aren’t cheap. I mean, you can get the base model for $1,100, but you’re not getting the Future Shock or any of the exciting tech we’re looking at here. The direct-to-consumer Canyon Bikes have shook up the market with its pricing, but you can’t walk into your local store and test ride a Canyon.
What’s most interesting to me in gravel bikes right now, aside from the various pricing models, is how brands are solving the micro-suspension question. Of course tires are crucial; 40mm is the de-facto standard for this year. And a flexing carbon post is a common answer on top-end bikes. But what to do up front?
While the initial Future Shock looked a little goofy (a giraffe in a turtleneck was my description), it did push the envelope more than other brands. This latest iteration has fine-tuned the concept of lightweight suspension, both in performance and in appearance.
2021 Specialized Diverge Pro Carbon — bottom line
The 2021 Specialized Diverge Pro Carbon is a lot of things: fast, comfortable, adjustable, nimble, and packed with cool features like a threaded bottom bracket and integrated storage. Perhaps the only desirable thing it is not is inexpensive.